Archive for July 15, 2010

Road Hole

July 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The Road Hole, Old Course, St. Andrews

[Photo: Dom Furore, Golf World]

The Open Championship began today in St. Andrews. (We in the US may call it the British Open, to distinguish it from the US Open, but its proper name is The Open Championship. Fair enough. It came first.) Between the Open and the Tour de France, who has time to miss soccer? The World Cup may have ended four days ago, but I’m still suffering from sports overload.

I had once imagined that we’d make it over to Scotland this summer to attend the Open. Six years ago, we stayed with our Glaswegian friends and commuted down to Troon by train for that year’s championship at Royal Troon (won by Todd Hamilton in a playoff over Ernie Els, with Phil Mickelson just a stroke back). But once the Glaswegian contingent decided to come to visit us this summer, arriving two days after the Open ends, it no longer made much sense for us to head over there.

The Open Championship rotates among a fixed set of historic Scottish and English courses (and, in 1951, Portrush, Northern Ireland) on an irregular basis, irregular except for The Old Course at St. Andrews, which since 1990 has served as host every fifth year. (The pattern for St. Andrews prior to 1990 was irregular indeed: 1873, 1876, 1879, 1882, 1885, 1888, 1891, 1895, 1900, 1905, 1910, 1921, 1927, 1933, 1939, 1946, 1955, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1970, 1978, 1984, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005. Perhaps it is destined to be irregular yet again.) I had this year’s visit to St. Andrews marked on our calendar for a 2010 visit since we left Troon in 2004. Now we’ll wait until 2015.

I did have the good fortune to attend the 1990 Open at St. Andrews. This was during a three-week visit to Scotland that Gail, Joel, and I made just after his third birthday, following a month in Aarhus, Denmark and a week in Paris. We had gone from Glasgow to visit our friends in Edinburgh the very days that the tournament was being played. I arranged to meet our Glaswegian friend’s brother at the St. Andrews train station so we could watch the golf on day two. Gail didn’t yet know that she loved watching golf and seeing great courses. What she did know was that she couldn’t leave three-year-old Joel in Edinburgh without her, so she stayed behind and spent the day with him and Carol.

We all had a great time. The weather was unusually good, sunny and at times hot. Nick Faldo and Greg Norman fought all day and ended up in a tie atop the leaderboard. (The next day, in a preview of the 1995 Masters, Faldo would shoot 67 to Norman’s 76, a lethal blow. Ultimately, Faldo would win by 5 strokes over Payne Stewart, with Ian Woosnam and Jodie Mudd another stroke back, and Norman and Ian Baker-Finch still another behind.)

As exciting as the golf was just being able to walk the course. It has been much written about. I can hardly add to the wonderment better expressed by others, the explanations of its uniqueness and its influence on the game. What I do want to mention, a day into this year’s tournament, is the revision to the course made for the current championship on its most famous hole, the 17th or Road Hole. Golf World had a good article about it by golf writer and golf course expert Ron Whitten in last week’s issue.

The underlying issue is how to address the changes in club and golf ball technology – as well as player fitness — that allow today’s players to hit balls much farther than their not-so-long-ago predecessors. Great courses all over the world have been revised to address this, in an attempt to ensure that the original designers’ intents are not lost, in terms of the challenges the holes were intended to present to the players.

But change the Old Course?

Whitten explains that after the 2005 Open at St. Andrews, the Royal and Ancient (the governing body of British golf and organizer of the championship) “spent two years examining the course. During one such walk Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, expressed his desire to have more players use driver off the 17th tee. So Moir suggested widening the fairway a bit on the left, and backing off the severity of the rough on the right, for the 2010 Open.”

“Peter also commented that nobody goes onto the road anymore,” [St. Andrews director of greenkeeping] Moir said, “so I suggested lengthening the hole to the point where players would again be approaching the green with mid to long irons, or even woods, depending upon the wind. That was the idea behind the new tee. Nothing nefarious.” . . .

. . . the R&A issued a press release last fall quoting Dawson: “Over the years, we have seen the threat from the road behind the green, and to a lesser extent the Road Bunker, diminished as players have been hitting shorter irons for their approach shots, allowing them to avoid these hazards more easily. This change will ensure that the hole plays as it was originally intended.”

The changes have been a source of controversy among not just golfers but golf course architects, as the article details. And this brings me to an idea I quite liked.

One [architect] proposed circulating a petition — called Resolution 17 in honor of the besmirched hole — urging the R&A (and the USGA) to once and for all reduce the maximum distance of the golf ball. A contingent from the Federation of Scandinavian Golf Course Architects suggested development of an environmental golf ball — an e-ball — that would respond at a declining rate of distance to increased physical power at impact, in order to shorten courses, cut maintenance costs, reduce chemical use, increase pace of play and narrow the gap between advanced players and the rest of the golf world.

