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Monday, July 31, 2006

Sports news: Phonak pulls out as Tour de France sponsor

Swiss hearing aid company Phonak confirmed that it would stop sponsoring its Tour de France cycling team.

The decision to end its association with cycling’s top race was made earlier this year and confirmed over the weekend. The Phonak team was led by American Floyd Landis the surprise winner of this year’s Tour de France who subsequently tested positive for the male sex hormone testosterone. If the positive test is confirmed the Tour organisers will strip Landis of his crown and declare Spain's Oscar Pereiro, who finished second overall, the winner. Reports late today seem to confirm high levels of testosterone, but details are still coming.

In the financial year 2005/2006, Phonak spent 3.8 million Swiss francs ($3.07 million) on sponsoring the team. Phonak Chief Executive Valentin Chapero said in May that the company plans to move away from sports and refocus sponsoring on cultural events like music due to concerns that the public mistook Phonak for a bicycle company instead of one of the world's largest makers of high-tech hearing aids.

Review of this year's "Best New Private" courses, Steve Czaban on Michelle Wie

We've already reviewed Liberty National. Later today I'll have visited and reviewed its neighbor and rival, Bayonne Country Club, designed by Eric Bergstrol (the genius behind the $85 twilight fee and $125 public rounds at Pine Barrens, Twisted Dune and others.)

This time Bergstrol wisely skipped over having Roger Rulewich design the course. Perhaps its a good thing because early reports are we have more bifurcated fairways and lines of charm over sandy soil at Bayonne, the complete opposite of the boring nonsense Robert Trent Jones and his marketing team foisted upon us for far too long.

Indeed, the battle for the "Northest Regional" (to make an NCAA tournament metaphor) seems to come down to Bayonne vs. Seboneck.

Meanwhile, out west in what short-sighted folks and marketers call "fly-over" land, Ballyowen is mustering all its power to make its formidable run for the title. If Dismal River is ready, look for that to be a must-see match up.

Next, Steve Czaban rips Michelle Wie for blowing another late lead. He makes a great point in that this could have been a heck of a summer for her. I mean what a way to finish off "sweet sixteen" - clobbering all comers in the Women's Amateur, moving up a few more ranks in the Mid-Amateur, hoisting a trophy at her last Girl's Junior. But when it's the Rolex CEO and the Sony rep making the decisions for you, common sense bows to the bottom line.

So much for sticking a dagger inn the heart of the competition. He also makes a good point about how the media slip in these little excuses every time you turn around. "She woke up with a stiff neck" coos one scurrilous excuse.

ARNOLD PALMER WON A U.S. OPEN WITH A HORRID CASE OF THE FLU. Winners win even under horrible odds. She has not yet won even though she's been given legs up constantly...and what does it say when she repeatedly asks for special favors like favorable drops? It says she has the mental toughness of a 16 year old. That won't carry the day.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Jim Engh inducted into North Dakota Hall of Fame

Breaking News - Jim Engh left yesterday for Dickinson, ND from his Idaho summer home to be inducted into the North Dakota Hall of Fame.

This is a victory for everyone who loves excellent golf course architecture. Engh has won four best new course awards and finished second a handful of times as well for some other stellar designs.

Briefly, lets review some highlights:

1997 - On his first try, he wins Best New Course for the gorgeous private Colorado design Sanctuary.

1999 - Jim returns in triumph to North dakota with the amazing and publi9c access Hawktree GC.

2001 - Jim designs the incredible Golf Club at Redlands Mesa.

2003 - Jim beats the odds by joining forces with archaeologists and environmentalists and build Fossil Trace.

2005 - Jim builds arguably his best yet, The Club at Pradera.

The future? A new 9 Carne in Ireland and a new 18 at Reynolds Plantation.

Hey! Two mops! Way to go!

Pic of the day - Jay and Jim clowing around after Jay hit one IN the fossil monument at Fossil Trace. He chased me up the side of the monument with my ball retriever.

Robert Thompson article in Travel and Leisure Golf, Floyd Landis and Video of the week

Congratulations to Robert Thompson for having one of his travel pieces published in this month's Travel and Leisure Golf. Rob wrote for a long time for the Canadian National Post. His blog is here. He's also one of the original golf bloggers.

Next, Eddie Peck is in town and the two of us will be out checking out either Bethpage or Tallgrass. Eddie - as anyone who reads this site knows - is the owner of the incredible Black Mesa Golf Club in New Mexico and loves to play rounds with his two Jack Russells and large chihuahua in tow, so it looks like a good weekend all around.

Next, if had NOT heard Dr. Gary Wadler - one of the leading authorities on Blood doping and steroid cheaters - actually came to the DEFENSE of Floyd Landis with my own ears I would never have believed it. It's a good thing he did because had I not heard form Gary, I would have wanted Floyd to be hanged from the city walls by his own entrails.

Think about this. Dr. Wadler is the man steroid cheaters fear most. Did you ever read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose? Remember the evil inquisitor Bernard Gui? The man who was more interested in burning the accused and building a name for himself than finding out the truth? If you faced him, you were doomed. Well Dr. Wadler strikes as much fear into the hearts of cheaters, but plays fair by honestly reviewing evidence and coming to solid conclusions based on the empirical evidence.

Dr. Wadler - the man who usually testifies against athletes - has been widely quoted on ESPN and in the papers as essentially saying something seems particularly wrong - indeed downright screwy - with the specimen collected form Landis. More on this next week, but if Dr. Wadler - the scourge of cheaters everywhere - is saying something is roten in Paris, you can bet there is good reason. Hold the phone on hanging Floyd. Meanwhile, here is my piece on steroid cheaters form last month.

Now for our outrageous video of the week award - Magical Trevor makes a triumphant return to the small screen after burning up the Internet in his original incarnation. Hotter than ever, you can now buy plush new Magical Trevor stuffed toys and even a downloadable ringtone for your mobile. Sorry on the ringtone, mate...I had Phish on there, but I'm feelin the "Oceans 12 Theme" right now..but maybe someday.

Anyway, here's The Original Magical Trevor and The Return of Magical Trevor. If you have young kids, they will eat this guy up...to the tune of millions of hits and excellent ancillary merch sales.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

New Golf Observer Piece, articles on Jim Engh, Black Mesa coming

So I made lots of headway this weekend on my new piece for Golf Observer. It will be up soon. I also got alot done on my article on Jim Engh. Next up after that, Black Mesa. I promise Eddie! You too, Mike Nuzzo!

