Open Day

The Open Championship begins today in Scotland (I previewed it here), and Reader Mike S. chimes in with this anecdote:

My friend was a US Naval Flight Officer. He also loved golf.
His aircraft was down for repairs at a Scottish base so they had some unexpected free time.
A Scottish “friend” asked “Care for a round of golf?”
Rather than ask “Where?” he just said, “Sure.”
Up at dawn, a drive, and then… HELL ON EARTH.
He claims the only reason he reached the 18th green was the survival training the Navy gave him.
It was, of course, Carnoustie.

Oh yeah, baby.

Now it must be said that it’s been unseasonably hot Over There of late, and only on Friday is there even a chance of seeing people dressed like this:

Here’s the forecast:

All that said:  if Carnoustie hasn’t had much rain, then the fairways will be hard — really hard.  In fact, one comment was that the fairways will run faster than the greens (which will have been watered).  Now one might think that this helps the golfers;  one would be wrong.  A hard surface is fine — if the surface is flat.  But Carnoustie’s fairways aren’t flat, which means the ball can bounce or run in any direction, e.g. off the fairway completely and into the dense rough or impenetrable gorse.

And so it begins…

Vile, Fearful And Awful

(First Printed in July 2007)

No, that’s not the name of the firm where your ex-wife’s lawyer works:  it’s the dreaded Carnoustie, home of this year’s Open Golf Championship in Britain.

Now, for all those Philistines who are going to moan about boring golf and “a good walk spoiled” and all that jive, save your comments and your time, because I’m going to ignore your bleats.

There is golf as we normally see it on TV, played on immaculate fairways which resemble fine carpet and greens which resemble beds of moss, and in weather which is sunny and warm.

And then there is Carnoustie.

It is a vile, fearful and awful place:  way in the north of Scotland, right next to the cold and dreary North Sea, it’s the northernmost course of all those which host The Open.  So Carnoustie can and does provide the foulest weather imaginable — freezing winds, icy drizzle, leaden skies — and all that’s before you hit your first ball off the tee, whereupon your troubles really begin.

Because the Scots are terrible liars, almost all pictures of Carnoustie show a benign, sunny place with smiling, happy golfers playing off the fairways.  But the closest picture I’ve seen to the horrible reality of Carnoustie is this picture, even though showing balmy skies and no hint of a breeze (which conditions were last reported for a two-hour period back in 1845):

Note the foul bushes, deep rough and ubiquitous bunkers.  Now add the aforementioned freezing winds and icy drizzle.  Here’s another pic (note the clouds):

And here’s a more representative one (note the coats):

Someone once said of Carnoustie that it’s a course which will remind you of the Old Testament God — the vengeful, capricious and spiteful God — and not the warm, loving and gentle God of the New Testament with all that kindness and forgiveness nonsense.

Carnoustie just wants to be left alone;  therefore, it hates golfers, forgives nothing, and seems to delight in punishing golfers past all endurance.  One does not play Carnoustie, one attempts to survive it.

Which is why I love to watch The Open when it is played here:  those confident, masterful golfers who stride around the typically comfortable and forgiving U.S. PGA courses while they plot how to get 12 birdies over the last 13 holes;  those same golfers are all humbled here, and are reminded that their skills are pitiful and inadequate as they scramble to salvage pride with a bogey, and consider a par score as remarkable.  Yes, I confess to feeling a profound sense of schadenfreude as I watch those sleek millionaires with their private jets and corporate sponsorships hacking around in the thick bushes and heather like just so many weekend golfers, looking forlornly for a ball which seemed perfectly struck off the tee or fairway, but which was plucked away by a sudden malicious wind and thrown carelessly into one of the countless unplayable lies which fill Carnoustie like so many minefields.

And that’s the rough.  In the fairways and around the greens are deep, unplayable pot-hole bunkers (paradoxically the only places on the course where you don’t feel the wind cutting through your clothing);  and of course, there’s also the Barry Burn, an innocuous name for a treacherous, icy little creek which meanders through part of the course and lies in wait for a ball struck too hard, too soft, or, maddeningly, just right.  (Sometimes a “good” bounce is not what you want…)

The fairways are narrow, which means that every shot off the tee requires a superhuman effort to combine a reading of the gusting winds off the sea with perfect execution of the shot itself.  (In shooter’s terms, you need to be a golfing sniper to succeed here — shotgunners pay a fearful price.)