Whitten has much more to say. The article is worth a look.

Categories: Golf

Bird Update

July 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Just thought I’d report on some unexpected developments the last couple of days. Maybe where you are this is ordinary, but hereabouts it seemed worth paying attention to.

Two mornings ago, I was in the den when I saw a crow fluttering. He had decided to land on our rhododendron, not the most promising tree to alight on. The branch responded about as you’d expect, bouncing up and down vigorously. But then came the best part. A hummingbird, apparently sharing my doubt about the sensibleness of the crow’s decision, flew over, hovered about 18 inches in front of the crow, and taunted him. Okay, I’m anthropomorphizing a bit here, but the hummingbird did hover, staring right at the crow. And the crow, surely feeling embarrassed, took off after about 7 or 8 seconds of taunting, landing an an almost-as-ridiculous location on the steep sloping edge of our neighbor’s roof. The hummingbird raced up that way, perhaps for another round of taunting, then flitted across the street.

That afternoon, I heard Joel running down the stairs from the upper floor and out the back door. I went into the kitchen to investigate and saw him making circles in place, looking up at the sky. “Eagle?” I called to him. “Eagle?” Then a big shadow passed over him and my question mark changed to an exclamation point. “Eagle!” I still hadn’t seen it, but the shadow didn’t leave much room for doubt. I ran out too, and just then Joel, who had moved to the edge of our backyard for a more open view, saw the eagle heading north. I joined him in time to catch the last part of the eagle’s flight over the golf course, about 20 feet up.

Yesterday morning, in the den again, I looked out and saw a greenish-gray hummingbird sitting on one of the conical metal structures that support our tomato plants. He didn’t seem in any particular hurry to get going. I wasn’t in much of a hurry either, so I just watched as he did that birdy thing, bending his neck and preening his chest and wing feathers. I should be so flexible. And what a beak he had! An excellent preener. In something of a role reversal, he outlasted me. After a few minutes, I moved on.

Last night, I was outside on the patio reading when I heard the beat of approaching wings. By the time I looked up, I caught the briefest glimpse of an eagle overhead, flying just above me, parallel to the house. I ran out to spot him, but he didn’t come back our way. Not on my watch anyway.

That’s about it on the bird front. It would help if I had managed to capture any of these moments with my camera. In the absence of a photographic record, I have put a random hummingbird photo at the top.

Categories: Birds

Tour Update

July 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Mark Renshaw

[Bert Geerts, Bert Geerts/]

Is this year’s Tour the greatest or what? I know, I say that every year. And really, what’s going to top Greg LeMond’s victory over Laurent Fignon in 1990* 1989? But still, this is pretty special. The mountains always reveal the truth about the candidates to finish in yellow, and this year was no exception. We learned on Tuesday, in the ride from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, that there are only two: Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. Everyone else? Forget it.

We now look forward to the arrival of the Tour in the Pyrenées Sunday, with mountain days Sunday to Tuesday, a rest day Wednesday, and then the climb up the Col du Tourmalet to complete Thursday’s stage. If Contador and Schleck haven’t settled matters by then, there’s the 52k time trial on Saturday. Given Contador’s time trialing superiority, the general belief is that Schleck better make a big more or two in the Pyrenées if he’s to retain his lead after Saturday.

Today we got to put all that aside and enjoy an extraordinary sprint finish between the usual specialist stars. As we entered the final kilometer, there were Mark Cavendish, Alessandro Petacchi, Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd, Robbie McEwen and their brethren, near the front and ready to pounce. Cavendish was led, as usual, by his fearless and brilliant leadout man, Mark Renshaw. Farrar was on teammate Julian Dean’s wheel. Hushovd looked like he might not be a factor. Petacchi’s leadout men were up front just before entering the final kilometer, but I can’t remember where Danilo Hondo or Petacchi’s other Lampre teammates were as the finish neared. Regardless, Renshaw took the lead, ready to launch Cavendish to victory, when Dean came up on him. They were side by side, and suddenly Renshaw was pounding his head rightwards against Dean, over and over again. It was wild. Cavendish, it appeared, decided he couldn’t wait any longer and blew by, but perhaps earlier than he wanted to. With Cavendish gone, Renshaw’s work was complete. But then, as he faded, he also drifted left, directly into the path of the oncoming Tyler Farrar. Farrar moved left too, almost into the barrier, finally getting by Renshaw and chasing after Petacchi, Cavendish being a lost cause by then. And that’s how it finished: Cavendish, Petacchi, Farrar.

Had Renshaw, between head butting Dean and drifting into Farrar’s path, cost Farrar victory? It appeared not, though maybe Farrar could have passed Petacchi for second if unimpeded. Cavendish looked spent as he stopped past the line, confirming that he had to sustain top speed far longer than desired. Renshaw’s banging against Dean, if anything, hurt Cavendish rather than helping him.

