Friday, January 31, 2014

Golf

It's been a very long time--nearly twenty-two years--since I've played a round of golf or visited a driving range.  With painting to be my focus following retirement from the navy, the game was just too costly in money and time to continue, so I gave it up.

I'd had a good run and was not unhappy to say goodbye to the game.  Television enabled me to keep up with it over the years, so my undiminished passion for this most challenging of all games was satisfied.  Then, we moved to Hawaii.

Each time we drove to the Navy Commissary over the past ten months, my eyes were drawn to the beautiful Navy-Marine Golf Course.  I wondered if perhaps it might be fun to at least visit the driving range, just to see what it would be like after such a long time away.

Tuesday, I did just that.  I dropped Michele off at the Exchange complex and in a few minutes, entered the course parking lot.  Only a few golfers were on the driving range and after watching them for a short time, I headed for the clubhouse.  I never had the opportunity to play this course during my navy days, so it was all new to me.  Pat, behind the counter inside, asked what he could do for me.  I replied, "Everything"!

Soon, I was walking to the driving range, the excitement and anticipation building with each step.  I placed a basket to receive the practice balls from the dispensing machine and put a token in the slot.  With a familiar loud clatter the basket quickly filled and I proceeded to a practice station.  It was as if time had stood still.  Like I'd never stopped so many years ago.  Everything about my former practice routine was instantly back.

I put the glove on my left hand and the tight, second-skin feel was just like I remembered.  Next, I examined the clubs and pulled the pitching wedge from the bag.  It was a pleasant surprise to find that the grip was much better than expected on rental clubs.  I fished a ball onto the practice mat and moved behind to find a target of appropriate range for this club.  Standing there, with the practice ground spread out before me, hearing the occasional click as other golfers sent their shots flying, I was back.  It was a challenge to keep the huge smile in my heart from appearing on my face.

I ended-up hitting three baskets of range balls, about ninety total.  I worked my way through the entire bag of clubs, taking time to enjoy each shot and evaluate grip, swing, follow-through, alignment and balance.  Sometimes, out of pure joy, I'd hit a couple of shots without the slightest hesitation between strikes.  It was wonderful fun, but I had to keep an eye on the time in order to be back at the Commissary as Michele finished shopping.  I hope your day was at least half as good as mine!

I know many of you don't give a whit about the game, so feel free to leave the blog now.  I'll understand. :)  It's been said that if you really want to get to know someone, join them in a round of golf.  During that four or five hours, you'll learn more about their character, honesty, sense of humor, problem-solving abilities and temper than any interview, profile or battery of tests could ever reveal. It's true.

Golf is a most demanding endeavor which can never be "beaten" or completely mastered.  Even the best who've ever played remember the putt they missed, the errant drive, the miss hit iron.  How the best round they ever played could have been better.  It's like that once the game gets under your skin.

I often wonder how a Buddhist might approach the game?  Have no interest in, or not even keep their score?  Show no emotional response at a bad shot?  Not even recognize that such a thing as a bad shot exits?  Simply enjoy the moment on a beautiful course and hear each bird song and the earth's harmony?  Might be the way to play!

For most of us non-Buddhists golfers, our enjoyment of the game is directly proportional to the number of good shots we hit and the score at the end of the round.  The seriousness with which we play the game makes for higher highs and much lower lows.  High expectations for a good round can be instantly dashed with the first swing.  Each shot brings an opportunity for great joy and success, as well as, dismal failure and depression.  One must battle their personal demons throughout the round which is why the game is so revealing of one's character.

You might guess by now, that the game did, indeed, get beneath my skin.  As much as I learned about golf, the game taught me even more and I began to appreciate it as much more than being simply a "game".  It saddens me a little to know many people look at it as a game only for the rich, played at exclusive county clubs.  I was guilty of that idea, too, as a child of a factory worker.  I remember when my father, influenced by fellow workers who invited him to join their golf league, decided to take up the game.  That summer, the local Kroger grocery store was running a promotion which allowed customers to purchase a golf club for a mere two dollars and change, if they spent a minimum amount, or more, on groceries that day.  In a couple of weeks, we had our first set of golf clubs--with bag!

