Tuesday, January 17, 2012

San Francisco Houses & Flat Stanley

We awoke in Las Vegas on Monday, 9 January. We began a 570 mile drive back to San Francisco at 8:30 AM. The traffic moved along quickly enabling us to arrive back at Jill & Matt’s apartment by 5:30 PM. We were gone 1 week & 5 hours during which time we drove 2,000 miles through 4 states to play golf. We pushed ourselves a little bit in order to have a couple of days with the grand kids again before we flew back to Moline, IL on that Thursday. We arrived back home as a 6 inch snowfall was ending. Winter had finally arrived in Bettendorf after a very mild winter thus far.
The trip back to San Francisco was relatively uneventful. During the trip we did drive through 3 large “wind farms” with hundreds of wind turbines on the hill sides. They were located near Palm Springs, Mojave, and Oakland - - - all in the state of California. One other item: we stopped in Bakersfield, CA for lunch on our way back. We pulled off of the highway and were stopped in traffic waiting for a traffic light to change. A young homeless man was standing on the corner begging for spare change from the passing motorists. My attention turned to an elderly gentleman riding toward the intersection on a bicycle. His white beard and long, white hair caught my eye as he resembled a slimmer version of Santa Claus dressed in old blue jeans. The light turned and we proceeded through the intersection to the restaurant. We happened to drive through the same intersection after lunch. The young homeless man was absent, having been replaced by the elderly, white haired gentleman. The bicycle the old man was riding was no where to be seen. It appears as if the homeless people in California have replacements ready to stand-in for them while they take lunch breaks!
In an earlier blog, I shared a picture of the San Francisco home formerly occupied by Jerry Garcia. There were a few other houses in close proximity to his address at 710 Ashbury in the famous Haight Ashbury district. Test your knowledge of trivia on the following homes. I provided a clue underneath each picture to help you out. The picture of the 2nd house is not very good since it was getting a facelift, but the clue is pretty darn good. Also, the 3rd house is not technically in Haight Ashbury, but it is within a short walk. Test your knowledge and check yourself against the answers at the end of this blog posting.

"Hell on Wheels"

"Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?"

Former residence of an aspiring young writer.

My sister Jo Ann lives in Anniston, Alabama. One of her grandkids, Jackson Dodson, sent us a “Flat Stanley” at the beginning of November. For those unfamiliar with Flat Stanley, it is a story of a young boy who is accidentally flattened when a bulletin board falls on him. He then sets off on adventures enabled by his ability to slide under doors and fit into an envelope. My job is to show Flat Stanley a good time - - - and than report back to Jackson on his adventures. So far, it appears he enjoys golf, extreme sports and entertaining people as you can see below. His adventures will continue up through 15 April when I have to return him to Jackson.

Stanley hitting the links at Pebble Beach

Stanley hiking across lava fields in Utah (remember, he is made out of paper!)

Stanley entertaining the tourists on the Las Vegas strip

Trivia Answers
House #1: former residence of the Hell’s Angels at 719 Ashbury Street (directly across the street from Jerry Garcia’s home)
House #2: former residence of Janis Joplin at 635 Ashbury Street
House #3: former residence of Robert Herring at 1578 Fulton Street (my sister Mary Lou’s son)

How did you do???

Monday, January 9, 2012

Round #4: Utah: Entrada at Snow Canyon

We booked three nights in a Las Vegas hotel room. We spent the first night in Vegas after arriving late from Scottsdale. I played golf in Las Vegas on Saturday; we left the car parked which made the second night more restful. We awoke on Sunday with a goal to make a 260 mile round trip to St. George, Utah. This was the first time Julie & I had visited Utah. The drive to St. George through the Nevada desert was quick; the posted speed limit of 75 mph meant most cars were traveling 85-90 mph. The Pine Valley Mountains line the Nevada/Utah border. The rock formations and color variation provided for dramatic scenery as we were driving toward Utah.
We planned to arrive in St. George by 9:30 AM. Julie wanted to visit a quilt shop and buy material. The shop was closed on Sunday but the owner had agreed to open up briefly for her. Unfortunately, we missed one small detail in our planning. We were unaware of crossing a time zone at the border, so we were an hour late in arriving at the quilt shop. We missed our window of opportunity. That also meant we were running late for my tee time. We drove off to the course where I arrived late for an 11:00 AM tee off. I had been scheduled to play with one local player, but he wanted to play a fast round and had already taken off. The starter put me out as a single player behind a couple of foursomes. I started to play in a very calm, calculated manner which worked quite well.