Versus was right on top of it in their television coverage, grabbing interviews with all four key participants: Dean, Farrar, Renshaw, then Cavendish. No one seemed overly upset. Dean, in particular, shrugged it off as the normal in-fighting among sprinters. As dramatic as Renshaw’s antics appeared, maybe they weren’t so bad after all.

That’s where matters stood when Versus went off the air. I left home for a meeting, checking only hours later to see what the Tour officials had done with Renshaw. I had a pretty good idea when I couldn’t find him listed in the standings for today’s stage. I headed to the Guardian’s daily article on the Tour, learning that officials had reacted with the harshest penalty imaginable — they kicked Renshaw out of the Tour.

If Mark Cavendish is all heart when he races, then his leadout man Mark Renshaw appears to ride with his head, but not in the conventional sense. Today, while Cavendish’s sprint to a 13th career Tour stage win was the end result, it was the incident that immediately preceded it which caught the eye: Renshaw bashing his head repeatedly against another wing man, Julian Dean, as he tried – successfully – to get the Kiwi to move aside to let Cavendish launch his winning effort.

It is not uncommon for sprinters to whack each other with their heads in the run-in to the finish as they battle for position behind what they feel is the wheel to follow. But headbutts are rarely ever seen in the very final metres of a stage, mainly because walloping another cyclist with the head destabilises the bike.

After the tussle with Dean, Renshaw could also be seen dropping back into the trajectory of the American Tyler Farrar – Dean’s leader in the sprint today and the eventual third‑placed rider on the stage – although it was impossible to tell if it was by accident or design, with Farrar having no option but to shove the Australian out of the way.

Renshaw deserved full marks for keeping control throughout but the judges were not looking for artistic effect. He might have argued that Dean had stuck his elbow out to hold him back, and that the Kiwi was attempting to close out Cavendish, but the race referees judged the manoeuvre to be dangerous and threw the Australian out of the race. As sprint shenanigans went, it was up there with the legendary episode at Marennes in 1997, when the Belgian Tom Steels let fly with a bottle at 40mph.

What effect will this have on Cavendish in the next sprinter stages? I’ll be watching closely.

*What ever was I thinking? I awoke at 2:30 this morning, some ten hours after writing the post, and suddenly realized I had put in the wrong year. LeMond won his third Tour in 1990, a Tour I have always suspected Miguel Indurain might have been able to win (instead of finishing tenth) if he weren’t required to drag his Banesto teammate and designated team leader Pedro Delgado up the mountains in a vain effort to get him on the podium. Delgado, the 1988 winner, finished fourth. In 1989, he finished third, though that could have been a different story too, if he hadn’t shown up late for the Prologue. He lost 2:40 on the first day, ultimately finishing 3:34 behind LeMond and 3:26 behind Fignon — I just looked up the numbers — with no one else anywhere near them.

Categories: Cycling

Washington Wine

July 15, 2010 Leave a comment

In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal wine column, Lettie Teague discussed wines from Washington State. It’s always good to find out what an outside expert thinks about our local wines.

She notes early on, after describing herself as “a fan of Washington wines for many years, that “I’ve found their price-to-quality ratio to be particularly favorable. But thanks to the current global wine glut there are a lot of great deals around, at prices that make those of Washington’s producers seem rather high—and this has put a crimp in many Washington producers’ wine sales.” This is echoed by a Washington winemaker: “We can’t compete when Pahlmeyer Cabernet that used to be $90 a bottle is now $45 a bottle.” And we had our own experience along the same lines just two weeks ago when we visited Pete’s, a well-known Seattle wine shop, for advice on wine selection for a party we were hosting. Their wine expert steered us away from Washington wines toward French, Italian, and Spanish on the grounds that we would find better value there.

Read the article for more. I’ll conclude by listing the two most expensive of the five wines Teague recommends. I don’t see us getting the most expensive one, since it’s above our limit, even more so at a store. But we’ll keep our eye out for the first.

2007 Andrew Will ‘Sorella,’ $60
Although Chris Camarda, winemaker/owner of Andrew Will, makes many first-rate red blends, his flagship Sorella is a consistent favorite of mine. The 2007 is a big, deep, rich, intensely flavored Cabernet-dominant wine that will need some time to unwind. (The 2006 Sorella is also outstanding and worth a search.)

2007 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $125
This wine from is simply outstanding: a beautifully polished Cabernet that is drinkable now but will develop for decades. It rivals some of Napa’s best—at one-quarter the price. The catch: You have to be on the winery’s mailing list—or pay about twice as much at retail.

Categories: Wine

Have a Great Day!

