Curmudgeon talks Asia, Tiger, galleries with Kessler

The Curmudgeon, a.k.a. Hal Phillips, made a guest appearance Feb. 22 on Peter Kessler’s “Making the Turn”, a fixture on the PGA Tour Radio network (XM 146/Sirius 209). As a guest on someone else’s show, he kept the ranting and complaining to a minimum, but there was nevertheless lively conversation on the state of the U.S. Tour galleries, the rise of Golf in Asia, the transition of media outlets to web formats, course ranking, Tiger Woods and more. Enjoy.


Vicky Dembélé Arsenal Barcelona: Tough act to follow

Vicky Dembélé Arsenal Barcelona: Tough act to follow

by Hal Phillips 2 Comments

Can one support two Premiership teams at one time? Most Brits say no, and that’s fair cop. I understand it. But I went to university in North London and developed a taste for Tottenham. More recently, Fulham began stocking its roster with Americans and, I’m sorry, that’s a draw irresistible to U.S. soccer fans. Even today, when there is only one Yank playing for FFC (Eddie Johnson has been loaned out, again), I root for the team from SW6, something I had the opportunity to do just the other day in an FA Cup 5th round match. Very satisfying 4-0 victory.  Tottenham gifted the game with perhaps the worst opening 10 minutes in recent memory: 2-nil down, two penalties and a man sent off. But how can one not respect the fact that they went to Milan the next week and play about the best opening 10 minutes imaginable.

The pull of North London is strong these days. With another Champions League week about to begin, I couldn’t leave such a grand week for North London without comment. As inspiring as Tottenham were Tuesday, Feb. 15, in the Champions League vs. AC Milan, Arsenal were more special Wednesday (even if they have poked the Bear bigtime; Barca will be highly motivated to destroy and humiliate, not just win, at the Nou Camp). Breakthrough game for Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere. He was stupendous in a way that challenges us to think of the last Englishman who was that good, at that place on the field, in that sort of critical match, against an opponent so very talented (not just generally but in that part of the field). Gazza?

Do yourself a favor and check out this site, Really good in its tactical obsession, yet  readable and rarely pedantic. This bit from an Arse-Barcelona match report was maybe most interesting (and relevant to the Prem race):

“Wenger made a further change – [Theo] Walcott off, Nicklas Bendtner on. Whether this had much of an impact upon the subsequent proceedings is debatable, but it is the second time in less than a month that Arsenal have brought on Arshavin and Bendtner in the final 25 minutes, and turned a 0-1 into a 2-1.”

The relative depth of these teams — and if we go further, their reflection of depth standards in the respective league — was interesting. It impressed to see Arshavin come on, then Bendtner to a lesser extent, when compared to what Pep brought on, what he had at his disposal. Villa should simply not have come off; he’d have scored again late, when the game opened up at 1-1. But it seemed as though Wenger was able to bring more to the table.

Stole this, and the “graphic” below, from a Guardian comment (the whole thread was a fascinating North London grudging admirationfest) because it neatly sums up what I’ve been prattling on about all season: Tottenham may be 4th and there MAY be a gap in quality between it and ManU/Arsenal/Chelsea (not convinced of this), but there is no doubt that they have assembled the deepest roster in the top five. They can field two full teams that could be mid-table or up in the Prem — “And that’s without considering Pletikosa, Kyle Walker, King, Woodgate, Bentley, Keane or any of the kids…” They run Palacios and Sandro out there Tuesday night, arguably their 5th and 6th choices in midfield, and they get a result — in Milan. If this team ever gets a hold of a proper, productive striker, the sky’s the limit.




__________Van der Vaart_______________






Bali Nirwana stands as epic coda to a golf season
The 7th at Nirwana needs no hype. Note Tanah Lot temple at left.

Bali Nirwana stands as epic coda to a golf season


The 7th at Nirwana needs no hype. Note Tanah Lot temple at left.

It may well be that I’ve played my last golf round for 2010. This is the reality of Maine residence. However, if that’s the case (and I’m not invited to Augusta National next week), I can say that my golf season went out with a bang. I finished par-par-birdie-par after an otherwise dreadful scoring display, but it was the venue, and the finishing holes at said venue, that provided the epic coda to my golf year.

I had toured Bali Nirwana Golf Club two years prior. (Yeah, I know: why go all the way from Maine to Bali and merely tour one the top 3-4 resort tracks in all of Asia-Pacific, what many feel to be Greg Norman’s best work? It’s a long story. And this is a blog, wherein I’m supposed to be concise and punchy. And look how long I’ve gone already…) Well, I played Bali Nirwana this time and it’s something, boy. The kind of course that keeps you thinking about golf all through the long New Gloucester winter.

