Monday, December 31, 2007

Set Goals and a Budget for Golf

The golf season is fast approaching. It may be snowing in some areas of the country but it's never too early to start planning for the upcoming season. Golfers who calculate the annual cost of playing their favorite game can be in for quite a shock. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A little Internet research can uncover incredible bargains for the golf enthusiast, to enable them to enjoy golf more and spend less:

§ Amazing discounts on equipment (even brand name)

§ Fabulous, affordable public courses (and even private courses you can play)

§ Secrets to planning a perfect golf vacation, and staying within budget

In fact, doing an annual budget for golf activities is a good idea. Figure out how much you spent last year, and set a goal for next year of, say, 20% more rounds played, but at the same cost, or if time is precious, set a goal of keeping the number of rounds the same and lowering your annual expenditure 20%.

Sounds too easy, right? Well, it really is that easy. The secret is, increasing competition in the golf industry and surplus “inventory”. A golf course can’t sell an unused tee time from yesterday. Once the next day comes, that tee time is worthless. So savvy managers of golf course facilities have learned to discount greens fees at certain less popular times, to encourage play, and to encourage each individual golfer to play additional rounds. It costs less to sell more golf to existing customers than to go out and find new customers.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

An interesting NFL season so far

Of course I'm pleased that the Green Bay Packers have a lock on the playoffs. It looks like we'll be playing Dallas at Dallas for the NFC championship.

The Patriots continue their run at a perfect season and I can't imagine any team taking them down at this point. The Colts have the best chance but they've been looking kind of sluggish in their last few games.

My favorite-to-hate team the Vikings are showing their true colors. Enough said about that.


Monday, December 24, 2007

2 Ways to Improve Your Golf Score

- Making Golf Practice Time Count

Most golfers realize that spending time on the practice range is essential to game improvement—lowering your score. But it's surprising how little time golfers devote to practice. Or maybe it's not surprising: compared to the fun and camaraderie of being out on the course, hitting a bucket or two of practice balls seems downright boring. Here are some tips to making golf practice more effective:

  • Practice regularly
  • Have a goal in mind

Practice regularly. Just as going to the gym once a month and lifting weights doesn't build much muscle mass (and can result in injuries), a sporadic practice regimen is unlikely to significantly improve a golfer's game. The goal of practice is twofold: improving technique and building confidence. Have you ever gone out golfing for the first time after the long, cold winter and found that the club feels like a foreign object in your hand? A consistent practice routine helps you get the “feel” for each club in the bag. And playing good golf requires building a consistent, reliable swing, ingraining that ideal swing in your muscle memory so you can repeat it as needed when you are under pressure on the course. Many golfers mistakenly think they can “build” their swing during the round. The practice range is a better place to work on game improvement, because, you can his as many shots with one club as you need to gain consistency, whereas on the course, you only hit one shot with each club (assuming you advance the ball with each swing) and then use another club on the next shot.

Have a goal in mind. In between rounds of golf, pick up the scorecard from the round and take a few minutes to review how you played each hole. What part of your game is working well? Perhaps your drives were superior, or your chipping to the green was crisp and highly accurate. Then, think about where your swing let you down. Maybe you hooked too many iron shots and missed a lot of greens. After you do this review and critique, pick the worst problem areas and write them down. Then bring the (hopefully short) list with you to the practice range. Spend additional time on the problem areas, and work on your strengths just enough to keep those skills sharp. Good golf is mostly a matter of eliminating mistakes. Pros don't hit every shot perfectly, but they do know how to reduce the chance of scoring double bogies or higher.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Most Golfers Don't Know About Saving Money

…And Enjoying the Game More

It’s as simple as this: Golfers spend more money than they need to play their beloved game.

Too many of us end up paying full retail price for clubs at a pro shop when great deals on the same equipment are available online. Or we cheerfully pay the posted greens fee when with a little Internet research we can find discounts as much as 50% to play at terrific courses all over the world. Then there’s the double mistake we make on a golf vacation: first we overpay for the hotel room and then compound the error by paying too much for golf.

A vast universe of savings for golfers is right there at our desktop computer. All we have to do is know how and where to look. Besides opening our eyes to savings, we can become much more educated golfing consumers. We can discover discount travel packages to some of the top golfing resort areas in the world, including South Carolina, Florida or Arizona. It is definitely possible to play the courses you’ve always dreamed up and not have to take a second mortgage out on your house. And you don’t have to limit ourselves to golf in the United States. On the Internet we can learn, for example, that it’s possible to book a golfing cruise—yes, you can golf on your Caribbean vacation! Or how about visiting great courses in Spain or the Mediterranean and still staying within budget. You can.

