U.S. Navy Fleet Readiness Center Southwest

One of the more fascinating aspects of my employment within the largest military organization on Earth is the occasional opportunity to peak behind the scenes at the infrastructure that maintains the US Navy and Marine Corp capabilities. Due to a recent assignment to attend a training event held at the Navy’s Coronado, California, I had the chance to learn about a limited facet of Fleet support … The aircraft repair and refurbishment facilities at Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) Southwest (commonly referred to as FRC San Diego or North Island).

Note: Nothing discussed here would be considered clearance-required information. The only access granted was perhaps a step above common base access permitted for normal, non-clearance business operations. No photographs were allowed or taken.

Our visit was arranged by my supervisors (NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support) through comparable supervision at the FRC for six visitors, including myself. Our focus was the maintenance of aircraft repairable assemblies, although our organization also deals heavily with shipboard systems.

As we drove to our pre-tour meet ‘n greet, we caught glimpses of the work going on. The most interesting was a hanger area full of older version F/A-18s going through tear downs we learned would lead to de-militarization of the aircraft and disposal through approved de-mil processes. One aircraft – which I think I saw – was a fanciful aircraft in unique painting purportedly used in the remake of Top Gun (i.e. Top Gun 2), serving as Maverick’s (Tom Cruise) ride!

Pretty sure I saw a glimpse of this aircraft in a teardown hanger.

Since the DoD frowns on old components finding their way onto Amazon and e-Bay. Most components are scrapped following the harvest of any special metals used in their original manufacture.

What strikes even the most experienced civilian desk jockey is the lengths in maintenance management, repair and refurbishment, quality artisanship, and exacting process the military services expend in maximizing the service longevity of its aircraft fleet! No small order when one gets the opportunity to see it first hand and dwells on the infinite amount of detail required to make those exacting processes flow.

Of course with operations so involved, so broad in scope, conducted both CONUS (contiguous U.S.) and OCONUS (outside CONUS), across large complex military facilities, not everything is perfect. Flaws develop in handling and processes; material get waylaid, mismanaged, lost; and facilities become disorganized and unimaginably cluttered.

But again, the Services (in my experience The Navy) have adapted to become more reactive and corrective in ensuring the most efficient and effective industrial facilities are available to support the War Fighter. FRC Southwest, for example, recently endured a reorganization and reinvention of its industrial facilities after an audit by a private consultant found much lacking in the efficacy of its operations.

I had been to several commercial defense facilities in my Navy aircraft support experience (e.g. McDonnell-Douglas, Sikorsky). But I had never seen a facility as clean, well-defined, exacting, and organized as the repair and refurbishment operations at FRC Southwest! Even the floors were clean enough to eat off.

Not that I would recommend that …

My own duties at NAVSUP WSS involve Contracting Officer Representative (COR) duties for a program elegantly titled Technical Assistance for Repairable Processing (TARP). This program manages the flow of retrograde material (i.e. used repairables which can be refurbished to like-new condition) from ships and aircraft units scattered all over the globe. These items can be as small as circuit cards to helicopter rotor heads and aircraft engines shipped to and fro in immense protective cans (many designed in part or in whole by coworkers, who labor only feet from my desk).

The point in all of this is to stress the Herculean effort the Services – at least The Navy – undertake to manage – as best as is possible – the service life and availability of crucial components needed by the War Fighter to conduct operations in an increasingly complex, technological world.

Meanwhile, back at FRC Southwest, we viewed F/A-18 wing panels awaiting either refurbishment and reassembly or demilitarization scattered about a huge warehouse/hanger bay in varying states of disrepair and dressing. In an enormous industrial space, you could see a spotless areas dedicated to various intake, evaluation, repair, and testing of components from Navy fighters, helicopters, aircraft and even ship engines all benefitting from a collection of artisans, trained and developed in exacting capabilities.

On a drive and park tour, we also viewed covered, open-sided building were four H-53 type helicopters were shown in the varying stages of refurbishment. From right to left, you could see one aircraft in the evaluation stage, then one in electronic and component removal, a third in complete strip-down/rebuild, and the fourth in completed/testing awaiting its first test flight before being released back into the fleet. From right to left, you saw old and fatigued evolving to almost new, ready-to-go condition. It was quite the impressive migration as each aircraft would be moved down the line to eventual service life extension.