In the meantime, in honor of Woods' clinic, indeed his virtuoso perfomance this weekend, here is my old Golf Observer piece on Old Tom Morris - still looking after the Old Course.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Power Serge! Garcia charges to 29 on front at British Open


It's a magical number. One of those career milestones a player never forgets.

Garcia has positioned himself into an unlikely spot. A full seven shots in Woods' rear view mirror, Garcia is now 6-under through the front nine and tied for the lead after Woods bogeyed the 2d. With three short, reachable par-5s on the back, Garcia can make a charge. (He just made par at 10, surely a lost oppurtunity there. Nevertheless, with some weather possibly coming in later today, the three way tie for the lead at -11 (as of 10 AM, Woods, Garcia, Els) and Furyk, Goosen and DiMarco lurking, Tiger and Ernie are going to have to hit the gas to achieve the desired separation for a comfortable margin tomorrow. The margin Woods was counting on mid-day yesterday has evaporated and he is in a dogfight.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The 2006 British Open - Mersey, Mersey Mikko! Finland's Mikko Ilonen in contention

I'll win the orange pie slice in the trivial pursuit game today.

Mikko Ilonen of Finland last contended on another Northern England course with bunkering eerily similar to Hoylake - Royal Lytham. Ilonen is so obscure here in the states, Yahoo Sports has a blank photo for a picture.

What is this, Golden Tee?

Although that's nowhere NEAR the gaffe at ESPN.com - click on the British Open leaderboard all afternoon and it sent you to the B.C. Open instead. Boy, things sure get sloppy after the ESPYs. Click on THEIR bio for Ilonen and there's nothigng, not even his home country of Finland listed. It does have his date of birth, though. So they have that going for them.

Let's see, he's a former British Amateur Champion, was 10th in the St. Omer Open (yes, you read that correctly), and leads the European Tour in least hits triggered on Google. Even the PGA page is inadequate. He tied for 9th at 5-under in the 2001 Open won by David Duval.

Anyway, he's used to links courses. He'll have to go nuts to catch the leaders and be a factor, but he and Gary Evans and Greg Owen are not nobodies - they are European Tour players with game that seems to come out best at the British Open. At least these guys overachieve at the right time.

Anyway, lets pray for a Turnberry-esque "duel in the sun" over the weekend.

Star Trek Monty Python Mashup, Snakes on a plane trailer interrupt British Open Coverage

I say! Since we are celebrating all things England this week, thought we'd say a quick "Cheer-o!" to the winner of this week's video of the week award. "Spot on work" to the chaps over Devil Ducky for this excellent Star Trek Parody music video done to the tune of the Camelot song in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Pass the warm beer and the crisps, Fawlty Towers is next on the telly. Then a re-run of "Quadrophenia." Everything else is rubbish! I mean, you're barking mad if you're watching "Dr. Who" mate...

Seriously though, this video is solid gold. If you thought the star trek dweebs looked like nimrods before, wait till you get a load of them now. Dork Alert!

Next for all of you waiting with baited breath for more snakes on a plane (as if you didn't get enough here 1st and here 2d, click here for the Official Trailer.

Bees in a car! Pirranhas in a hot tub!

What Magical Mystery Tour? Tiger wins the British Open in another cakewalk

I've read this book before. Heck, book? It's a blueprint - right off Woods' nightstand.

"Day 1 - The heck with "getting to know the course" - send message with textbook execution. Try to eagle all par-5s, get one or two. Shoot 65/66. Be at or near lead.

Day 2 - Achieve separation from pack. Shoot another 65 or 66. Get two, three or even four shot lead heading into weekend. Nobody can catch me.

Day 3 - Intimidate hell out of playing partner. Make short work of field. Build 5-7 shot lead. Give writers all day tomorrow to wax eloquently about my history making, ego-stomping, downright dominating performance over world's greatest field.

Day 4- Victory Lap in the sun. Remember to smile at (insert name of rival) who's putting out on 18 as I'm teeing off on one. Smile for the cameras, I know they're gonna love me. Have some champagne out of my Claret Jug. Hi, Elin! Miss me? Where's the paper?

Go to Medinah. Lather, rinse, repeat. Is there anything on my calendar for late September?"

Look I know both Ernie Els and Chris DiMarco matched Woods' 65. And yes, if you could name the three players least intimidated by Woods, they are, in order, DiMarco, Furyk and Els. But none of them have done it. The only guy who's looked the Gorgon in the face and come back with the head was Darren Clarke.

No, the only way Woods loses is if his putting goes south (not likely on these flat greens or if the wind kicks up like crazy tomorrow. Then MAYBE Ernie has a shot. but can his knee, back and putter hold out?


Talk about two exclamation points! First an eagle to end the day yesterday. (Boy dinner had to taste good). Then clanking in a 4-iron for an eagle at the par-4 14th. I mean really, who is going to catch him? Goosen???

Look - Phil collapses, Tiger finishes. Phil lets guys hang tight enough to steal one from him on 18, Tiger slams the door lang before anyone else has a chance to up the ante. Tiger is, in short, the best front runner in the game. Ray Floyd, legendary for the same talent in his generation, pales in comparison.

While GD writer Ron Whitten may have overemphasized the OB angle, that may be only because Hoylake has seen no real blustery conditions. Add in that the course is flat and the greens have pretty much the least contour of any in the Rota and it makes sense Tiger is dominating and scores are record lows. I doi agree with Whitten that Hoylake lacks the charm and quirkiness of nearby Royal Lytham. One famous architect - who will remain nameless - once said Hoylake seperated the people who truly love links golf from those that only kinda understand it.

This interesting comment can be taken two ways - maybe it means Hoylake isn't "pretty" or "well designed" enough to resonate broadly...

...OR it could mean that it's so GOOD in a subtle, intellectual way that it takes a true connoisseur to appreciate its intricacy.

Either way, without the wind, its defenses are laid bare. Add to that, the rough is dry and burned out so its mere thin wisps pose no problem to the wayward player. Come to Hoylake in October and watch the course become a fierce bear. In July, however golf becomes a snooker contest.


