The Joys of Disc Golf: Yeah, you heard me right…

The Joys of Disc Golf: Yeah, you heard me right…

Starting this weekend, in honor of The Masters, we’re “Fighting the Pieties that Be” here at halphillips.net by celebrating golf’s non-traditional, even subversive appeal. Friday we featured the internally illuminated, colorfully sequined mannequins I recently came across in a Vietnamese pro shop. Today’s topic: Disc Golf.

Nothing rolls the eyes of traditional golfers than a discussion of disc golf. Well, I’m here to tell you that not only does disc golf totally rock, but I played more disc rounds in 2010 than actual golf rounds.

Why? Well, there are lots of reasons: First and foremost, between the ears the two versions are uncannily similar. Let me give you an example: Driving. We all know that over-swinging is a recipe for disaster, especially when wielding the big stick. The dynamic is identical with the disc, including the urge to vacantly muscle a drive out there in order to 1) satisfy some animal urge; and 2) gain 5-10 extra yards that won’t, in the end, truly enable you to play the hole in fewer strokes. Managing this dynamic is a dead-on crossover shared by these two incarnations of the game.

Here’s another: When you’re standing over a 4-foot putt, the traditional golfer must weigh the merits of charging said putt, taking the break out, and, should he miss, living with the consequences of another 4-footer coming back — or lagging it, increasing the break one must play, but pretty much guaranteeing one won’t three-jack. The same thought process and consequences are extant with a putting disc in your hands. Exactly.

I could go on and on. There are differences. The most striking is disc golf clever rendering of the body and club as one. But it’s the same game.

I plan to blog more on this topic because there are so many aspects to disc golf’s striking appeal — aspects that tend to address directly many misgivings we have concerning actual golf: A disc round takes no more than 90 minutes to play, for example; there is no dress code; there is absolutely no barrier to entry — anyone can become competent in a few weeks; rounds are $5-10; the courses themselves are really cool, all of them distinct 3:1 miniatures of actual golf courses — with the added dimension that forested areas, if thinned a smidge, produce a corridor of play unlike anything in the actual golf world.

I’ll leave you, for now, with a word on the game’s aural sensations. There are no “cups” in disc golf. One holes out by landing the disc in a basket. I’ve included a picture here, to give you an idea of what I mean. But imagine a circular metal basket that sits halfway up a 5foot metal pole. Atop the poll sits a metal disc the same diameter as the basket. Draping down from the top disk are chains that deaden the oncoming disc, dropping it into the basket.

Holing out in actual golf only makes a sound on TV, whereas holing out with a disc produces a distinctive sound: faintly metallic, a bit plinky, but definitely audible from a couple hundred yards away and pleasing in a communal sense. It’s sorta like the sound a kid makes as he mounts a chain link fence, with the idea of clambering over. Not exactly the roar of a crowd filtered through Georgia pines; indeed, that’s something that most of us will never hear, on any golf course. But to the ears of disc golfer, it’s music.

Masters Week: Fighting The Pieties That Be
Sequined mannequins: You'll never see them at Augusta. And bravo for that...

Masters Week: Fighting The Pieties That Be

As close readers of this blog already know, I possess a highly developed aversion to sanctimony. As a result, Masters Week really is something of a trial for me — until Saturday afternoon, when the inherent competitive attractions of the tournament ultimately win out and take precedence over the weeks of bullshit fawning and musing that routinely precede and general suffuse media coverage of golf’s first major championship of the year.

In this spirit of Fighting The Pieties That Be, I offer this week a series of posts that discuss or otherwise celebrate golf in non-traditional and subversive ways. By mentioning the Masters only obliquely, and with derision, I do my part in diminishing the hype — and perhaps opening our eyes just a bit to the fact that there really is a lot more to like about golf than yet another story on how cheap the sandwiches are at Augusta National, how struck with wonder the amateurs have been in the Crow’s Nest all week, what a fabulous tradition the meaningless par-3 tournament is, and yet another gauzy feature on Arnold Palmer, against whom I have nothing, but let’s get real: The man last won a major in 1964, the year I was born… (Quick caveat: If said story centers on how and why Arnie never won a major once he quit smoking, after the ’64 Masters, I’ll read that with enthusiasm, as I’m fascinated by this little-shared but quite fascinating factoid.)

So, without further ado, see here Fight the Piety Golf Tidbit No. 1:

Check out what I saw recently on display in the striking new clubhouse at Danang Golf Club, on the Central Coast of Vietnam. The image here provided says more than I ever could. Are those not the coolest mannequins you’ve ever seen? I’m not a golf apparel guy; it doesn’t much interest me. For the record, the shirt here was produced by a company called AB Pro Golf, whose own innovations include a line of reversible shirts and high-performance fabrics that include anti-bacterial agents.

But enough about that. I first saw them in March, but I still can’t take my eyes off these mannequins. There’s a cyborg quality to them that I find eerie but irresistible. Howie Roberts, the general manager at Danang GC, reports that such mannequins are quite the rage in Bali, but I’ve not seen anything like them in golf shops anywhere in Asia-Pacific, North America or Europe. They’re sequined, of course, with different combinations of colors: red and black, teal and pale green (pictured), orange and yellow… They simultaneously bring out the best in a shirt’s color while grabbing the eye and never letting go. Check out the shop the next time you’re visiting Danang GC, and bring your sticks; this Norman design may well be the best new course (opened May 2010) you’ll find anywhere.

