Thursday, August 23, 2012

A little golf, a little bike ride, a little pool

Golf on the Prairie

Last week, I was traveling on business when I attended a sales meeting for my company.  This meeting was held at Madden’s Resort in Brainerd, MN and is a yearly occurrence.  The sales leader of this part of my organization is from Minnesota and, like many from that state, he loves the outdoors, and he loves his home state.  As a result, he hosts this meeting for his team.

If you’ve never been to Brainerd (and I’m guessing that’s damn near everyone) it’s a small town in the northern part of the state, not far from the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  Seriously, you can almost jump across the Mighty Mississippi if you go far enough North.  There’s even a sign telling you about it.

Small river grows up to be a big damn deal!

This area is also home to some rustic resorts that have fishing, hiking, golf, tennis, and cycling during the summer months.  From what I can tell, that means May to September.  (Minnesota is known to have only two seasons, winter and six months of bad ice fishing.)  This meeting was the middle of August and the high temperature each day was a refreshing 78 degrees, Fahrenheit.  Evenings were in the upper 50s.  I was in heaven!

The golf courses in the area are very nice and two (The Classic and The Legacy) are excellent, both listed in Golf Digest’s Top Public Courses in America.  They are scenic, challenging, visually appealing, and in top notch condition.  Each one is owned by a competing resort so they focus on providing a world class experience and, I would say, both achieved it.
Picture of The Classic Course -1st Hole

There are several serious golfers on the team and they all seem to think that I should be included in the same group.  Admittedly, I used to be a serious golfer; I was a 3 handicap (that’s a mid-70s shooter) about 25 years ago.  But that was pre-children, pre-divorces, and pre-arthritis.  Might as well be pre-historic.

Since I’m considered “serious” I was invited by some of them to come in early to play. My memory of prior glory precludes me from saying no.  I flew in Saturday night and played 36 holes on Sunday.  Doing this served two purposes.  First, it cleaned out my golf bag of all those pesky golf balls that just weigh you down.  I lost about two dozen balls in those two rounds of golf.  (Did I mention that these courses have a few trees on them?  Yeah….)  The second thing this accomplished was convincing the group that I was no longer a “serious” golfer.  At this point, as a golfer, I’m a pretty good pool player.  Hell, at this point, I’m a good guitarist compared to being a golfer!

I had a good time but I played so badly that I’m having serious conversations with myself about continuing to play.  I totally love the game of golf but unless I make more time to practice and play, and my wrists can stand up to doing that, my game will continue to erode.  And playing that badly, when you’ve played the game at a much higher level, just isn’t a lot of fun.  Actually, it’s painful.  (And expensive, too.  Golf balls are not cheap when you lose them at such an alarming rate.)
Titleist - The Number 1 ball in golf!
Only $30 a dozen!

Of course, one of the things that keeps golfers coming back to play, no matter how badly they’ve done, is the “miracle” shot or hole during the round.  In my case, they all happened near the end of the last round.  I hit a perfect 5 iron shot from 185 yards out to a tiny green with the hole cut very close to a water hazard, and eased the ball in there to about 5 feet for birdie.  On the next hole, a downhill par 3, I hit a towering 8 iron to about 25 feet and lipped out the birdie putt.  On the final hole, I hit a flop shot to a very tight hole location and stopped it about a foot away.  It was ridiculous.

Stupid game.  Maybe next year, I’ll rent a bike and take a long ride while I’m in Brainerd.

Speaking of riding a bike…..

Bad weather and life had gotten in the way of me taking a bike ride for the past couple of weeks.  Too many other things going on so my two wheelers hung ignored on the wall of our shed.

The thing is, I’m trying to stay in riding shape to do another century ride.  Richmond has been named the host city of the 2015 World Cycling Championships.  (I find that laughable based on the fact that the city didn’t even make the list of 50 best cities for bicycling.)  In any case, a local sports organization is holding a Tour of Richmond ride in October as both a fundraiser and a way to shine a light on cycling and all its virtues.  There are three distances and one of those is a century.  Since it’s close to home and doesn’t require an overnight stay or anything, I decided to do it.

I’m also working to recruit others to join me from the ranks of cyclists at the office.  So far, I’ve gotten a couple interested although a full commitment has yet to be made. I’ve invited several to ride with me in preparation but we hadn’t yet connected.  (I’d love to find someone to ride with, frankly, as I’ve been a solo act except when riding with Cuz back on vacation.)

Last Friday night, one of these people sent me a text saying that he would be available for a ride early on Sunday morning.  I immediately texted back, giving him a time and place to meet, midway between our homes.  (We live a few miles apart which is one reason I’ve been working on him.  I hate driving to a ride; seems counter intuitive, you know?)

Sunday morning at 7:00 am I met him at the pre-arranged place after a ten minute ride to get there.  This gave me a nice little warm up which I felt I’d probably need.  This guy, his name is Greg, is probably 15 years younger and doesn’t look as if he’s abused himself in the same manner as yours truly.  Despite all his pre-ride chatter about how he’d need to bring a rope so I could drag him along, I was pretty sure he could run me ragged. (That turned out not to be the case but he could have been toying with me.)

Greg rolled up and we shook hands.  We decided we each had about two hours available and would ride for that period.  I had several routes in mind and mentioned them to him.  He said whatever I wanted to ride was fine him, he was just glad to finally get out.  We set off.

