Tuesday, December 22, 2009

George Washington's Eggnog Recipe (and a cure for our tax woes)

File this post under: a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.
I'm going to address the tax problem first. Stay with me here, faithful readers, it won't take long. This came to me in a flash when I heard the U.S. Postal Service is going to lose $8 billion dollars this year. So here's a solution.
Put a 1 cent tax on emails.
Every email. Every bit of spam. It will cost a penny. It will cost you, and more importantly, it will cost Williams-Sonoma, Orvis, Cabelas, 1-800-Flowers, Jos. A. Banks, and all the rest of the retailers and health insurance providers and discount Viagra peddlers who clutter up our email boxes a penny every time they send you and the tens of thousands other customers an email. Will they continue to clutter up our email boxes? Probably. But at least we'll know they will be paying a small token for the privilege. Same with all the folks (like me) who send out mass emails and forward jokes and YouTube videos to all their pals...now it will cost us. Not much. But just enough to make us think: is this really worth it? Is it necessary? Maybe it is, and maybe it's not. But if it's true, as has been estimated, that in the U.S. alone there are 100 billion emails a day, a penny surcharge would raise $365 billion a year. Almost enough to pay for the new health care bill!! More than enough to make up for the postal service deficit.

That's the medicine. Herewith the spoonful of sugar.
This is the best eggnog recipe I have ever found, and it comes from none other than George Washington. Get right to it, folks. It should sit for 3 or 4 days so the flavors can meld.

1 quart cream
1 quart whole milk
1 dozen eggs
1 dozen tablespoons sugar
1 pint brandy
1/2 pint rye whiskey (Canadian)
1/4 pint dry sherry
1/4 pint dark rum

Mix the liquors in a bowl and set aside. Separate the eggs into yolks and whites. Set the whites aside. Add the sugar to the beaten yolks and mix well. Slowly add the combined liquors to the yolks, mixing as you do so. Then slowly add the milk and cream, mixing well.
Now beat the whites until frothy and beginning to become stiff. Fold the whites into the mixture. Set for several days in a cool place. Add sprinkling of nutmeg when ready to serve.
It really needs to percolate for a few days so the flavors mesh and soften, and it will then keep in a refrigerator for at least another week, perhaps more. Mine is never around that long. The key to this recipe is it is not too sweet. Dangerously delicious.
One word of caution. One year I set the eggnog to meld in my screened porch. When I went to sample it after a couple of days, I found a dead (but happy) mouse in the concoction. So cover it with Saran Wrap if you don't have room in the fridge.
Cheers, gang! And Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Forgotten Miracle

If you're looking for a Christmas present for the hockey fan in your house, or simply want to get hold of a terrific documentary, order "Forgotten Miracle", a just-released DVD that revisits the U.S. Olympic hockey team's 1960 gold medal win in Squaw Valley. (Here's the website: Forgotten Miracle. For the flavor of the film, click on the trailer when you get there. If it doesn't grab you, you don't have a pulse. If it does, click on the Buy DVD link. Best $19.95 you'll ever spend.)
Those of you who have checked out the trailer have already discovered that I was one of the ones interviewed for the film. (And no, I have no financial stake in the DVD sales.) I was eight years old when the 1960 team triumphed in Squaw Valley, so it's a little surprising I come across as such a know-it-all. But I've actually written a couple of stories on that 1960 team for Sports Illustrated, have interviewed its two best players, Billy Cleary and John Mayasich, at length, and covered the 1980 "Miracle on Ice", where I became friends with Herb Brooks, the last man cut from that 1960 team. I also used to play hockey with two of Coach Jack Riley's sons on a team called the Bud Kings (mid-70s, Boston), and know from them how much pride Riley took in what that 1960 team accomplished. If you're interested, here's what I wrote in SI in a piece entitled The Original Miracle On Ice, which I hesitate to send you to because the SI Vault website spells Cleary's name "Geary" throughout the piece. Plus it's a reader's digest version of the events which transpired in Squaw Valley, which is far, far better told in the "Forgotten Miracle" movie.
A better story, I think, is the short profile I did of Mayasich, one of America's greatest hockey players, which can be found by clicking here: The Quiet American. The one statistic that really jumps out about him is that in his four year career as a center at the University of Minnesota, he averaged a staggering 2.68 points per game--higher than any four year stretch that Wayne Gretzky (2.62) managed during his NHL career.
Mayasich's scoring records at Minnesota still stand, but it is a measure of his greatness that for the 1960 Olympic team he played defense, not forward, breaking up rushes, initiating breakouts, and posing as a threat from the blueline with his trademark slapshot--a weapon that was still in its infancy.
Mayasich and brothers Billy and Bobby Cleary were last minute additions to the 1960 Olympic team. Bill Cleary and Mayasich had played for the silver medal winning US team in 1956, held regular jobs, and didn't want to take a year off to do the Olympic tour leading up to Squaw Valley. Coach Jack Riley was smart enough to know the team couldn't win without them, and tough enough to cut three players who had toured with the squad for nearly four months just a few days before the Olympics began. One of those players was Herb Brooks, a disappointment that helped fuel Brooks' own manic pursuit of the gold in 1980. "Forgotten Miracle" does a wonderful job recalling the chilly reception the latecomers got from their teammates when they joined the team in Squaw Valley, and how Billy Cleary in particular responded to it. At the end of the day, of course, the team realized Riley had been right. Billy Cleary led the team in scoring with 12 points in five games; Bob Cleary added eight points, including the first goal in the 2-1 win over Canada; and Mayasich was the team's best defender. But it is a testament to how late the trio arrived that in the official team photo, pictured below, the faces of Bill Cleary (first row, third from left), Bob Cleary (middle row, next to trainer) and Mayasich (top row, far left) had to be superimposed onto the bodies of the three players who'd been cut at the 11th hour: Brooks, Robert Dupuis, and Larry Alm. Can you imagine? There is no official team photograph of the 1960 team that won the Gold medal. It had to be faked.
There are any number of examples in the documentary that show how the game, and the Olympics, have changed in the intervening 50 years. The day after Mayasich collected his gold medal, he was back in Green Bay selling appliances. Captain Jack Kirrane, a Boston firefighter, was passed over for a promotion because he took the Olympic year off. And the gold medal game against Czechoslovakia was played at 10 a.m. before just a few thousand fans. It was a simpler time, a time when sports--at least in the U.S. and Canada--were truly amateur. None of the 1960 players benefitted financially from the win. No endorsements. No parades. Goalie Jack McCartan, who was sensational during the tournament, was signed by the New York Rangers after the Olympics, but he played only 12 games in the NHL. The only player from the 1960 team who was given a real shot in the NHL was Tom Williams, who ended up playing 663 games over a dozen seasons, primarily with Boston, scoring 161 NHL goals. But Williams was a minor player in Squaw Valley, with only 1 goal and 4 assists for the tournament. The best players, Mayasich and Cleary, never were given a chance.
Not that they were regretful about any of it. The quiet, intense pride of those 1960 players, now in their mid-70s, and their coach, who's 87, shines through in this wonderful documentary. Andrew Sherburne, the film's producer, who came to my house to interview me, told me how surprised he was at the humility of all the players he tracked down. Not an ounce of bitterness or arrogance in them. I wasn't surprised, having talked to a few of the men myself. They reached the highest pinnacle any of them ever hoped to in hockey: Olympic gold medalist. America's first gold medal in hockey. One that was every bit as shocking, in the hockey world, as the 1980 triumph. But without 1/100th of the attention.
In the film you can see how much enjoyment these men got from the sport, whether it was in recalling the memories of having snowballs fired at them by fans in Sweden, or recalling how one of the players, Paul Johnson, nearly left the team in the middle of the Olympics to go to Las Vegas because he needed some money. They were characters; they were honorable; they were tough as grit; and they were sportsmen who played the game for love and pride. One doesn't see their ilk much in the sports world anymore. But they are bigger than life in this film, and finally getting the recognition they so richly deserve.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rogue River steelhead