Dad was right-handed, so, of course, were the clubs.  He had been a pretty good baseball player in his youth and knowing little about the mechanics of a golf swing, he simply applied his baseball skills to this new game.  That translated to swinging as hard as possible, with a grip on the club exactly like he would use to hold a baseball bat.  For those of you who play the game, you already know how disastrous that was!

Unfortunately, I learned about the game from Dad as a teenager (and baseball player) with similar results.  After only a few attempts--trying to hit beat-up old balls in a vacant lot--I decided the game was not for me.  I don't remember exactly, but expect I threw a few clubs out of frustration and uttered many expletives.  I was a pretty fair athlete and could not understand why I couldn't hit the ball like the pro golfers I'd seen on TV.

Years passed and eventually I came under the influence of friends who knew how to play and were most generous in sharing their knowledge.  It took a long time, but the light came on and I began to understand more about this really difficult game.  You'll notice I usually refer to golf as a "game", rather than a "sport".  In general, I consider golf a game, mainly because one doesn't have to be particularly athletic, well-coordinated, strong or fit to play, which is not true in what I consider to be "sports".  Even in the early days of the game, long before motorized carts were invented,  plenty of overweight gentlemen and ladies played.

Fast forward to staff duty at Naval Air Station Dallas, Texas.  The boss played and so did the chief of staff.  Before I knew it, I was joining a local golf club.  It wasn't a country club, rather it was just a golf club, with a driving range and a very interesting eighteen-hole course.  Mick Brown, chief of staff, was a member and he taught me how to practice.  The advice and lessons he provided proved invaluable and I'll always be grateful for his help.  Thanks to him, I began to love spending time on the practice range, even practicing on another range in the evenings!  Michele always knew where to find me.  I'd hit balls until they turned the lights out at eleven PM!

I don't recall exactly when I went from a baseball swing to a golf swing, but when it did happen, a whole bunch of basic truths became evident and my game improved significantly.  There are few things as wonderful as the "click" of a well-struck shot.  You feel nothing really.  With almost no impact felt, the ball seems to simply explode off the club face.  It's magical and I'm not exaggerating.  It's the Holy Grail of golf to me.  Even a few shots like that in an entire round makes it all worthwhile.

I'm not a big fan of the length of time a round of golf takes today, so being content with an hour on a driving range may be just the thing.  I'll hit balls with no worries, always enjoying the moment, savoring the magical contact when it happens.  Now, if I can only apply this philosophy to the rest of my life! :)
       

The driving range was pretty quiet Tuesday.  It's an expansive practice area with a separate chipping area out of this photo.  On weekends, the turf practice area, in front of these stations, is open.

This photo shows more of the practice range.  I'm on the right side of the tenth tee box taking this image.


Golfers getting ready to tee off on the 10th-hole.

The excellent quality rental clubs were made by Cobra Golf.  These huge drivers were just becoming popular when I stopped playing the game.  They still feel like you're swinging a canoe paddle to me.

I found a spot to prop the camera, set the timer and this is the result.  Big sky, lots of targets to shoot for and perfect temperature.  Couldn't ask for more...except maybe a few more decent shots. :)


For those golfers finding fault with my set-up, feel free to write a comment as I gratefully accept suggestions!  I had to use my glove to help stabilize the camera on its precarious perch, then hurry into position before the timer zeroed out.  It's not easy being camera man, director and "star".  I didn't purchase a pair of golf shoes because I've noticed many pros today, wearing essentially sneakers with the tiniest pyramid-shaped, grip-assisting soles.  I saw a pair in the pro shop, but wasn't ready to go "all-in" today.  I decided to use my running shoes, at least for today, knowing the less-than-optimal footing would keep  me from swinging too hard and getting off-balance.  It worked.


On my way to the putting green, here's the first tee.

The practice putting green and about half the clubhouse.  There is a "19th-Hole" restaurant inside, along with all the normal facilities.


Getting ready to smack an iron shot.  That's navy housing in the background. 


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Climbing Diamond Head.

Yesterday, (Monday) was cloudy and cool by Hawaiian standards, so Michele decided it would be a good day to hike to the top of Diamond Head, the extinct volcano which is an icon for O'ahu and Hawaii.  This was my second time, but it has been a few years since I made the trek, so I was eager to join her.  Here are some photos from our day.

