Monday, November 26, 2012

You must remember this....

Today, of course, we begin the five-day celebration that culminates with my birthday on, just kidding. At this ripe old age birthdays are more tolerated than celebrated, but I've always taken a sort of odd pride in the fact that I share the November 30 birthdate with a number of historical figures - Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Gordon Liddy - a few show biz folks (Ben Stiller, Kaley Cuoco, Dick Clark) and perhaps the greatest athlete of all time, Bo Jackson.

(The list goes on....Bill Idol, Jonathan Swift, Efrem Zembalist, Clay Aiken, Abbie Hoffman, Robert Guillaume, Bill Walsh, Shane Victorino, Elisha Cuthbert, Richard's quite a day).

But today I learned that I almost share a birthday with the greatest movie of all time: Casablanca.

Turns out that on November 26, 70 years ago, Casablanca was first screened at the Hollywood Theater in New York City, introducing the world to one of the greatest packages of romance, music, patriotism and physical beauty ever assembled.

I would estimate that I've probably watched it 40 or so times, and I feel as though I'm always picking up something new. Some subtle joke (and they're almost all subtle), some background character I hadn't noticed before, something that makes it worth watching again.

In case you haven't seen it (and if you haven't, really, what have you been doing with your life?) it's the story of former lovers Ilsa and Rick (Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart) separated by war, reunited under difficult circumstances in Morocco during World War II. Eventually they are forced to choose between their rekindled love and the need to do the "right thing" and help the resistance against the Nazis.

It's a beautiful movie, wonderfully written, with fantastic music that will appeal to the romantic in all of us. And I don't believe any movie star has ever looked more beautiful and alluring that Bergman did while playing the role of Ilsa. Watch this scene, when she and Rick see each other again for the first time.

I was smitten. Sometime in the 1980s I was watching a movie called Cousins starring Ted Danson and an actress I had never heard of, Isabella Rossellini, and I couldn't figure out why I found Rossellini so unbelievably attractive. Later I learned that she was Ingrid Bergman's daughter, and it all made sense.

Casablanca is usually listed among the top three films ever made (along with The Godfather, which you can make an argument for, or Citizen Kane, which is ridiculous) and if you haven't seen it, or haven't seen it in a few years, watch it again...and again and again. It's a treasure.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Orlando report

Five wonderful days in Orlando have almost washed the taste of the election out of my mouth, but only because the weather was beautiful, the courses were great and the service around Orlando was terrific wherever we went.

Pete and I theorized that there must be some sort of "Disney spillover" effect on the whole Orlando area. Disney is famous, of course, for world-class service at all of their parks and resorts and attractions. People in the service industry are often put through "Disney training" to learn how to do things the way they do in the Magic Kingdom.

That same level of service seems to have seeped into the entire local economy. At golf courses, restaurants, shops, anywhere we went, the people who waited on us seemed to be going out of their way to be helpful, chipper and welcoming. Very refreshing.

On to the golf....

Friday we first played something called Harmony Golf Preserve. (Link here.) It's designed by Johnny Miller, and markets itself as a certified "Audubon Sanctuary" with bunches of wildlife running around. We did see a few wild turkeys and sand cranes, but nothing more exotic. The course was nice enough, and it's operated by Troon Golf, which has a reputation as a high-end service provider. We didn't really find that to be the case. When we inquired about an afternoon replay (free with our pretty steep greens fee) we were told nothing was available until late in the day, and no advice about area courses was forthcoming. Finally a couple local in the parking lot turned us on to....

...Royal St. Cloud Golf Links (web site here) just 10 miles or so up the road, where a quick phone call reserved us a tee time and an afternoon rate of just $26. There are so many courses that like to call themselves "links" and promise a Scottish-type layout. Most of them fail, but Royal St. Cloud came through. Few trees, lots of mounding and great conditions. I've paid a lot more to play courses that didn't come close to delivering that links-style experience. First day verdict: Won't go back to Harmony, would go back to Royal St. Cloud if we were in the area.

Saturday was an absolute gem, mostly because it was so unexpected. The course was called Hawk's Landing, (web site here) but it is part of a large Marriott resort known as "Marriott World Center." We've had a number of bad experiences with golf courses attached to hotels, because they often seem to be run as kind of an afterthought. That wasn't the case here at all.

A par-3 at Hawk's Landing
The pleasant surprises began right when we pulled up and learned that we didn't even have to park our car. Complimentary valet parking was the norm, our clubs were whisked away and we were directed to the large pro shop/locker room to change our shoes and get ready. The pro shop folks couldn't have been nicer, directed us to the complimentary coffee and breakfast rolls, then showed us how to get down to our golf cart. Once there, our clubs had been loaded and we were sent on our way to the driving range, where another starter welcomed us, told us how much warm-up time we had and answered all our questions. Really world-class service.

It turned out to be a really good golf course, in great condition, with enough water to make it a challenge, yet still be very playable. We had a nice four-hour round and went into the clubhouse where we were welcomed with "Good to see you again, Mr. Droogsma," and asked if we were interested in playing an afternoon round. We were, and he gave us several available tee times, then directed us to the hotel's food court where we found a great lunch, then went back for our second round. At the end of the day our clubs were cleaned and loaded into the car (after the valet brought it to the front door) and Pete and I both left thinking it was the best service experience we've ever had at a golf resort. The November rack rate is $99, but we booked through a broker and paid just $74 with a free replay. Some of the best golf money we've ever spent, and if you're ever going to golf in Orlando, this is a must-play.

I spent a lot of time in Mystic Dunes bunkers
Sunday we traveled only about five minutes from our condo to a layout called Mystic Dunes. The course describes itself (web site here) as being nine holes of "Carolina low country" and another nine of "British links-style," and for the most part it lived up to the description.