 

Unsightly American Soccer Podcast: April 4, 2011

Join Hal Phillips and a cast of characters/correspondents spanning the Globe to discuss  the burning, hot, molten issues of the footballing day. This week we talk with Tom Wadlington about the two international friendlies the U.S. played last week, vs. Argentina and Paraguay. Hal and Tom also touch on the fate of Jozy Altidore, the Champions League quarters that begin Tuesday, and the new statue of Michael Jackson that was unveiled this weekend outside Craven Cottage, home to Fulham FC. If you’re wondering what the connection is between Fulham and the King of Pop, you’re not alone.

UASP 2011.04.02 2

Unsightly American Soccer Podcast: April 1 Edition

Unsightly American Soccer Podcast: April 1 Edition

 

Join Hal Phillips and a cast of characters/correspondents spanning the Globe to discuss  the burning, hot, molten issues of the footballing day. This week we present a pre-Champions League Quarterfinal edition, in advance of the four matches scheduled for April 5 and 6. Big doings, but that’s not all: Hal and guests Dave Batista and Stephen Myers also tackle the strange fate of Fernando Torres, why we hate Manchester United and the bizarre dispute now gripping Spanish football, which may result in a work stoppage this weekend.

2011.04.01 UASP 2

New Links, New Rough, New Sleeve: Doonbeg Could Use Some Old-Time Greenkeeping

New Links, New Rough, New Sleeve: Doonbeg Could Use Some Old-Time Greenkeeping

It’s been a couple years since I played Doonbeg Golf Club, Greg Norman’s “new” Irish links in the southwest of the country. I’ve thought about it quite a bit since because, well, a lot folks have played it too — it’s just south of Lahinch and just across the Shannon River from Ballybunion and Tralee — and we’re headed back to the Emerald Isle next week. Doonbeg GC is also coupled with one of the finest on-site golf hotels anywhere in the world. So it’s natural to stay at Doonbeg and play the course at least once during a weeklong tour of this stupendous golfing corner of Ireland.

That’s pretty fast company to keep, and Doonbeg is a new course, not even 10 years old, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it tends to suffer by comparison. I don’t see it frankly. I found the terrain, the routing and the greens to be of a very high quality, design-wise. Doonbeg is, as its critics contend, very difficult to play. Too difficult, one could argue, but I’ve decided this judgment has very little to do with the design.

Agronomics are important to the maximizing of any course design, but maintenance of the outlying areas on a links course is particularly crucial. We saw what an overzealous fertilization program could do to the best players in the world during the famous train-wreck at Carnoustie in 1999, and this is the nub of the issue at Doonbeg. The dunes through which the fairways quite masterfully weave here are covered with a thick matting of ball-eating, deep-green fescues. My opening drive at Doonbeg landed in the fairway and bounced some 5 yards into the rough, never to be found. I’ve heard tell that Norman himself lost 10 balls during his inaugural round. That’s nuts, and one begins to understand why even those players far better than I tend not to leave Doonbeg with that warm fuzzy feeling we expect following a round on the coast of Ireland.

I had played Lahinch the day before. As is my custom, I drove the ball all over the map. But the outlying areas at Lahinch were quite different, featuring as much brown matter as green. The fescues were high but sorta wispy. I found a dozen of my wayward balls in there and nearly always had a swing, albeit a recovery swing, at most every one. That’s what more than a hundred years of expertly burning off the rough can produce: The perfect balance of playability and penalty. Doonbeg is simply not there yet.

Will it get there? A murkier question, that. Despite the fact there had once been an ancient links on the site, Doonbeg’s modern development came with caveats. The club rightly touts what is a heavy emphasis on organic maintenance practices, but I’ve heard from several people in the know that Doonbeg isn’t free to do everything it would like in caring for these rough areas. I doubt very much the crews are fertilizing them, at all, but I’d bet they’re not allowed to burn them off as often as they’d like. Like I said, I played there two years ago and I’d wager they had never been burned off.

You gotta figure that not every British course superintendent who graduates from turf school, or leaves his various course apprenticeships, with a working knowledge of how to properly burn off the rough on a links course. Not any more (and, of course, not every course in Britain is a links; most are not). Methinks the crazy-thick rough at a place like Doonbeg, or at Sand Golf Club (a fabulous Steve Forrest-designed “faux” links, which I played in Sweden the week before Doonbeg) is more the result of agronomic stricture, or a lack of ancient know-how in our modern age, than design intent. Here’s hoping it’s the latter, and it is ultimately overcome, because Doonbeg (and Sand) are both awesome tracks in need of, well, a trim.

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, www.zonalmarking.net. 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.

_____________Gomes_________________

Corluka____Dawson__Kaboul___Assou-Ekotto

Lennon___Huddlestone___Modric___Pienaar

__________Van der Vaart_______________

______________Defoe__________________

______________Cudicini________________

Hutton______Gallas____Bassong_____Bale

Jenas____Palacios____Sandro_____Kranjcar

____________Pav____Crouch____________

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 (golfasian.com) 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 www.golfasian.com and www.golfinakingdom.com

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