Par 4 hole #3

Round: #4
Location: St. George, UT
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #6
Date: 8 Jan, tee off at 11:30 AM 
Conditions: sunny skies, calm wind, 43 degrees
Yardage: 6,685
Lost balls: 0
Score: 81 on a par 71
There are days when the golf swing just feels very natural. This was one of those days (playing the 6th round of golf in 8 days may have helped as well). I was 5 over par through the first 12 holes, with two missed putts that I should made. The greens were rolling above 11 feet on the stimpmeter (which means very fast).

Par 3 hole #5

Par 4 hole #7

As it turned out, I was joined by a single player who caught up to me at hole #13. Penny Francesca played the front nine with her husband before he dropped off to go home and watch football. Penny wanted to continue playing, but only through hole #14. She stated that the last four holes were really difficult and plenty of golf balls would be required to complete the round. I was ready, especially given the level of play I was enjoying thus far in the round (plus I had enough golf balls in my bag to cover some major losses!)
During our brief time together, I learned Penny was a retired Assistant School Superintendent from San Diego. Her husband was a retired School Superintendent from a different San Diego school. They both retired after 30-year careers and settled into northern California. They subsequently relocated from California to a retirement home on the golf course in St. George. She drove a personal golf cart with a plastic shroud enclosing it against the weather. The temperature had climbed above 50, but Penny zipped her plastic door completely shut every time she got into the cart. Her years in a warm climate were quite evident if she thought 50 degree temperatures required protection from the cold weather.

Lava field rules of play

The topography of the course changed at hole #15 into a lava field. I have seen lava flows before in Asia but not a lava field like this. It was literally large piles of lava rocks that looked like they had been deposited there by dump trucks. To make it worse, the posted rule was that golfers had to play there ball where it landed or incur a penalty stroke. I was glad the “swing” was with me; I continued to hit fairways and greens in regulation but could not make all of the par putts drop in.

Looking down the #15 fairway

Approach to #16 green

View back up the #17 hole

One last note, there were a lot of rabbits visible across the golf course. The lush green grass provided an easy, ample food source. They would sneak out onto the fairways to eat, scampering back into the underbrush whenever danger lurked nearby. I stepped into the lava field near a small bush to snap a picture, which caused a jack rabbit to run out onto the fairway. An abundant supply of rabbits means the coyotes and bobcats also enjoy an easy, ample food source - the evidence of which could be spotted on the fairway occasionally.  

Lunchtime on the #15 tee box

By the way, Julie did succeed in buying her quilting fabric in St. George at the JoAnn’s Fabric store. 

View down a great finishing hole #18

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Round #3: Nevada: Rio Secco Golf Club

This course did not make the Golf Digest top 10 list for Nevada. It has received numerous accolades since it opened in 1997 including one of “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses” by Golf Digest. It is the home of the Butch Harmon School of Golf. Butch is best known for having been Tiger Woods’ golf coach from 1993 until 2004. My son, Jack, had played this course on a previous trip to Las Vegas and suggested I should put it on my list. 
When I arrived early for my 10:20 AM tee time I was told that I may want to tee off sooner since there was a junior tournament scheduled for that morning. Apparently when the best junior players from the West coast are matched up against the best junior players from the East coast the golf rounds can last up to 5-1/2 hours. I headed to the tee box without warming up.