All this benefits not just the War Fighter, but also the Taxpayer, who – in the end – receives more bang for the tax dollar in terms of the original investment in major military equipment!

The Fleet Readiness Centers in concert with a well-integrated supply and distribution network perform what many a civilian taxpayer would consider practical miracles in the capabilities demonstrated in maximizing the service life, performance, and availability of American military equipment. The sad truth is not many of my fellow civilian Navy employees get the opportunity to witness and thereby appreciate the fruit of their individual labors where the proverbial rubber meets the road!

As an NAVSUP employee with over 39 years of experience, even I am immensely impressed by the quality of the Navy’s industrial capability. And I have not seen more than a tiny sliver of total Navy effort. It is – quite frankly – an experience that every single NAVSUP employee who directly or indirectly affects the Navy’s repairable management, procurement, and support operations should be required to enjoy!

Destination Wedding: The Other California Wine Country

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.

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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.

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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!

24312755_10102456606203576_5267595914899467934_nThe 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!

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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!

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The play that could have cost Philly a SuperBowl! (Apologies for the gratuitous football reference …)

 

 

 

Home Sweet … OH C’MON!!

anger-management-1058x426Have I mentioned I don’t like to travel???

I enjoy the “being there” part and the “being back” part, although that depends on where the “being there” was.  Down the Shore is a good “being there”.  So are places like Punta Cana.  Certainly our latest “being there” in Southern California for two-plus glorious, temps-above-average weeks was way up on the Being There list!

My problem is the Coming and Going parts.  Let’s face it.  They are too stress-laden to be enjoyable.  I look at the comings and goings as akin to being forced to into temporary displacement with everything you own – minus all your normal creature comforts – strapped to your back.

The stress is magnified if you travel with a Type A spouse, where packing and the priority-laden questions resemble D-Day invasion planning, where the pace turns frenetic in the 4-5 days prior to H-Hour, and nerves are Type-A frayed.

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I warned you!

Add small children for Volcano Effect!

The “being back” part is almost always good …

Almost always …

Anyways … Our California trip was a blast.  Organized around the wedding of a West Coast nephew to a very lovely girl in the vineyard country of Temecula, California.  More on this in later posts …

Great time, incredible weather, quality family opportunities, plenty to see and do!  And then – inevitably – the Being There runs it course; and it’s time to be back.

More stress …

Our travel West went surprisingly well, including an LAX pickup one native described as, “The smoothest EVER!”  (Sorry about the “native” reference, Pat.  But I’m on a roll …)

No way the trip back East could go that well, right?

  • 0700  Airport commute in the Los Angeles area?  A little slow, but anticipated.
  • Check-in at LAX: Perfect (Southwest Airlines has excellent curbside check-in staff and get the TSA pre-check)
  • Gate Pushback:  On-time
  • Plane change at Midway Airport, Chicago:  Also on-time and smooth
  • Arrival at PHL:  Also on-time and COLD!
  • Parking Shuttle Pick-up:  Stunningly well-timed (like walking-out-of-the-terminal-and-here-we-are well-timed!)
  • Personal auto parked for two weeks outside a Sheraton?  Started like a champ!
  • Ride home:  Piece of cake
  • Walk into the House … IT’S FREEZING FREAKIN’ COLD!!  50° in-house temp!  Not a single burp out of the heater …

How is that possible?!?  Four-year old gas-heated, blown air unit with nary a problem.

Did I mention it was 80° when we left California??

Couple shivering with broken furnace

Ever get home from a Being There wanting to do nothing more than tossing your bags at the bottom of the steps and watching TV before going to bed??  Ever lived with a Type A personality, who was tired, stressed, AND COLD all at the same time?!?  Not fun …

Took me until 1600 hrs the next day to get professional help (the heater kind, not the mental kind) after spending the morning replacing the thermostat, which only partially worked.

And you wonder why I don’t like to travel.

