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Off topic entries on sports, probably most often golf-related.

Trip report: Destin, Florida

Last week, we took the kids to a family reunion in Destin, Florida. For those who've never been (as I hadn't prior to last week), here are some observations from my experiences.

  • Highway 98, the main arterial road that runs up and down the peninsula, is seemingly always crowded. This is especially true on Saturday and Sunday. We sent some folks on a grocery run to a Sam's Club when we arrived on Saturday. It was 16 miles away, and it took them nearly an hour to get there. The rental office was five miles from the bridge where we crossed to the peninsula, and it took nearly 20 minutes to cover that distance.
  • The sand (at least on Crystal Beach, which is where we stayed) is simply astonishing. Pure white and very soft, with nary a hard shell to poke you in the foot.
  • The water temp near the surface was 80F+, and very pleasant. Waves are generally small, but large enough for the kids to enjoy some boogie boarding. We went scuba diving one day (though Destin isn't the greatest of dive destinations), doing two relatively short dives (as they were somewhat deep). One decent picture at right.
    The water temp was about 73F to 77F at 60 to 85 feet; we wore 3mm wet suits, which kept us warm enough for the two dives.

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In search of iPhone golf GPS and/or scoring apps

Macworld logoI'm in the midst of a huge round-up of iPhone golf-specific GPS (range finder) and/or scorecard apps for Macworld. As of now, I've identified 32 of them, but I'm wondering if I've missed any. If you have a second, please check out this list and let me know (via a comment here or via Twitter) if you're aware of any other apps.

Read on for the list (note that some of these may be mis-categorized as I haven't tested all of them yet)...
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Tiger Woods for iPhone has a difficult(y) problem

I'm a big fan of golf, both real and virtual. The best iPhone golf game I've yet found is Tiger Woods PGA Tour, from EA. At $10, it's not cheap, but it is fun. It does, however, suffer from one fairly annoying problem: it's way too easy in its default mode. As an example, here are the final results from a four-round tournament at St. Andrews:

Too easy

Per round, my average score (my player's first name is Wheat) was 15.25 under par, which is simply unbelievable. Look at second place--14 under par for four rounds, or worse than I do for one round! At about 3.5 strokes under par per round, however, the second place score is much more realistic.

So what's the problem? The problem is that TW for the iPhone includes both a caddy and a putt preview feature. Combined, those two features making putting the ball ridiculously easy. Here's how to use those two features together to crush the PGA events in Tiger Woods.
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Possible new rules for the 2008 Tour de France

The Tour has a drug problem. First it was Patrik Sinkewitz. Then Alexandre Vinokourov. And now, Christian Moreni. Not to mention all those who "retired" or were otherwise dealt with prior to the start of this year's Tour. At the start of this year's event, hopes were high that the doping scandals were behind us. Alas, that's turned out not to be the case. Given that it seems the doping is impossible to control, I have some proposed changes for next year's Tour--changes that will handle the doping issue, as well as make the race more exciting for fans everywhere.

Update: Holy cow, Rasmussen's gone too!

  1. No more drug tests: Clearly they're not working to dissuade anyone from cheating, so let's just open things up. Anything goes--whatever drug you think will help your performance, you're free to give it a shot. The Tour will save millions in expenses, and spare themselves any further embarrassment when yet another big name rider fails a drug test. The other upside is that the tour will go much quicker, as I expect the average pace of the drug-enhanced athletes will be notably quicker than that of previous tours. Lose the rest days, too, as there won't be any need.
  2. Allow physical contact during the race: Think of the best of wrestling, roller derby, NASCAR, and demolition derby combined into one action-packed multi-week event. "And there goes Smithson, over the edge of the Col d'Aubisque, courtesy of a great body check from Peltiere!" 'Yes, Todd, that really was a great check, and the 1,500' vertical drop will really slow Smithson's return to today's route!' Think of all the new fans this will bring to the sport.
  3. Umbrella girls: Hey, if it works for Moto GP, it can work for the Tour, too. After all, it can get toasty sitting there on the saddle, waiting for the race to start. Each day, anyone in the top 10 in the general classification will be protected from the sun (or the rain) by an umbrella girl.

OK, so the above is in jest. I do enjoy watching the Tour; it's simply an amazing display of endurance, strategy, and outright speed. However, if something isn't done about the doping and drug issues, the sport is in danger of losing what little reputation it has left. It's bad when you begin to doubt any result, not knowing whether you just saw a heroic performance or merely the results of chemistry at work (i.e. Landis and Vinokourov's "great" mountain stages in 2006 and 2007).

I don't have any good suggestions on just how to further clean up cycling, though--perhaps changing the current two-year ban into a lifetime ban? Bigger financial penalties? Disqualification of an entire team if anyone fails a drug test during a race? Whatever it is, it's clear that more changes are needed if the sport is to cleanse itself.