We've parked the car and are walking toward the facilities at the start of the trek.

An overhead view of the crater.  This is the Hawaiian name.

Click on the photo to enlarge up to two times to read all about the crater's name and some history.

Michele reads all about the crater on the displays in this building.

On our way up.  It's not too difficult a climb and we saw all sizes, shapes, weights and ages of people.

Michele brought her binoculars and here she's taking a break to enjoy the view.

Looking down at other hikers coming up.  They say it takes about an hour to ascend and a half-hour to get back down.  Of course, there are lots of view points along the route, with benches to rest your legs and catch your breath if necessary.

Some parts of the trek are rather steep, but there are stairs to make it easier...that is, if you think climbing stairs at a steep angle is "easier".

While we were stopped at a viewpoint, we heard the huffing and puffing of a man actually jogging up!  Click on this photo to see him better.  Must be in fantastic condition.

This is another jogging climber who caught up to us and took a break.  I think he's checking his time.  His pal, also jogging up, is seen in the previous photo.

We're about half-way up now and looking down you can see the exit of the tunnel which brings you into the crater floor and the parking place.  In the distance, you can see Koko Head.

Michele looks for whales at a viewpoint.  You get a 180-degree view of the Pacific from up here and it really makes you realize you're on an island--as if you'd have any doubt.  Normally, the five or six hour plane ride is your first and best clue! :)

A zoomed view of Shangri La, the estate built by Doris Duke, who, while quite young,  inherited the Duke Energy fortune.  Her foundation maintains the magnificent home and tours are available.  We visited the home a few years ago, documented in an "older post".  The home is the white estate closest to the water in this photo.

See what I mean about stairs.  Michele is pretending to look at something while she really catches her breath. :)  In the distance below us, you can see the buildings and parking lot.

Coral reefs and the vast Pacific Ocean beyond.  Moloka'i and the other major islands, except for Kaua'i, are located southeast of O'ahu, so here, you see nothing but ocean.

Zoomed in on the lighthouse.

At the summit!  Okay, okay...it's not Mount Everest...we get it. :)  But, it's still a great view of Waikiki and O'ahu.

A zoomed view, with the Royal Hawaiian Hotel clearly visible.  Easy to see why it's called, "The Pink Palace of the Pacific".  The expanse of lawn in the foreground is Kapiolani Park and the structure in the lower right-hand corner is the Waikiki Shell, an outdoor amphitheater.  Jimmy Buffet and his Coral Reefer Band performed here just a little more than a month ago.

We're on our way down now, stopped at an intersection from which you can proceed to the top by this Very Steep stairway or, take a newer, less steep stairway.  We took the new path both up and down, but I had to get a shot of these young and ambitious folks working their way to the top of the old stairway.

Michele, about half-way down.

This clever sign is located just outside of a viewpoint near the top, but I thought it was a nice way to say this post is finished, too.  Hope you enjoyed the hike!




Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chinese New Year Parade

Saturday, we joined thousands of other people lining the streets of downtown and Chinatown, to enjoy the annual Chinese New Year Parade.  It began at 3:30 PM and lasted for nearly two very entertaining hours.  After the parade, we had a delightful dinner at The Golden Palace in Chinatown.  The lion dancers, food booths, live music and merchandise booths kept going until ten PM, though returned home not long after dinner.  Here are a few of the over one hundred photos taken today.  Click on any to enlarge.

This young participant epitomizes the parade to me.  It's all about the kids experiencing their cultural heritage and carrying it forward.  He was marching along with his mother, who would give him candies to pass out to the many children lining the parade route.

Team after team of lion dancers really made the parade fun for kids of all ages.  It's a tradition to "feed" the lions money, usually one dollar bills, and the crowd was very generous.  The lion dancers worked very hard and deserve every "green" morsel they "consumed".

The lions are quite menacing, especially for younger children, who watch in awe as the beasts almost swallow the arm of the giver to get at the bills.

Three young girls having the time of their lives.