 

Tom Wolf’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month

wolf03z-601New Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is off to a rip-roaring start! In just one month on he job he has …

  • Fired a well-respected Republican staffer appointed by Former Governor Tom Corbett to manage the Office of Open Records.
  • Advised that he will refuse to issue death penalty warrants until the State Legislature files an anticipated report on its use. Anticipation is the moratorium will morph into a full ban, displeasing law enforcement personnel who saw two State Troopers gunned down – one fatally – in a pre-meditated ambush last year.
  • Scrapped Healthy PA, scrapping negotiations with the Obama Administration to expand Medicaid coverage – in accordance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – that sought more favorable terms for a State already paying the highest costs for any state for Medicaid coverage.  The Medicaid ACA expansion mandate will not be fully funded by the Federal Government in future years.
  • Reversed a policy allowing for the removal of natural gas assets lying beneath State Park lands.
  • Announced plans to tax natural gas extractions by an effective rate of 7.5% while doing away with the State’s Impact Fees that went to compensate local communities for wear and tear on local infrastructure.

As the chief executive of a cabinet-making company, Wolf would be expected to have the patience of a mayfly.  In a private, for-profit industry, who could blame a responsible manager?  Sloth makes for poor reaction times; and an overabundance of forbearance can render one an unimportant player in private industry where competition for resources is keen.

But what does one make of Mr. Wolf’s propensity for shooting from the hip, and over the heads of the very legislative bodies from which he will no doubt expect cooperation some day?  When will he realize he needs them to cash the checks his actions are writing?

It’s an interesting conundrum for the new Wolf on the block! But it only gets better – maybe scarier is the better word – if you’re a hard-working Pennsylvanian watching your disposable income shrink each and every year.

Rumor has it, Governor Wolf will propose an assortment of tax increases on top of those tax increases already announced on the natural gas industry.  Pennsylvanians could be looking at increases in the state income tax (currently 3.07%) and in the state’s 6% sales tax.

The tradeoff might be a reduction in Property Taxes, although certainly not a dollar-for-dollar offset of any potential increases in the income and sales taxes.  The result?  Higher taxes for working Pennsylvanians!

One winner, however, would be corporations, which might see the 9.9% corporate tax rate cut in half!  This move could be in response to the corporate raiding party Florida Governor Rick Scott led into Pennsylvania last week, as he smelled blood in Pennsylvania’s business tax pool.

States are always looking to purloin businesses from other states, especially where the business environment isn’t quite as favorable.  That’s a sad statement on views of the state from outside Pennsylvania, especially when the new Governor has made it quite clear that he intends to raise taxes, but will not consider needed public pension reform or the sale of Pennsylvania’s antiquated state store liquor distribution system.

carterAnd as if that’s not enough to curl your checking and savings account, consider this:  You are the reason Pennsylvania is not a better run, more self-sustaining, attractive place to live!

Why?

You have very low self-esteem!

Oh my God, I just realized … We may have elected the second coming of Jimmy “Malaise” Carter … former Governor of Georgia and perhaps the weakest President to serve the country since James Buchanan!

Sure, it’s bad enough that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker can be heard snorting a laugh at Governor Wolf’s self-esteem assessment at the National Governor’s Association (NGA) no less.  Baker undoubtedly made note to organize a job-raiding party into Pennsylvania as soon as he gets back to Boston!

Check out the video below and note Baker’s involuntary snort.  It’s always a bad sign when the new guy in the NGA has to declare “That wasn’t a laugh line.”

Uh oh ….

http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4528850/tom-wolf-2015-national-governors-association

Governor Jerry Brown Moonbeam-1

Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown (CA)

If it wasn’t bad enough that our fledgling Governor made those remarks in front of a roomful of other Governors, he added this little tidbit:

If a space alien visited the United States and was given a list of the assets of each state, “that alien would look at the 50 sheets of paper and say, ‘Pennsylvania must be the dominant state. Obviously it’s the dominant state.’ “

Wonderful … Governor Malaise and Governor Moonbeam all rolled into one! Well, if I didn’t have low state-esteem before, I certainly have it now …

Inconspicuous news

The video he wishes he never shared

Ahmed Merabet

Ahmed Merabet

The most disturbing piece of video shot during the Charlie Hedbo massacre was perhaps that shot by man across the street from the assassination of French police officer, Ahmed Merabet, a 42-year-old Muslim himself.

Engineer Jordi Mir described the terror and panic he felt after having just witnessed the cold blooded, merciless shooting as Merabet lay obviously wounded on the sidewalk. Alone and feeling isolated in his flat, Mir fled to his computer and posted the video to Facebook.

