Friday, July 06, 2007

Looking back from the middle of 18 at the Mississippi.

Hwy 61 Revisited
Bob Dylan may have made Highway 61 famous back in the 1960s, but it remains a popular highway even without his help. Northward, U.S. Highway 61 continues as Minnesota Highway 61 from Wyoming, Minn., through Duluth, along Lake Superior towards the United States-Canada border. Further south, it goes through St. Louis, then from Memphis, Tenn., through Natchez, Miss. for some 400 miles it follows the ancient Natchez Trace, renowned in early U.S. history as the scene of bravery and dastardly deeds. Even farther south, Highway 61 ends in New Orleans at an intersection with Basin St. (Tulane at Basin St.).
It follows the Mississippi very closely, so much so it is known as the Great River Road.
Google map link: River Oaks
In Cottage Grove, Minnesota, the Great River Road thrums its busy way a few feet away from a lovely municipal golf course, River Oaks, overseen by golf pro Bruce Anderson. Its views are of the Mighty Mississip; in fact, from the clubhouse you can see what I mistook for one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. It turned out it’s a wide spot in the river caused by a dam above Hastings, Minn., about a mile downstream.
Don Herfort, a well-known Minnesota golf course architect with more than 165 courses to his credit designed this 6483 yard layout, and it shows a mastery of terrain.
I was only able to play the back nine on that sunny July day after the Fourth, but it was impressive. There were woods, narrow fairways on some, generous on others; a lot of doglegs: 7 out of the back nine had bends, from slight to crooked. Sand was generous, with bunkers guarding many of the doglegs.
This compensated for the lack of water on the back nine, with only one pond, guarding the green on 12. Its distance, 169 yards, is about what I range with a 5-wood, I decided. I hit the ball well, but about a foot short. When I saw the splash, I remembered that 169 was my total distance, including bounce and run; and I certainly didn’t get any bounce on my run to the bottom of the pond.
Number 10 begins with a view of the river, and number 18 ends with one, as you look back over your shoulder on the home stretch.
Course condition was excellent. The fairways were so lush, when they water, the Mississippi must go down an inch. The taller grass off the fairways and greens was two inches tall, and so thick it damped roll very quickly. Taking a little longer club at 12 could have been offset by this dampening effect, if I’d only known. The greens, too, seemed to be a little slow; so getting the distance right with my pendulum-like swing was consistent.
I had asked my friend and host, Brian Quinnell, to bring along an ibuprofen when he met me at River Oaks after work, since he lives right off the course and had gone home to get his golf cart to drive over. Happily, my shoulder didn’t give me any great problems during the round. That may have been due to my dialing down the power rating on my swing; I decided if I swung with more restraint, I might not suffer such severe twinges, and I was correct. Even warming up on the driving range, shortening my swing and easing up didn’t seem to affect my length (not that I’m a long hitter at any time). I also have to credit shoulder exercises from the physical therapist with contributing a modicum of relief.
From left: Brian, Mark and I.
Brian is a computer guru, and our other playing partner, Mark Hogeboom, is a writer. The two of them traded stroke for stroke throughout the round, but Mark with his brand-new set of clubs won their challenge when Brian pushed his 5-footer on 18 an inch left. I was three strokes behind them, just happy about the lack of pain.
Brian and his wife bought their land thirteen years ago, after the landowners contributed the property for the course to the city of Cottage Grove in exchange for residential zoning. When the couple built ten years ago, he acted as the general contractor in a development of structures that sell in the neighborhood of half a million dollars. What set the tone of the development for me, though, was the sweat-stained man in levis and a torn-sleeved sweatshirt hard at work. He was tinkering under the hood of a four-car-long stretch limo, all parked on the street in front of a fabulous house and a gorgeous display of horticulture.
A very well-kept course on a sunny day but with a nice breeze, after spending hours in an office? Who could ask for anything more. I’m looking forward to trying the first nine at River Oaks, since Brian says it’s even prettier than the back.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Space Cadet

When you RV, space is at a premium. You trade in your desktop PC for a laptop; that deep old TV for an LCD or flatscreen of some sort that can hang on the wall; you ditch the fine china in favor of something like Corelle (unbreakable and reheatable Corningwear dishes). If you’re a coffee fanatic, you might try one of the pod coffee makers that take up little space. These clamp down on a coffee pouch, then boil water from a reservoir and force it through into your waiting cup. You brew one cuppa, so there’s no waste. I had a Salton Juan Valdez, but it wouldn’t seal tight, and it had problems with losing water down the front.

Instead of using all those fancy pots and pans, try a wok. I have one from Calphalon I’ve used so long, it’s bald: the black coating is worn off. The narrow bottom takes a lot less heat than a regular pot or skillet. And check into those flexible plastic cutting sheets you can find in an oriental market: They take up little or no space, and you can fold them to funnel the last of the veggies or meats you just cut into the bowl or wok. For cutting, I like a chef’s knife even if it does take up space; if I were forced to, though, I might just use a pastry scraper. I picked one up at a garage sale for 10 cents, and it works both for cutting or scraping food up to put into something else.

Because space in an RV is so precious, you might consider getting rid of your pouchy golf bag in favor of a lightweight "stand" bag, with legs that click down when you drop it; or you might trade your walking cart in for a minicart such as a Clicgear (folds to just 24" X 15" X 13") or Sun Mountain.

Make sure the one you choose has a beverage holder, though; trying to pull it toward the tenth while you juggle a drink and your hot dog at the same time is a challenge.

If you really want to save weight, you could try out the Universal Adjustable Golf Club. This has one shaft, and the head clicks around to different positions: Iron, Wedge, or Putter, replicating everything from your 1-9 irons through your wedges to your putter, on demand. (Although they have just introduced a universal driver.) While it does give you that consistent shaft length, don’t expect the same length of drives. No universal utility club yet, either.

Then there’s the golf shoe. I still have a pair of cordovan two-tone leather shoes with metal spikes I bought in a weak moment a few years ago, and they’re a pain to haul around. When I play, I tend to just wear my regular old Rockport walking shoes I wear to work every day. Now there’s a product for those wet when I don’t want my flat soles to turn into skis on wet hills: Rede’s disposable, adjustable Soft Spikes. Just stick them where you want them on your regular shoes, then peel them off and discard when you’re done. Perty nifty.

I’m getting set to go with my coworkers to River Oaks Golf Course. in Cottage Grove, Minn., the day after the 4th of July. I’ll have to see how my right shoulder will hold up after pounding nails and sawing all weekend. I’ve been trying to be good about the exercises my physical therapist at the VA assigned me. I dutifully hold my arms to my side with a towel in the armpit, bend my elbows so my wrists are parallel to the ground, and move my fists together and out as far as I can, together and out. (Sort of a modified Chicken Dance.) Then I stand, hold my arms out as if I’m pouring beer on the floor (fat chance) and lift my arms up (thumbs remaining down) at a 45 degree angle to my body.

I lay face down on the bed for another exercise, with my body to the elbow supported, drape my forearm over the side of the bed, and raise and lower it at the elbow. Another one I’ve been doing is to raise my arms until my upper arms are straight out from the shoulder and my fists straight up, then bring my forearms together in front of my face, then open them as wide as I can. I only do these to the point they cause pain; pain is not a good thing in this case. I started with 12 reps on these exercises and more, and now am up to 20 repetitions; next I’ll start using a weight in my hands. Even a can of soup helps build up muscle.

Oh, were you aware that if you don’t eat enough protein, but still exercise, you will lose muscle instead of fat?

Now, muscle is space I don’t mind taking up in an RV.