There are sights throughout the World one simply must see; and I have many, many more I have yet to experience. This past week we had the opportunity to view one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Arizona’s Grand Canyon!
Our trip, the offshoot from a cross-country family wedding, included stops along scenic Route 66, Tombstone and the OK Corral, and the wild street donkeys of Oatman. These kitschy, curious cultural attractions take a far back seat to the visual wonder of the canyon.
One could be led to believe they can appreciate the awe-inspiring vistas through the magic of modern photography or high-definition documentaries. But the true depth and breadth of beauty and wonder can only be truly appreciated by standing on … uh, near … the rim of the gorge.
Our stay did not allow a trip down into the canyon, which was regrettable as undoubtably an equally incredulous perspective that must be. And from what we learned, they likely wouldn’t have allowed me to overburden some unfortunate burro.
And by the way, it was unseasonably freezing cold for late October, with sunrise mornings reaching lows of 9-18 degrees Fahrenheit. Of course the following week, temps in the mid-60s were expected. Best check the temps and wind forecasts if flexibility allows.
As a first-time visitor, the most impressive aspect is the sheer depths of the canyon, followed closely by the beautiful colors of the canyon walls and the desire to understand how such a desolate, arid – alien planet-like – wonder was created. It makes one feel small, remote and easily overwhelmed.
From a spiritual point-of-view, I was led to wonder what purpose such magnificence might be intended to serve. And yes, I realize as one who is not particularly religious, some may find such thoughts as Purpose to a natural wonder might sound silly or pretentious. And yet, I wonder …
I sometimes hear the expression “the finger of God” often used to express the power and often the devastation of naturally occurring phenomena. To me, my experience on my first view of the Grand Canyon was that of the Fingers of God, creating and shaping a spectacle of nature intended to demonstrate His power and majesty. Reminding Man that he is temporary and peripheral. One who should be mindful of his place and respectful of what was placed here for his benefit and for the benefit of those who follow.
So I leave you with this thought.
No matter whether your higher entity is God in all His glory … or nature or earth or even if science alone defines “purpose” for you, it’s extremely difficult to witness such grandeur without the thought that it exists … was placed here … made available for humanity to witness for some exalted purpose.
Regardless of your views on any of that, the Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring experience for which we all must take the opportunity!
For two weeks this August we had the opportunity to enjoy another combined work/family excursion to sunny Southern California. And as I am won’t to do, I wander off with my more golf-talented brother to indulge our mutual hobby of choice.
So we found ourselves on a gorgeous Tuesday morning preparing to explore the oceanside beauty that is Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles! It’s a golf course we had lusted over even though brother Pat had played there once before.
As a warmup, we had played Steele Canyon Golf Club in Jamul, CA. A solid 27-hole track that cost $125, making a $195 investment for a circuit at a Trump golf property, overlooking the Pacific Ocean a no-brained!
For me, a consistently semi-talented golf hack, the Trump LA track was more than a little intimidating. We had the chance to view Trump LA a year or so previously while in SoCal for a family wedding event. The picturesque ocean-front scenery is dotted a bit too generously with deep, gaping, fluffily white sand traps. The greens billiard-smooth … if you like your billiards played on elephant graveyards where the pachyderms are buried just barely below the surface.
Yeah … only regular golfers will understand that last reference.
Yet the actual play was much less threatening than the visual would suggest. Like any golf course demands you must – as the pro shops resident Captain Obvious pointed out – “Hit the ball straight” as consistently as is possible. Certainly trouble lurks on almost every hole, but it’s easily avoided with a modicum of talent. True life golf hacks are in for a rude and rough ride!
Now permit me a bit of what my bro would call “golf heresy”.
On previous visits to California (Always good to strategically position a close relative on the Left Coast!), we have played Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, local muni tracks in the Long Beach area, and another whose name escapes me in the wine country of Temecula. And frankly, I more thoroughly enjoyed – from an entertainment, relaxation, and playability point-of-view – The Trump experience more so than Pebble!
Perhaps my opinion is jaded by a struggling round years ago at Pebble, or what I like to call the Disneyland of golf. Difficult holes with tough carries and greens so tough to read, you might rather take up bowling. Frankly, I even like Spyglass Hill much more than Pebble Beach!
My biggest problem playing Trump LA was keeping my mind on golf and off the incredible scenery. And yes, that’s impossible. The crystal blue waters … the homes on the cliffs overlooking the course and the Pacific … the natural flora and fauna … the beauty of the well-manicured grounds …
Yes, it was a struggle of monumental proportions, but what’s not to like? And let’s not forget, one also gets to play on a property bought, redesigned, and improved upon by one of the best American Presidents to grace The White House in decades!!
