Monday, May 30, 2011

It's radical, but it worked on me

When it was first brought up, I said, sure, I could probably do that, and never dreamed anything would come of it.
Could I learn a couple pieces of sheet music for the piano and record them for my friend’s daughters to sing to? Uh, yeah, if the arrangements are simple enough.
As it turns out, my friend is serious, and she bought me a case of Corona to sweeten the deal. I accepted the beer, and in my experience that makes a contract. So I’m in.
Once upon a time this would have been the work of an afternoon … now it will take me all of the couple weeks I’ve been given. The arrangements are blessedly simple, at least.
They’re snappy little ‘50s-early ‘60s tunes that should work as audition pieces for parts in “Grease," which is how they'll be used. You know them: “Teenager in Love” – Dion and the Belmonts had the best-known version; and “Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” made famous by surfer dudes Jan and Dean.
But I digress … in fact, I opened with the digression (so is it a digression at all?).
What I’m getting around to is an online discussion in the LinkedIn group Golf Industry Professionals about how to bring new people to the game of golf, a sport for which – depending on who’s quoting what – two people leave the game for every one who takes it up OR 1 million people start the game every year and 1 million leave it.
I’m still not crystal clear how building my LinkedIn network is benefiting me, or how LinkedIn justifies its recent IPO, one of the biggest in history. The golf industry group (which let me in) has more than 2,600 members, so maybe that begins to answer how exactly LinkedIn got so valuable.
The discussion took off from the comment, “It’s time we break the mold and look at unconventional ways of bringing new players to our game. Talk is cheap..."
       Cheap, yeah, and it’s gone on for months in this forum. It’s all about a game that, in perception or reality:
·         Is elitist
·         Is too expensive
·         Takes too long to play
·         Is too hard to learn. 
What to do? Learn golf by hitting off a t-ball tee ... make the hole bigger ... offer golf rounds of only six holes ... have PGA interns teach free (or cheap) ... All of them are ideas offered in the discussion.
This month’s Golf Digest has a story about a tournament where the holes were cut 15 inches in diameter. The theme of the piece was expressed in a pull-quote: “At the moment, golf is not really in a position to be haughty about new ideas.”
I have an idea to attract new golfers: Give ‘em free beer. It worked to get me to the piano.
Will they come back if you don’t KEEP giving them beer? Problematic. And what if they’re kids? Give ‘em Arnold Palmers*?
I accepted remuneration in return for producing some music. Does that make me a professional musician? Maybe not precisely. It does give me a new understanding of the dude on the corner with the sign that says, “Will work for beer.”
It might work for golf.

* In legend, Arnie's favorite drink: Half iced tea, half lemonade.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Leave these on the teebox with no regrets

The girl in my life, wise beyond her dozen years, has been known to say, reproachfully, "You should not be smoking, Grumpy." (She calls me Grumpy, which is a story for another day).

I don't argue with her ... I just say, "I only smoke cigars." And: "I only smoke when I play golf."

To which she says, "Cigars are just as bad, maybe worse." And: "Yeah, right, Grumpy."

So: she's onto me. There are some of you for whom this story is not unfamiliar.

I usually escape the girl's disapproval with a couple cigars tucked in my golf bag. I don't always smoke 'em when I play, but there are days when it seems like the right thing to do.

I am in the camp that believes a golf course cigar should never be a distraction: not too big,  not too strong, and above all not expensive. Because you will, some day -- you will -- leave your smoke on the tee box marker while you stripe your drive and forget all about it 'til you're walking onto the green.

With that in mind, the Blogolfosphere offers up these recommendations for golf smokes: mild to medium in body, not too equipment-intensive, and cheap, more or less. You can spend less (the Swisher Sweet/Backwoods Smokes route), but I can't see spending too much more.

Your criteria, and your faves, might be very different. I can handle your reproach, better than I can the girl's.