Kudos to Jim Furyk for playing out of the bunker with a mallet headed putter.

Good recovery Adam Scott. After splashing a ball out of a bunker, but short of the green, the ball followed the terrain all the way around the bunker and re-entered the hazard behind Scott's original position. Bloodied but not bowed, Scott got it up and down.


Tiger played a 459 yard par-4 7-IRON OFF THE TEE, 7-IRON INTO THE GREEN..

Woods also reached a par-5 with 2-iron, 6-iron.


Tiger has to like the next foru U.S. Open venues. First, Tiger wins where Jack wins. Jack won at Oakmont, the site of next years U.S. Open. After that, it's two straightforward bombers paradises with tame greens - Torrey Pines and Bethpage Black. Then it's on to Pebble Beach - where Tiger routinely dusts everyone.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool - Roll up for the Mystery Tour

Everybody sing it with me! (Cue Tambourines)

Roll Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup!

Roll up for the mystery tour!

Yes members at Royal Liverpool are also singing ("Get Back to where you once belonged"?:) Beatles metaphors are everywhere and the tournament is looking to be similar to those held at nearby Royal Lytham and St, Annes (think deep, rivoted, sod faced bunkers) - only with lots of OB. But it really is a mystery tour this year since we go into tomorrows tournament with so many questions.

The weather forecast called for the following wind patterns Thurs-Sun - 3MPH, 3MPH, 10MPH, 3MPH. This course is set to play the lead in another quinessential contribution to world culture - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Perhaps excepting only Muirfield, no Open Rota course plays to such extremes depending on wind severity. St. George's and Carnoustie are bears no matter what the wind. St. Andrews, Turnberry and Royal Birkdale are fair even in tempests. But Hoylake is at the Mersey...err...mercy of the winds. If they are light, as Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie echoed, the course will play short and the tourney will become a snooker game, not a lawn darts compatition as everything is playing so fast and firm.

If the wind does kick up, the OB - so prominent on ten holes, more OB than any other Open Rota course - will act like a magnet and scores will suddenly approach the staggering numbers of Carnoustie and the third round at Muirfield in 2002.

Finally, the course is relatively short to begin with and even though fairways pinch in the landing area, length through the bag (Woods, Singh, Mickelson, Goosen) will be rewarded. Finally, Woods provided an interesting comment. When speaking earlier in the year to R&A officials, Woods asked how severe the greens were, noting "I don't like elephant burial mounds."

Hello, Tiger? You hyave won on two of the most diabolical sets of greens in Christendom - Augusta and Sawgrass. Why should you fear elephant burial mounds.

Irrespective of Woods wishing a month early for Medinah's bland greens (and holes too) while the greens are mildly interesting, the bunkering is eerily reminiscent of the murderous pits of nearby Royal Lytham. "They are like 197 little ponds" said Peter Alliss describing RLSA and the analogy of 90 or so little ponds here at Hoylake is not far off the mark. with the sand level dead flat at the base of sod walls, we'll see plenty of sideways chip outs instead of shots attcking the pin. Bunker to bunker here is not out of the question.

Still, the par-5s are all reachable in two by everyone in the field. This should also inflate scores. Long hitters get a break again as they will hit lofted club approaches.

So many questions, only four days. Strap yourself in. It's a long and winding road till Sunday night.

Interesting random note no. 1: Next years major schedule is frightening! Severe Oakmont hosts the U.S. Open. The King Kong of golf courses - Carnoustie - hosts the British and that cloying blast furnace Southern Hills hosts the PGA. Who put that schedule together and what the hell did his wife say to him to put him in such a mood?!

Intersting random note no. 2: In Tuesday's prep piece I overlooked mentioning Michael Campbell has expressed confidence of late and Retief Goosen has made progress with a Belgian sports psychologist. Both could break out this week due to string long games, solid short putting, excellent course management on links courses and past major experience. Sleeper pick? Aaron Oberholser

The 2006 British Open - Check out Elliott Kalb's new piece at Fox Sports.com

And now for "A Taste of Honey", author and sportswriter Elliott Kalbs piece "Ten Golfers Who Ruled the British Open" is a terrific walk down Penny Lane...oops I mean Memory Lane.

Goo Goo Ga Joob!

Zany Zinadine Zidane video KOing Matarazzi

We interrupt this British Open week for a non-exclusive peek at the world's hottest new video game - "Zany Zidane!"

Click here to watch Butthead Zinadine become a one man wrecking crew on Italy's Marco Matarazzi.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2006 British Open (Open Championship) - The Early Buzz

What's the buzz this week?

Nick Faldo says it won't be fun being paired with Tiger Woods for two days after criticizing him from the broadcast booth.

My Golf Observer colleague Art Spander discusses biscuit brown - the color of the links course fairways we see at the Open.

Don't know anything about Hoylake? Well meet both golf writing newcomer and Royal Liverpool in Golfwrx's piece "Hi! My Name is Royal Liverpool."

Here's a hole by hole breakdown of Royal Liverpool (Hoylake to locals).

Oh, and here's my two cents. The wind will NOT kick up all that badly and scores will be low. The par-5 finishing hole (normally the short par-5 16th hole, but now the 18th due to the re-routing) will yield some eagles for the finishers. Yes, the internal OB will snare a few unwary and unlucky, but look for more red here than at a St. Louis Cardinals home game.

So, here are the storylines from the reporters on site.

1. How well will Phil recover from the horror at Winged Foot? Phil arrived a week early after another lackluster performance in Chicago. But we are at Royal Liverpool, not Medinah (yet) and Phil has definitely got a good game plan going in, but is it enough to overcome a course not only foreign to him, but everyone on the field. Also, how hard will the UK reporters grill Phil? Peter Alliss commented during the Western Open that Bones Mackay had gone into to the media tent to have a heart to heart chat with one reporter who asked some sharply pointed questions and noted the British press might retaliate. The colorful Alliss, still in top form despite being well into his golden years then quipped "As the actress said to the Bishop, you're making it hard on yourself." Result? Top 5, but no win.

2. What about Colin Montgomerie? He proved at Winged Foot he can still be a factor being at or near the lead all the way to 18. If there is a player on the field who knows Hoylake, it's Monty. But with the course being dialed down a notch and the other players in the field not having the "restrictor plate" of 20 yard fairways and six inch rough, will he be able to put the hammer down and cross the finish line like a charging thoroughbred instead of lurking and sneaking one under the wire? Result? Another love in form the fans, another solid showing, but no Claret Jug barring some extraordinary good fortune.