Round: #3
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: Not Rated
Date: 7 Jan, tee off at 9:30 AM 
Conditions: sunny skies, 5-10 mph winds, 48 degrees
Yardage: 6,927
Lost balls: 3
Score: 89 on a par 72

View down #11 fairway (Las Vegas Strip is visible in the distance)

Par 3 hole #12

The starter threw me together with two local players, both of whom lived in the neighborhood surrounding the course and were employed by Tropicana Casinos.These two gentlemen did not talk as much as the pair I played with in Scottsdale, but there were still a few interesting items worth sharing.
One of the men was Michael Mann who grew up in Arkansas; the second gentleman was Lance Millage who grew up in Davenport, Iowa. There is a Millage family in Bettendorf we have known for many years (Tim Millage married Kim Kelly who was a classmate of Jill’s and a neighbor from across the street on Hamilton Drive). It turns out there is a family relationship, but Lance was not certain of the exact connection.

Michael Mann, Lance Millage

A lot of discussion centered around real estate as we worked our way around the course. At one point they pointed to a row of houses circling the 17th green that originally sold for upwards of $5M but could only fetch $2.5M in today’s market. They were quite surprised that anyone would even consider building a new home in the Las Vegas area given the current condition of the market, but four new homes were under construction immediately surrounding the golf course. Empty lots were selling for as much as $0.5M. I suspect at least one property owner was not worried about the current market conditions. His home overlooked the #14 green and most of the #14 fairway. It was reportedly built at a cost of $150M with a magnificent view of the golf course below and the Vegas Strip in the distance. Michael and Lance drive by it daily and said it looks to be occupied only a few days out of the year. The home is owned by the man who started up eBay. 

View of homes around the Hole #17 green

The eBay villa on hole #14

The round of golf was challenging as always. The grass in the rough had gone dormant which meant it was brown and dried out. A more lush carpet of grass may have helped prevent a couple of my balls from finding the rocky terrain that extended beyond the rough. I recorded two triple bogeys and five double bogeys; the high score was partially offset by three birdies. I score an occasional birdie, but I do not recall ever getting more than two in a single round. 
The wind did kick up to about 20-25 mph for the last six holes which helped add to an already difficult challenge.

Par 3 hole #15

Par 3 hole #3

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Round #2: Arizona: Troon North Golf Club - Pinnacle Course

The weather has been very favorable for this trip. The folks in the Pinnacle pro shop told me that it snowed in Scottsdale the week before Christmas. I have been playing in a short sleeve golf shirt for the most part; I wore a jacket at the Pesidio in San Francisco, the last few holes at Pebble Beach and the first 9 holes at Pinnacle. The temperature feels much warmer than reported and the sun has brought the temperature up as I played. The temperature climbed to 73 before I walked off of the course today.

Round: #2
Location: Scottsdale, AZ
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #24
Date: 6 Jan, tee off at 9:00 AM 
Conditions: sunny skies, 7 mph winds, 53 degrees
Yardage: 6,645
Lost balls: 1
Score: 88 on a par 71
My reservation at Pinnacle was for a 9:15 tee-off; it was the first group for the day according to the schedule. I was scheduled with two other players who were taking their time on the practice range. When the starter asked if I wanted to join two local players who headed to the tee box at 9 AM I did not hesitate to switch groups. I prefer to play with someone who knows the course and can help me navigate through the course hazards.

I joined John & Phillip on the round of golf. They liked to talk - which made for an interesting round of golf.

John (Galena) & Phil (Scottsdale)

John is in the trucking industry, although he no longer owns trucks or moves loads. His firm evolved into a trucking brokerage which performs all of the back-office operations between clients and the truckers. He was originally from northern Indiana but now calls Galena, IL his home. He recently bought a home in Scottsdale where he plans to live several weeks a year.
John purchased his home from a bank who had foreclosed on the previous owner. The home was 6,800 square feet with an 1,800 square foot  5-1/2 car garage. A pool and water fall overlooked the #13 green. The previous owner owned a cattle feeding operation in Muscatine, IA. He originally built the house; during construction he brought in 650 truckloads of fill in order to elevate the home to improve the view. Needless to say, John got a good deal on the price of the home - and the view is not bad either.