After but 15 minutes, he thought better of his decision and took the video down; but it was too late. Within an hour he was mortified to see it being replayed across the world on hundreds of media sites and broadcasts.

No one – in my opinion – could blame Mir for what he did, given that moment in time and the terror he must have felt. The story does not go into why he felt posting it was a mistake he regrets. But it is a lesson in the unforgiving nature of today’s instantaneous “share it” culture.

Krauthammer: Boost the gas tax

Political commentator Charles Krauthammer, never one to be mistaken for a “tax and spend” liberal, is championing a $1.00 boost in the national gas tax. But he’s not pushing it as a way to fix the transit infrastructure.

Krauthammer wants the tax boosted to continue the psychological pressure on the consumption of petroleum products and as a way to relieve the pressure – even if only a little – on those consumers living day-to-day in everyday America by reducing Social Security taxes among other options.

He makes several valid points on the both the psyche of the American automotive consumer and his fickle relationship with overseas oil. lying just below the surface is the same mistrust all should feel about the obviously selfish motives of the Saudis, who are driving down the cost of oil (now below $50 a barrel) in a blatant strategy to corner market share and render economically less feasible the hunt for and development of alternative energy sources.

If, as some sources suggest, this artificially low price of foreign oil persists for two years, exactly how much damage will be done to efforts to wean us from the oil nipple?!?

Louie and the Quarterback

If you know the story of Louie Zamperini, you know of the extraordinary trials he went through in his early life. I haven’t yet seen the movie, “Unbroken”, but I plan to. I did thoroughly enjoy Lauren Hillenbrand’s book by the same title. If you haven’t read it, you really should, especially if you can squeeze it in before seeing the movie!

From all accounts, Zamperini is an extremely likeable man. A close family member had several chances to meet Zamperini at public events in a law enforcement role in his native home of Torrance, CA. He had nothing but praise for the old WWII hero.

Zamperini died this past July.

But another interesting friendship Zamperini encouraged was with former USC quarterback, Matt Barkley. Barkley, third string QB for the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles, met Zamperini as a USC freshman in 2009.

Barkley describes how no one know who this “old guy” was as he addressed their class. But by the end, Barkley was listening intently and was so struck by his story that he hung around to talk to “Unbroken” hero afterwards.

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

Matt Barkley and Louie Zamperini

And a friendship was born.

Barkley shares that “Louie embodied what it means to push through your mental limits and even the physical limits of what your body can do.”

It was a lesson that served Barkley well in his struggles to make the transition to the NFL. The two men, roughly 70 years apart in age, conversed regularly. Zamperini even invited Barkley to watch the U.S.-Canada 2010 Olympic Games hockey matchup in his home.

Spoiler alert: Zamperini became such a gracious man in his later years, when he was given the opportunity to carry a torch for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan he sought a media-arranged meeting with the former Japanese soldier who tormented him in the WWII prison camp. The offer was rejected by Mutsohiro Watanabe.

California Trippin’, Part Deux: Southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway

Prologue:  Carol and I traveled out to sunny southern California this past September to help my brother, Pat and his wife celebrate Pat’s retirement.  In Part 1 we traveled north to Monterey to enjoy the sights and spend two glorious days hitting the links at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill.  Part 2 deals with the trip south which we took along the Pacific Coast Highway (Rt. 1) heading back to the Los Angeles area.

As we left the Pebble Beach Resort property, Pat took us out along the beachfront drives of Carmel Way and San Antonio Avenue.  Here lies a tightly laid out neighborhood situated on the hills off the beach with spectacular views of both the Pebble Beach property and the Pacific Ocean.  There is ready access to the beaches here, where a stroll out the front door (or just down the street) brings you to a view worthy of the envy of any land-locked easterner.  I particularly enjoyed the “neighborhood feel” of this section of Carmel, even if the neighborhood has to be one of the priciest in which to live.

As we left Carmel and the Monterey Peninsula, we headed south along the Pacific Coast Highway, to our next stop in the town of Cambria.


