Monday, April 28, 2008

Nothing Better than a Refreshing Draft

NFL Draft, that is. It’s amazing how much the annual selection of college players by the NFL has grown in popularity. When I get my new calendar in December, I make sure one of the dates I mark down first is when the April draft will be. I get a little more addicted to it each year.

The NFL owners have meetings several times a year where they get together, discuss issues the league is confronting, make decisions about rules improvement, and generally socialize with one another. For NFL fans, the draft is kind of our annual meeting. All the fans from all the teams gather around the TV to watch their favorite team’s grand strategy unfold.

The excitement builds in the week before the draft. I study all the draft guides every evening, trying to predict who my team is going to choose. This involves considerable work, because I don’t follow college football very much, and the names and accomplishments of the players to be drafted are pretty much brand new to me. Regarding my choices, I’m invariably wrong, because I think it’s unfair my team doesn’t get 3 or 4 selections in the first round. Someone should look into this and make appropriate changes to the rules.

The Draft is also a well of endless hope. The new players on our team will of course be much better than the players we have there now. These new players have never fumbled, never thrown an interception, never missed an assignment or blow a coverage. There’s almost a feeling of euphoria that comes over us, as though fans believe if their team’s General Manager is enough of a genius in the Draft this year, their pathetic 4-12 team could vault to 12-4, or the mediocre 8-8 team could sprint to the championship game. There is apparently an element of magic to this player picking business.

And it also appears this genius stuff is of a temporary nature, though, because if we look back at who our GM chose the last few years, we quickly can recall what a large percentage of the picks were duds. But this year will be different, for sure.

The NFL Draft also provides us with the adrenaline rush of a game show where the contestants can win millions of dollars. The reality is that it’s ludicrous to hand a fortune to a rookie who may be a total bust when he has to face NFL level competition. But it’s also satisfying, and uniquely American. We root for our fellow citizens to succeed and get windfalls they don’t deserve.

Not as much as we root for ourselves to get windfalls we don’t deserve, of course. But we root, nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Favorite Week in Golf…

…is Masters week. I’ve been fortunate to have had the chance to attend the US Open five times, the PGA Championship twice and the Masters once (I still hope to make it to the British Open someday). Each “Major” has it own character, its own atmosphere. The US Open always seemed extremely serious to me, perhaps because of the rather grim gentlemen in those dark blue USGA blazers who run the event. They take their golf very, very seriously—they even call the event an “examination” of the best players. How fun is that: Let’s all go watch an examination! The golfers seem more on edge right from the first tee the first day.

The PGA? It always seemed like simply an amped-up version of the typical event on the PGA Tour. The fans are more focused on the golf and less on partying perhaps, but it never seemed quite as formal as the US Open. Not quite as much pomp and circumstance. The PGA always seemed a bit underrated in terms of fan interest. I had a great time at both PGAs I attended. The PGA has over the years typically had a more geographically diverse roster of venues as well, although in recent times the US Open has opened up to different courses beside the usual Eastern seaboard based rotation of Baltusrol, Oakmont, etc. If you go way back in time to the 1930’s you can see that the PGA was once played at the course in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up and one my first golf trophy (one of at least two)—Bluemound CC. Gene Sarazen was the winner that year.

Then we come to the Masters. All I could manage to say the first time I stepped foot on Augusta National was WOW! The best way I can describe the Masters is that it is as though a kindly old, and extremely wealthy, gentleman has invited you to his magnificent estate, and offered you the most gracious hospitality imaginable. All that he asks is that you behave with dignity and don’t litter the grounds. In fact they have a small army of custodial workers who pick up everything but the fallen leaves from the dogwood trees.

My Augusta adventure began inauspiciously because my secretary had booked me into a really horrible hotel in a small town not far from Augusta, the kind of dump where you can’t quite place the odor embedded in the carpet and the locks on the doors look they might fall off any minute. I ventured to the diner across the street from the hotel, and when they served me chicken fried steak with “mystery gravy” about the consistency of the paste we used in middle school art class, I decided to get back on the road and find another hotel. This wasn’t the elegant Masters experience I had in mind.

The closest I could get was a place in Columbia, South Carolina, but the accommodations and food were much better. That worked out fine except for the long commute across the Georgia border and over to Augusta National.