Back in June I wrote a blog describing a good day's fishing on the Deerfield River in western Massachusetts. In response I got a cheeky email from old friend Bob Brown, a former Sports Illustrated editor who now lives in Portland, Oregon, that said, in essence, if I wanted to try a real float trip, to join him in October, when he'd be fishing for steelhead on Oregon's Rogue River. I decided to bite.
...I'd never fished for steelhead before, but it had always been on my "to do" list, and the prospect of bumping into Tonya Harding while floating past a trailer park only added to the appeal of Bob's invitation. Steelhead are sea-run rainbow: trout that are hatched in a river, migrate into the ocean, then return to the river after one, two, or three years to spawn. Unlike salmon, steelhead do not die after spawning, but return to the ocean, where they grow ever larger and, if they are lucky, come back to spawn again and again. The world record on a fly, caught earlier this year on the Hoh River in Washington, is 29.5 pounds, but any steelhead over 10 pounds is a memorable fish.
...Bob had made reservations at Morrison's Lodge, which is on the Rogue, in Merlin, Ore., about an hour from the Medford Airport. (My wife and I actually made the 8 hour drive from San Francisco). Sally is quite a keen fisherman herself, and had decided that, while Bob and I fished with his favorite guide, Dennis, she'd take whatever guide was available and would strike out on her own. Dennis is 62, is as lean as a 15-year-old, and hasn't shaved or cut his hair since the Reagan administration. A carpenter by trade, he made his wooden drift boat by hand, and knows the Rogue like a lab knows its favorite couch. He calls the steelhead: "the fish of a thousand casts." By noon I was up to 662 without a hit.

...Despite its name, the Rogue is actually a reasonably navigable river, with long, wide stretches broken up intermittently by shallow, wade-able rapids. It is in these rapids and the tailwaters below them that the steelhead lie, often feeding on the eggs of the Chinook salmon that are spawning in the gravel shallows. Both Bob and I were using weighted egg-sucking stonefly nymphs with nymph droppers, not a delicate form of flyfishing, otherwise known as "chuck and duck." In the tailwaters, Dennis had us switch to streamers, which we cast at an angle downstream, then let swing behind the boat, before we stripped in. Steelhead usually strike on the swing. We caught several small trout in this manner, rainbow under 12 inches that had not yet migrated to the sea, but it was a slow day by any standards. Having been on the water since 8:15, by 3:30 we had still not had a real strike.
....In this regard steelhead fishing is not unlike fishing for Atlantic salmon. You pound the water and pay your dues. There's not a lot of finesse or subtlety to it, no matching the hatch or changing to a lighter tippet. You cast, cast, cast, check for wind knots, and hope for the best. If you are lucky, a freight train hits.
....Mine came in at 3:31. We were floating into the top portion of a rapid, and I cast my egg-sucking nymph into the white water as I'd done hundreds of times already that day. I'd just had time to mend the line when my line started rushing upstream as if I'd snagged a rock. I didn't have to worry about setting the hook. The fish did that for me as I just tried to hang onto the rod and stay out of the way of the line stripping off the reel. The fish turned and started back downstream--the tell that this was a steelhead, not a spawning salmon--and as Dennis pulled the driftboat over, I jumped out and followed the running fish.
....The steelhead had just made it into my backing when it stopped in a heavy portion of the current and faced back upstream. I continued to reel as I walked, but I couldn't move it. Dennis told me he'd put 1x tippet on my line, which is about 12 pound test--strong but not strong enough to drag a big fish around in heavy current. I was worried about breaking it if I forced the issue. When my line still hadn't moved after a couple of minutes, I began to think the fish had somehow wrapped itself around a rock or log in the middle of the river. I asked Dennis if that was possible. Then the steelhead started shaking its head.
....I gradually began to gain line, inching the fish closer. The steelhead moved sideways through the water, a great gray shadow, giving us a good view of his length and thickness. I'd never seen a steelhead in the water before, but Dennis allowed this was a big one--a special fish. "I'm going to get below him," he said, moving downstream with his net. "Don't let him go any further. We'll never get him if he goes through those rapids further down."
...I started to gain a little more line, but the fish was still strong and not ready to come in. Dennis was still twenty feet away from it when the steelhead moved sideways again in the current, a short but sudden move. That extra tension it put on the tippet was too much. The line broke, springing back toward me, and the fish disappeared.
...It had been on for ten minutes. We'd had a good look, but the fish hadn't jumped, and outside of a thick slab of silver gray in the river, I didn't have a very good idea of its color or beauty. We'd have released it anyway, but no picture, no satisfying hoisting of its weight. To lose a fish like that isn't something one gets over easily. But that was why we'd come. That was the fish I'd signed on for. Dennis allowed it would have been the biggest steelhead landed by someone from the Lodge that summer, 12 pounds at least. It is certainly a fish I'll never forget.
...Back at the lodge, we shared war stories with other guests. Several steelhead had been caught that day, but none near the size of the one I'd lost. Sally had caught a couple of "half-pounders" as they call the little guys, but hadn't seen any adult fish. Her guide generally took out spincasters and bait fishermen, so it wasn't exactly a good match. But tomorrow she was going with Pablo, who'd been guiding flyfishermen on the Rogue for 34 years. Bob and I would be going out again with Dennis.
....What can I tell you? It was beautiful. The company was great. We tried like hell. But the skunk never left the boat. Not a strike from an adult fish. You could have stacked all the midgets we caught on a scale and they wouldn't have weighed two pounds. A long, frustrating day on the Rogue.
...But Sally? With Pablo? She was grinning like a Cheshire cat when we returned to the Lodge, sipping on her first martini. They have a nice tradition at Morrison's of posting pictures of the fish that are caught that day on a bulletin board by the bar, and this what greeted Bob and me when we bellied up for our first drink:

Not just one steelhead. Two. Two beauties. One of them "The Catch of the Week"--was estimated at 10-12 pounds. (They didn't weigh it because Sally stuck her thumb in the fish's mouth while trying to pose with it and began bleeding all over the boat.) The "small" one was 27 inches. The big guy over 30 inches. Both fish jumped and ran and generally gave Sally a gay old time on the river with Pablo. And it turns out, she sheepishly admitted, she'd caught a third steelhead in the 20-22 inch range that they hadn't even bothered to photograph. Ho-hum. Just another day on the river.
....She didn't even know the name of the fly she was using--some sort of purple streamer that Pablo had tied. Bob was ready to strangle her. And me. And Pablo, shown here holding Sally's big fish.
...But such are the healing powers of vodka that after a couple of drinks we were able to look at Sally's success as a group effort. Bob had suggested the Rogue. I'd driven the car up from San Francisco. And Sally had finished the job the men so manfully had started.
....It was a pretty good couple of days.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Chrissy and Greg and another prediction. (Sox win!)