The route we took was a combination of several that I ride all the time except that we rode them in the opposite direction.  It’s amazing the difference this makes!  Climbs that I usually make were now downhill and vice versa.  It’s hard to tell if one direction is more difficult than the other but it made me pay closer attention.
This is the first ride I’ve taken where I was able to chat with someone for most of the ride. By setting out so early, traffic on the roads was nearly non-existent.  We rode abreast for probably 80% of the ride, talking about everything.  Turns out Greg spent a great deal of time in the Boulder area (climbs didn’t seem to bother him too much, as a result) and mentioned that the bike world out there was so crazy that it was perfectly normal to see someone driving a $400 beater of a car with a $10,000 bike in a $500 rack on it.  He also said the views of those glorious climbs, out there, made the pain easier to bear.  Not sure I’d find that to be the case but I’m interested in seeing if it’s true, someday.

On several occasions, one or the other of us would swing out in front and ramp the pace up for several miles while the other would ride the wheel.  I’ve not done this before, for more than a few seconds, and I was amazed at the difference it makes!  On the road from Hopeful Church along Route 33 into Montpelier, a distance of about four miles or so, we averaged slightly over 22 mph.  When I’m riding this stretch by myself, my average speed is closer to 18.  On the last climb, I took the lead and pulled for about a quarter mile. We shot up that in excess of 12 mph; alone I’m lucky to get to 10.  I could get used to having a regular riding partner!

We cruised down Howards Mill road in the last half mile before I turned into my own driveway, thirty five miles totaled up on my bike computer all in less than two hours time.  The morning was perfect for riding with no wind, 70 degrees, and a pleasant discussion with a soon to be friend.  The only thing that would make that better, would be to ride for four hours! 

See you next weekend, Greg?

Let’s to billiards……

That’s one of my favorite anachronisms from Shakespeare.  It’s a line in Julius Caesar referencing a game that won’t be created until 1400 or so years in the future from when the story is taking place.  Excellent work, Bill!

The Bard - He gave everybody the 8!

So, the big news on the pool front here in the Capital of the Commonwealth is that the Side Pocket has closed.  This pool room had been opened for nearly twenty years and the league that I run has been playing in it for over eighteen of those twenty.  My players are devastated.  Well, they’re disturbed.  Okay, they’re inconvenienced.
I’m probably somewhere in the middle.  I really enjoy the opportunity to compete that is league play.  I’m proud to say, and nearly everyone that ever played in this league will agree, that this is the most competitive league in Richmond and possibly the entire state.  A very high level of play coupled with decent sportsmanship (I tried to keep sharking to a minimum) and a friendly facility made the Richmond Pool League a great experience.

What was it about the Side Pocket? Well, it had a large complement of nine foot tables that were usually kept in good shape.  There was always a ten foot carom table for as long as I can remember, occasionally two of them.  The snack bar served home cooked meals with a daily special that actually drew a pretty solid lunch crowd from surrounding businesses. (Thursday was meatloaf and it was one of the highlights of the week when I worked nearby.  I can taste it, right now!)  The beer was always cold and the full bar was available, too.

So, what happened?  Well, the state enacted a smoking ban a few years ago which, like it or not, hammered businesses like the Side Pocket.  The owner claimed he didn’t have the capital to complete build outs that would create a smoking / non-smoking session and allow for both groups to be accommodated.  As a result, business dropped off significantly.  (Sources tell me that the IRS hadn’t been paid for a while either, so the lack of capital seems plausible. It’s the IRS that closed the place, in the end.)

The last nail in the coffin, in my opinion, is the fact that pool is a largely blue collar game.  The beating taken by the building trades and many other blue collar job types over the past four years really reduced the amount of disposable income that is deposited in a place like the Side Pocket.  Reduced revenue will clobber a business like this and that seems to have happened in this instance, too.

I’m feeling kind of stuck at this point.  I’ve built the scheduling of my life around Wednesday nights as my pool league night.  Unfortunately, the number of establishments that can support a pool league around here are limited (this is the third closing in the last 2 years) and that night is already taken in two of them.  I’m working to find a replacement but it may take a while.  Or I may just chuck the whole thing and go play in someone else’s league around town.  (That’ll be fun!  Then I can be the guy that asks all the stupid questions, complains about the crappy payouts, and bitches about how everyone is sandbagging. Hmmm….maybe I don’t want to start the league up somewhere else!)

I did go down to my game room the other day and practice for about ninety minutes.  I noticed my game was pretty sound, despite the lack of play since the State Championships a few weeks ago.  I’ve got some soul searching to do over the next few weeks, I guess, to try to decide my next move for the game around here.

Sounds like a good thing to think about while taking a long bike ride.

1 comment:

  1. That's a cryin' shame about your pool hall. Sorta fits the general pattern of the last few years but now it seems to me things are getting better.
    The chance to ride with another rider is indeed an eye opener. Sounds fun but my style lends itself primarily to long rambles with sudden detours and beer breaks. I can't imagine a riding partner but anything is possible. But it worked for you and that is what counts. The fact that you are not the only rider in your office is encouraging. I gave up golf right after high school. It was starting to cost more than I was willing to spend for a chance to be driven to the brink of madness on any given afternoon.

    Thanks for a fun report, Brian!