Random impressions and second thoughts:

Hairpin turns hemmed with dizzying drop-offs … views of the Pacific from roadways ABOVE the ocean fog … not nearly enough guard rails for my peace-of-mind … sitting in the front passenger seat heading southbound not for the faint-of-heart … incredible landslide sites = huge reconstruction efforts = Shovel-Ready Projects …

Our first stop on our southbound journey was Ragged Point, appropriately named since it’s a ragged point of land jutting out into the Pacific.  We decided to stretch our legs a bit and took a walk all the way out to the tip of the point to see the view.  The views from there are majestic.  Unfortunately we left the cameras in the car and were too lazy to trek back and get them.

Coastal landscape from next to the Bixby Bridge at Big Sur

One thing our vacations with brother, Pat seem to revolve around is food.  But I do not blame him or L.  Let’s face it, vacation time is one of the allowable excuses – along with holidays and gym workouts – where loosening one’s caloric limitations and their belts is expected.  Good food at reasonable prices in pleasant settings is crucial to the best vacations.  And in this spirit I highly recommend the chocolate chip cookies at the Ragged Point espresso bar!  

Our next stop was Elephant Seal Beach, where the elephant seals come in large numbers and sizes …

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…  to watch the people.

It was here that I had my first encounter with a German motorcycle gang!  Really just a tour-by-motorcycle trip organized by a Las Vegas travel company.  Motorcycle touring must be HUGE in Europe, as I had never seen such a large group of foreign moto-tourists before.  It looked very well-organized with chase vehicles and a support van that provided drinks and food.  Looks like a lot of fun, assuming you can get past the saddle sores and the possibility of severe road rash.  Now back to food … For several days we were treated to numerous verbal treatise on the origins, preparation and cult-like popularity of tri-tip beef  and its super-human powers when reduced in form to a well-prepared sandwich.  All this was intended to set up what our gracious hosts treated like a pilgrimage … a trip to the Main Street Grill in Cambria, CA.  The restaurant is not particularly impressive at first sight, like a McDonalds-on-steroids, but with ample TV placements that render the atmosphere favorable to watching weekend football with the guys.  Bar service is available.  The food is very good at reasonable prices.  The tri-tip sandwich was admittedly quite delicious, tender and worthy of encore.  The salads are HUGE and also very good, as are the pork ribs I had several days later when we made our mandatory farewell homage.

Guy on left works the counter at Main St. Grill!

Two things they really need there are some good Amoroso rolls, which any Philadelphian will tell you improves any sandwich, and perhaps a refresher course on customer service.  (Would you like addy-tude with those fries?)  Still a great place for a well-portioned, delicious meal that’s not too rough on the wallet.

Our carefully developed travel plans had us enjoying several days in Cambria, a small touristy town located along Rt 1 (PCH).  We stayed at the The Fogcatcher Inn with comfortable rooms and – of course – an excellent complimentary breakfast arrangement, including make-it-yourself waffles and excellent coffee!  The Fogcather is located in an area known as Moonstone Beach, whose beach is located just across Moonstone Beach Drive.  The beach area is accessible here; and there is a well-maintained boardwalk that traverses the beachside hills with scenic views in both directions.

Just a few things you will experience … Cute, mooching little brown squirrels … Silly, short-sighted humans feeding the critters POTATO CHIPS! … Native American remnants in the form of rock drillings (cup-shaped depressions in the rock) where grains and corn were ground into meal (These take some searching to find, but they are in plain sight.) … Playful otters “honeymooning” in the surf … (Those with children should be prepared with their tactful explanations of blatant otter porn.) … No cell phone reception except for a spot about 25 feet long by 3 feet wide (and quite a bit harder to pinpoint than evidence of Native American culture) … Technology-dependent humans shuffling back and forth across Moonbeach Drive in search of a signal …

View from Moonstone Beach, Cambria towards San Simeon

Have I mentioned the food?
Our second day in Cambria – which was filled with artsy, tourist activities – was dinner at the Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill.  The Moonstone is a family-owned establishment located across Moonstone Beach Drive from the ocean.  It offers both indoor and al fresco dining.  We chose to sit outdoors on a seasonable September evening; and it was the perfect choice.  The evening was a perfect combination of atmosphere, delightful food, great service and beautiful ocean scenery.  I enjoyed the sea scallops with citrus honey glaze, Carol the grilled salmon with salsa fresca.  The clam chowder was also a big hit.  Definitely the place for dinner in Cambria!