There are so many choices to save money on equipment that it’s almost mind boggling. Besides discount retailers of brand name clubs, you can buy direct-from-the-manufacturer “clone” clubs that are nearly the same quality as the famous name clubs for a fraction of the price. You can visit auction sites and name your own price for the equipment you want to buy. You can sell your old clubs online and turn around and bid on new ones! It’s even possible to have demo clubs delivered directly to your door, try them for 5 days and decide if you want to make a purchase. If you don’t, just send the demo clubs back with no further obligation.

A lot of us have been conditioned to believe our passion for golf comes with a hefty price tag. With the Internet as our ally, that is not the case anymore. We can spend less, play more rounds of golf and have more fun.

Brian Hill

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Window of Opportunity

Over the weekend I was talking to some of my friends who are Packer fans (to be honest that describes 90% of my friends), and one of them said, “Well, even if we don’t get to the Super Bowl this season, we certainly can in 2008.” Then he proceeded to tell me all the positions on the team that could use an upgrade: we could add another offensive lineman, maybe another tight end, and a team can always use more defensive backs.

I asked him, “Why do we have to wait ‘til next year?”

He replied, “It looks certain that Dallas is going to win the NFC this time around. Everybody says so.”

I could see this poor fellow is simply a victim of listening to the national media too much—the columnists and sportscasters who now seem to be instructing us on a daily basis that it in inevitable Dallas wins. In my opinion, their opinions mean nothing. These are the same peerless prognosticators who said last August that the Pack would be lucky to get to .500 this year.

The only way we should be concerned about any of this is if the Packers players and coaches were convinced it is inevitable Dallas wins. But they aren’t. In fact, they seem ready and eager for a rematch.

My whole problem with the “wait ‘til next year” philosophy is that all we know for certain is that we have a great team this year, and lots of breaks have gone our way in important situations during games, so now is the window of opportunity to get to the Super Bowl. Whatever you think causes a team to come together and be outstanding—team chemistry, the right blend of youth and experience, leadership, pure athleticism, having playmakers on both sides of the ball, having someone step up every week and make great plays—the Green Bay Packers of 2007 have that special magic. We didn’t realize it at the time, but they’ve had it since the opening kickoff in September.

You can’t depend on the team acquiring better players next year. Football is a game of subtraction as well as addition. Players age and lose their skills, teams can have a rash of injuries at key positions, and of course free agent defections can and will happen. Draft picks can turn out to be busts. There are no guarantees in the National Football League.

Just look at the nightmare that has become the Chicago Bears season. When I was doing my own forecast last August, I didn’t see any way the Bears would finish worse than 10-6. They probably didn’t either. But they had all those things I mentioned happen—age caught up to some players, they had bad luck with injuries, and a few key players departed in free agency or for other reasons. Now they are scratching their collective heads wondering how to right the ship.

The same thing has happened to a number of other teams that were predicted to be good this year, like the Ravens.

Football teams don’t seem to stay on an upward trajectory for a long period of time any longer. In the beginning of Mike Holmgren’s tenure as Packers coach, the team seemed to make incremental strides each year from 1992-1995, until they were ready to win the Super Bowl in 1996. But look at what has happened to this same highly skilled coach in Seattle. His teams have been up and down—he’s even had losing seasons.

One of my favorite “coachspeak” terms is “program.” A losing coach will observe, “That other team’s program is just a little further along than ours.”

What exactly does that mean, if anything? It just seems like an excuse. The Packers have dispelled the myth that it takes three years or more to rebuild your “program”. In the twenty eight games from 2005 to December 2006 the team was a dismal 8-20. In the next seventeen games, up through last Sunday they were a startling 15-2. That is a truly remarkable turnaround. It rivals what Lombardi accomplished from 1959-1960.

My dog has provided me with some insight and perspective on football that was better than anything I see on ESPN. If I fill her food bowl, she will stay there until she has eaten every last bit. If I fill it again, she will eat everything again—even if she isn’t that hungry anymore. To her, there is no guarantee they’ll be food in the bowl tomorrow. All she knows is that she has the chance to feast today. The future is now.

When all the stars seem aligned for a team, like they have been for the Packers this year, it’s important to seize the championship moment while you have it within your grasp. Fortune is fickle; it never stays with one team for very long. And the window of opportunity doesn’t warn you when it's getting ready to slam shut.

Just ask the Bears.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Déjà vu?