Again, the service was impeccable, our afternoon replay was available - even though we shortened it to only nine holes - and we left thinking this was a track worth coming back to.

Monday we found another gem, just off the freeway south of Orlando at a big resort known as ChampionsGate. (Web site here.) The resort features two 18-hole tracks, both designed by Greg Norman. The "National Course" is described as a "Florida-style resort course" and features a lot of trees, small ponds and smaller greens. The "International Course" is another successful attempt at links-style golf. Almost no trees, huge mounds, massive greens and - on this day - non-stop howling winds that made it a beast to play. Another great golf experience.

So we got in 7-1/2 rounds in four days of play, and by using a broker known as Tee Times USA, our golf costs for those rounds worked out to $336, or a little less than $45 a round for courses that were all high-end, mostly included GPS on the carts and in a couple cases, came with really top-flight service, complimentary range balls and other amenities.

Schedule permitting, next year's trip will likely be back to Myrtle Beach, where the opportunity and variety of having 120-plus courses is really tough to beat, but Orlando has earned a spot in any future trip discussions. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Stepping away from the wreckage

Regular readers know that almost every October my buddy Pete and I decamp for the golf mecca of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and five days or so of golf and relaxation. We usually play 36 holes a day, enjoy some fresh seafood and try to grab some sleep before the next early-morning tee time.

But for the second consecutive year, our schedules prevented an October getaway. I had a number of things going on here, and Pete always had a busy schedule - He's on a list of The Best Lawyers In America in some fancy-pants legal journal - so we again got pushed back to November. That means the weather can be a little iffy in Myrtle Beach, so we're headed for Florida.

Last year we tried Naples, and while the weather was beautiful, we weren't crazy about the golf options. So this year we're taking a shot at Orlando. The weather looks great, there are tons of courses and so we'll see how it competes with Myrtle Beach.

A day of flying tomorrow, then 36 holes a day Friday through Monday. I'll try to provide updates.

Given the election results, I'm looking forward to lots of Florida orange juice. Mixed with vodka.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Help end racism by defeating Obama

This will seem unlikely to my children, or almost anyone under the age of 30, but when I was in high school, one of the raging controversies in the world of sports was the question of when a black man would be hired to manage a major league baseball team.

By 1974 - 27 years after Jackie Robinson had become the first black player in the major leagues - there still had not been a black manager, and this was considered scandalous by some. One black player in particular - Frank Robinson - had it in his mind that he should be baseball's first black manager, and he got his wish when the Cleveland Indians hired him to be their player-manager for the 1975 season.

 Great, great player. Big flop as a manager
One of the perceived barriers to hiring a black manager was the belief that it would be very difficult to fire a black manager. Managers, after all, tend to have a shelf life of only 3-4 years, and virtually every major league manager gets fired at some point. Most organizations had at least a passing thought that if they hired a black manager, their hands would be tied when it came time to fire that same man.

One reporter - it may have been Jim Murray, Roger Angell, George Will....I'm too lazy to dig up the exact article - made the observation that Robinson's hiring didn't really mark any sort of milestone in race relations, and that the real evidence of equality would be when a black manager could be fired without controversy.

Robinson, indeed, turned out to be not much of a manager. Like many players with Hall of Fame talent, he had a hard time relating to the everyday struggles of the mere mortals under his care. He eventually managed four teams over 16 seasons, finishing over .500 only six times, and a 2005 poll of 450 major league players found him regarded as the worst manager in baseball. By the end of his career, any vestige of baseball's institutional racism had vanished, and Robinson and other black managers were able to be fired simply for being bad managers, without anyone noticing their race. Bravo, equality.

Which brings us to the case of Barack Obama. Four years ago, much of America was enamored with the idea of electing a black president. The candidate himself liked to encourage the idea that his election would be something historic, and would help bring about some kind of "post-racial" society. Voters lapped it up, overlooking the fact that he had not even finished one term in the Senate, had no executive experience and was less qualified to be president than any candidate of the past 150 years.

Predictably, he has failed. By any objective standard - unemployment, poverty levels, budget deficit, national debt - the Obama presidency has been one giant step backwards, both for the country, and for the idea of a color-blind society. Both the president and his supporters have fallen back on bogus cries of "racism" whenever he is criticized. Some of the clowns at MSNBC even cried "racism" when the president was criticized for playing too much golf.

(Because, you see, there's a golfer named Tiger Woods, and he's black, and he's had some embarrassing personal moments, and so if you mention that the president plays "golf," you're clearly using racist "code words" because he and Tiger Woods are both black. I wish I was making that up, but that was actually the position of MSNBC buffoon Lawrence O'Donnell. Watch the video here.)

Personally, I've always found the idea of affirmative action and other race-based preference programs offensive, because they are based on the premise that black Americans aren't capable of competing on their own. George W. Bush called it the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and he was exactly right. I don't know how anyone could help but feel humiliated and degraded when Harvard says, "You're not really qualified to attend our school, but we'll let you in anyway because of your skin color." How does that help anyone?

(A friend of mine once said that he would never want to go to a black doctor. Not because of racism, but because he could never be sure if the person had even been qualified to get in to medical school, or had simply been allowed in because of some racial preference program. That's the real, bitter, fruit of the affirmative action scam.)

Four years ago the country said to Barack Obama, "You're not qualified to be president, but we'll give you the job anyway because of your skin color." And we've continued that sort of condescension right through to this week, when any reasonable person would have to agree that if Obama were white, and the economy were in the exact same state it is now, he'd be 10 points behind in the polls.

Which is why we need to send a message Tuesday that says racism is totally over, and that we can now fire a black president with the same enthusiasm with which we hired him. Show the world that we can - as Dr. King dreamed - judge Barack Obama by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. It will be one giant leap for equality and a color-blind society.