The problem with making predictions in print is they're often wrong. If they weren't, I'd be making a handsome living betting on sports. (I don't, by the way. Never have.) So Chicago didn't land the 2016 Olympics. So they were the first city voted out. Miss by an inch, might as well miss by a mile. I did. It happens. I'm already over it. Rio was the right choice. I just didn't think the IOC would make it. Someone from the Windy City forgot to deliver the suitcase of cash.
...The most memorable erroneous prediction I made was in the May 14, 1984 issue of Sports Illustrated on the eve of the Stanley Cup finals that pitted the four-time defending champs, the New York Islanders, vs. Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers. The Isles had swept the Oilers in the 1983 finals, and while I was a big fan of the Oilers run-and-gun style, I thought the Isles veterans had one more Cup in them. "...the Islanders will beat the Edmonton Oilers and win their fifth straight Cup," I wrote. "Five games? Six games? It doesn't matter. The Islanders will win it." [After a slow start New York stuck it to the Canadiens and - 05.14.84 - SI Vault]
...They didn't. The Oilers steamrolled the Isles in five. A lot of cities would have been satisfied with their first Stanley Cup. Not Edmonton, which has a cowtown mentality. They wanted to rub their victory in the face of the big city writer who had dismissed their heroes so cavalierly. The next week a huge funeral wreathe arrived at Sports Illustrated's editorial offices in New York, addressed to me and sent by the City of Edmonton. It was four feet across and adorned with white lilies and a card that said: E.M. Swift's Prediction, R.I.P.
The gesture earned a mention and a photo in the next week's Letter From the Publisher.
I have no clue what happened to the wreathe. I was on vacation and never saw it...
How about a story? By now you've probably heard that Greg Norman, the Great White Shark, and Chrissy Evert, the 54-year-old erstwhile tennis queen, have split after 15 whole months of marriage. Lots of theories on why: Evert didn't want to move into the estate where Norman's wife used to live; Norman's kids couldn't stand her; two huge egos don't fit in one marriage. Probably all have an element of truth.
... Theirs was a high-profile, short-lived romance, the subject of a long, gushy, embarrassing article in Sports Illustrated [At 54, Chris Evert and Greg Norman make each other feel - 04.13.09 - SI Vault]by the ordinarily reliable John Garrity, who treated us to the image of the two world-renowned narcissists as lovebirds stroking one another's feet. Evert, who has managed to cultivate and hang onto her image as "America's sweetheart" despite her three failed high-profile marriages (to British tennis player John Lloyd, to former skier Andy Mill, and to Norman), has a checkered reputation within the industry. So one prediction I would never have made was that her marriage to Norman would last.
...I have to be careful here, since this is a family oriented blog. The story I'm about to share involves a sexual favor. Or the promise of one. It is an act that men consider a treat, that many women consider a chore, and that President Clinton swore was not having sex at all. For the purposes of this blog, let's call this favor: "a piece of gum."
...So here's the story. Mills and Norman, who used to be best friends, were teamed together in a member-guest golf tournament a few years ago. Evert, who was married to Mills at the time, was dutifully following the duo. Mills faced an eagle putt on a par five, and as he stalked the green with Norman, reading the putt, Evert said within earshot of the caddy who told me this story: "Andy, if you sink this putt, I'll give you a [piece of gum]." Then she grinned at Norman. "In fact, I'll give you both [pieces of gum]."
... Mills missed the putt.
... When I heard that story, Mills and Evert were still married. So I was not exactly flabberghasted when the next time I saw her she was following Norman around at the 2008 British Open, cooing and batting her eyes like a schoolgirl.
...Enough of that. Time for my Red Sox-Angels prediction.
I've wrestled with this one, because I really admire the way the Angels play baseball. They run, they bunt, they play good defense. And the Red Sox are a flawed team this year, with Papi's struggles, the inconsistency of J.D. Drew in the middle of the order, Josh Beckett's late-season problems, and Matsusaka's disappearing act for the first five months of the season. And the Angels will run wild on Sox catchers Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez, who threw out only 8.5% and 10.5% of would be base stealers this year, respectively.
...But I just don't think the Angels starting pitching is enough to shut down the Sox offense, and I love Jon Lester in Game One. Beckett has a history of rising to the occasion in the post-season, and Matsuzaka is finally healthy and throwing well. Plus their late-inning, fireballing relief corps of Daniel Bard, Billy Wagner, and Jon Papelbon is as formidable as they come. And don't underestimate the "We've got your number" theory. The Sox eliminated the Angels in 2004, 2007 and 2008. No curse last forever--well, the Cubs one might--but look for the Red Sox to win it in four.
...Take that prediction to the bank. (But don't bet on it!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chicago will win the 2016 Olympics, and a pie to remember

President Obama's last minute decision to fly to Copenhagen this week to try to tip the scales in Chicago's favor as site of the 2016 Olympics was a good call but a bad precedent. I think it will work, and the president's appearance will make the difference, because of the nature of the International Olympic Committee. But it's a lousy way to determine on the venue of the Olympic Games.
....Obama didn't start this. Great Britain's Tony Blair did, traveling to Singapore in 2005 for a last-ditch effort on behalf of London's bid to host the 2012 Olympics. It worked, and London upset heavily favored Paris by a 54-50 vote. Russia's Vladimir Putin was next, appearing before the IOC on the eve of the vote and successfully landing the 2014 Winter Games for unheralded Sochi. Before Blair and Putin, it was unheard of for a major world leader to lobby IOC delegates in person before they voted, and the truth of the matter is the delegates like the attention. They revel in it. That's because IOC members are largely self-aggrandizing, un-idealistic, leeches who travel in style, dine sumptuously, and luxuriate in their power and influence and all manner of pomp and circumstance. They are the Mr. Toads of amateur sport. Obama is an international rock star, whose popularity extends across Europe, through Africa, and even to the Arab states. That' a lot of votes that the U.S. usually doesn't get when the IOC congress meets. So even though the heads of state from Japan (Tokyo), Brazil (Rio de Janeiro), and Spain (Madrid) will also be in Copenhagen lobbying for votes, Obama's presence trumps them. He's the Leader of the Free World, and he isn't Bush (who would have been a negative). Never mind that the U.S. Federal Government has absolutely nothing to do with financing the Games and that his appearance is strictly for show. Most of what the IOC does is for show. It's a perfect match. If Obama stays home, the Games would go to Rio. They should go to Rio, for heaven's sake, since the Olympics have never been hosted in South America. But they won't.
...So from an American perspective, and for the city of Chicago, Obama's doing the right thing. He'll undoubtedly be criticized for it in some quarters, and the trip's not without risk, since a defeat in Copenhagen will be seen as a personal defeat for Obama. But he'd be criticized more for not going. As Michele Obama said, "You're darned if you do and you're darned if you don't. I'd rather be on the side of doing it, and I think that's how the president feels."
....One wonders, though, how the IOC will ever get off this merry-go-round of dueling heads of state. Somebody's going to be embarrassed when they return home. How silly to allow these world leaders to be there in the first place. As Richard Pound, the longtime IOC representative from Canada, observes, "It might be getting out of hand when the president of the free world has to drop everything to be there."

Late September is apple harvest time at Breakwind Farm, as it is throughout most of the northeast and upper midwest. I picked mine on Saturday, and I always make a few pies before going on to the more arduous tasks of making cider and applesause and chutney. This year I happened on a easy, delicious recipe that is not something you will find in any store. And I stumbled on it because, with all the rain, this has also been a banner year for raspberries, and my three-year-old raspberry bushes are, for the first time, in full harvest mode.

So for the last couple of weeks I've always had a half-pint of fresh raspberries around. They spoil pretty quickly, so it's been a challenge to keep up. (Having made blackberry jam, apple-mint jelly, and grape-rosemary jelly, I am jammed and jellied out.) Anyway, it's generally a good idea to squeeze some lemon juice on an apple pie to add some tartness, and this year I thought I'd try adding raspberries instead. They're pretty tart. It turned out to be a good idea. Fresh apples and raspberries go brilliantly together.