John's home (viewed from the #14 tee box)

Phillip lives in Scottsdale but hails from Chicago and San Diego before landing in Arizona. He sells insurance; some of his clients are very wealthy families who he has served for many years. 

Both of these gentlemen have accumulated enough wealth to be quite comfortable. That did not stop them from looking for errant golf balls in the Arizona desert when they missed hitting into the fairway. It was amazing to see how many of the balls they could find; I just was not as convinced it was worth the risk of getting poked by a cactus. I had a couple of them jab me which was a couple too many. 
When I shared with John & Phillip, my hole-in-one shot at Pebble Beach John told me he has had 5 hole-in-one shots in his life. One such event occurred when he was much younger and his pocket book much lighter. He was playing golf at a course named Lawsonia in Wisconsin when he recored a hole-in-one early in the round. For the remainder of the round, other players kept coming over, congratulating him and telling them they would meet up in the clubhouse after the round to celebrate. It is customary for the person who made the shot to buy a round of drinks. John was worried by the number of men offering him their congratulations and the $40 in his pocket. After all, they were in the state of Wisconsin where there have been known to be a few beer drinkers. John turned to his partner to find out how much cash he had on him, only to learn it was less than $10. There were more than 35 men gathered in the clubhouse when he arrived - where he learned that the local Baptist presence made for dry bars. He $40 was sufficiently handled the round of Cokes used to toast his success.

The golf course was in impeccable condition - on the same level as Pebble Beach. I played well but did not always land in the fairway with my tee shots. A desert course is very unforgiving, so I did incur several penalty strokes when I found my ball in an unplayable lie. One accomplishment was only losing 1 ball; John said their experience is that most visitors lose a dozen balls per round. 

On the Road

We departed Pebble Beach around 5 PM and drove 380 miles to San Bernardino before crashing in a hotel at 11:30 PM. Our goal was to get past the traffic congestion surrounding Los Angeles, without knowing how far we might make it that evening. We woke up Thursday and took off on the remainder of our 720 mile journey to Scottsdale, Arizona.  Normally, such a drive would provide lots of scenery with very few items worth passing along in a blog. That was almost the case on this trip until we decided to drop into a quilt shop along the way.
Julie began making quilts when we moved back to Bettendorf almost 4-years ago. She is part of a quilting group who gets together twice a month. The other members (and you know who you are!) thought she should purchase some fabric in every state while I play golf. The fabric could than be made into a quilt that embodied all of the experiences we will have throughout the year. Nancy Pinkston even gave Julie a “Quilters’ Travel Companion” book that serves as a ready reference for finding all of the quilt shops. It turned out we were passing right by such an opportunity in Quartzsite, Arizona. We decided to pull off of I-10 and find the shop.
There were two early warning signs that this was not going to be a regular stop. First, the surrounding area preceding our arrival in Quartzsite resembled an airdrop of humanitarian supplies from a C-17 military cargo plane - - - except in place of food and medical supplies the airdrop consisted of motor-homes and camping trailers. It appeared to be squatters searching for free camping, rocks or both. Quartzsite does proclaim themselves to be the "Rock Capital of the World". That was clue #1. 

We were also reaching that point in our journey were it was time to find something to eat. Julie did a search on Yelp to determine our available choices in Quartzsite. Clue #2 was when the Pilot Travel Center appeared to be our best option for lunch, although it was rated slightly lower than Daniels’s Really Good Fresh Jerky (where you could buy 3 packs for $20). We pulled off of the interstate anyway.
Driving into Quartzsite we were observing what could only be described as a high-bred combination of a trailer park, campground and flea market - - - all rolled into one. Apparently the rock business attracts such a following.

Note John Deere equipment in the background

Our GPS lead us to the street were the quilt shop was located, but it did could not pinpoint the “house” number. We eventually asked a local resident who was out walking his dog. We found the shop, which appeared to be closed for the season. I was unaware that there was a season for quilting.

