Category Archives: Golf

Like everyone else, I love it here.

A lot has happened in the past week. One thing, in particular: I officially decided that I love it here. I’m not original in that thought, and basically anyone that makes a Europe trip says the same thing. But there’s a reason why everyone says it; it’s an amazing place. I’ve been asked what my favorite thing has been so far, and, to be honest, it’s been the simple, day-to-day life. Walking to and from the city center; buying cheap takeaway meals; spending hours in places like Blackwell’s. The famous sites and places are great, but they take second place to the simple, seemingly mundane aspects. That being said, here’s a look at what I’ve done in the past week or so:

Last week, my students and I did a day trip to London. We started by going to the British Museum, which is towards the top of the list of attractions for almost anyone that visits London. It’s an absolutely huge museum with all sorts of pieces, from ancient Egyptian artifacts to contemporary African art. The biggest “No way!” moment was seeing the Rosetta Stone. I was a bit speechless at the sheer historical and cultural magnitude of seeing it. But, beyond that, here’s two of my favorite pieces from the British:

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^This is a Netherlands boxwood microsculpture from the 1500s. It might be hard to tell, but it contains various mini depictions of Biblical stories, all highly detailed and exact, and from one piece of wood about the size of a football. Absolutely impossible to imagine how someone did this.

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^This might be my favorite thing I saw all day. It’s Crowd Looking at a Tied-Up Object by Henry Moore (1942). What exactly is the object under the sheet? Why are the people transfixed? I was mesmerized.

After the British, we had a quick lunch right on the Thames river at a place called PizzaExpress, which was right next to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Aside from its cliche name, the food was fantastic and the view was even better. We ate quickly so that we had plenty of time at the museum next door: the Tate Modern. I always love modern art museums. I got to go to the great one in D.C. earlier this summer, and I’ve been to MOMA in New York. The Tate did not disappoint. As soon as I got in the door, I knew I was going to love it. I gave my students two hours to browse on their own, and that time seemed to go by way too quickly. A few of my students would disagree with that, though…

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^ George Braque, Mandora (1909-10). I felt very fortunate to see this famous modernist piece. Ironically, I had this piece on a PowerPoint I showed my students earlier in the class without realizing we’d get to see it in person.

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^ There was also an entire room of Rothko pieces. Perhaps no modernist painter inspires the “What the hell?” and “I could do that” sentiments than Rothko, and an entire dimly-lit room of his huge canvases was quite the experience.

The tip to London was a success. The city is huge, and we had a few moments of not being sure exactly which street to take or towards which underground station to head. But we enjoyed ourselves, and we all made it back safely. That’s really all I cared about.

As soon as class ended on Thursday, half of my students caught a bus to Heathrow for a weekend trip to Rome. A couple of others spent the weekend in Scotland, while a few stayed here in Oxford. I woke up on Friday morning and caught my train to Liverpool for the one Europe trip I’ve had planned for many months: The Open Championship. I arrived in Liverpool early afternoon and went directly to my AirBnB, which happened to be literally next door to a significant site:

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^Goodison Park, home of the Everton Football Club. I’m not kidding: it was right next door. I could have hit a pitching wedge from my front porch to the middle of the pitch.

I then had the entire afternoon to spend in Liverpool. I caught a bus and headed to the city center, which turned out to be so much more than I expected. To be honest, I knew nothing about Liverpool other than it being the home of the Beatles. Turns out that its city center is a lively, hopping place full of open-air shopping for what I would guess is a good square mile. I really enjoyed my time walking around, eating, and of course sitting down and reading for a few minutes in an awesome bookstore. I then killed a few hours seeing Dunkirk at the Odeon in the middle of the shopping center, which was a great place to see a movie. The movie was good, although there were parts of the narrative that fell flat for me and/or begged for so much more explanation (something I’ve found to be the case in all of Nolan’s movies). After the movie I headed back to my rental, grabbed a quick pint at the local pub (pictured below), and tried to get some sleep.

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^Liverpool’s city center. On the right you can see a sliver of the largest and cleanest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen.

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^The friendly (and very inexpensive) pub right down the road from my AirBnB.