3. Will Tiger continue his charge from Chicago? This is the $64 question. Tiger is the Bobby Jones of his generation and Jones won here in 1930. Tiger does not know the course as well as other major venues and will have to dial things down a notch necause of the driving accuracy Hoylake demands. Of course, the bottom line is if Tiger putts well he wins. Moreover, he has two days to humiliate Nick Faldo for comments Faldo made On TV and you KNOW the grudge-holding Woods is longing for payback big time. If Tiger leads after day 1, he wins.

4. What about Geoff Ogilvy? Watch out. Geoff is playing well, bouyed by his U.S. Open win and with a breakout year in progress, he may channel his inner Bobby Jones and match Jones' feat of winning at both Hoylake and Winged Foot. Result? Don't be surprised to see him finish top 3.

5. Who is the sleeper pick?

A) Vijay Singh. He has the length and calm demeanor under pressure. He plays well pretty much everywhere - especially venues the pros have not played (Sahalee, Whistling Straits). If he putts well, he can keep pace with Tiger and sure as hell isn't afraid of him.

B) Jim Furyk. Steady Eddie is playing well. He's won a major before. He's cool under pressure and the greens here are nowhere near as contoured as Winged Foot. Ride the Jim car to a top 5 finsh, maybe even a win.

C) Watch the leaderboard have an international field. Thomas Bjorn, Gary Evans, David Howell, Darren Clarke, some French guy (pick 'em), Jesper Parnevik, any of the South Africans. Why are we alwats surprised at all the unusual flags such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden and even Asia? With the exception of Todd Hamilton, Americans are nowhere near as well versed in links golf as we should be and it shows at the Open Championship. Maybe we ought to add Bandon Dunes and Friar's Head and other ground game courses to the yearly rotation instead of TPC Boring Hills, Cialis Creek (that's Geoff Shackelford's name for new gimcracks that the tour uses to sell real estate and big name architects) and Casino Course in Dumpsville by Tom Fazio.

By the way, "gimcrack" basically means "sideshow phony."

Anyway, watch out for David Duval, Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton to have good weeks too.

If you insist on my picking someone, no I won't. Instead, I turned it over to our Chief of Security - Ernesto the Iguana (yes, that's the Iguana's name - Ernesto...) Ernesto picked Vijay Singh, but his methods are less scientific for picking winners than they are for keeping nutjob critics away from me.

Anyway, photo op of the day: Moonset over Arcadia Bluffs in Northern Michigan.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Golf News: British Open (Open Championship), Michelle Wie

My Golf Observer colleague John Huggan has his preview of the Open Championship.

Thomas Bonk writes this preview of the week's championship.

Here's another
good British Open piece.

Steve Czaban reports on the grim reality of Michelle Wie's failed week at the John Deere.

Czabe writes: "She came in not just talking about the “cut” but about making the British off a potential Top 10 finish."

Whoa, now this has gotten out of hand. She goes in thinking about the British Open, she goes out with a WD. If Michelle's enablers are filling her head with these dreams of competing at a major, they better let her mature a few years before sending her into the teeth of the maelstrom. They are hurting her development. Nothing good came out of this week - not to her game, her confidence or her popularity.

Look people, she is having no luck trying to make the cut in the lowest of the PGA's low-rent districts. Is there any reality whatsoever to the gimcrack phony pipe-dream of her being competitive in a major? Especially RIGHT NOW? How about letting this young girl have some of her stolen childhood?

Look, we all know this isn't about Michelle Wie, it's about people forcing this politically charged gender agenda to convince the public that women globally can play golf as well as the men down people's throats.

But he advancement of women's golf is not measured by the success of ONE woman, but the success of ALL women. At Tall Grass Country Club this weekend, the entire Grill Room was rivoted to Natalie Gulbis vs. Paula Creamer. (Even though both fell short.) They were cheering raucously.

Women's Golf has perennially been number 1 or 2 in all women's sports and is one of only two televised women's sports to perennially enjoy cross appeal to male viewers. (The other is tennis...everything else is seasonal to the Olympics.) Don't you believe for one minute that there is a crisis of confidence, money or popularity with Women's golf. If there is women's golf on and women's softball on, which do you watch? How bout volleyball (Ha!) Or basketball? (Please...) No - Women's golf is the flagship of women's sports on television. EVERYBODY knows when Annika wins a major, but quick! Who won the Women's NCAA softball tournament? People still remember Birdie Kim's crazy bunker shot from last year, but who was MVP of last year's WNBA Championship?

Name eight LPGA players in the top 20. Now name eight WNBA franchises and their nickname's and divisions...

I thought so.

As for playing with the men, it's Paula Creamer's turn. Or Natalie Gulbis'. Do you actually think either of them would draw FEWER people to the tournament? Especially now that Michelle is 0 for 5? People are really disappointed with Michelle Wie not even getting close, so it's time to temporarily pass the torch to another woman. I'll bet you a dollar to a donut that if you invite spunky Morgan Pressel or the LPGA's version of wrestler "The Rock" - every red-blooded guy's fave Paula Creamer - or any one of the fiery competitive Asian players such as Se Ri Pak, they would draw as many or more spectators. There is a ground level, visceral reactionary response to Michelle's repeated failures...more so because of the alomost haughty way in which her entourage marches around. There is a much stronger cross appeal to some of the other players....which means more patrons and a warmer reception. Give someone else a turn and count the money rolling in. Follow the money - it will say that other girls have just as much draw and star-power.

Either that, or the winner of the Women's U.S. Open gets a bid to the U.S. Open. For goodness sake, the winner of the Amateur Public Linnks gets a bid to the Open - do you really think he is THAT much better than Annika? Or Karrie Webb? Or try this, the winner of the LPGA Championship gets a bid to the PGA Championship.

By the way...is there really anything "classic" about the John Deere Classic? In fact, is there ANY important tournament left that calls itself a "classic?"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Mike Strantz nobody knew (part 2)

Part one of this article is here.

Strantz's eyes light up as he roars "Forrest Fezler, my design partner is a perfect compliment to me. We are brothers in arms. I saw that Fu Manchu moustache and I knew I had my man.”