July 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve written a few posts about waiting for my new iPhone 4, most recently here, where I noted that Gail and Joel had received theirs and mine hadn’t even shipped yet. Well, it turns out there was a reason mine hadn’t shipped. I screwed up. But I can’t help feeling that the real screwer-upper here is Apple. And I’m finding that our relationship has been damaged.

Let me explain. Like over a million others, I rushed to order our new iPhones when buying season began last month. And like the majority of the others, I was unable to get my order placed. Nor could I the next day. When I tried again six days later, it worked, sort of. I logged in, ordered mine, ordered Gail’s, and was told by the system that something had gone wrong — I was trying to order too many phones. I understood that you can order only one phone per existing phone line, but I assumed I could buy all three in one order, provided they matched up with three lines. Once I realized that this was in fact not the case, that each phone order had to be placed separately, I went back to the shopping cart and deleted Gail’s phone order (or so I thought). Then I went into the store again and ordered a second phone, tied to Gail’s line, placed the order, started again, and placed a third order, tied to Joel’s line. Three phones, three lines, three orders. Done. I was told to expect shipment by July 14.

Early last week, email arrived announcing that Gail’s had shipped. Ten minutes later, Joel’s shipped. But not mine. And still not mine when theirs arrived last Friday. Still not mine Monday, but of course it wasn’t July 14 yet. I would be patient.

And then Monday night I got an email from Apple saying that as I had already been informed (I hadn’t), there was a problem with my order. Apple couldn’t get my phone set up with my phone number prior to shipping. Two possible explanations were given — a problem with AT&T billing, or the possibility that I had ordered multiple phones on a single line. Whatever the problem, the email said it was between me and AT&T and I was urged to call them to straighten it out. Apple would keep trying to complete the order through July 15. If they failed then, the order would be cancelled.

Yikes! I called AT&T immediately. After a long wait, I reached someone. He asked me to look up my order number and I stared at the three original order confirmations to see which one was for my phone. Only then, to my shock and dismay, I saw that two of the three orders had Gail’s phone number attached and the third had Joel’s. Somehow, at the beginning of the process, when I tried to order Gail’s and mine at once and was told I had ordered too many, I deleted the order attached to my line rather than the order attached to Gail’s. I then ordered Gail’s phone, then Joel’s, but really had inadvertently ordered zero for me, two for Gail, one for Joel. The AT&T rep said sorry, but this was between me and Apple, and I’d have to call them.

I called Apple next, but they were closed. The automated fellow insisted he could help me, only to throw up his hands, as it were. So I waited until Tuesday morning. The same automated fellow once again insisted on helping me, but eventually he relented and let me join the queue for a live customer service representative. I was then warned regularly about heavy call volumes. After maybe a little over half an hour, someone came on the line.

Okay, so, if you’re following, all I wanted to do was change the phone number on my order. In fact, all I needed was to change a single digit by 1. I had my doubts though. I was prepared to be told that this was impossible, that I would have to cancel my order and start again. My only hope was that Apple would take pity on me and put my new order at the head of the line.

Ha! The Apple rep’s first words were a statement about how we at Apple are committed to excellent service, or something even more emphatic than that. I then explained my problem, after which he immediately explained that he couldn’t correct the phone number. I would have to cancel the order and make a new one. Did that mean, I asked, that I would be put at the back of the queue. Yes. He didn’t offer to move me up, didn’t express sympathy or regret, didn’t express anything. Maybe he didn’t owe me any of that. I’m the one who screwed up, after all, though the truth is, I’m not entirely convinced I screwed up, by which I mean that I’m not sure I deleted the wrong order. But whether I did or not, I could have read the emails that came back to me confirming the orders and reviewed the phone numbers. I had it in my power, that is, to discover the error early on, whoever’s error it was.

Once I confirmed that he could do nothing to help me, I asked how exactly Apple was demonstrating their commitment to excellent service. He didn’t have much to say to that. He did ask if I wanted him to cancel the order for me. I said he may as well, since it had to be cancelled. He then said it was done and I would receive confirming email within 24 hours. Anything else? No. He then closed with, yes, you guessed it, “Have a Great Day!” That put me over the edge. I asked him how exactly I was supposed to do that, now that my phone order of three weeks earlier had just been cancelled, and pointed out that this might be a time when he shouldn’t follow the script, that it was patronizing and gratuitous. He acted offended, letting me know firmly that he followed no script. There was no useful direction for the conversation to go, so at that point we said goodbye.

If Gail and Joel didn’t already have their iPhones, and if I weren’t eager to share the pleasures of Apple FaceTime with them, I might just have ordered an Android-based phone next. I didn’t. I went to AT&T, fed up with Apple, and put through a new iPhone 4 order. Two to three weeks. We’ll see.

Categories: Stupidity, Technology