Before a share the recipe, a word about piecrusts. Make that four words. I can't make them. I CANNOT MAKE A PIE CRUST. I've tried, and they tear, or glop, or dry, or fall on the floor. If you can make a pie crust that's flaky and light, go wild. Knock yourself out. Me, I buy frozen crusts. I am not Julia Child, despite the many recipes in this blog. And if I can buy a better pie crust than I can make, I'll swallow my pride and buy it. By far the best brand I've found comes from Oronoque Orchards. 9-inch, Deep Dish, flaky homestyle pie crusts. Found in your grocer's frozen food section.

Breakwind Farm's Apple-Raspberry Pie

6-8 apples, cored, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
about 20 fresh raspberries and/or blueberries
drizzle of honey

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Lay apple slices in the pie crust, piling high in the center.
Scatter raspberries/blueberries on top evenly
Mix sugar and spices together. Sprinkle over the fruit.
Drizzle with honey.
Put a second pie crust over the top; prick with a fork.
Place on cookie sheet. Bake 15 mins. at 425 degrees. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake another 30 mins., or until crust is golden brown.

Let cool. Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or plain.
Autumn will explode in your mouth!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The golf ball and the underrated dolgo crabapple

Yesterday it was officially announced that the 2013 U.S. Amateur golf championship would be held at The Country Club, in Brookline, Massachusetts, marking the centennial of Francis Ouimet's victory there in the 1913 U.S. Open. I am a member of that wonderful club, and, like the majority of members, am excited that the U.S.G.A. has chosen to recognize Ouimet's historic win in such a fashion. Several years ago, many of us had been hoping the U.S. Open would be held at TCC in 2013, but negotiations broke down over a variety of issues. However, hosting the U.S. Amateur can be construed as a possible precursor of a future Open, perhaps in 2018 or 2023. There is already a
blueprint for a couple of million dollars in "improvements" to the course in anticipation of such an event. Fortunately, due to the moribund economy, these design changes--new tees to lengthen some holes, new bunkers in landing areas 300 yards or more yards from the tees--have been tabled. But they're coming, I'm sure of that. Like all of the old, classic courses, The Country Club has fallen victim to technology, and holes that used to require a drive and a three-iron are now a drive and a wedge. 550 yard par 5s are easily reached in two shots. 350 yard par 4s are drive-able. So we lengthen the tees until we run out of space, at a cost to the membership of millions of dollars.
...The problem, as Jack Nicklaus has said for years, is the golf ball. The metal drivers have something to do with the extra length players are getting off the tee--I am 57 and hit it as far as I ever have--but by far the biggest factor is the ball. So I wonder what the solution is?
...Let me think. Let me think. Could it possibly be to regulate the ball?
...I can only think of one other pro sport where players bring their own ball to the competition. Bowling.
...Bowling and golf. Now there's some select company.
...Can you imagine a baseball pitcher who insisted on using his own ball when he took the mound? Absurd. Yet the fathers of golf insist the equipment companies are so powerful that you could never get, say, Tiger Woods to play with anything but a Nike ball. Poppycock. In tennis, another sport heavily influenced by endorsements from Nike, Wilson, Spalding, et al., the balls are given to the players. Roddick can't chose one brand, Federer another. But golf officials, somehow, haven't the guts to stand up to the players and their multiple corporate sponsors: Titleist, Nike, Callaway, Bridgestone, and the rest.
...Look, I don't care what happens on the PGA Tour. Let the players bomb 400 yard drives at the ATT Invitational all they want. But the U.S.G.A., the not-for-profit organization which oversees the game and hosts our national championship, should be able to take the Open to historic old courses without requiring them to put in a whole new set of tees in order to "defend" par. The U.S.G.A. should have the cojones to say to Tiger, Phil, and Vijay: "Thanks for coming. Here's the ball you'll be using for the next four days. It says U.S. Open on it, and it's a 90 compression balata." Or whatever. Everyone plays with the same ball. What a concept! It's called a level playing field. And it's called monetary sense. Enough of the 7,600 yard courses. Because it will never end. Technology's not going to stop here. The balls will keep going further if someone doesn't put a lid on it. Let's keep the old designs relevant and save everyone (but the course architects and equipment companies) a pile of dough.

The other big news from Massachusetts yesterday (that had nothing to do with a funeral) was here at Breakwind Farm we harvested our crop of dolgo crabapples and made applesauce. It is a tart-ish, red applesauce that we use with pork, on gingerbread, and as a stand-alone desert topped with vanilla ice cream. As you can see, part of its appeal is visual. You simply cannot find anything like this in the supermarket. So if any of you readers are thinking of planting an ornamental tree that is easy to care for and also produces a useful, unique fruit, I heartily recommend the dolgo crab. It likes full sun, is fast growing, and looks like this in the springtime.
(My bees LOVE it1) Then in late august, without the least assistance from me (I don't even spray), it produces an abundance of golf-ball sized, red crab apples, too tart to enjoy raw, but which can be easily made into applesauce or jelly.

...Here's my recipe for Breakwind Applesauce.

20 cups dolgo crab apples, stemmed and cut in half
4 or 5 regular apples, stemmed and quartered
1 1/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
juice from 1/2 lemon
5 cups sugar

Wash, stem, and halve the apples. Put in large pot with water, cloves, cinnamon stick and lemon juice. Cook 20 minutes over medium heat, covered.

At this point it should look something like this:

Put through a food mill. (This is a food mill:

Stir in five cups of sugar. Bring to a boil.
Put into 1 pint jars. Makes 8 pints.

The jars, of course, should be sterilized. Then after they've been filled and sealed, you should still boil them while completely immersed for several minutes. The result: red, delicious, dolgo applesauce, which all winter long serves as a reminder that spring is just around the bend.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Johnny Damon vs. J.D. Drew, an epic Red Sox Gaffe

The Red Sox front office has had some hits and misses in the last five years, but no miss was greater than the failure to re-sign Johnny Damon after the 2005 season. Yes, the once-beloved Damon is now hated in Boston because of his decision to jump to the despised Yankees, lured by an offer of $52 million, over 4 years. But Damon was the heart and soul of the 2004 World Series winners who broke the Curse of the Bambino, chief idiot of the self-described "idiots" who came back so improbably from the 3-0 deficit against the Bronx Bombers. He owned Boston back then. Women loved him. Men admired him. And Damon wanted to stay. Until, that is, the Sox low-balled him. Then he was gone. For $12 million, it's tough to blame him.
It is tempting to put the finger on youthful GM Theo Epstein for this front office gaffe, but Epstein was having a dispute with team president Larry Lucchino at the time, and wasn't, temporarily, with the team. Lucchino was in charge of the negotiations with Damon's agent, Scott Boras, and the Sox' final offer of $40 million for 4 years was well short of what the Yanks were willing to pay. As soon as Damon signed with New York, the bad-mouthing started. He was "an old" 32, his best years behind him. He had no arm and was just an average fielder. His shoulder was suspect. By the end of his contract, the Yankees would surely rue paying him $12 million a year.