Say Aloha to Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie.  He saw me getting ready to take this photo and maintained the pose even though the car had passed by.  Thank you, Sir!  

Lots of beauty queens rolled by, too.  This is Miss Brittany Lee, 2014 Narcissus Queen.

The Royal Hawaiian Band made an appearance and entertained us today.

I think this young mother was letting her child "feed" a dollar bill to the lion.  Hope she isn't scarred for life after staring into the gaping jaws of the beast!

The parade featured lots of wonderful cars, carrying dignitaries and beauty queens.  Riding in this vintage Corvette is 2014 Miss Hawaii Chinese Queen, Jessalyn Lau.

I'm not sure what this car is, but riding is 2013 Miss Hawaii, Crystal Lee.

More proud children in the parade.

And speaking of children...Feeding the lions was fun for all ages, as is clearly evident by looking at the smile on Michele's face.

We never expected to see a fully-grown panda bear!

More organization officials in another sweet ride.

The Navy Band was joined today by two large groups of Junior ROTC cadets from local schools.

The little girl in this junk was having a great time waving to the crowds.  This was about the closest thing to a float in the parade today.  Lion and dragon dance organizations dominated the parade.  We never realized how many people it takes to perform these physically-demanding dances.

The banners of the lion and dragon dance teams were big and flashy and the numbers of  members really surprised us.  We didn't actually count the number of teams, but there were a lot.

I have yet to learn who this character is, but the gentleman did a fine job of entertaining the kids lining the parade route.

These are "Techo Gods" from Taiwan.

The young woman in the blue sunglasses is one of the drummers for this lion dance team.  The large drum is pulled on a cart, surrounded by other team members banging cymbals.

This is the first dragon dance team seen today.  Lots of team members and very colorful banners and flags.  What a spectacular show.

The dragon "eats" a dollar bill offered by a lady standing next to me.  How exciting!

Grandmother feeds a lion.

Another lion dance team comes our way.

Lion dancers-in-training.  In a few years, I'm sure we'll see these youngsters all grown-up and wearing the big lion costume.

Keeping with the youth theme, another young girl takes her turn at the drum for her team.

Having an exciting day in the parade, how's this for cute?!

Next generation lion dance team members.

These two combatants were part of a Philippine martial arts organization.  Two other sets of warriors, besides these, demonstrated their skills with special (bamboo?) sticks while stopped in front of us.  It was easy to see the necessity for the padding and face masks!

More junior warriors in another martial arts style.  During stops, the kids did some moves, including somersaults on the street!  One little boy was rubbing the back of his head after his.  Ouch.  They had a "cute factor" off the charts.

Marching away, hands folded, exhibiting excellent training and discipline.

This little girl was so far over-the-top on the Cute Scale, every parade participant with candy stopped to give her a piece.  It was better than Halloween!  Here, Mom is getting ready to snap a photo of her feeding the lion a dollar.

Here, younger members of a lion and dragon dance team work a "teenage" dragon.

Probably the scariest lion in the parade.  How'd you like those choppers on your arm?!

This is the Big Dragon which was the final parade entry, busy munching offerings from the crowd.

This beast was so large and probably quite heavy, so it was handled by young adults in excellent physical condition.  These organizations seem to be as much about physical fitness as performing.

Another shot of the Big Dragon.

Almost the end.  The Big Dragon was truly awesome in ferocity and length.

The End.  As the tail of the Big Dragon passed by, it was over.  What a fun and interesting parade.  Though very different in some ways from the parades we've known on the mainland, the basic similarities were there, too.  Everybody loves a parade.  Children are thrilled and awe-struck.  Everybody has fun and departs with smiles on their faces.  And so it was today.  I hope you all had a parade in your life this weekend! :)

PS  We met the nicest gentleman at the parade today.  Visiting from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Randy was about the most congenial person you could ever meet.  After the parade, we wandered among the huge crowds in Chinatown, eventually going into the Golden Palace Seafood Restaurant for dinner.  We didn't get his last name, but we may see him again next weekend as the Chinese New Year festival comes to a close.  He said he'd be back for some Year of the Horse tee shirts. 

Randy, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Looks like he's missing the snow.

Randy fed one of the lions, too, and barely got his arm back!