There are 13 Hindu temples located out and about on this diverse routing, and just off the cliff-to-cliff, 185-yard par-3 7th sits the oft-photographed island temple at Tanah Lot. It’s right there, just offshore, perched on its own rocky cliff, and the devout wade out at sunset in the hundreds amid a faintly orange, billowing cloud of incense. A moving scene. So moving I drilled a 5-iron to 20 feet. Then birdied the next.

As Mickey Dolenz once said, I’m a believer.

There are four more seaside holes at Nirwana nearly as good as the vaunted 7th, and a dozen strong inland-jungle holes on terrain that made it pretty darned incumbent on Norman to conceive killer golf holes. It’s riven by rushing streams and bounded by working rice paddies, which are elegantly tiered and in several spots integrated into holes as hazards. Pretty cool. Then there’s the long and superb par-4 4th playing along a plateau that takes you way up high all of a sudden, with long views to the sea. The opening hole plays gracefully up and around a hillside of rice cultivation, capped by a bold pod of steep-faced bunkers at the elbow. When I toured the course I was struck by how hard an opening hole this seemed to be. When I played it, I found it plenty generous out right of all this eye candy. I also loved the hole; the green is cleverly sunk beside a brook. There’s nothing like putting with the sound of water rushing by. There’s a lesson here on the matter of touring vs. playing a golf course.

We played the back nine first and finished on the front side which, to be honest, is the way the golf course is mostly dramatically routed — for chops like myself and tournament studs. This sorta matters because Bali Nirwana GC, part of the swank Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali, is under new management as of July 2010. They have big plans for place. Big televised-tournament plans, and the two pros I played with — new Bali Nirwana Director of Golf Paul Lightbody and Howie Roberts, his counterpart at the sterling, new Norman-designed Danang Golf Club in Vietnam — both felt an event would better finish on the front side, as it were, along the Indian Ocean at 7, and home to the 9th green with its natural amphitheater setting.

That the amphitheater is tiered with working rice paddies speaks once again to what makes the course, and the experience on that course, so memorable. Enough to last a winter.

Thai Golf: Cost vs. Benefit

It’s impossible to discuss Thai golf without offering some manner of cost-benefit analysis.

Eighteen holes at Chiang Mai Highlands or Banyan Golf Club will run you about $75, plus a caddie fee of $10. Green fees are a bit more expensive around Bangkok and Phuket, a bit less expensive in Pattaya and Hua Hin — but you’ll never pay more than $100 a round, which stands in stark contrast to resort green fees in North American golfing hubs.

The equation as it relates lodging is perhaps more revealing. Forget about golf for a moment: Thailand is the premier holiday destination for Asians, full stop. As such, the hotel stock here is enormous, diverse, and features all the brands you recognize and trust (Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton, etc), plus a few more you should get to know (Anantara, The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental). Yet most 5-star rooms don’t exceed $150, especially as part of golf packages, and you can find very functional lodgings for less than $50 a night, if you so choose.

Our tour operator, Golfasian ( booked all our golf and hotels, plus a driver and van to ferry us back and forth. Our boutique hotel in Chiang Mai, The DeNaga, is an example of the high lodging standard in Thailand. Though technically a 4-star lodging (due to its lack of a full-size pool and conference facilities), it was nothing short of elegant with spacious rooms, great service and free, dependable WiFi (Fact: Starting at midnight one evening, I conducted an entire, 3.5-hour fantasy basketball draft via Skype from my room at the DeNaga, without incident). Our rooms there were but $100 a night.

It’s true that airfare to Thailand can run anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500. Yet over the course of a week, the savings on golf and lodgings in Thailand dwarf whatever premium international air travel to Bangkok might be, when compared to domestic U.S. airfare. One must ask himself this, too: How much does it cost to eat and drink in Phoenix, in Myrtle Beach, in Palm Springs? The average cost of a first-class meal in Thailand is no more than $12 per person; beers are $2 apiece. Double or triple those figures for almost any North American golf destination. Over the course of 7-10 days, that really adds up.

In Thailand? Not so much.

We could compare the world-renowned nightlife in Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket to the nightlife in Phoenix, Myrtle Beach or Palm Springs. But that’s hardly a fair fight, and not so much a matter of dollars and cents. More like night and day.