....Guess what? The Yanks got their money's worth, and then some. Damon's having a phenomenal season in the final year of that four-year contract, and the Yanks are talking about re-signing him in the off-season. Damon still has power--22 homers already in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium--83 runs scored, 8 steals, 52 walks, a leader in the clubhouse, popular with the fans and press...what's not to like? The Yanks are headed for the World Series, and the 35-year-old Damon is putting up numbers for his career--he has 2,389 hits and could reach 3,000--that probably will land him in the Hall of Fame.
....And the Red Sox? They're in a August swoon, and in place of Damon they went out and signed J.D. "Nancy" Drew.
....Okay, that's a cheapshot. Drew outgrew that nickname in the 2007 playoffs, when he eradicated the memory of a lousy first season with the Red Sox by helping them to their second World Series title in four years with a good post-season. At that point it seemed maybe boy wonder Theo Epstein had been smart to fling $70 million over five years at the oft-injured Drew (also represented by Boras)--$30 million more than the club had offered Damon. But with two years remaining on that contract, it's now clear: Drew is grossly overpaid; and Damon is sorely missed.

...Yes, Drew has a better arm than Damon, and plays a respectable right field. But a comparison of their offensive totals shows that Drew falls short of Damon in every category but one: walks. Theo loves walks. I prefer runs and ribbies. In Damon's four years with the Yankees,including this partial season, he has averaged 135 games, 150 hits, 97 runs, 19 homers, 22 steals, 70 RBIs, and 62 walks. Great numbers. Drew, in his three seasons with Boston, including this partial, has averaged just 116 games, 105 hits, 75 runs, 14 homers, 58 RBIs, 3 steals, and 73 walks. The guy's a walking machine. He really knows how to take a pitch. Unfortunately, he usually bats fifth or sixth, because most startling among those numbers is that Damon, usually a leadoff hitter, has averaged 12 more RBIs a season than Drew. If you also throw in the lousy offensive year that centerfielder Coco Crisp had in 2006 (105 games,.264 average, 8 homers, 58 runs, 36 RBIs)--after Damon left but before Drew was signed--you get the full picture of how much Boston has struggled to replace Damon's bat.
...Beyond that, Damon had personality and fire, something the 33-year-old Drew has shown little of during his stay in Boston.
....It's time for Bostonians to stop booing and give Johnny Damon his due. The guy was fun, he was good, and the Red Sox are worse off without him. The fact that he's headed for the post season now while Boston is reeling just rubs more salt in this self-inflicted wound. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will be stuck with the most overpaid right fielder in baseball for two more seasons. He looks like an old man now at 33. What's he going to look like in 2011?
....Why they signed you, Nancy, will always be a mystery to me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eggs Edward

I don't know why breakfast gets such little respect as a real meal. A person hasn't eaten in 10 or 12 hours, he should be hungry for something more than a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast. I have one friend who has a Coke for breakfast. Many others who have nothing at all, or who grab a cup of coffee while heading out the door. You've all heard the old saw about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. I think that's probably true, but at the very least you should treat it as you would any other meal by preparing it with good, fresh ingredients and varying the menu every once in awhile.
...With that in mind, allow me to share the recipe for my favorite breakfast: Eggs Edward. Step aside, Benedict, your day is over. (Really, Hollandaise Sauce before noon? Just inject me with Crisco and be done with it.)
...Here at Breakwind Farm, August is generally a time when we are knee deep in fresh tomatoes. (Not this year. The incessant rain in the northeast has postponed the tomato crop, and given much of it blight. My first tomatoes are still bright green--but that's another recipe for another day.) I started eating sliced tomatoes on toast for breakfast as a way to keep up with the harvest, and eventually began experimenting with other flavors that were complimentary. Hence the birth of Eggs Edward.

Ingredients: 2 slices crisp bacon
1 English muffin, or two slices white bread, toasted and buttered
1 sliced tomato
2 poached eggs
fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste.

This takes no longer than five minutes to prepare, start to finish, or as long as it takes to crisp the bacon. Heat water in a frying pan to a boil to poach the eggs, or you can use a fancy poaching device. The frying pan works fine, however, if you add a tablespoon of white vinegar to the water before adding the eggs. The vinegar, for whatever reason, keeps the eggs from spreading out, and the result is an imperfectly round but nonetheless compact and delicious poached egg.
Meanwhile, toast the muffin and butter the halves. Top each half with a slice of tomato, a piece of bacon broken in half, one egg (remove the egg from the fry pan with a slotted spoon, being careful to drain off the water), and slivers of fresh basil. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with fresh coffee. Bon Appetite!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

LPGA woes go beyond its Commissioner

To no one's surprise, the commissioner of the LPGA, Carolyn Bivens, who was under pressure to step down after it became public that fifteen of the top women's golfers were trying to oust her, resigned her post Monday with two years remaining on her contract. Replacing Bivens on a temporary basis will be 61-year-old Marsha Evans, a member of the LPGA board who is a retired rear admiral for the navy. She has also run the Girl Scouts of America and the American Red Cross.
Look, I'm no Bivens apologist. From the time she was hired in 2005 she was a bad fit for the women's tour--firing longtime employees, pricing loyal sponsors and small town tournaments out of the game, trying to muscle her agenda through without building consensus. She had no background in women's golf and had an overbearing personality--a bad combination. Since 2007 seven tournaments have disappeared, and one of their majors--the McDonalds LPGA--is now homeless. The imploding economy is partially to blame, of course, but Bivens' refusal to talk about lowering purses and controlling costs contributed to the defections of sponsors. Her bad business decisions, not her personality, ultimately led to the players' revolt.
But the problems of the LPGA go well beyond their flawed commissioner. I covered the sport for three years, and I can give you any number of reasons sponsors are fleeing women's golf. Here are the top four:
1) From a marketing and entertainment perspective, there really are too many Koreans. Bivens was roundly criticized for threatening suspensions of any LPGA player who wasn't conversant in English, in hopes that the Koreans on tour would better interact with sponsors, the media, and fans--a directive she ultimately backed away from. But the fact is any professional sport has to be able to sell itself, and the Koreans on the LPGA tour--there are 45 of them--do little to build interest in the women's game. It may be a cultural thing--in fact it probably is--but most Korean players seem to deliberately hide their personality. Here's a picture of Eun-hee Ji, who won the U.S. Open on Sunday. A star is born! Let's see: black hat, black sunglasses, black shirt, black pants...People rob banks dressed like that. The fact that Ji's press conference was conducted through an interpreter is the least of the LPGA's problems. The winner of women's golf's biggest tournament could have been a teenaged boy, the way she dressed. She has no public face and no recognizable shape. She wears black. Putts well. Go ahead and try to promote that.
And of course there are the others. Nine of the top fifteen finishers in the 2009 U.S. Women's Open were born in South Korea. One stroke back was In-Kyung Kim. Tied for ninth were Na-yeon Choi, Kyeong Bae and Hee Young Park. Alone in 12th was Song-Hee Kim. Filling out the top fifteen were Jiyai Shin, Jennifer Song, and Sun Ju Ahn. Nowhere in there was South Korean Birdie Kim, whose only win was the 2005 U.S. Open. Or South Korean Inbee Park, whose only win was the 2008 U.S. Open.
Faceless names, one as anonymous as the next. Why should we care that South Koreans have taken over the women's game? We don't care. That's the point. We just don't care. But if you are a sponsor, you want people to care about women's golf. To care who wins. That way, you might watch.
2) Annika Sorenstam has retired. Annika was the face, and body, of women's golf for a decade or more. She was that rare athlete who was known by one name, Annika, like Kobe or Lance or Tiger, and whose popularity went beyond her sport. People who knew nothing about women's golf knew about Annika. She was the girl in the major's race with Tiger. First to ten! First to eleven! She was attractive and non-threatening to both men and women, someone we could always root for if we happened to flip on a women's golf tournament. No one disliked Annika. Many people liked her a lot, especially in the brave, dignified way she competed in a PGA tour event, nearly making the cut at Colonial. Without Annika, the LPGA now lacks a promotable star.