We have been playing golf for over 30 years, some even longer. We enjoy and respect The Game. We love the fresh air and exercise. We love The Game. We are considerate and observant of golf’s expectations for efficient play and the condition the the courses we play.
What course would not want us as patrons willing to play and pay?
We have had our bad experiences, usually at the hand of golfers who are not quite so mindful or considerate. From those experiences, our appreciation for The Game and the correct way to play it has grown. Ultimately though, our pleasure in playing Golf comes from the enjoyment of playing with good friends on quality golf courses on beautiful days!
However, if you can identify with the pleasures of the game described above, you may want to avoid Bella Vista Golf Club in Gilbertsville, PA!
For my foursome Bella Vista has become a golf course to avoid. The golf course’s current management has completely ruined a very good thing. And for what? A customer service approach that emphasizes speed of play over the Enjoyment of Golf!
The Big Aha: What we did learn was a valuable lesson about the abuses of golf course GPS technology that would make Tony Sopranoblanche. The cart-mounted units allow Big Brother to micro-manage golfers like a incentives-crazed production line supervisor.
Our Experience: Teeing off at 0824 on a beautiful June morning, we settled in to enjoy a relaxing day on the golf course.
After some early struggles, our round settled in to a nice rhythm. We were playing our round at a pace not unheard of for a Saturday morning in June. At least in our opinion …
Being well-experienced golfers, we are always mindful of those playing behind us and the drag it can be when waiting around to hit your next shot. But forcing players – to the point of confrontation – to maintain sight of the group ahead can be subjective and unfair, since several factors can magnify any gaps between foursomes.
On this Saturday, we can claim that at no time were the golfers playing immediately behind us ever standing around and waiting to play a shot. In fact, when going over the incredible developments of that day, we could not even remember seeing the trailing foursome after the 2nd or 3rd hole. Only on the 10th tee did we delay our play in the name of Bloody Marys and hotdogs!
Somewhere around the 5th or 6th hole a wandering Course Ranger (Let’s call him Todd.) approached us and advised that we had a hole-and-a-half open in front of us. Not a desirable pace, so we agreed to pick it up as best we could. Again, no golfers waiting behind us. In fact, we could not even see the following foursome.
Fast forward to the 11th hole, when “Todd” approached us again and now DEMANDED that we pick up our pace, claiming that we were holding up the entire flight of golfers behind us. When we pointed back to the 11th tee, where we had been just minutes before, no golfers were visible. Yet “Todd” actually claimed that those golfers – invisible to us on the fairway – were “being polite” (whatever that meant) … apparently wearing camouflage and hiding among the bushes and trees!
When we argued, “Todd” whipped out his iPad and proceeded to show – via a full-color graph – how our pace-of-play was “holding up everyone on the golf course”! So we once again pointed back to the empty 11th tee, and asked him where the hold-up was?
But at least the iPad revealed what the REAL problem was. A data-driven “golf quota”, no doubt fed from cart GPS units to a programmed spreadsheet that fed “Todd’s” tablet and drove him to become a golf course pest of unequaled persistence.
Tony Soprano was right all along! The Authorities could use the cart GPS to harass golfers!
“Take out the GPS. I don’t want the FBI tracking us with it.” – Tony Soprano
“That’s what I like about you, boss; you are always thinking of the big picture.” Paulie Walnuts Gualtieri.
Then the ridiculous turned unbelievable when “Todd” demanded that we SKIP the par-3 12th hole to bring our pace-of-play up to standard! We pointedly demurred as we struggled to determine which episode of “The Twilight Zone” we had stumbled into.
Fast forward to the 13th tee after we ignored the “advice” to skip a hole. And here comes the course superintendent to add in his $0.02, which was more like $4 as he proceeds to argue for 10 minutes. In other words, interrupting our round to preach about pace-of-play while repeatedly stating that he “hated to be out there” harassing his customers.
By now we were disgusted; could not wait to get out of there; realizing we were playing our last round at Bella Vista GC. We have been spreading the word and this ridiculous story ever since!
But let’s review …
1. Yes, nothing screws up a golf round more than playing behind extremely slow golfers and having to wait continuously to play a shot.
2. Our foursome never saw anyone playing behind us, let alone waiting to hit their shots. Not ONCE anywhere during our round, including the roughly 20 minutes during which we were preoccupied by the lunacy of being accused of slowing down the entire golf course!
3. Pace-of-play is a noble concept. But it needs to be pressed judiciously, not a blind data-driven blip on a graph or spreadsheet! Think Gabe Kapler pulling Aaron Nola in the 5th inning on Opening Day!