For more information on Thai golf vacations, visit and

The Curmudgeon: Golf’s Most Bracing Pod

The Curmudgeon: Golf’s Most Bracing Pod


We know how it is. You like your golf. You might even love it, but the game’s fawning media echo chamber leaves you cold, and often woefully ill-informed. Perhaps The Curmudgeon — the golf podcast that dares speak truth to power — is for you. Join host Hal Phillips and a panoply of journalists who aren’t afraid to put their access at risk. What’s more, you don’t have to wear a collared shirt to listen in.

Inside this Special PGA Championship pod:
• Should the Masters really be a Major?
• Sartorial Screed: The Case Against Cargo Shorts
• What are the spoils of Ryder Cup hospitality exactly?

2010.08.12 The Curmudgeon

The Unsightly American Soccer Podcast, August 2010


Join Hal Phillips and a veritable cast of characters/correspondents spanning the Globe to discuss  the burning, hot, molten issues of the footballing day. This week we present the Post-World Cup, pre-Apocalyptic (but just barely) edition, in two parts. Tom Wadlington comments in Part I on the Spanish victory, on his way to Fenway Park to see Sporting Lisbon vs. Celtic; he also weighs in on the “Bob Bradley to England” scenarios, which started with Fulham but now involve Aston Villa. Hal and Esteban get a bit political toward the end of Part I before delving deep into World Cup matters in Part II, fixating, in a meandering sort of way, on the tournament’s Best XI, making sternum plans for Nigel DeJong, and the never-ending tension between form and function.

2010.08 UASP Part I

2010.08 UASP Part II

Unsightly American Soccer Podcast: World Cup Final Preview


Join Hal Phillips and a veritable cast of characters/correspondents spanning the Globe to discuss the World Cup and all the burning, hot, molten issues of the footballing day. This week’s episodes (that’s right, there are two, so listen in order): We get the view from Asia by way of Highbury with Spencer Robinson, plus Esteban again providing the Spanish view, which is only right, followed by Dave Batista from Brookline, fresh from the Vineyard. Everything you need to know leading up to Sunday’s final.

2010.07.10 UASP Part I

2010.07.10 UASP PART II

Unsightly American Soccer Podcast for 6.26.2010


Join Hal Phillips, Tom Wadlington and an assortment of correspondents spanning the Globe to discuss the World Cup and all the burning, hot, molten issues of the footballing day. This week’s World Cup Episode for 6.26.2010: Tom and Hal pick up the pieces following the US-Ghana Round of 16 thriller, while special guest Esteban again provides us the view from La RaZa, along with that of the West African faithful.

2010.06.26 UASP 2

World Cup Nostalgia: Ultimately, it was televised

World Cup Nostalgia: Ultimately, it was televised

The inimitable Archie Gemmel, on the rampage against Holland in 1978.

Like the Olympic Games, the World Cup comes round but once every four years. Unlike the modern Olympiad, the World Cup has only recently attracted the exhaustive attention of television programmers, a fact driven home to me by my friend and colleague, Dieter Schmidt, in his debut column at There was indeed no international soccer on U.S. television in the early 1970s (before Dee got a bit too stoned and spent the next 32 years frozen in a northern Manitoba trash heap). Indeed, the World Cup final — the most watched sporting event the world over — was not televised live in America until 1982, and each game of the tournament was not available on TV until ESPN undertook the task for the 1994 games, staged here in the U.S.

The United States’ thrilling last-minute victory over Algeria on Wednesday was testament to the overwhelming power of the shared televised sports experience. My fellow podcaster Tom Wadlington and I watched at DiMillo’s Bayside, a nice little sports bar in Portland, Maine. It’s not every day that two strangers leap into my arms while screaming with unbridled joy, as happened when Donovan buried the winner. It’s the latest in a series of World Cup TV Memories that I will take with me always.

I have fairly visual, broadcast-enabled memories of each World Cup starting with 1974, some more vivid and complete than others. Catching a World Cup match pre-1994, even a final, took some real doing, some planning. Here’s the first in a two-part rundown of how I managed it.

1974: West Germany

I don’t know who the chick is, but that’s Hubie, at right, just as he looked in the 1970s.