3) Michelle Wie, the future of women's golf, is a bust.
Wie was a media invention, as television producers and newspaper and magazine editors tried to be the first to invent the Tiger Woods of women's golf. My golf editor at Sports Illustrated was absolutely convinced she was going to be a superstar, and whenever she competed in a tournament, whether she was near the top of the scoreboard or not, I was told to make Wie my focus. She was young, she was good, she hit the ball a long way for a girl, and she had long legs and short shorts. She also, much to my delight, said provocative things that were ambitious and incredibly, incredibly dumb--like her goal was to qualify for the Masters and to make the men's Ryder Cup team. Hello? This girl got into Stanford? How?
Meanwhile, her game just kept getting worse. She was able to sign a huge endorsement contract with Nike before things really went south--someone sure looks like an idiot for that move--but it added marketing clout to the Michelle Wie myth. Several times she was offered, and stupidly accepted, exemptions to play in PGA Tour events that needed publicity, which both exposed her game as deeply flawed and exacerbated the resentment against Wie that had built within the LPGA, a tour that needed a young star of Wie's aura and Nike's backing. When Wie finally did accept that she wasn't PGA Tour material and decided to play full time against the ladies, guess what? She turned out to be just another player. She hasn't won. She didn't even qualify for the 2009 U.S. Women's Open. She wasn't remotely Tiger-esque. Because she never learned how to win. She looked good, had a gorgeous swing, hit the ball a ton...but Michelle Wie never learned how to score and to play with a lead. She is the star who wasn't, yet sadly is still the biggest name in women's golf.
4) The women's game is boring.
It is. And I'm not being sexist in saying that. I'm being honest. I covered it. I watch it on television. Women's golf is paint drying played with a ball.
Look, it's not just women's golf. Most men's golf is boring, too. Steve Stricker is great, but boring. So is Lucas Glover, winner of the 2009 US Open. So are a lot of guys who hit it straight and putt well. Exciting is Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, who hit it a mile, all over the place, behind trees, into bunkers, into gnarly lies in the rough, then somehow get up and down for par. Or make a triple bogey. I play golf, and I see these guys get into and out of predicaments that blow my mind. That's what's fun to watch. Not fairways and greens.
The ladies? Never happens. They hit it straight, keep it safely in play, put it on the green, and sink putts. Or miss them. They're smooth and rhythmic and very, very skillful. But it's like watching a guy play the French horn. Give me wild eyes and big cheeks! Give me Louis Armstrong! In the women's game there are no 350 yard bombs off the tee that wind up in the wrong county. Thus no thrilling escapes. If they get into trouble, they're about five yards off the fairway. They win with consistency and the flatstick, not exactly the formula for thrilling viewing. No swashbuckling on the LPGA. And weirdly, most LPGA players have their caddies stand behind them to line them up before they hit the ball. What the hell is that? You're a professional golfer and you can't align your own feet? Jesus Minnie. And while I'm bitching, the ladies are also slow. Glacial. You can't really tell watching television, because the producers cut away from the tediousness. But in person you are subjected to the sight of women golfers who insist on marking a one foot putt in order to realign their ball so the line is pointing straight into the hole. Just shoot me now! Tap the damn thing in! (Annika was an exception, by the way. She was not just the best player on the LPGA tour, she was the fastest.)
....So the new Commissioner, Marsha Evans, has her work cut out for her. But, hey, I think the LPGA is onto something with Evans. She was a rear admiral for the Navy, after all. She should be well versed in manning the helm of a sinking ship.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wrigley Field vs. Fenway Park, battle of the ballfields

I once had a calendar in my kitchen that read: "I like old things that time has tried, and proven good and true and fine. I like old things. They have a strength unknown by anything that's new."
I feel the same way about old ballparks. A new ballpark, regardless of how carefully designed, with its comfortable seats, waterfalls, exploding scoreboards, retractable roof, luxury boxes, unimpeded sight lines, etc., etc., still lacks the character of an old park. It is missing the tapestry of joys and pains of seasons gone by. The memories of attending games with a father or grandfather. The depth of experience. Yes, in an old park the seats are small and often uncomfortable. Some of the sections are obstructed by iron pillars. The bathrooms are cramped, outdated, and generally gross. The locker rooms are spartan. But we, the fans, love them. For all their cachet and conveniences, your Jacobs Fields and Camden Yards need to mellow and age for another 80 years or so. In the meantime, give me the two best ballparks in America: Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. They are the national pastime's national treasures.
....But which is best? Fenway, that "lyric little bandbox of a ballpark", as described by John Updike? Or "the friendly confines of Wrigley Field", as described by beloved Chicago announcer, Jack Brickhouse.

...I grew up in Chicago. Now I live in Boston, where I share season's tickets to the Red Sox. I consider myself a neutral observer in matters Wrigley vs. Fenway. In July, 1980, I wrote a long story for Sports Illustrated on Wrigley Field entitled: "One Place That Hasn't Seen The Light". (You can click on the name to read it.) I remember wandering around the dark corners of Wrigley while doing the research, checking out the ivy on the outfield walls, going inside the hand-operated scoreboard, sitting in every section of the park. There isn't a bad seat in Wrigley unless you sit directly behind a pillar.
.... A few years later, in 1987, I wrote a story about watching a baseball game from inside the hand-operated scoreboard at Fenway Park, chronicling the action while watching the game over left fielder Jim Rice's shoulder. One eye open for rats.
So I am well familiar with the nooks and crannies of both parks. I hadn't been back to Wrigley for nearly 30 years, however, until last week, when I had a chance to take my son Teddy to Wrigley and see what, if anything, was new. Turns out, time had marched on without me.
....Our hosts were Sandy and Douglas Stuart, pictured above with Teddy. Sandy had bid on four seats nine rows behind home plate at a charity auction, and was kind enough to share them with us. They were perfect: in the shade, on the aisle, and just off-center so the umpire didn't block the view of the plate. This was it:

....The screen, by the way, wasn't the least bit intrusive. On balance the park was just about the way I remembered it. The ivy still covered the outfield walls in a rich, textured green, and the dimensions of the outfield was still cozy. The centerfield scoreboard still carried inning-by-inning scores of every game in both leagues--the only one to do so in baseball.

But there were changes. For one thing, there were lights, installed in 1988. And the previously pristine outfield walls now featured a pair of ads for UnderArmour in left and right, though they were tastefully backdropped in green.

(Fenway's green monster has ads galore, and the top of Fenway Park is bathed in neon. So on this score Wrigley was the height of reserve and discretion.)

The biggest change, however, had taken place outside the park. The apartment buildings across the street, which for generations had simply featured rooftop patios and deck chairs, were now hideously transformed by the addition of rooftop bleachers which neighboring entrepreneurs had built.
Signs for BeyondtheIvy.com and WrigleyFieldRooftopClub.com let you know where these rooftop bleachers seats could be purchased. They weren't cheap. $168 plus tax gets you one seat in a rooftop bleacher beyond Waveland Ave., plus some hot dogs and beer, so you can enjoy the view from, oh, 500+ feet away. If you're lucky, the seat won't be obstructed by the foul pole!
......What had once been one of the genuine charms of Wrigley Field--a baseball park in a residential neighborhood--had morphed into a kitchy, Capitalist nightmare: old brownstones defaced by steel and aluminum bleachers overlooking the backs of the left and rightfield walls. How the zoning board ever okayed these monstrosities is beyond me--probably in exchange for allowing the Cubs to play night baseball--but the effect ruins the integrity of both the neighborhood and the park. The one amusing part is a code on one of the rooftops on Sheffield Ave., beyond right field, which reads: AC0063100.

I asked Douglas what it meant.