I didn’t sleep very well, because I was too excited about my trip to Royal Birkdale the next day for the 146th playing of the Open Championship. I woke up early, walked about a mile to the nearest train station, and figured I’d be ahead of the pack. I was very, very wrong. When I got on the train, it was standing room only. This was at 8am, and the first tee time wasn’t even until 9:30. Regardless, I was able to get on the train and get to the course, through security, and in the gates by 9am. Birkdale didn’t disappoint. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the experience. I was very fortunate to get to go to the Ryder Cup last fall in Minnesota, which was also an awesome experience, but the Open exceeded it. The course was amazing, and the fans were so much better than American fans. There’s a level of knowledge of and respect for the game of golf over here that simply isn’t there in America. I’ve always rolled my eyes when Open commentators have made comments about this in the past, but now that I’ve been in the middle of it, I am convinced it’s true. The weather was perfect, the course was everything you want for an Open, and the golf was top-notch. I feel so lucky to have gotten to go, and another trip to the Open is now officially on my bucket list. Next time, though, I’d like to be with a group of friends.

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^A panorama I took from greenside on #12 (the par 3). I got to this spot early and had a perfect spot for the first 7-8 groups that came through. This picture is looking back towards the clubhouse and the rest of the course.

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^A look at #18 green from the spectator crosswalk. This is the spot where I just watched Spieth receive the Claret Jug on tv. His performance on the last five holes was unreal, although I have never been as frustrated as a golf fan than I was during the 20-minute delay waiting for him to figure out his drop on #13.

I ended up leaving Birkdale around 4pm, which was right about the time the leaders teed off. That might sound ridiculous, but I had been there for 8 hours and was envisioning an absolute nightmare trying to get back on the train heading to Liverpool alongside 80,000 other people. I don’t regret the decision to leave early at all, other than the fact that the minute I got off the train and started my mile-long walk back to my AirBnB, it started raining. And then, right about the time all of the trees, awnings, and phone booths disappeared, it started really raining. I went from being annoyed that my shorts were damp to accepting the fact that I was going to be absolutely, 100% soaked. If you’ve ever been caught in the rain with no option for escape, you know the feeling. I ended up taking refuge at a gas station, but the damage was already done. Luckily I was able to put my shoes, shorts, socks, shirt, and underwear in the dryer as soon as I got back.

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^ My classy escape from the torrential rain in Liverpool. I was standing by the door to the station, looking exactly like a vagrant. I ended up buying a soda from inside because I felt bad for loitering.

A few more pints that night at the same pub, a good night’s sleep, and then my long, 4.5 hour trip back to Oxford, which involved three different train changes and a bus from Banbury to Oxford. I was able to get lots of grading and reading done during the trip, though, which was a blessing. And I also had the chance to step outside of the train station in Stafford during my hour-long layover. Right across the street was the amazing Victoria Park. A small, seemingly taken-for-granted park here, it was better than almost any park I’ve seen in the States.

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^My view from the walking bridge in Victoria Park in Stafford.

My trip to Liverpool was a resounding success. Combined with my trip to Bath the previous weekend, I’m realizing that a longer trip to another European country isn’t even necessary; the UK has so much to offer. In fact, I’m now thinking that rather than going to Amsterdam or Spain once class ends, I might simply catch a train to somewhere like Whales or Edinburgh for a few days. I’ll probably change my mind multiple times between now and then, though.

Coming up:

My students and I head to Paris this coming Wednesday. We are doing a bike tour of the city that night, will spend the day on Thursday seeing famous expatriate spots around the city, and will be spending the entire weekend in a hostel right on the canal. I plan on staying in Paris for an extra night and then heading back to Oxford to prepare for the last week of class. I’ve actually been rather busy with schoolwork since I’ve been here. Anytime on trains, in bookstores, or between meals is spent either reading or grading for class, which reminds me: This is actually a work trip.

Rough job, right?

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Revisiting a Classic — Ruidoso — Books and Books

There are lots of things that I enjoy doing: playing golf; spending time with friends and family; eating at Taco Bueno; these are just a few. But I’ve come to the realization that there are few things I enjoy doing more than watching and re-watching movies from my past, movies that seem to get better and better each time I watch them. I consider myself a seasoned veteran of watching the TBS, TNT, and USA version of movies like Shawshank Redemption and Lord of the Rings: Two Towers. In fact, I could probably tell you exactly when to expect commercials if you were to ever decide to watch Independence Day on TBS (right after President Whitmore [Bill Pullman] ask Major Mitchell [Adam Baldwin], “Is that glass bulletproof?” and the Major proceeds to kill the alien at Area 51). I love watching syndicated movies. Old School is on FX next Tuesday at 7:15? Count me in. Wait, ABC Family is showing all eight Harry Potter movies back-to-back this weekend? Consider my DVR full. I can’t get enough.