Play ball!

Last night, a few Macworld staffers took in the Giants-Blue Jays game at AT&T Park. Our seats were well out in left field, so the picture taking wasn't the greatest. However, the 300mm zoom did a decent job of bringing the action a bit closer, as you can see in this brief album.

The Giants won 3-2, with all scoring completed by the end of the 3rd inning--late arrivals to the ball park missed most of the excitement (though there was one spectacular home-run-preventing catch later on).

What’s in a name? Nothing major…

Quick--name the four "major" titles on the men's and women's professional tennis circuit. Easy, right? Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. OK, do it again for the golfers on the PGA tour. Also easy: The Masters, US Open, The Open Championship (that'd be the British Open to most US fans), and the PGA Championship. Now, quick, name the LPGA's four major championships.

Not so easy, is it? I can name three with relative ease: The LPGA Championship, the US Open, and the British Open (though the British only became a major for the women in 2001). But what about the fourth? It's this week's event, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. I didn't know that until I read about it earlier this week. (I knew there were four, but I had no idea what the fourth was called.)

The history of the LPGA's majors is somewhat convoluted--this article explains it all fairly well. But the bigger question here is, if you take the 12 event names above, can you quickly tell which one doesn't belong? Another easy answer, of course: the Kraft Nabisco Championship. And why doesn't it belong? Because it's the only "major" event that has a sponsor's name (Nabisco is owned by Kraft, so I'll just count that as one sponsor) embedded right there in the event's title.

So what happens in three (or five or whatever) years when the Kraft sponsorship is up, and they decide not to renew? Will the fourth major then become the Ford Explorer Championship or the Wal-Mart Championship or perhaps the 7-11 Championship? Whatever happens, it won't make it easy for the LPGA's fans to remember all four of the majors. To me, and perhaps it's my old-fashioned traditionalist side, major event names shouldn't have a sponsor's name directly attached to the event. Once the TV time starts, sure, all bets are off--I have no issues with "The US Open presented by IBM," for instance, as the tag line used on the air. But not as part of the event's official name--getting noted in the record books every year, and subject to change at the whim of some corporate bean counter (I used to be one of those!) somewhere who nixes the $10 million sponsorship contract.

Come on, LPGA, do the right thing: name your major something non-vendor-dependent, and then sell the TV sponsorship rights for the broadcast. The Tradition, The National, whatever--I really don't care what you name it, just name it such that the fans won't have to remember a new name every time there's sponsorship turnover. That's hardly the way to build mind share with the fans for one of your four major championships.

Ten things to do in the next twenty years

Over the weekend, I was thinking a bit about the next 20 years, and things I'd like to accomplish within that timeframe. Nothing practical like "preparing for retirement" or "funding the girls' college accounts" or even "remembering to mow the lawn weekly." No, it's always more interesting to think of the fun things one might be able to do in the future.

So here's my list, focused on those things I think would be the most fun or most interesting. As with lists of this type, there's a good chance that well over half my list will remain unaccomplished--family, work responsibilities, and economic realities always seem to get in the way of our dreams. However, I will do my best to check off at least some of these items while working within the confines of reality.
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Ten things I know about golf

When I have some free time (ha!), I enjoy playing golf. Despite the fact that I'm really not that good at it, I find it both relaxing and challenging. After a recent round, I was thinking about the sport, and came up with the following list of observations (and don't worry, this isn't turning into a sports blog; I've got a long writeup on Butler in the works! This was just top-of-mind last night...).

  1. If there's one spot on the fairway you don't want to be, that's where you'll find your drive.
  2. Golf balls have a strange magnetic attraction for water.
  3. Though it may appear the putt breaks left (right), it actually breaks right (left).
  4. If your irons (woods) are working really well today, your woods (irons) are not.
  5. If your score on the front nine is five shots better (worse) than your typical round, your score on the back nine will be at least five shots worse (better) than your typical round.
  6. If you consistently hit your 9-iron 150 yards, and you need to hit it at least 140 to carry the lake, you will hit it 139 yards.
  7. Trees may be 90% air, but your ball will hit that single, tiny, skinny branch sticking out roughly 99.5% of the time.
  8. When the Golf Gods force you to use five shots on a short 175 yard par three hole, then immediately let you use only three shots on the very next 440 yard par four, thou shalt not question the Golf Gods decision making process.
  9. The hardest shot in golf is your opening tee shot on a busy Sunday morning at the local course, where the crowded outdoor patio at the restaurant overlooks the first tee.
  10. If you ever stop to really consider what it takes to even make contact with a golf ball, you'll probably never hit one straight again.

Despite all this, I still find the game fun to play ... though I'm not sure why!