At first glance, it might seem like last Thursday’s game in Dallas was an alarming flashback to the mid-1990’s, when the Packers methodically fought their way through each long, tough football season and made the playoffs, only to have their Super Bowl hopes and dreams crushed in Dallas. Here’s a look back at the gruesome results, for those of you with strong stomachs:

1993 Dallas 27 Green Bay 17
Dallas 35 Green Bay 9
Dallas 38 Green Bay 27

You’ll notice that last Thursday, the Packers held Dallas to 37 points, at least showing a one-point improvement from the playoff game in the 1995 season. Definitely a sign of progress for our defense.

But perhaps there were other positive signs as well. Not to minimize the great performance by the Cowboys, but this was, after all, just another regular season game. The media hype surrounding the game had more to do with the NFL Network’s desire to generate more cable subscribers than anything else. From the standpoint of a young team learning how to win, those great back-to-back victories in Denver and Kansas City were far more significant.

Brett leaving the game (especially since the injury appears not to be serious) gave Aaron Rodgers a chance to prove he can step in and rally the team in important situations. This was always a question mark before, with a number of people arguing that he didn’t have the right stuff to be an NFL quarterback. Now the question has been answered to some extent. If the Packers’ defense had held together in the fourth quarter, I think there’s a good chance Aaron would have led the Pack to victory. What I wonder, though, about an ambitious young guy like Aaron is whether his long-term career objective is to be the new Zeke Bratkowski.

I thought it was brilliant strategy on the Green Bay coaches’ part to not show the Cowboys our real offense, making them think all we do is heave the ball randomly downfield into double coverage. Won’t they be surprised when the playoff game comes ‘round.

Winning in Dallas is really the last significant mountain Brett Favre has to climb, in the case of away games. He’s tamed the dreaded Metrodome, which not that long ago looked to be a near impossible task. Far better that Brett earns this crowning achievement in a higher stakes situation such as the NFC Championship game in January, than in a regular season game we will have mostly forgotten when the playoff excitement starts. And as both a movie buff and football fan, I’ve seen over the years that Brett has an even keener sense of the dramatic than Steven Spielberg.

To cure his perennial struggles in Texas, one idea might be to have the team hire a hypnotist to try regression therapy on #4 and see if maybe in a past life he had some especially unpleasant experience in the Lone Star State that he re-lives when he takes the field at Texas Stadium. Maybe he was involved in that famous skirmish near San Antonio in 1836.

Reality Check

I was as disappointed as anyone after the game on Thursday. I was pretty certain the Packers would win. Everyone is touting Tony Romo these days, but it’s difficult to have complete confidence in quarterbacks who have thus far had more success with starlets than in playoff games. Joe Namath was a hell of a lot of fun, but with the game on the line you want the ball in Bart Starr’s hands.

So, still dejected on Friday morning I ran into a friend of mine at the local library who was as glum as I was over the outcome in Dallas. But then reality set in and I loudly exclaimed to her:

“Don’t worry, be happy. We’re 10-2!!!”

The librarian didn’t even try to “shussshhh” me, which is strange because she passionately roots for the Bears.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Night Game Nightmares

Wasn’t that Dallas game fun? The fun part being when it was over and you could forget it ever happened. Watching a T.O. touchdown celebration never gets old, does it? Just like you look forward to shoveling snow.

At my house, we don’t really enjoy watching night games in any case, particularly those played during the work week. We like to unwind in the evening, have a glass or two of wine and read a book or watch a movie. In most films, the conflict builds to a climactic good vs. evil battle between an evenly matched protagonist and antagonist. And the clever filmmakers generally make sure that “good” wins. After we see the good guys prevail, we get a satisfied feeling that all is well with the world and can sleep peacefully.

Football affords us no such peace. For one thing, good doesn’t always triumph over evil. In fact over the course of NFL history, it’s only triumphed about 56% of the time. The other problem is we, the fans, are not just observers of how fictional characters deal with conflict—we’re in the middle of the action. Fans can feel the changes of momentum, the ebb and flow, as though they were right there on the field. Otherwise we wouldn’t be compelled to yell obscenities at the refs’ bad calls, or lose our composure when we see the Packers’ secondary perform with all the focus and concentration of 2nd graders on the last school day before summer vacation.

If the Packers win the night game, then you’re so keyed up you can’t get to sleep until 1 AM or so, playing the touchdowns over and over in your mind or watching the highlights on TV over and over on the 24 hour sports channels. And then you wake up exhausted. If the Pack loses, you lie awake in bed replaying all the mistakes that led to the Packers’ demise that night. And when morning comes, you’re cranky.

A friend of mine has resorted to recording night games and then watching them the next afternoon. I thought this showed remarkable will power on his part until he admitted he peeks at the score on the Internet.