Sunset at Moonstone Bar & Grill

No foodie tour would be complete without recommendations for desert!  And although the Moonstone Beach B&G had some delightful offerings, I would be remiss if I did not plug Linn’s of Cambria.  Linn’s is also a family-owned enterprise that – from the number of locations in Cambria alone – is immensely popular with the local folk and visitors.  Our hosts insisted on taking us out to Linn’s Original Farmstore located in an isolated area of hills outside the town.  It was well worth the trip!

If you get the chance, check out the Linn’s story provided as a link on their website.  It’s an inspiring story of a couple’s relentless pursuit of their dream, living on a farm where financial challenges required an imaginative solution which eventually led to an extremely successful venture.  The Linn’s are credited with the development of the ollalieberry, a cross between blackberry and raspberry.

The store offers a wide variety of fruit products, jams, jellies, and their signature pies.  (An on-line catalogue is also available.)  I tried a personal-sized ollalieberry pie and enjoyed every bite!  Well worth the effort to seek out their back road locale.  Just watch out for that intrusive peacock!

That’s all for now.  I’m off to have the rest of these pants let out …

Some additional photos in no particular order:

Master of his domain

Note the paddle board surfers to either side of the middle rock outcropping (below).

Spyglass Hill: Pebble Beach’s better half?

When you get the chance to play golf at Pebble Beach, you play there for the incredible scenery, for the amazing golf holes, and for the historic golf moments that have occurred there.  But once you have played the headline course, another great golf opportunity awaits at Spyglass Hill!

Pebble Beach’s main attraction can be “golf overload” for many a golfer the first time they play there. (Trust me on that one.)  Spyglass Hill tends to be a more relaxing golf day.

Spyglass offers a limited amount of the spectacular ocean scenery found at Pebble.  The visual background is nowhere near as dramatic; and once you get past the first five holes, you lose all view of the ocean.  Playing Spyglass is simply a more traditional, picture-perfect, immaculately manicured day of golf.

So the day after I almost choked over Pebble Beach, my brother and I set off for Round 2 at Spyglass Hill.  The weather started out very similar to the previous day at Pebble … cool, foggy, damp.

As we hit balls at the practice tee, the ocean layer fog and mist condensed on the trees overhead and dripped like rain.  As the day progressed the fog eased.  Though there was little sun, the day was comfortable, dry … perfect!

We met our caddy, Doug on the first tee and were paired with two friendly golfers, Pete and Tom, who maintained my perfect record of NEVER being paired with a jerk on a golf course!  Pete’s wife, Joanne, was our fifth and the groups’ unofficial photographer.

Yet another first … someone who walked through 18 holes of golf simply for the scenery and photo ops!

Your first impression of Spyglass Hill is how lush and wooded it is in contrast to the wide open ocean landscapes of its more famous neighbor.  The lush surroundings makes for better overall golf conditions.

At times Pebble Beach suffers from the effects of too much sun and not enough rain.  When we played there, some Pebble Beach fairways had recently gone through hair-plug-type treatments to remedy “pattern baldness” caused by a hot, dry summer.  No such issues were found at Spyglass.

Fairway on par 5 #1 (Treasure Island)  (Photo: J.Jarocewicz)

The first five holes at Spyglass are the most dramatic – scenery wise – of the circuit, with panoramic views of lush forest green against sandy waste areas and the ocean beyond.  After #5 the course moves inland and upwards into the Del Monte Forest.  It’s easy to see how Spyglass differs from Pebble in these first 5 holes.

Looking down #2 (Billy Bones) from the green.

Number 2 is a 349-yard uphill par 4 that requires precision to avoid trouble surrounding the fairway.  Once you get the green at #2, you get your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean – Spyglass style, which is less dramatic than Pebble but just as beautiful.  The tee shot for the par 3 – 3rd hole (The Black Spot) is one of two Par 3s (#3 & #5) at Spyglass that play directly towards the ocean, although the Pacific is not in play on either hole.

Spyglass Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones in the 1960s; and the 345-yard (White tees) par-4 fourth hole (Blind Pew) is said to have been his favorite.  And it’s easy to see why.