Earlier this week I had one of my favorite re-watching experiences when AMC had a “Story Notes” version of the 1984 classic, The Karate Kid. [By the way, if you’ve never watched a “Story Notes” version of a movie on AMC, I highly recommend it. Great stuff.] Man, I had definitely forgotten how great The Karate Kid is. And I don’t mean “great” in the same sense as I do when I say “Pauly Shore was great in Son-In-Law,” or “Fabrizio’s ridiculous Italian accent in Titanic is great!” In reference to The Karate Kid, by “great” I actually mean that the movie is fantastic. I loved it. I don’t think I’d given the movie enough credit in the past. The characters are great. The story is great. And the perfect mix of 80s cheesiness and dramatic sincerity is great. The perfection of the chemistry between Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita has been talked about before, and I can’t imagine a better goosebumps-inspiring ending to a movie. But I found other things that really made the movie for me:

1) The scene of Daniel (Macchio) and Ali’s (Elisabeth Shue) first date. Since he doesn’t have a car, Daniel has no choice but to get his mom to drive him to Ali’s house to pick her up. The awkwardness of Daniel’s encounter with Ali’s parents is good enough on its own to make the scene a classic, but when Daniel and his mom have to get out and push their car while Ali waits to pop the clutch to get it to start is one of the better movie moments I’ve seen in a long time.

2) This guy:

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My brother and I have referenced this character many, many times, mostly for his ridiculously over-the-top depiction of the over-zealous cronie of the main antagonist. The character’s name is Tommy, and he’s a member of the Cobra Kai karate team, Daniel’s main enemies in the movie. Tommy doesn’t have much of a role, but his depiction stands out from the rest of the Cobra Kai jerks during the final fight scene. He’s the one standing next to the Cobra Kai sensei during the fight, and all he does is make ridiculous faces (like the one in the picture above) and say things like, “Finish him Johnny!” and “Get him a body bag!” I could rewind and rewatch this guy multiple times and never get tired of the ridiculousness.

3) The depiction of the experience of a high school kid in the 80s. I love the clothes; I love the social drama; and I love the scenes at the local hotspot: the putt-putt and arcade hall. Greatness.

Not all 80s movies hold up for me, and many of them aren’t nearly as good when I watch them the second time. But The Karate Kid is definitely an exception. I recommend it highly.

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Last weekend I joined my family for a trip to Ruidoso, NM. We made a long weekend of it, and I have to say that I really enjoyed the town. I’ve spent ample time in many ski towns in both Colorado and New Mexico, and I think that Ruidoso might be my new favorite. I can’t speak about going there to actually ski–in fact, I would probably say that it’s not even close to the best place to go for a ski trip–but for a summer trip involving good food and plenty of activities, it’s perfect. My recommendations:

1) Go to the horse races at Ruidoso Downs. I had a blast. Where else can you make $1 and $2 bets on horses you’ve never heard of while eating low-quality nachos and french fries in a cloud of low-grade cigarette smoke, all while actually having a great time? It’s like going to a trashy bowling alley that lets you gamble. Perfect.

2) If you are going to play golf but don’t want to spend tons of money, play The Links at Sierra Blanca. I loved this course. It was in perfect condition–the greens were some of the best I’ve ever putted on–and it only cost us $49 plus tax on a Friday. It helps that I played some of the best golf of my life, but I still would have loved it even if I hadn’t.

3) And, of course, eat a bunch of local food. My two favorites from the trip: Lincoln County Grille, a small, crowded, greasy breakfast spot that had large portions and was heavy on the good stuff (butter, cheese, and grease); and Farley’s, a seemingly normal-to-average American restaurant that turned out to have fantastic food. I simply got the turkey sandwich, and they somehow found a way to turn turkey, cheese, and bread into something unique and memorable.

If you want a hardcore skiing weekend, don’t go to Ruidoso. If you want a place that’s a shorter drive than Colorado (at least from central Texas) to play golf, eat good food, and have plenty of stuff to do for reasonable prices, go to Ruidoso.

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A quick rundown of books I’ve read recently:

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (2012): I’ve always been a big Eggers fan, and I’ll continue to read whatever he puts out. This one was a quick read, which I appreciated. And I found myself liking it. It’s a pretty simple story, and it’s quintessential Eggers in that below his simplicity he has some rather deep points about our culture and our world. Hologram for the King has something to say about what’s going on in our economic and industrial world right now, and I think that it’s something worth hearing. It doesn’t hurt that it’s being made into a movie with Tom Hanks, either.

Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? also by Dave Eggers (2014): I didn’t even know that Eggers had put out a new novel until I randomly saw this one on shelf at Barnes and Noble. How he managed to put out three novels in the past three years is beyond me; nevertheless, this most recent one is without a doubt the most unique book Eggers has ever written. The entire thing is dialogue; this alone makes it worth talking about. I’m still not quite sure what I think about it, but I do know that I’ve since planned a dissertation chapter on books consisting entirely of dialogue (Roth’s Deception is another example). Your Fathers, Where are They? is another very quick read, and I recommend it for anyone looking for something outside of the normal book.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (2011): I picked up this book because I watched the first episode of HBO’s adaptation and decided that I would much rather read the story first before I watched the (seemingly) confusing adaptation. I really liked Little Children (the book and the movie), and I appreciate the clarity and humor of Perrotta’s style. He is an enjoyable author to read, and his prose doesn’t require the same density of other author’s in order to make very important commentary. The Leftovers is strange in many ways; I was reminded a lot of some of Jose Saramago’s books like Blindness and The Double in that Perrotta’s book, like Saramago’s, is a rather “normal” depiction of the world after an undoubtedly abnormal occurrence. I think that Perrotta could have done a lot more with many of the characters, as some of them seemed a bit flat to me. But there’s enough in there to make it worth it, not the least of which is Perrotta’s signature voice of candid depictions of the “normal” human being, complete with all sorts of perverted and crazy thoughts that go hand-in-hand with humanity.

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My favorite place to: Play Golf

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This is the view from the first teebox at Stevens Park Golf Course in Dallas. As an avid golfer with a pretty minimal budget, I consider myself extremely lucky to live in a city like Dallas because it offers a variety of quality, close, and affordable public golf courses to choose from. I love them all, but my favorite has to be Stevens Park.

Like many other historical courses around Dallas/Fort Worth, rather than build an entirely new course or start over somewhere else, the city made the decision a few years ago to bring in a team to overhaul and revamp the already-existing layout of Stevens Park. It’s safe to say that the decision was the right one. I never played Stevens before the overhaul, but the new course is absolutely fantastic.

As you can tell from the picture of #1 above, when you play Stevens Park you don’t feel like you are ten minutes from downtown Dallas. From the first teebox to 18 green, the course offers unique shot after unique shot. It only measures around 6200 yards from the tips, which seems almost ridiculously short. But this distance can’t be compared to most courses built in the past 20 years, because Stevens is at its core an old-school course. What I mean by this is that while it only measures 6200 yards, it doesn’t play as a driver-sand wedge on every hole. For example, the third hole, a par four, measures at a whopping 339 yards from the back tees (and, honestly, it’s probably more like 295). On paper, this hole isn’t much to speak of. But when you get on the teebox, you realize that this 300 yard hole actually plays more like a 375 yard par four due to the fact that you can’t hit anything more than a 5- or 6-iron off of the teebox, leaving yourself second shot of around 100 yards. Still, 100 yard second shot? No big deal, right? The problem is that the shot is straight uphill, around 25 yards above the level of the fairway, to a pin that you can barely see on a green that is already tough to hold. Is it the toughest hole in Dallas? Not even close. But it’s much tougher than most 325-yard par fours, and it also makes you hit a shot that you’d have a hard time finding anywhere else in the metroplex. The hardest part of the third hole? The next shot, which is nothing more than an 9-iron or PW from the par-3 No. 4. Of course this one is straight down that 25-yard hill you came up on the last hole, with a ball-swallowing water hazard a few paces over the back of the green.

This type of unique, variegated, and sometimes daunting shot progression is one of the key factors that makes Stevens Park such a great course. When I play Stevens, I hit no more than four drivers all day long. But one of these is a pretty big hit (around a 250-260 carry over the creek and between trees on No. 9), and the other ones all have out-of-bounds not far off. The other tee balls are mostly shape shots, trying to fit a 4-iron between bunkers or cozying a hybrid to a safe distance from the green. It’s a course where you can be aggressive and make a lot of birdies, but it’s also a course that has teeth and can penalize you, especially if the wind is blowing and the greens are playing fast. The greens are only a couple of years old, so they are still pretty tough to hold, but they roll true and they beg for aggressive attempts. It’s one of those courses where you can have 4-5 birdies and not even realize it, which is a fun way to play golf.