Julie at the quilt shop

It was an interesting stop. I am not sure why we never see the evening news carrying footage of the Presidential candidates campaigning for votes in Quartzsite. We did elect to skip lunch and get back on the road.

I would not shop here unless I saw it on TV. Anyone need socks?

The "Pretty in Pink" store.

Future business opportunity???

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Warm-Up #2: Spyglass Hill Golf Course

We stayed overnight Tuesday evening at the Inn at Spanish Bay on the Pebble Beach property. We had arranged a package deal that included a round of golf at the Spyglass Hill golf course. I caught a shuttle to the golf course on Wednesday morning to play another “warm-up” round of golf. The shuttle took me down 17-Mile Drive which provides ample sightseeing of the beautiful Monterey Peninsula coastline. Julie spent her day sightseeing along 17-Mile Drive and drove to Carmel for lunch.

17-Mile Drive

Round: Warm-Up #2
Location: Pebble Beach, CA
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #7
Date: 4 Jan, tee off at 11:00 AM 
Conditions: sunny skies, calm winds, 56 degrees
Yardage: 6,538
Lost balls: 1
Score: 92 on a par 72
Our foursome included John & Al (two retired NY Stock Exchange floor traders from Jersey) and Gary (an IBM salesman from Marin county just north of San Francisco). Since Tuesday was the day of the Republican presidential caucus in Iowa, the subject of politics naturally came up. John & Al were not shy in sharing their views of our current president, as you would fully expect from Jersey natives. One interesting facet Gary shared with me was that he had spent 2-years in an ex-pat assignment in Dubai.
After teeing off, we worked our way down the #1 fairway toward the sea. A 6-point buck grazed in the rough, undisturbed by our passing by. The sound of harbor seals barking in the distance helped set a tranquil setting for a round of golf.

Hole #1

View from #2 green

The golf course was difficult to play, but my score was indicative of a lack of ability to focus more than anything else. I think I was still coming down from a Pebble Beach high. A bad round of golf is still much better than a good day in the office. I like being retired!

The deer were plentiful, tame, and let us play through without any delay!

There is one more item worth mentioning from my day at Pebble Beach. It is customary to keep the ball used to shoot a hole-in-one. The ball that I saved was a retirement gift to me from my brother, John. As a salesman who’s career includes experience with Maytag, Phillips, Ford and LG John has had plenty of opportunities to play in golf outings with his customers. It was easy to tell that this particular ball came from John as you can see in the picture below.
"The Home Depot" logo ball

Round #1: California: Pebble Beach Golf Links

It was an easy decision to start my year of golf in the Southwest when we were already in San Francisco. Matt & Max drove us to the San Francisco airport late Monday morning where we picked up a rental car. It is always hard to leave the grand kids behind, but the cold season made it a little easier this time. I think Julie started to slide downhill first and by the time we left on Monday the house had 4 adults and 2 kids suffering from cold symptoms.
We departed San Francisco and drove 125 miles to Monterey, CA. By the time we arrived it was difficult for me to get out of the car. My back locks up from time to time and I had wrenched it slightly that morning picking up Max. If I am at risk of not accomplishing my year of golf, it likely be back problems. I see that as a bigger issue than running out of time. An evening of rest and stretching was enough to prepare me for my first round of golf by Tuesday morning.

Hotel in Monterey

I forgot to mention that even though I played golf in San Francisco on 1 Jan, I counted that round as a warm-up. To be more specific, my goal is to play a top-rated golf course in all 50 states. I use the Golf Digest 2011 Best-in-State listing to target the courses I will play. 
One of the attractions in Monterey is Cannery Row. Several sardine fish canning operations used to line it’s water front, the remnants of which are now serving as restaurants, shops and tourist attractions. The Great Depression helped lead to the demise of the fish canning industry when the desire to create jobs lead to large scale production of fish meal for use as a fertilizer. Monterey processed two-thirds of a billion edible sardines per year into fish meal during the 1930’s decade. We ate a late lunch in a sports bar appropriately named the Cannery Row Brewing Company where a selection of 73 beers  on tap, large screen TV’s and “Blue Pig” hamburgers provided an enjoyable location to watch the Rose Bowl football game.
Apparently there are still sardines to be found in the ocean at Monterey. While I was playing golf, Julie walked along the ocean to a quilt shop. Her walked coincided with the tide receding which trapped fish in small pools of water along the rocky shoreline. The harbor seals and sea gulls were quick to take advantage of the situation. Unfortunately, the camera was with me on the golf course.