So late Tuesday afternoon I found myself walking the hallowed grounds of Augusta. The practice round was over for the day and I walked the back nine pretty much by myself, encountering only the occasional groundskeeper putting the finishing touches on the verdant masterpiece. That was an incredible experience, so thrilling it is still fresh in my mind years later—and that was before the tournament even started. So you can imagine how exciting it was on Thursday when the tournament actually began.

Experiencing that magnificent course, where all those legends were made, was as memorable as any of the golf I watched that week. It finally occurred to me after the tournament was over on Sunday, and the crowds began to leave, that Augusta National is the star of her own show each year, and unlike some of the Hollywood stars, her radiance never fades. She draws the crowds, just as much as the golfers themselves.

That’s why Masters week is my favorite week in golf.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Online Shopping for Golf Equipment Part II

One other great thing about online shopping for golf equipment is that you can quickly compare golf equipment prices from various online stores, all over the world including the United Kingdom. If you’re doing a golf equipment comparison UK, there is even an emerging online service that helps you do side-by-side comparisons from various online merchants, called HaabaaPrice ( At the present time, this service allows merchants to list their products or services for free. You can compare golf equipment prices quite easily.

Planet Golf UK is one of the first golf equipment merchants utilizing this service. A comparison shopping site like this makes it easier to save money and find exactly what you’re looking for, almost as though you are visiting several online stores at once. For the merchant, the comparison shopping site gives them another method of reaching potential customers.

You may be reluctant to buy golf equipment online because at a brick-and-mortar golf equipment store you get to pick up the clubs, and get a “feel” for them. Some stores even have a net you can hit practice balls into with the clubs you are considering. I’ve bought clubs online and at the golf equipment stores, and haven’t really noticed any difference in which clubs work out best for me. In either case, it takes several rounds of golf to really get used to the clubs.

With online shopping, then, you can find the best deals on your favorite brands. I have found that there are several brands of clubs that I have had better success with over the years. My dad was the same way. He always played “Walter Hagen” brand clubs because he admired Hagen’s style and his pure enjoyment of life. He thought playing those clubs might help him find more easygoing enjoyment and less frustration in the typical round of golf. When I was in college and playing a lot of golf, I liked “Ben Hogan” brand clubs because I hoped some of Mr. Hogan’s precision and accuracy was manufactured into the clubs. But of course, it’s difficult for even the best manufacturers to incorporate “athletic ability” in their products.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

‘Netting Bargains on Golf Equipment

When I lived in the Midwest, this was the time of year we started to yearn for the golf season to begin, but many times the weather didn’t cooperate. If we couldn’t get out there and play for a few more weeks, the next best thing was to shop for the newest and best golf clubs, because all golfers know the only thing preventing them from consistently scoring in the low ‘70’s is that we are laboring with inferior golf clubs. It can’t possibly have anything to do with us.

These days we are blessed to have access to literally every type of golf equipment manufactured around the world, through online golf equipment stores.

If you’ve never shopped for golf equipment online, you should consider giving it a try. The bargains on brand name golf clubs, balls, gloves, shoes, and accessories are incredible. Online golf equipment store Planet Golf UK ( carries the very popular Callaway golf equipment, as well as other large brands such as Taylor Made, Cobra, Nike, Mizuno, Odyssey, Titleist, Ping and FootJoy. Many of the items are discount 20-30% or more from what they term “market price”.

Golf equipment is discounted on the Internet for a number of reasons. On-line golf equipment dealers are essentially eliminating the retailer’s portion of the profit—there is no physical store with lease cost, utilities, sales staff, etc. Part two of the saving comes from efficiency: inventory that is overstocked can be moved quickly by advertising sales on the Internet.

But the biggest reason for all these savings being available is the Internet itself. It has brought about greater competition in the golf industry, and this has led to widespread price discounting in order to attract customers.

Besides the equipment you need to shore up your game, many Internet stores offer unusual items as well. At Planet Golf UK I noticed they sell “Butthead” head covers, including “Hamlet the Hacker”, a colorful pink rear end of a pig that fits snugly over your driver or fairway woods.

It’s good to not take the game too seriously.