1. Principes by La Aurora: The presentation -- the silver foil wrapping --suggests a more premium smoke. Peel it away, and you'll find it's pre-cut, so you don't have to fumble for your cutter. It lights easily, draws smoothly, with a good nutty flavor, and it's mild, so you don't have to fight off nicotine intoxication. I like the 5-inch x 38-ring size -- feels comfortable in the hand. You'll know it's a short-filler cigar when it gets a little soft toward the end ... but then, you brought two. Available online from Cigars International ( in quantities of 50 or 75 at about 70 cents a stick.

2. Mr. B: These handmade Nicaraguans range in size from 7.25 x 45 down to 6 x 43. They come in candela (green), maduro and natural wrappers, and they won't kick you in the head either. Perfect for handing out to your buddies: they'll never know you spent barely a buck per ... Available online from JR Cigars (

3. Villiger Export: Machine-made in Switzerland and dry-cured, with Cuban seed tobaccos and a Sumatran wrapper. Villigers come in many sizes, but the box-pressed 4 x 37 Export is handiest for the golf course. Mild in body, and the dry curing lends a distinctive flavor; Villiger represents the top of the line in machine-made cigars. Available from CI in boxes of 50 at about 85 cents a stick.

4. Stogies by Marsh Wheeling: Impress your friends by offering them a gen-u-wine stogie from the brand that pretty much invented the style -- long and thin -- and coined the name, after the preferred smoke of Conestoga wagon drivers. The M.M. Marsh Co. started making stogies in 1840, and operated in Wheeling, W.V., until 2001, when National Cigar bought out the brand and moved the plant to Frankfort, Ind. They're not necessarily simple to find, which might disqualify them as your go-to golf smoke, but the 7 x 34 Deluxe Stogies can be had from Top Hat Tobacco ( for a little more than a buck apiece.

This is one smoker's opinion ... let me hear yours. I already know the girl's.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

There's no golf site like Secret in the Dirt

Of all the tributes to Seve Ballesteros out there this week, the best might be Calder Chism’s memorial caricature at Secret in the Dirt (

Chism, a Reno, Nev., editorial cartoonist, caricaturist and artist, has a raft of golf originals on Secret in the Dirt, which is where questing golf souls go to unlock the deep mysteries of the golf swing and the golf life.

When you cruise the cartoon vault on the site, you’ll come across a few Steve Elkington originals alongside the Chisms. Elkington, a 10-time winner on the PGA tour, including the 1995 PGA Championship, dabbles as cartoonist, but what he really wants to explore is the dark art and craft of the game that still grips him at age 48.

Secret in the Dirt was created by Elkington, golf legend Jackie Burke Jr. and Mike Maves (aka Sevam 1, billed as the “Internet golfing sensation”). The subject is golf, and every exploration and side trip might not resonate with every golfer, but your interaction with the site can be as intense or as casual as you want.

Vintage video of Ben Hogan swinging the golf club is reason enough by itself to visit the site.

Elkington, maybe more than most playing pros, is still a student, and at Secret in the Dirt he is as much fellow traveler as teacher.

Steve Elkington and Craig Foster in front of Jimmy Demaret's
locker at Champions Golf Club.
"Learning from the likes of Jackie Burke … I enjoy all facets of the game,” Elkington said last week. “Club repairs … swing theories ... It's all part of knowing your trade.”

Lately, Elkington has trained his attention on a guy who knows a little about club repairs. Craig Foster of Olympia, Wash., is a golf club technician and golf inventor, and his latest design, the DynAlign alignment method, has met and passed the Elk Test.

Foster got an email from Elkington on a Monday in early April asking, Can you be in Houston on Wednesday?

“From the time he picked me up at the airport he had a camera going,” Foster said.

Elkington’s full-time video guy was shooting while Elk cross-examined Foster about DynAlign, and then the pair spent all day April 7 recording at the iconic Champions Golf Club in Houston, where Burke, 1956 Masters champion, still runs things.

The footage will be used in a DynAlign instructional video that will be available for sale on Secret in the Dirt … where it will fit right in alongside the other videos and theoretical discussions on the coolest golf Web site out there.