The winning aggregate score in 1999 was six over par*.  The course measured just over 5,340 yards back then; it now measures close to 7,400 yards.  Nearly a mile-and-a-half more of added torture awaits this year’s crop of human sacrifices qualifiers, and as we all know, the harder you have to hit the ball, the less precise the shot is likely to be.

And Carnoustie’s legendary rough awaits…

The Open is hardly ever played here, I suppose because the Royal & Ancient wants to show a little pity towards professional golfers.  If it were up to me, Carnoustie would host The Open every two years, just to keep everyone humble.

The common argument leveled against golf on TV is that it’s boring.  That is never true of Carnoustie.  This is not golf:  this is a fight for survival, and only the toughest of the tough will survive the tournament.

The Open starts on Thursday July 19, one week from today.  I can’t wait.


* In 2007, the winning score was 11-under, mainly because over the four days of the tournament there was not a drop of rain and the wind was but a gentle breeze.  That won’t happen again.  The 1999 score and conditions were far more in keeping with the spirit of Carnoustie.  We can but hope that Global Warming holds off for a week or two…

Then And Now

In days of old, when footballers were simple sportsmen and not the millionaire malcontents they are today, their WAGs (wives and girlfriends) were likewise a completely different sort to their modern-day counterparts.

You see, dating or being married to a footballer carried no special cachet back then — even if the footballer was famous or especially talented, the salaries were modest even by standards of the time.  So if one sees photos of, say, the WAGs of the English team which won the World Cup in 1966, they look like… well, like ordinary housewives:

Nowadays, of course, footballers are paid astronomical sums of money, and consequently they attract, shall we say, a different kind of woman (as seen by a companion pic of England’s 2018 national team’s WAGs):

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with this situation — women have always been attracted to famous and wealthy men — it’s just that nowadays, the rich and famous men have a lot more choices, and therefore the quality of the goods on offer has improved.

Although I have to say that “quality”, if applied to the 2018 WAGs, is a polite euphemism.  To me, most of them look like they’re off to the docks  to work Fleet Week.  But that’s just another factoid which helps answer the question: “Why do men play professional football?”

The Other Blues

Having convincingly defeated all the others to win the Premier League in 2016/17, my beloved Chelsea FC had a lackluster season in 2017/18:

However, the Blues did redeem themselves last Saturday by beating the foul Manchester United 1-0 in the F.A. Cup Final (and the match wasn’t even that close; Chelsea could easily have won 3-0).

So bite me, Mancunian scum.

Failing

I see that the promoters of the U.S. F1 Grand Prix are going to have one-time Train Smash Woman Britney Spears and someone named Bruno Mars perform at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) over the race weekend this year. This, to encourage people to come to a place which features, as one canny commenter put it, a 56-lap parade lap.

Here’s why I, a Formula 1 devotee, won’t be going back to the US GP anytime soon.

  • Parking — It’s a nightmare. If you don’t mind paying $150 for a parking spot next to the track, then you’re good to go. However, if you balk at paying that fee on top of a $200-plus ticket price, then you’ll be parking in a muddy field over a mile away and walking along a country road to and from the race. It’s total bullshit. There should be large covered parking garages (which we Murkins do better than anyone else, btw) all around the circuit so that race fans can at least get to their cars quickly, even if they then have to endure the
  • Traffic jams — Access to COTA is along a series of tiny, two-lane back-country roads which cannot handle even half the traffic of the event. If the race starts at 1pm, you need to get to within three miles of the track at least three hours beforehand. Last year, Doc Russia, Trevor and I got there two hours beforehand, parked the Doom Wagon (Doc’s ride — don’t ask) and walked about a mile and a half alongside a road full of cars carrying people who were trying to get closer before themelves parking. Some people had given up and were trying to turn around — making the situation even worse — and the only saving grace of the whole thing was that it wasn’t raining (which it often does in Austin in November, by the way, sometimes in torrents). All this hassle, as I mentioned above, at the most excruciating
  • Cost — It seems ironic that only the F1 team owners and drivers can really afford to go to the US GP. Attending the GP could cost, all in, over $1,000 — way too much for the average fan to afford — and to be perfectly honest, when it would cost me only a few hundred dollars more to attend any of the better-managed F1 races in Europe, I can see why the promoters have an uphill battle, especially when the FIA governing body of Formula 1 charges excessive fees to the track owners so that FIA can pay the large amounts of money to the teams to cover development and playboy millionaire-driver costs. Unlike in Yurp, we Murkins have a lot of choices when it comes to motorsports — Indycar and NASCAR come to mind, both of which are better spectacles than F1 anyway, because they are less
  • Boring — It says a lot that a NASCAR race on an oval track can be more exciting to watch than the F1 Grand Prix. In my opinion there are several ways that F1 could improve the sport and make it more exciting for spectators,  but I’ll talk about that some other time. So I’d rather not watch the F1 races in situ, but instead spend my Saturdays and Sundays
  • Online — The annual cost for the F1 live-streaming TV coverage of all the races is about one-tenth the cost of attending a single Grand Prix: no expensive hotel rooms, no driving three hours just to get to Austin, no traffic jams, no long walks over muddy fields and along congested roads, no exorbitant tickets costs, etc. Rather, I’ll sit in my comfortable recliner with some kind of beverage in hand and a bowl of snacks, and watch the entire race, not just the piece of track I can see from my seat. I hope it rains.