Together, they let it roll as high as it would go, creating scorching, towering golf adventures without being contrived or campy. “Forrest is especially good at making sure I don’t get carried away” he says emphatically. “He will look at me and say ‘Mike, how is my mom going to play that hole?’ His mom is in her 80’s.” Sometimes dialing it down a notch is a good idea. Even Fezler hints that one green that generated such a discussion, the 9th at Tobacco Road, could have been much more severe had he not raised an eyebrow in Mike’s direction.


With Fezler helping channel and focus his artistic creative freedom, Strantz expanded on Mackenzie and Dye by building contours and hazards that were larger than life. Bigger, bolder, holes resulted and the scale of his designs (and hazards) commanded attention. Except for Caledonia, Strantz courses are enormous. Your group feels and looks like a bunch of Hobbits scrambling around the surreal landscape of Middle Earth. And somebody in the group is sure to utter those controversial words – words of wither praise or condemnation – “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Oh, but you have, if you’ve been across the pond. Like Alistair Mackenzie and, to a lesser extent Charles Blair Macdonald, Strantz used hole designs and strategies gleaned from the greatest courses in the UK and Ireland, then made them bolder.

“I like what Alistair Mackenzie said” Strantz says breezily, gesturing as he rocks back in his chair and crosses his legs. “A hole must have strategy and subtlety that is intricate and reveals itself over many plays. Tough hazards and arresting visuals accomplish two goals” he continues, his eyes riveted on me as if trying to sear the information into my brain. “First, the amateur loves trying and pulling off an impossible shot. Second, if an expert gets in a tough place, he may try an impossible shot and make matters worse for himself. Dr. Mackenzie wrote in his book The Spirit of St. Andrews, ‘People get more pleasure in playing a hole which looks almost impossible, but is not so difficult as it appears.’ My holes look much more fierce than they play. But it’s an optical illusion. The fairways are actually wide. Once you get over the hill in front of the tee box, you get out and say ‘Hey there’s a lot of room out here.’”

Another of Strantz’s great optical illusions was to raise bunker lips so that the hazard looked closer to the green than it was. He would also raise green entries so that they appeared smaller than they really were. Besides,” Strantz says in defense of his design features, “golf would be boring if all the hazards and shots were standardized.”

He’s right. Strategy is the lifeblood of the game. Sadly, too many five and under handicappers are too concerned with their score and what they see on TV to understand this concept. The optical illusions still confound first time players and closed minds. Mistaking size, severity and illusion for quirks and flaws, some less imaginative critics view his semi-blind shots and visual pranks as a negative, but adventurous golfers and hardcore connoisseurs know better. What looks at first to be hyperbole is, upon deeper reflection, a most faithful and accurate rendition of all the ancient and revered elements of golf design. Just like Pete Dye. Even Dye himself acknowledged this when he told Mike he used Mike’s bunkering at Bull’s Bay (Mike’s home course, a private design in Awendaw, S.C.) as the springboard for his other-worldy bunkering at Whistling Straits, site of the 2004 PGA Championship.

Amazingly, Strantz also employed his penchant for optical illusion to make it appear as though he moved a lot of earth. Yes, Royal New Kent really was that hurly-burly a topography before Strantz built the course. He merely added a little earth to the higher areas, cut the low areas a little lower and gave the impression of moving millions of cubic yards of earth. Yes, those green settings at Stonehouse, nestled cozily in their own little amphitheatres, were natural, not manufactured. “I let the lay of the land dictate the holes and I try to use as many natural fairways and green sites that I can find” he says. What critics mistake for “contrived” is really an excellent, innovative use of the site’s best natural features. In this regard, Strantz surpasses even Dye – Dye moves far more earth to accomplish his vision.

Despite his severe of greenside trouble, fearsome larger than life playing fields and contours Mackenzie himself would have envied, fearsome bunkering, and a vocal minority of unimaginative critics, course for course, Strantz has the strongest resume of any architect. With only seven original designs and two redesigns (six public, three private), Strantz claimed three top new public course awards in four years. His best course, Tobacco Road did not win the year it opened, but recently was voted the most adventurous course in America by Golf Magazine editors and readers and is as equally revered by golf course architecture aficionados as nearby Pinehurst No. 2…if not more. His final work, the redesign of Monterey Peninsula (Shore Course) is masterpiece in Pebble Beach, California which holds its own with Cypress Point and the resort courses admirably. Several golf insiders say it will host a major as soon as the members will permit one.

Indeed, Strantz’s genius in designing MPCC is that he was more restrained than at earlier sites. Strantz knew he was designing in the shadow of Mackenzie at Cypress Point and Jack Neville at Pebble Beach. He gave us his best work. Fairways meander gracefully from side to side amidst Cypress trees and oceanfront before, like Cypress Point, the course makes its final tack home at the seventeenth.

No less a personage than four time best new course award winner Jim Engh called Strantz “the designer I most admire. His terrific strategies and angles of attack on holes were the things I liked most about Mike. You learn something every time you play one of his courses. I especially like Royal New Kent because I’d never seen anything like it before. It’s bold and abstract. And it made his par-3s are especially phenomenal.”

Because of his solid, bedrock foundational elements, even naysayers must admit that Strantz mastered every genre he attempted. Parkland masterpiece at Caledonia, links recreation at RNK, a public Pine Valley meets Ireland at The Road, Strantz never failed to seize attention and create challenging holes. Sometimes cracking the code of a Strantz hole can be as difficult as a New York Times Sunday Crossword. Some holes are a primal scream and the golfer must always keep himself on high alert, but that is what makes for a wonderful golf adventure.


Strantz’s colorful persona, artistic flair and reputation for building intimidating, man-sized courses gave rise to a few myths. First, it’s a myth his courses are too expensive to build or maintain. Strantz’s team was so efficient their projects actually ran half the price of most other upscale public daily fee courses constructed in the same period. Further, maintenance budgets are no larger then other comparable courses from the same generation.