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^This is a view from 18 fairway, looking up at the green. Stevens is always the one of the greenest courses in the area.

The golf course is great, but its location and the views it offers are maybe even better. Stevens Park is right in the middle of Kessler Park in south Dallas, which is an awesome neighborhood right off of I30. If I could pick any spot to live in Dallas, I would pick Kessler Park. The houses are all fantastic and it’s very close to both Bishop Arts district and the new Trinity Groves areas by the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. And as far as views go, I don’t know if there is a cooler spot to look at downtown during the day than the view from 15 teebox and 16 green at Stevens Park. And the best part: on the day I took the pictures above, I paid $17 for my green free (I was walking; it would have been $32 with a cart).

Of course, I’m not the only person to notice how awesome Stevens Park is. It’s almost impossible to get a weekend tee time out there before 3 or 4 in the afternoon; if you don’t call by Tuesday, you aren’t going to get on the course that weekend. And recently, it was rated as one of the Top 50 municipal courses in the country by GolfWeek Magazine. And on that list, I’d be surprised to find another one that would cost less than $20. It’s a great spot that’s starting to get the recognition it deserves, and I can only imagine how good it will be when the greens age a few more years.

If you’re ever in Dallas and you are looking for a golf course that is far removed from the large-scale, big-production, over-hyped and over-priced golf courses that seem to exist all over the place, I highly recommend taking the Sylvan exit off of westbound I30 (or Hampton from the east) and making your way to Stevens Park. You won’t be disappointed.

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On another note, two weeks ago my friends and I had our 7th annual reunion, which we call Back Porch Formal. This year’s theme: Night at the Movies. Here’s a picture of the roommates and me:

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^ Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski, Sodapop Curtis from The Outsiders, and Steve Zissou from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

This year we had 39 adults, 4 small children, one pregnant wife, and a whole lot of good times. Now I just have to come up with a theme for next year.

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A bad way to end in a tie.

It’s never good when a match is squared via two double-bogies on 18. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind ending up square, especially when I’m playing with a good friend. But when both of you consistently choke, shot after shot, on 18, it takes something away from all of the exciting (might be a stretch) and solid (definitely a stretch) golf on the previous 17 holes. We basically traded off choke sessions from shot-to-shot. I had birdied 17 to get all square, so the tee box was mine. Accordingly, I proceeded to pull my hybrid (conservative play always pays off, right?) dead left into the water. Advantage Ty. And, accordingly, he follows me into the drink. I drop first, and hit my approach into the green-side hazard. Ty drops and hits it on the green–the one solid shot between us on the entire hole. He lays 3, putting for par, while I’m dropping green-side and chipping for bogey. I get up-and-down for my double, and Ty proceeds to 3-putt for a push. Too bad the CBS crew wasn’t there to follow the action.

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^That’s Ty posing after his tee-ball on No. 11 at Riverside Golf Club. Not bad, huh?

The golf course offers something that other places simply don’t. It offers an excuse to get away for four hours and hang out with a buddy or two. If you say, “Hey, I’m going to go meet a buddy at the bar for four hours at 1pm on a Friday,” you’re an alcoholic or a college student. But say, “Hey, I’m going to go play golf with a buddy at 1pm on a Friday,” you’re a normal, respectable adult choosing a completely acceptable way to spend large amounts of money and time, both of which could undoubtedly be used in more productive ways. But there’s just something about being on the golf course that allows for conversations and experiences that, at least for me, are hard to come by in other places. Maybe it’s something about the continual activity of the golf itself that somehow provides a pacing or a framework to the conversations that take place? Maybe it’s just being outside and away from work or other responsibilities? Or maybe it’s just an innate part of the game that makes it so timeless, so universal? I’m not sure. It’s a frustrating game. A hard game. To be honest, most rounds end in a serious amount of hypotheticals: “Gosh, if only I had made that putt on 6”; “I had a great round until I pulled that tee shot on that short par 5”; “The cart girl distracted me; it’s her fault.” Every round could have been better. For that matter, most shots could have been better. It’s a game of constant let down and disappointment. But every time I putt out on 18, I immediately wish it wasn’t over. I wish I could go back to 1 and tee again. I wish I could greet my buddy in the parking lot, load up the bags, fill up the cooler, and get it started all over. All the tee shots, lip-outs, and high fives. All the hot dogs, Frito’s, and cold beers. All the trash talk. All the conversations.

Anybody want to go play some golf?

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