And here’s the real takeaway from my gripe: once there’s no reason for me to attend said event, it really doesn’t matter whether there’s a US Grand Prix at all — on TV, the coverage is pretty much confined to the track anyway. (For that matter, I’d rather watch the Spa or Monza races on TV anyway because the tracks are more interesting than the Scalextric layout of COTA.)

Incidentally, I am fully aware of the irony of COTA hiring Britney Spears to perform after their Grand Prix:

 …while F1 has banned grid girls.

Let it also be said that I wouldn’t attend a Britney concert as a gift. I have enough problems with my hearing without subjecting my ears to her breathy dog-whistle voice. And as I have no idea who or what “Bruno Mars” is, it’s a safe assumption that I won’t be watching that either.

Sayonara, Austin Grand Prix. I’d like to say it was fun while it lasted; but overall, it wasn’t. I’m a huge fan of F1 — just not the way you stage it. Too bad, really.

Proportionality My Ass

Ah yes… so with the Winter Olympics approaching, it’s time once again for some people to indulge in stupid wishful thinking — in this case, setting quotas where none should be set:

The U.S. Olympic Committee says it’s taking its most diverse team ever to a Winter Games, an impressive and deserved boast that requires a caveat of sorts.
Yes, USOC officials are pleased the team includes more African-Americans and Asian-Americans — and even the first two openly gay men — than recent winter squads. But they also realize this year’s U.S. Olympic team, not unlike those of most other nations gathering in PyeongChang this week, is still overwhelmingly white.
“We’re not quite where we want to be,” said Jason Thompson, the USOC’s director of diversity and inclusion. “. . . I think full-on inclusion has always been a priority of Team USA. I think everybody’s always felt it should represent every American.”
Team USA numbers 243 athletes, which is the largest team any nation has ever sent to a Winter Olympics. Of that group, 10 are African-American — 4 percent — and another 10 are Asian-American. The rest, by and large, are white. The Winter Games is typically a much smaller contingent than its summer counterpart, but the demographic differences are striking. The United States took more than 550 athletes to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Of that group, more than 125 were African-American — around 23 percent.

I’ll play along with this little game, as long as we apply it fairly — so come the next Summer Olympics we should make the Team USA Basketball squad of twelve equally representative: it should contain at least six White guys, three Black guys and the other three can be divided among Hispanics and Asians. (If we are going to make this team truly representative of America, one of the Hispanic dudes should be an illegal alien. And if he’s gay, that would be doubleplusgood.) Of course, with this squad we would lose more than win, but who cares about Citius, Altius, Fortius when we’re more about iustitia civitate, right?

Fucking idiots. Twenty years ago there were no Black athletes in Team USA Winter Olympics because Black people didn’t do winter sports. Now the team is one-fifth Black — progress by any other name — except that this isn’t quick enough for the race-conscious quota warriors, oh no: we have to shoehorn in more Black athletes right now, regardless of actual ummm merit because slavery (or some equally-specious bullshit).

And for the few Black athletes who are given a pass onto the team regardless of whether they can compete or not, they’ll be part of Team Loser (just as the White-quota basketball players would be) but that’s okay because the United States wins too many medals anyway and its only “fair” that we redistribute those golds among the lesser teams who deserve it because they work just as hard as we do.

One second thoughts, these tokenist tools aren’t fucking idiots at all. They’re just adhering to Leninist doctrine, the bien-pissants [sic].

And finally: if the USOC has funding for a “director of diversity and inclusion” in their budget then we’re giving them too much damn money.

Every time I think I’m getting a grip on my high blood pressure, some crap like this comes along to push it into the stratosphere.