Now here’s the kicker: Mike’s public courses are generally more competitively priced than their competition. Strantz does a terrific job of offering a phenomenal world-class alternative to the ultra-expensive and posh resorts mere minutes away. Many experts consider Royal New Kent the best course in Virginia and Tobacco Road the best course in North Carolina. They are certainly the best values in their respective states. Tobacco Road would be a bargain at twice the price it asks (usually $65). Tot Hill Farm, Stonehouse and Royal New Kent all top out around $70, but most people play for about 2/3 of that price. Even Caledonia, the crown jewel of all South Carolina public golf can be had for around $80 or less at times.

Next it’s a myth his courses are too hard. This is a microcosm of the reasons slow play has become so pandemic as well. I’ll break it down like a fraction for you.

1) People play the wrong set of tees. The next 25 handicapper who says “Yeah, but I wanna feel like I’m getting my money’s worth and see the whole course” should get a thumb in the eye because it takes five and a half hours to find their ball all day. Are you a scratch golfer (or at least a solid 5?) If not, get where you belong.

2) People don’t play smart. Are you a bogey golfer trying to carry the 225 yard chasm at number 2 at Royal New Kent? Do you still wonder why you shot 113? Mike’s course is a marathon not a sprint. He doesn’t build “afterthought holes.” Try to save shots on your way along, not squander them. If it’s a 200 yard carry over water from four-inch rough and there’s oodles of room to play safe, why are you aiming for the pin? Also, 2.5 (corollary to 2) Mike is a Mackenzian. That means the direct line to the hole is fraught with peril. Make a game plan to minimize mental errors and stick to it. Play wisely.

3) People get intimidated by the visuals. Strantz wants you shaking in your boots. Don’t let him in your head and you’ll have done the lion’s share of lowering your score before taking your first swing.

4) When in doubt, go over the mound in front of you. Strantz’s fairways are behind the mound.

5) Finally, it’s a myth that Mike and his courses are “too artistic” or “weird.” Take a trip out to Ireland or Scotland (Prestwick, for example) and then come back and tell me that what you saw there was weird. What gets labeled as “weird” by the neophyte or the frustrated is really a throwback to holes Mike saw across the pond. Just because you never saw anything like it before does not mean it does not work as a golf hole, or is “unfair.” It actually has solid roots in tried and true design philosophy.


Nevertheless, Mike had to endure criticism as well as acclaim to his dying day. Everything from the look and feel of his courses tom the much maligned waterfall at the 18th at Royal New Kent was fodder for the myopic.

Strantz hurt just as much as anyone when his hard work was unappreciated. “It’s human nature,” he confided in a wonderfully candid moment. He gave a ragged smile and sad sigh of acceptance. “I feel badly when someone might not like or understand one of my courses. Of course, they are welcome to their opinion but it hurts sometimes nonetheless. While Mackenzie was self confident in the face of criticism, I have too thin a skin. That’s one of the ways Heidi has been a great influence on my career. She has taught me to be patient. I used to be very impatient I had to stick with it, I am also very sensitive. She’s helped me be more accepting of everything.”

“Heidi is a rock” adds Forrest Fezler concisely. He is right. Equally superlative as her rightly famous husband, Heidi is not only possessed of a singular clarity of vision, but she is uncommonly kind and sensitive. At one moment she will dissect an opponent on the tennis court with the predatory nature and reflexes of a panther on the hunt (watch out for her serve and volley game!), and the next she will be the tender caretaker of a lame horse with special needs. An accomplished rider, her horse a beautiful brown and white paint named Blaine. Mike rode “Degas” (pronounced “DAY-gus” like “Vegas,” not “DAY-gah” like the Artist.)

With Heidi backing his every step (at times even acting as his translator for interviews after Mike’s tongue was removed), even through his cruel cancer, Mike never regretted anything he designed - not even the waterfall on 18 at RNK – “Due to about a dozen non-negotiable reasons that was the only location for the irrigation for the course. I knew I was going to take heat for 18 not looking like the rest of the course and being “not authentic.” Perhaps this anticipated ridicule spawned the waterfall. He knew they would hang him for the water on 18, so to be sassy, even impertinent he added a waterfall just to tweak our nose.

That story is a perfect example of how Strantz achieved the heights he hit. Like the great counterculture writers such as Kerouac and Kesey, his work was about freedom of the self in an industry lashed to convention and tradition, conditioned by the powers that be to merely like only things they have seen before.

Because of his puckishness, his tenacity in his design concepts and his character - The Maverick - we all felt we knew him vicariously as part cowboy, part rebel, rugged, burly, manly-man. But Strantz also had a great depth of personality outside of the Maverick…a side players never saw. He mellowed out Jazz greats Ahmad Jamal, Stan Getz and Charlie Parker. Despite being a little cowboy, he also had a country warmth and sincerity. Success never spoiled him.

There is an undercurrent of “outlaw,” but if this is a Hollywood western, Strantz is the hero, not the villain. He is good vs. evil (promoting ancient architectural features like blind shots vs. an unwilling, close-minded industry and lazy, lowest common denominator collective golf psyche). He was also David vs. goliath – after all, his first solo effort, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club deputed as the Number One course in all Myrtle Beach and has held that spot ever since against all comers.

Mike’s humanity touched so many that friends and hardcore fans have entire shrines devoted to him. That’s how much of an impact he had on people’s lives. Faith so influenced his life, one of his most beautiful works of art, a red and gold stained glass piece depicting Jesus’ crucifixion graces a South Carolina church. Ever the devoted family man, he worked only on projects near home until his daughters Dana and Andrea finished college.

It was soon thereafter – right as he was accepting the Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Shore Course) job that he was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue despite never having been a smoker. The cancer was cruel and ruthless. When the American Society of Golf Course Architects met at Monterey Peninsula in April, they were so overwhelmed by the course they made Mike an honorary member. Sadly, in his final days, Mike was too weak to be able to acknowledge the honor personally.

If there is any drawback to his work, it may be that at this moment in history, his abstract lines – so beloved when they were Seth Raynor’s – are too Baroque to find mainstream acceptance. In truth, only Tot Hill Farm in North Carolina may be truly weird. The fairways are so fanciful you could get turned around and end up playing back the way you came. The course was made stranger by a re-routing prompted by floods. One green was used for two holes and 17 and 18 were mashed into one giant par-7 closing hole. But in terms of refreshing and groundbreaking experiments, the par 7 and re-routing that occurred were a popular success, with many hoping the re-routing would become permanent – just to make the course unique. Sadly, since one green had to be used for two holes, the logistical inconvenience this “crossover” caused scuttled any hopes of a course with a routing otherwise unique in the annals of golf.