"The AC stands for Anno Catuli," he said. "Latin for Year of our Cubs. 00 is the number of years since the Cubs have made it to the playoffs (2008); 63 is the years since they were in a World Series (1945); and 100 the years since they've won the World Series (1908)."


So here's how I assess the strengths and weaknesses of America's two greatest ballparks.

1) Beauty: Wrigley is symmetrical, Fenway is asymmetrical. The ivy-covered walls of Wrigley are gorgeous. Fenway's green monster is, well, monstrous. Both have lovely green grass. The rooftop bleachers overlooking Wrigley are an eyesore, but you probably get used to them. Edge: Wrigley

2) Ambiance Wrigley is homey, comforting, pleasant. Fenway is edgy, dramatic, electric. Cubs fans cheer. Red Sox fans cheer, jeer, and boo. Do not wear a Yankee cap in Fenway. Do not interfere with a pop foul along the left field wall when the Cubs are in the field at Wrigley. Edge: Fenway

3) Beer Within two minutes of my seat, Wrigley offered Old Style, Old Style Light, Bud, Bud Lite, Miller Lite, Corona, Amstel, Heineken, and Goose Island, a local beer, for $6.50.
In Fenway they sell Bud, Bud Light, Sam Adams, Amstel, Smithwicks, Guinness and probably others I haven't noticed. But they charge $7.50 for domestic beers, $8.50 for imported. Ridiculous. Edge: Wrigley

4) Restrooms: I can't speak for the ladies rooms. In Fenway, they have urinals. In Wrigley, they have troughs. I hate troughs. I really worry about overflow at the low end. Edge: Fenway

5) Traditions: The Cubs have a guest celebrity lead the crowd in "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", a tradition started by beloved announcer Harry Caray. Comedian George Lopez led it the day we were at Wrigley. The Red Sox sing that, too, during the seventh inning stretch. And even without a celebrity to lead them, people actually stand up and belt it out. But Fenway fans really get their kicks by singing along to Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" in the bottom of the 8th. Maybe you have to have been there, but I'm telling you, Sweet Caroline carries the day. Edge: Fenway

6) Statues: Outside Wrigley is a statue of Ernie Banks with the inscription: "Let's Play Two" beneath it, Ernie's favorite expression on a game day.

On Yawkey Way, outside Fenway, there's a picture of Ted Williams good-naturedly putting his baseball cap on some kid, like he was the kid's pal. I happen to know that Williams was usually surly and dismissive of kids, even kids who went to his baseball camp, for whom he refused to sign autographs. This is a fraudulent statue.
Edge: Wrigley

7) Movies: Oddly, the best the Cubs can boast in the movie department is "Rookie of the Year", about a kid who can throw the ball 100 mph or something after an operation and leads the Cubs to...wherever he leads them to. I've never seen it. The Red Sox have the Farrelly Bros. "Fever Pitch" starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. It's pretty darn watchable, even the second time around. And part of it was actually filmed the year the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino and won the World Series in 2004. Edge: Fenway

8) Curses: The Cubs have the Billy Goat curse, placed on them in 1945 when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave a World Series game at Wrigley because his pet goat's odor was bothering other fans. "Them Cubs, they aren't gonna win no more," he declared while being escorted from the park. Strong words and a strong curse, 63 years and counting.
The Red Sox labored under the "Curse of the Bambino", which was descended on them when the team's owner sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 in order to finance the Broadway show "No No Nannette." It was a pretty good curse, too, lasting for 86 years. But it didn't last forever. The Billy Goat curse might.
Edge: Wrigley

Let's see...add up the totals and you get...4-4. The best baseball park in America? I'm telling you, it's a toss up. But since no journalist worth his salt can possibly finish a column like this without taking sides, I ask myself this last simple question: If I had one ballgame, and only one ballgame left to attend on this earth, where would I want it to be played?
Fenway Park.
Ambiance, baby. Just the ambiance.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My first look at Bethpage Black

In the spring of 1995, seven years before the U.S. Open was played at Bethpage Black for the first time, the U.S.G.A. let the word out they wanted to hold the Open at a true public course. (Technically, Pebble Beach and Pinehurst are "public", but in fact they are resort courses that command sky-high greens fees and cater to the affluent.) Bethpage Black, a true public course on Long Island, was on the USGA radar screen, but no decision had been made yet whether to award it America's most important golf tournament. The A.W. Tillinghast gem had grown threadbare from neglect and needed an infusion of funds to bring the sand traps and greens up to Open standards. But the U.S.G.A. was apparently willing to do make the investment to restore one of the great public courses in the country. Sports Illustrated's managing editor, Mark Mulvoy, a 2-handicapper, called to ask me to write a scouting report on Bethpage Black. I put together a foursome of SI colleagues, and this is the story I wrote:

" Walt's voice was hesitant, maybe a touch apprehensive, as if I had invited him to, say, swim the English Channel. "The Black Course?" he asked. "Why not the Red Course? Or the Blue? I'm not a very good golfer."

Walt Bingham, a special contributor to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and the magazine's former golf editor, had first played the merciless Black Course at Bethpage (N.Y.) State Park in the late '50s. So when word leaked out that the United States Golf Association was weighing the possibility of holding the U.S. Open at Bethpage in the year 2002, I thought he might like to join me and two other staffers and give it another look.

"I swore I'd never play that course again," Walt said, the memories coming back. "It's a monster. They used to post the waiting times at all of Bethpage's five courses. The Red might have had a 45-minute wait. Green: 30 minutes. Yellow: one hour. The Black Course: zero minutes. No one wanted to play it. A couple of times we figured, What the heck—how tough can it be? Five holes later we'd be covered in sweat and ready to give up the game."

That certainly sounded like a place suitable for the U.S. Open. With one big difference. The Black Course at Bethpage, unlike the storied courses that traditionally host the Open—Baltusrol, Winged Foot, Merion, or this year's site, Shinnecock Hills, which is just 55 miles east of Bethpage—is a public course. Walt agreed to the outing, and I called Bethpage State Park to find out how long our foursome could expect to wait for a tee time if we showed up at 6 a.m. on a Thursday morning in May. "If it's a nice day?" the woman said. "Two to three hours. Sometimes people sleep in their cars."

On a recent Saturday in May, I was told, the wait had reached four to five hours. With the advent of the golf boom, the days when there was no wait at the Black Course are long gone. But the appeal of teeing it up on a potential U.S. Open course where golfers routinely spend nights in the parking lot to snag a tee time at first light was irresistible.

My next call was to David Fay, executive director of the USGA, to see if the rumors about the Open's possibly going to Bethpage had merit. He confirmed that he had taken three foursomes to the Black Course in early May to check out the suitability of the venue, which he'd last played as a high school student 27 years ago. "We do a lot and say a lot about the importance of building more public golf courses," said Fay. "But holding the Open at a true public facility is something we've never done. Over half our member clubs are public in orientation. Pebble Beach and Pinehurst are the only two public courses we play our national championship on, but they're really resort courses. The whole idea is still in its infancy, but it's a dream of mine to hold the National Open at a place like Bethpage, which is the quintessential public facility."

Quintessential is the word. An hour's drive from Manhattan, Bethpage State Park, which is the largest public golf complex in the country, hosted 296,000 rounds of golf in 1994. Forty-six thousand of them were on the Black Course, which is open from April till early December. A new reservation system lets golfers book tee times up to seven days in advance, but walk-ons are welcome from 5 to 7 a.m. on a first come, first served basis. Greens fees on the Black Course are $20 on weekdays, $25 on weekends, with half price on weekdays for seniors.