4. How do you blame golfers for delaying play when none of the foursomes playing behind are being directly held up by your “slow play”! If they were, for any length of time, many golfers will either confront you directly or will take the passive-aggressive approach of “hitting up on you”. Neither occurred this day …
And that’s where we will leave this episode of “The Twilight Show”, Tony Soprano-golfer style.
What we will never do again is play Bella Vista GC. A review of on-line ratings suggest this is not the first time course personnel have made dubious pace-of-play claims that have ruined the good mood, experiences, and monetary investments of area golfers!
Do the smart thing, if you enjoy a relaxing round of golf, and avoid playing at Bella Vista GC in Gilbertsville, PA!
In 2011 Carol and I trekked to Southern California to celebrate my brother, Pat’s retirement. We spent a significant part of our trip pursuing our primary objective … several days of golf and touristy behavior within and about the Pebble Beach resort on the Monterey Peninsula.
That required a good bit of road travel between the Los Angeles area and Carmel/Monterey. One of the impressions from that journey was the exponential growth in vineyards well south of Napa Valley – the commercial heart of California Wine Country – since our previous trip to the Left Coast about 12 years earlier.
On past trips to The Golden State we never took the opportunity to enjoy California Wine Country. Counterproductive it would be to enjoying a fine winely glow, when dragging one’s underage kids around with you …
Now our kids are grown … and as luck would have it one of our Shortall (West) nephews was taking the marital plunge with the festivities taking place in Temecula, California. Sixty miles north of San Diego and ninety miles south of LA, Temecula touts itself as the center of California’s South Coast wine country.
The vino was superb that day, my friend …
Temecula was untouched by the wild fires that hit parts of Napa prior to and during our December 2016 trip. In early December the Thomas fire, one of the largest in California history, began in the hills near Ventura. Smoke from those fires were clearly visible throughout our trip.
With both families established California locals, this was not much the “destination weddings” for them, but for us refugees from a rapidly winterizing region of the mid-Atlantic coast, it was Destination enough!
The happy couple selected the Mount Palomar Winery as the site for their forever nuptials. And frankly, it was quite the venue! The scenery from atop the hills on which the main event took place was spectacular. For a late afternoon ceremony followed by drinks and hors d’ourves set close to the ceremonial stage, one was treated to beautiful daylight vistas, a spectacular sunset, and as night fell, an immensely large and vivid moon rise over distant mountains!
This wedding venue rivaled the trip we took to the beaches of Nags Head, North Carolina for another family wedding. Both venues were spectacular in their own right. Comparisons are unfair due to the dramatic difference of each location; but no one can argue that each made their respective affairs indelibly memorable!
Mount Palomar provided a hilltop venue for the nuptials, which included a screen-saver background of a gorgeous Southern California day with the surrounding hills in the distance. Afterwards, guests took the opportunity for scenic photos while snacking and imbibing the local vintage in salute of the happy couple.
The post-wedding reception was held in a spacious barrel room, the party surrounded by racked wine barrels (attempts to tap several failed). A setting unlike any other wedding we have attended.
And yes, the food was as good as was the wine!
Add in the opportunity to spend an extended vacation with close family and squeeze in a Philadelphia Eagles game (December 10) against a strong Los Angeles Rams team, and you have what was likely the BEST destination wedding I can remember!
The play that could have cost Philly a SuperBowl! (Apologies for the gratuitous football reference …)
At the Phillies game watching them get eviscerated by the Milwaukee Brewers …
Went to Federal Donuts and find out the only chicken they serve now is on a roll!!!!
Used to be … Federal Donuts would give you a halved breast (2 pieces) and a drumstick accompanied by their delicious donut. EVERYTHING was delicious! Now it’s a chicken sandwich, take it or leave it. So I left it.
Got two donuts and stomped off in crushing disappointment. Procured an Italian sausage sandwich to ease my pain. Never a disappointment … #wheresthechikin
This was our second trip to the beautiful island of Jamaica. Our first was full 32+ years ago, in October 1985, on our honeymoon. For that memorable experience we luxuriated at a resort then known as EDEN II in Ocho Rios on the north shore of the island. Unconfirmed rumor had EDEN II (which we honeymooners were told stood for Every Day Every Night Twice) destroyed during Hurricane Gilbert. Further research – however – showed it had been a Sandals resort (Dunns River), then was renovated and reopened as Jewel Dunns River Resort & Spa (Hilton Hotels and Resorts).
A return trip to Ocho Rios would have been nice, and maybe someday we will. But for this trip, a birthday excursion for two women who are very close friends, the group decided on a Sandals resort in Whitehouse (Sandals South Coast). It couldn’t have been a better choice … with the exception of a little weather.