Yes, Mike’s career was short, but he won back-to-back best new course awards for Royal New Kent and Stonehouse. Golf World named him 1998 Architect of the Year. Strantz was a young designer, but already had four defining works – Caledonia, Tobacco Road, Bulls Bay and MPCC – any one of which would be the magnum opus of any architect’s career. Over the course of his life, his courses, like Pete Dye’s, will become firmly woven as the fabric of our national golf character. And he showed us things we otherwise might never have seen.

Via con dios, Mike. Onward to immortality and eternal youth. At least Heidi, Dana, Andrea, Fuzzy and all your friends and family will always remember you young and vibrant and strapping. We will always remember you as the lion in summer.


In an industry that too often finds solace and comfort in hard-bitten solidarity and rigid adherence to tradition, Strantz’s exuberant voice and vision are uncompromised by objective rules and ancient dogma. Instead, he fashioned the old into the 21st century neo-classic, paying homage to the ancient ways while polishing them for the future.

Musician Reid Genauer once wrote that the measure of a man is his worth, not his wealth. To our inestimable delight, Strantz’s worth and wealth are ours too. We see further, hear more clearly, run faster, soar higher and reach farther as a collective golf community, expanding our horizons and celebrating more deeply the unquenchable spirit of our great game. Strantz’s vision serves the game in ways even the best scholars are only beginning to understand. He thunders across the golf landscape resonating with architects and players alike.

Some may unfairly brand him outlaw and contrarian, but nothing could be further from the truth. That’s the media leaving a label...where heroes and demons do not exist, it is necessary to invent them. Strantz has made no conscience decision to rebel against conformity (not that that’s a bad thing within limits of reasonableness). Yes he was a Maverick, but he was a Maverick with a true golfer’s soul.

Like musical genius Beck, Strantz transcended genres even while reinventing them. He was Van Gogh…it’s what you’ve seen before, but never in a way like this…with an aura, a flourish, a spark of color. Mike Strantz hurtled golf design into the 22nd Century. In a world where homogenization and gentrification are the altars a misguided many worship on, Mike’s individualism still shines through, dazzling and compelling. Most importantly, since his courses are priced so everyone can enjoy them, grateful public golfers can enjoy world class golf.

Mike Strantz was such a brilliant, incendiary talent that he would not have been a benchmark for those that followed…you know, as in “He’s gonna be the next Mike Strantz.” Mike will always be the only Mike Strantz – as in there are no other comparisons; The One and Only Maverick. Retire the moniker. It’s Mike’s and Mike’s alone.

There are a few talents that only come a few times a century. We see it in a different way with Tom Doak also. Such immense talents are supposed to be rare. And sadly, like Jeff Buckley, Mike’s life was short, but what a mark he left. There is a healthy love and respect for his work. The word is spreading…and true lovers of golf will never forget.

Photo (c) courtesy of the Strantz and Fezler familes.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

British Open Previews (Open Championship Previews)

Ron Whitten says in Golf Digest how Royal Liverpool was a mezza-mezza choice for an Open. He calls it Royal OB and, with several holes featuring this as an unctuous internal hazard he's right to an extent.

Here's my Royal Liverpool preview piece.

The R&A has their say about the changes to Royal Liverpool

Links Magazine previews the British Open.

Golf magazines excellent previews
of Royal Liverpool are here.

Finally, Jaime Diaz says Michelle Wie needs to petition the LPGA for addmission and play with the women.

Here are my thoughts on Michelle Wie.

British Open Previews (Open Championship Previews)

Ron Whitten says in Golf Digest how Royal Liverpool was a mezza-mezza choice for an Open. He calls it Royal OB and, with several holes featuring this as an unctuous internal hazard he's right to an extent.

Here's my Royal Liverpool preview piece.

The R&A has their say about the changes to Royal Liverpool

Links Magazine previews the British Open.

Golf magazines excellent previews
of Royal Liverpool are here.

Finally, Jaime Diaz says Michelle Wie needs to petition the LPGA for addmission and play with the women.

Here are my thoughts on Michelle Wie.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Italy's Azzurri win World Cup, Zindane career ends in disgraceful ejection, violent cheap shot

Italy's Azzurri ("Blue") completed their cinderella run to the World Cup in the same dominating fashion with which they began, but not before giving their fans a massive case of agita. After referees awarded a highly questionable penalty kick to France after Therry Henry took a dive in the penalty area, Italy - down 1-0 thanks to Zidane converting the "free throw" of a kick (I mean that's whgat PK essentially are) - scored on a gorgeous diving header to even the match, then survived a penalty kick shootout to record their fourth World Cup title and first since 1982.

"What a play the goal was!" shouted Italian fan Giovanni Paulasi. "To give up a goal and then come from behind is wonderful. Comebacks don't happen that often at soccer played at this highest level. It is a testament to Italy's strength" he said while sipping Chianti at a Mulberry Street Ristorante.

But this Final will also be remembered for the unsportsmanlike conduct of the player touted most in the American media prior to the match. Barely ten minutes from penalty kicks, French captain Zidane lowered his head and head butted an Italian defender in the chest while play was being reset by the referee.

Some French apologists are "investigating" whether he was provoked by a racial slur, but that is wild speculation at best.

Zidane is a French born Algerian. How the hell do you insult an Algerian? That makes no sense.

"I have no explanation and frankly I am embarrassed. He never should have done this and worst of all in the Final." said one French fan dressed in a Zidane jersey. "To end his career that way by letting down his team and country is awful. Here we go, the whole team is about Zidane and he does something he knew would hurt the team. Maybe we learn a lesson that such a thing is what happens when you make one man the whole team."

Zindane, who should have just said "Hey! Don't bust my parlines!" to trash talking Italian defender Marco Matarazzi and walked away, instead will be forever linked to this ugly incident on which his career ended. He was nowhere to be found when the French Team needed him most. In a nod to his career, maybe FIFA - often seen by soccer fans as misguided at best - awarded him the "Golden Ball" award, the honor bestowed on the tournament's most outstanding player. That's despite the searing achievements all month by Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Italian defenders Mattarazzi, Fabio Grasso and Cannevara.