Fay told me that four of the five courses at Bethpage were built as a Depression-era WPA project. Some 2,400 people had been put to work building them, and, additionally, 800 caddies were employed when the complex opened in 1936. Everything had been built on a grand scale. The courses were spread out over 1,100 acres of rolling woodlands. Bethpage's central clubhouse was the largest building in Long Island's Nassau County when it was completed, and its huge, high-ceilinged cafeteria was, according to Fay, one of the great places in golf to have a cup of coffee while awaiting your tee time. Fortunately, on the day we'd chosen to play, the forecast was for thunderstorms. The parking lot had only a dozen cars in it when Walt and I drove in at 5:25 a.m., and when we paid our money at the ticket booth, we were given a starting time of 6:27. That made us the fourth group off. A thick fog completely shrouded the Black Course's 1st hole, a 430-yard, dogleg right from an elevated tee, but once the mist burned off, it promised to be a fine spring day.

We rented pull carts for $1.50. One of the many fine things about the Black Course, which was designed by the renowned golf architect A.W. Tillinghast, is that motorized carts are forbidden there. It is strictly a walking course. There are only two sets of tees—regular and championship—and from the back tees the Black Monster measures 7,065 yards and plays to par 71. The slope rating from the championship tees, which I had convinced our foursome we should play from, is 144. One of the par-4s, the 12th, measures 480 yards. The 16th is 466 yards, and there are four other par-4s of 430 yards or more, often uphill to elevated greens. The par-5 7th is 585 yards and requires a 200-yard tee shot over a bunker the size of Rhode Island to reach the fairway. We were going to be in for a punishing day.

The starter, 72-year-old Barney Adamo, had been one of Bethpage's original 800 caddies when the Black Course opened. He didn't figure it had changed very much over the years, despite the increase in golfing traffic. It's the same old grumbling bear it has always been.

"Everyone thinks they're John Daly," he said as a golfer on the 1st tee waited for the group ahead to turn the corner of the dogleg. When the man ". grounded his drive into the thick rough, Adamo nodded knowingly.

Once the foursome ahead of us disappeared into the gradually lifting fog, we never saw them again. Given the difficulty of the course, the pace of play, which is monitored by a polite but vigilant ranger, was impressively quick. Anyone is allowed to play the Black Course, but when you buy your ticket, you are discouraged from trying the course if you don't have a low handicap. That policy helps keep things moving.

The course is an endlessly interesting challenge. The tees provide one visual treat after another, usually involving vast distances and copious amounts of sand. Water only comes into play on one hole, the 8th, a 195-yard par-3. The rough, drenched with dew, was U.S. Open-length the day we played, two inches long in the first cut but more than five inches in the second cut. On certain holes there were also stretches of uncut prairie grass that came up to a golfer's waist. A wayward ball flying into it was as good as lost.

"I wonder if I'll recognize the tree a photographer friend threw his putter into," Walt said on his way to the 5th tee. "I had to climb up to retrieve it."

He never found that landmark, but Walt was a wonderful sport throughout. A 27 handicapper who was shod in sneakers and playing with rented clubs, his only par came on the par-3 3rd hole, which I double-bogeyed. His best drives repeatedly landed short of the fairway, in heavy rough or in some cavernous bunker. "I can't hit it any better than that," he said after belting a good drive that failed to reach the fairway on the 15th, an uphill par-4 that measures 438 yards and plays more like 475. His drive had nestled on the side of a bunker, amid a tangle of vines. The green, sloping high above us like a sleeping elephant, was still 200 yards away. Walt swung at his ball savagely, but it didn't budge. "I can't play it," he said, moving forward six inches and peering down. "I can't even find it. I hit it a foot." He finally found the ball, which he declared unplayable. "I'm on my way to a Laurel and Hardy."

"A what?"

"A Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. A 10. One worse than a hangman. Two worse than a snowman."

Walt in fact curled in a four-footer for a 9. For the round he shot 111. I have a seven handicap and got up and down about seven times to squeeze out an 81, which in 10 more tries I would not expect to improve on. Our foursome played in four hours, 10 minutes, and never waited on a shot.

"It's obviously one of Tillinghast's best," golf course architect Rees Jones told me later when I asked him to critique the Black Course. Jones was with Fay at the USGA outing in May, and his words of praise were a mouthful. Tillinghast, who designed more than 50 courses in his career, is certainly one of America's greatest golf architects, with five of his courses in the top 27 of Golf Digest'?, 1995-96 list of America's 100 greatest golf courses. Tillinghast's gems include the East and West courses at Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, N.Y., the San Francisco Golf Club and Somerset Hills (N.J.). The Black Course was the last course Tillinghast built. Afterward he retired to Beverly Hills and opened an antiques shop. Golf Digest omits the Black Course from its Top 100 list, but it is regularly mentioned in Golf magazine's rankings. And former PGA champion and television analyst Dave Marr, who last played Bethpage 35 years ago, puts the Black Course among his alltime top 10.

"Neither Baltusrol nor Winged Foot is in as dramatic a setting as the Black Course," says Jones. "I guarantee you, if they hold a tournament there, it'll become a world-renowned course. It needs some work up the middle. The tees have to be redone, and the bunkers need new sand. Some of the fairways could use some work. The greens have become smaller over the years and need to be brought back to their original size. But it has all the elements the USGA looks for—the long par-4s, and green contours that will enable the putting surfaces to get up to Open speed. The bunkers are larger than anything I've seen Tillinghast do. He used to walk Pine Valley a lot, which was the hot course of his time, and he might have been influenced by some of the Pine Valley bunkers. The Black Course is the most bold of any of Tillinghast's courses I've seen. I'm sure he intended it to hold major championships."

The Black Course has twice held the New York State Open and annually is host to the Ivy League golf championship. But it has never been dressed up for a major. "It would be great for golf," says Jones. "This is no longer a private country club game. More golf is played on public facilities than private ones."

Chances seem excellent that at long last the Black Course will get its day in the sun. Fay has yet to present a formal proposal to the USGA board, but he's guardedly optimistic that if a few hurdles are cleared, it'll be well received. With its huge acreage, Bethpage can easily handle the logistics required of a U.S. Open site: the corporate tents, the practice range, sufficient public parking and accessibility to golf fans. A public road that runs through the middle of the course would have to be shut down during the tournament. But there doesn't seem to be any insurmountable problem.

New York State Parks and Recreation commissioner Bernadette Castro is enthusiastically behind the idea. "It would be tremendous for Long Island and for the golf course," she says. "We'd never be able to sink a million dollars of public money into the Black Course to bring it back to its original condition. But if the USGA were to make that investment, we'd maintain it. Once you host a U.S. Open, you have an obligation to keep it looking like a U.S. Open course."

Asked if the golfers who usually play at Bethpage would object to the course being closed a few weeks for the Open, park superintendent Jim Evans says, "The pride it would give our golfers, knowing the USGA was so enthused about our golf course they'd make that sort of investment in it, would be terrific. They'd really go for it."

Certainly, Walt is enthusiastic about the idea. "By all means, bring on the Open," he said after our round. "I'd like to see the Black Course pick on someone its own size."

....That was the story, which SI ran 13 years ago in its June 17, 1995 issue. Seven years later Tiger Woods won the Open at Bethpage, a wire-to-wire win that validated the course's greatness. Phil Mickelson finished three strokes back. Bethpage was a bear. This year? Like everyone else, I'm picking Tiger, though the wet June weather has softened the greens and will make the course play easier, which brings many more contenders into the mix. The real winner, though, will be Bethpage Black, a grand old man now recognized as the great taskmaster the locals have always known it to be.