The hole is neither long or treacherous; but the green is unique and requires precision to set up and execute the best approach.  The green is an estimated 20 feet wide on the back-end; but is as narrow as 8-10 feet on the front side.  The putting surface stretches about 60-75 feet, and quite literally snakes between several dunes and hillocks.

Not only is it an easy green to miss; if you hit it in the wrong spot, you could be looking at a meandering, incredibly long putt, assuming you even have line-of-sight to the hole.  This was easily my favorite hole as it played that day with the pin located at the green’s narrowest spot – the front.

Caddy Doug made his first “stroke saving” contribution here by coaching me through a delicate and tricky chip shot that had to land well off the green to stay on the green!

The back – or “wide” – end of 4th green at Spyglass. Note the thinner lower end trails off to left. (Photo: J.Jarocewicz)

I hit one of my more memorable shots to the green at the par-3 #5 (Bird Rock) after chunking my tee shot into the sandy waste area short and left.  Caddy Doug talked me into an almost effortless recovery shot that resulted in a much appreciated bogey 4.

Spyglass Hill #5 (Bird Rock)

Part of my enjoyment for our round at Spyglass Hill was the fact that I was playing very well from the tees with driver in hand.  Out of 14 holes requiring driver or 3-wood off the tee, I hit 12 fairways; and one of those was a technical near-miss.  With woods all around, you need to be straight off the tees or frustration will reign!

My brother, Pat struggled a bit with his golf demon – the snap hook; but for the most part he was able to keep up with me.  Caddy Doug kept our heads in the game – especially on the back nine – by constantly hustling to position himself as fore caddy.

Many approach shots (more my undoing than those off the tees) have one – if not more – challenging aspects, be they an overabundance of sand or sentry duty performed by perniciously placed ponds.  That being said, I lost but a single ball to “water envelopment”, which for me was a minor accomplishment!

The greens are not full of the crazy, sea-driven breaks and bends found at Pebble Beach; but they present enough of a challenge that investing in a caddy can make a difference.  With that in mind, I highly recommend the services of our caddy, Douglas Allen Miller (dmiller52@live.com) should you go to either Pebble or Spyglass.  Doug is a real hustler; a great source of course information; and works hard to keep your head in the game.

His only drawback is that he’s a stinkin’ Yankees fan!

The gallery on #13 grazes on Pat’s pitch-in birdie!

Other golf highlights of the day were my stiff approach to the flag on the number one handicap hole, the par-4 #8 (Signal Hill), though I missed the par putt.  And brother, Pat thrilled the gallery (left) with a pitch-in birdie on #13 (Tom Morgan).

The deer population is a cute diversion from the “pressures” of golf at Spyglass.  The wildlife is neither frightened or especially put off their feeding by the presence of humans with their long shiny golf weapons.  It is possible to get quite close to the deer; if you take it slow and easy.  They are wary, but obviously used to humans playing stupid games in their midst!  They’ll let you know when you get too close by simply moving away.

The last real drama of the day occurred at another par 3, the 15th (Jim Hawkins).  The shortest hole at Spyglass; it plays to just 98 yards and downhill at that.  (See Pat’s picture above for a look at the shot to #15.)  I was hitting fourth in recognition of my superb snowman on the previous hole.  One of our partners, Tom, preceded me and promptly stuck the ball two feet from the hole; spun it back directly over the hole; ending up about 8 feet below the flag.

I followed that near ace by chosing my trusty 9-iron and stuck my tee shot just two feet past Bill’s quite visible ball mark on the green; but my ball simply trickled down the slope towards the hole, ending up; 4 feet from the hole.

Of course, I missed the birdie putt!

From there on out, and aside from pars by both Pat and I at the 17th (Ben Gunn), our Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill experiences were coming to an end.

All kidding aside, Patrick played better than me both times; posting a 97 at Spy Glass that included two pars to go along with his stunning pitch-in birdie on #13.

Overall, I loved playing both courses.  Who wouldn’t?!?  But the experience at each course is quite different from the other.

Pebble is a must-do for any golfer who prizes the ultra golf experiences that come only at the sport’s premiere venues.  Spyglass Hill however, is simply golf at its purest, without the thrills and chills of crazy, sea-cliff golf.

Play Pebble Beach because you must.  Play Spyglass Hill simply because you LOVE golf!

More pics from Spyglass Hill:

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