Even French fans thought this was a mistake. "He had a good tournament, but it sends a bad message to the world to show support indirectly for what he did on the field. He did not keep his head and at such a crucial moment. He should have known better" lamented Sherri Beaulait at a French cafe across the street from where Italian revelers still celebrate a day later. "But the Italians did not cheat. They played well and not to recognize one of them as the winner of the Golden Ball Award lessens what they did. They were great defenders. Americans may not find defense beautiful or exciting, but it won a championship yesterday and does that alot in sport."

Indeed, Italy gave up the fewest goals and led every offensive and defensive catagory that mattered over the entire 32 team field. Not a single goal was surrendered to an opposing team during actual play - the two lone tallies against were an own goal and a PK. That is the single greatest defensive performance in World Cup history.

Italian fans mobbed Mulberry Street and chanted and sang while dancing around cars with Italian flags draped over them liked blessed shrouds.

Most people cheered or smiled as the throngs sang joyously, but the Goa province owner of Baluchi's Indian Restaurant was not amused. "They keep coming in screaming about Italy and we are not Italian. We are Indian dammit!" he shouted as a quartet of blue shirted revelers shouted through the open windows at patrons "Hey! Baluchi's! Forza Italia!"

"Get out of here! Italy is far away!" the owner shouts back.

Meanwhile all anyone in the American media wants to talk about is Zidane. People are right - we might not understand or get this game as well as we should. ESPN makes the same mistake in football alll the time, lionizing showboating receivers who are "playmakers" but eating crow when defensive schemes such as those the Steelers and Patriots put together win four of the last five Super Bowls.

Nevertheless, for the next four years, Forza Italia. Sempre! Hail to the champions - Campignone del mundo.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Milquetoast, overpriced Atunyote a poor choice for a professional golf venue

Mother Nature should have taken a holiday. The rains that have ruined En-Joie G.C. in Binghamton have forced the PGA to move the last B.C. Open to ever be played.

The new venue, Atunyote, is one of the least inspiring and most milquetoast courses in Christendom. The course design is a confused and kaleidoscopic whirligig of boring trash with greens and hole shapes that are three scoops of unflavored yogurt. The only thing missing here is the clowns with seltzer water bottles running out to hose down the players. This is one of Fazio's weakest efforts.

Still, the course has built a cottage industry out of hosting tournaments about which nobody cares. After being played for chumps by the PGA in order to host the Club Pro Championship in return for consideration to maybe host a tournament in the future, they now get to host a tour event for those who miss getting into the British Open. Translation: Once again, no one will be watching. Pine HIll in Philly would have been more interesting. It also sends a bad message to the world that the PGA is taking casino money in return for being chosen as a venue.

Noone is listening either while Atunyote shouts about how they think they deserve a major. They had better get in line for dreaming of hosting that major they scream to anyone ill-traveled enough to listen. Funny, but Oak Hill is right next door and is a much more interesting and challenging venue. It also will be pretty upset if a second-rate course pirates a major through casino money. Not gonna happen.

Besides, isn't another course [Trump National, Bayonne, Liberty National] a better choice? :):) After all, the PGA will make more money in NYC than they will in Utica.

The article about the relocation is here.

A detailed review of the course is here.

With all this talk of boring venues, I thought I'd post a picture of a real golf course for real aficionados. Here's Black Mesa (La Mesilla, NM) No. 16 (above). Remember, unless you are a hardcore architecture student, you read about it here first. Full article on Black Mesa will be up soon.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fierce competition for 2006 "best new courses"

Competition is tough this year for the awards for best new courses - both public and private. Let's take a close look at some of the favorites and dark horses.

1. Private

Remember this name - Ballyneal. You will see it again for a long time. Word on the street is that this course is the strongest design of this year's crop of private courses. Tom Doak - the genius behind Pacific Dunes, Cape Kidnappers, Barnbougle Dunes, Apache Stronghold, Beechtree, The Rawls Course (stop me anytime...) has designed an old-school track in Northeast Colorado, about midway between Sand Hills and Pradera, two other excellent, indeed quintessential private designs. I'll be there before fall with a full review.

Doak also teamed with Jack Nicklaus on Sebonack GC, sandwiched neatly between Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America. Both Doak and Nicklaus understood fully what it meant to design in the shadow of these two mighty monoliths of our golfing map and produced a work that can stand proudly between them - much like Strantz when he got he chance to design near Cypress,they rose to the occasion and built a natural looking, strong design. Membership rates are in the mid six-figures.

Nicklaus also has a solo effort in the running, Dismal River, in the Nebraska Sand Hills and built on similar terrain. Early reports from the course were promising.

Back to the greater NY region, Bayonne CC by Eric Bergstrol is getting rave reviews from everyone who has played it. The Met Golf Writers will have an outing there soon, so I'll report back right afterwards. Memberships start in the low six figures.

No course has opened to more marketing and expectations as Liberty National, a course technically in New Jersey, but a mere water taxi from TriBeCa. Various membership packages start between $400 and $500,000. While the course has solid views of the ocean, the course is a target golf course, penal in nature. It will look good on TV - perhaps rotating in as a venue for the Barclays during the "Run for the Cup," but will be difficult on members. Use the search engine on this site for my review.

2. Public

Midwesterners have been screaming for more U.S. Opens and PGA Championships in the midwest and hardcore golf architeture fans have been screaming back for better courses. I mean really, do Cog Hill, Olympia Fields, Kemper Lakes and Southern Hills do much for you? Thankfully Erin Hills will open any day. The USGA has alrwady granted them the 2008 Women's Amateur Public Links and many pundits say the Open will follow.

Finally, golf architecture fans everywhere are celebrating but especially so in Philly as Lederach G.C. by the "downright lovable Texan" (as one fan put it:)), Kelly Blake Moran has just turned all sorts of heads. Lederach breaks all the conventions compressing great course designs these days and shows how great greens and clever use of the land can make a terrific course out of a so-so piece of property. Kelly had all sorts of restrictions on the site, yet the shots pose interesting problems to the player, options abound and the greens have a great deal of character. Best of all the price is a modest $50 (or thereabouts depending on day and time.) Lederach should surprise everyone pleasantlylater this fall. Kelly Blake Moran deserves the ink - this is a breakout achievement for him.

Today's pic is from Ballyneal.