The Jamaicans were all too willing to admit that their wet, rainy season runs roughly from mid-April to mid-June. It was apparent that we skirted a potential washout of a vacation (Dates of stay: May 1- 8, 2018), but we lucked out. We experienced only one washout day during our 7-night stay and one very wet evening. Not bad really since the rest of our time there was sunny and humid with occasional dark clouds that did not always produce rain. Truly minor inconveniences that gave us the opportunity to work on our bar tans!
We did everything we wanted to (or not), and received all the sun we could handle.
The Sandals South Coast resort is phenomenal, although I imagine during the height of tourism season it could feel a bit crowded. Our stay was considered “off-season”.
The Sandals property is not big enough to require motor transit (as we experienced at Barceló’s Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic). Small enough to walk comfortably anywhere, the South Coast was an exceptional experience. Nine restaurants, seven full-service bars (one out over the ocean), two swim-up bars (always a Big Plus!), four pools, unlimited water sports, top-shelf liquor, on-site spa, and shopping plaza.
For me, a man of modest needs and even modest-er desires to spend a vacation being active and adventuresome, Sandals was a perfect environment! Extremely relaxing, plenty of space (at least during off-season) to enjoy the sun (Recommend early as possible poolside lounge chair claims!), adequate bar capacity and locations, excellent food (only one meal of questionable quality … Make sure you hit The Jerk Shack for lunch!), wonderful and friendly hosts, excellent spa (Red Lane), and well-appointed rooms.
Downers: One disappointment was that our “beachfront room” was a beach/pool view, which did not front on any beach. Quality of evening entertainment (We were told new acts were being broken in.), although the Silver Birds steel drum band is an act you absolutely MUST SEE! Room service is reserved for only the top-shelf (i.e. $$$$$) accommodations. The quality of meal with the special beach-side romantic dinner was not worth the price, though the service was excellent. Make sure that “beach front” room you reserve is an actual beach-front room.
We left Jamaica with varying impressions on our second trip to the island.
People: Definitely my most favorite part of vacationing in Jamaica (besides the beauty and wealth of adult libations) were the Jamaicans themselves. It’s practically impossible to walk past a Jamaican without expecting some sort of genuine “I love Life” encounter or leaving their presence without a smile or a laugh. Almost everyone seems happy, content, and more than willing to spread the cheer around! Given that Tourism is a crucial column in the Jamaican economy and in the quality-of-life, so the people you encounter tend to grasp the importance of being welcoming and accommodating. Yet the genuine reactions and positive attitudes gives one the impression that tropical living promotes a most agreeable mindset in those who live there.
Peaceful waters and verdant hills
Beauty: I imagine somewhere I have yet to visit rivals Jamaica for its verdant scenery and peaceful beaches. I found that I can stare endlessly at the Jamaican countryside … the mountains, blue-green water, vegetation, people, beaches, etc. … in complete bliss. The mountains in particular provide a rich colorful background to everything on the island.
Roads: Our trip over the mountains from Montego Bay to Whitehouse made the Spring roads in my little slice of eastern Montgomery County, Pennsylvania appear merely “blemished” in comparison. Hard to believe that such a warm, welcoming climate can create so many potholes and road canyons! However, it was an eye-opener to learn that the Chinese are making HUGE infrastructure investment in Jamaica. The one major highway project we saw was being financed completely by China who apparently employed contractors from neighboring Korea to manage construction!
Economics: Cursory observation indicates that Jamaicans are probably better off economically that say those in the Dominican Republic, which we visited in October 2016. The DR seemed much more impoverished in larger swaths than those in the part of Jamaica we saw. Certainly, you do see some blight and destitute conditions, but it doesn’t seem nearly as prevalent as I observed in the Punta Cana area of the DR.
Drug Wars: On our first trip to Jamaica in 1985, one of the first things we noticed on our two-hour trip from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios were the presence of telephone poles planted at angles to the ground on any field of reasonable size. We were told those poles were intended to prevent the landing of drug-smuggling planes, looking to load up before heading to destinations to the north. Thirty years later, and I saw none anywhere. In 2015 Jamaica legalized medical marijuana with a bill so vague it has resulted in de facto legalization. Naturally, it also eliminated much of the criminal element – and the crime – from marijuana cultivation and distribution.
In the end, I enjoyed my second trip to Jamaica almost as much as the first. Remember though, we were honeymooning the first time (*wink wink*)! I would not hesitate to take another Jamaican vacation, and Sandals would certainly be a short-list option. Between north coast Jamaica and south coast, I would have a very difficult time picking one over the other.
If you get the chance, enjoy Jamaica wherever you decide to go!
Our poolside room view was supposed to be “beachfront” (-10).