A short drive from Cannery Row is the Pebble Beach Golf Links. This famous course was my selection for kicking off a year golf. I played the course one time previously on 30 October 1997. I shot a 99 (27 over par) and was told that most players do not score below 100. The course has small, fast-putting greens protected by deep sand bunkers. In addition, the ocean winds play havoc with a golf ball. I set out to see if I could improve upon my previous round.

Round: #1
Location: Pebble Beach, CA
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #2
Date: 3 Jan, tee off at 11:00 AM 
Conditions: sunny skies, 5 mph winds, 54 degrees
Yardage: 6,445
Lost balls: 1
Score: 86 on a par 72
As you can see, I beat by former score by 13 strokes. In 1997, the weather had been absolutely perfect when I played. When I showed up on Tuesday under sunny skies I was told how lucky I was since the previous day had been cold and overcast. I was teamed up with a father/son twosome and by the 4th hole it felt like 70 degrees and we were playing in short sleeve shirts. Even though the winds were calm, the surf was kicking up waves that came crashing into shore in spectacular fashion. The scenery was breathtaking to say the least. Our luck with the weather ran out after 13 holes. A fog rolled in, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in a matter of minutes. The 14th hole par 5 became a difficult obstacle playing into the wind. Luckily the conditions subsequently improved but it remained cool for the remainder of our round.

My luck extended beyond the weather as I shot a 3 over par 39 on the front 9 holes. The round started off rough with a 2 over par double bogey on #1 and #2 before I settled down and started to par some holes. My tee shots were finding the middle of the fairways and my putts were dropping in the hole, including a 25 foot downhill putt on #9. I shot par on 5 of the first 9 holes. It was an eagle on the #5 par 3 that enabled me to offset the two double bogeys and one bogey from the front nine. For you non-golfers, an eagle is a score of 2 under par; which on a par 3 means I shot a hole-in-one! 

Jarod Frost (New York City), Jim,  & Steve Frost (Chicago) 

142 yard par 3 hole #5 (view from the tee)

To put this in perspective, the vast majority of golfers play a lifetime without shooting a hole-in-one. The golf pro at Pebble Beach told me that they have 45-50 in a year (90% of which occur on hole #7) but that is with 60,000 rounds of golf played on their course. While it is possible for some long ball hitters to reach a par 4 green in one stroke, it would be very rare to ever record a hole-in-one on any hole aside from a par 3. With four par 3 holes on the course, the odds of a hole-in-one are roughly 50 out of 240,000. The pro also told me that I was the first person to score a hole-in-one at Pebble Beach in 2012. That doesn’t seem like much since I played the course on 3 January, until you learn that the 2nd hole-in-one was recorded minutes later by a player in the group directly in front of us minutes on hole #7.

Hole #7

This was the 2nd time I shot a hole-in-one. My first hole-in-one occurred on the #8 hole at Sunnyside Country Club in Waterloo, Iowa while I was playing by myself. Some people (notably my son, Jack) have questioned my integrity since there were no witnesses to verify it happened. I have that base covered this time - - - the father/son twosome I was playing with both had caddies so four people witnessed the event. Pebble Beach records it on a signed certificate, the original is placed in their record books and a copy was provided to me. This is for you, Jack!

Last note: you likely noticed that my whiskers are missing in the above pictures. I shaved them off on I January which happened to be excellent timing. My cold caused me to go through a box of tissues during my round of golf at Pebble Beach. I was glad to have a smooth shaven face; I am hoping that it does clear up quickly.

Hole #18 - the finishing hole @ Pebble Beach
I ended the round with a par on this challenging par 5 hole.