I grew up playing for the Wellesley United Soccer Club in suburban Boston, and club wide for many years our uniforms were, for reasons unknown to me, a fairly exact copy of the German national kit at that time: white socks, black shorts, white shirt with black piping. So, we had a kinship with the Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Gerd Muller teams of that period. One of my very first coaches, in fact, Mr. Krause, was a German national whose son, Dirk, would fling himself about the goalmouth during practice making saves and yelling “Sepp!”, in honor of the Mannschaft’s imperious, talented keeper, Sepp Maier. Even so, while I knew the Germans had won the 1974 World Cup, I didn’t see the final until 1977, when I attended the Puma All-Star Soccer Camp — run by another Teutonic type, one Hubert Vogelsinger, an Austrian national who, rumor had it, had been banned from his native soccer community (and emigrated to San Diego) after head-butting a referee during a match in Vienna. In any case, Hubie showed films every night after running us ragged all day long. He was understandably Germanophilic and it was there, in the Taft School cafeteria, in Watertown, Conn., seated beside my Wellesley roommate Mike Mooradian, that I finally saw the 1974 final, in its entirety: Holland with its kick-ass Orange uniforms; both teams with their amazingly long hair and mustaches; Holland’s 15 consecutive passes to start the game, culminating in a penalty and converted spot kick by Johann Cruyff to put the Dutch ahead 1-0 — before the Germans had even touched the ball (!); Breitner’s PK to tie the game; Bertie Vogts dogging a sub-par Cruyff the rest of the game; and the Germans’ ultimate 2-1 triumph, with Franz raising the trophy overhead two-handed. There was a great deal of slow-motion included in the game film, an effective motif for the game action but also for visceral reaction shots of these impossibly hirsute Germans, who very much looked the part of marauding Visigoths. Even three years late, it was impossibly exotic and heroic.

1978: Argentina

Just a year later, I returned to Hubie’s camp and, if I’m not mistaken, we saw the ’74 final again one night. But we also saw a highlight reel of the just-completed World Cup in Argentina. This made less of a lasting impression, maybe because we only saw snippets from the tournament. I remember Mario Kempes on a mazy run and scoring a goal in extra time. Was it the second goal in the 3-1 Argentina victory, or the third? Who knows? … I recall a hail of goals from Argentina in a 6-0 drubbing of Peru. Only much later did I learn that this was a match Peru and its Argentina-born keeper were accused of throwing, to put the host country in the final at Brazil’s expense (back then, teams qualified for the final directly from group play; confounding)… And then there is Archie Gemmel, the Scot who scored one of the great goals in British football history vs. the Dutch in some group game. Scotland won the game but didn’t advance out of the group, while Holland went to the final. Still, Gemmel’s goal was so sublime, it’s the highlight from 1978 I remember best — maybe because it remains so talked about and, thanks to the Internet, ubiquitous. Check it out on youtube. You won’t be sorry.

1982: Spain

This was a big deal, seeing the game live. I watched it with my high school girlfriend, Renée, at her parents’ house. There were breaks for advertisements, but I don’t recall that being controversial at the time. Not to me. I was American. I couldn’t yet conceive of a sporting event that didn’t accommodate such interruptions.

1986: Mexico

I watched this game at my house in Wellesley, and I have to admit that I don’t recall anything about the game or the event that was particularly memorable. Just graduated from college and spending the requisite jobless downtime at my parent’s place, no doubt I was stoned at the time.

1990: Italy

A few years ago, my friend Dave called and asked me a cryptic question.

“Remember that time I came over to your house in Watertown and we watched that World Cup game?”

Um, yeah…

“Well, what day was that?”

What do you mean, ‘what day’? It was June 1990; I don’t know the exact day…

“Oh. Okay…”

Dave, why do you want to know this?

“Well, we ordered cheeseburger subs from that place, and I’ve just realized that was the last time I ate meat.”

Well, thanks to the Internet, now it can be told. Dave last ate meat on June 25, 1990, the same day Romania eliminated Ireland on penalty kicks in the Round of 16. I remember quite a bit from that day, and that tournament. Not every group game was televised, on ESPN, but every knockout game was. For a soccer nut who was getting only the semi-finals and finals up to that point, this was Nirvana. At the time, I was 26 and working as city editor at a daily newspaper, which meant I didn’t go to work until 5 p.m. As Italy was 6 hours ahead I could get up and watch World Cup matches all day long before heading to the newsroom. Fabulous.

One more delicious note from 1990: “That place” was The International, a fabulous pizza and sub shop that delivered — and delivered to my address with great frequency. That same day that Dave at his parting cheeseburger sub, I was in the shower and he was in the kitchen doing something when the delivery guy, Ahmed, walked in without ringing the doorbell, as was his custom. I was a regular customer; we had an understanding. With Dave looking on, Ahmed proceeds to set the food on coffee table, sit himself down in front of the television set and take a hit off the bong that was a fixture on said coffee table in that apartment. Dave, who knew nothing of our understanding, was understandably taken aback and hid in the kitchen until I emerged from the bathroom. I’ve always loved that memory, and was only too happy to add the cheeseburger sub aspect.