Just got back from spending the day with the folks and the brother-in-law watching the AT & T National golf tournament, which was hosted by Tiger Woods. Apparently my dad got four free tickets from UBC, the company that manages (some) of his finances.

There were some terrific advantages to being guests of a sponsoring company. First of all, we got to park at Avenel and shuttled to the Norwood School which is directly across River Road from Congressional Country Club, which happens to be one of the older, more prestigious country clubs in the area. Second of all, there was an air-conditioned tent with a balcony overlooking the 18th hole: endless free drinks and pretty good food (Greek salad, cut flank steak served with garlic mayo, tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad) went a long way towards making an entire day spent outdoors under a 95 degree sun more bearable. Plus at the end of the day, the balcony was relatively empty compared to the hundreds of spectators lining the edge of the greens 10-20 people thick once the big players started finishing up at the 18th hole.

Now I don’t know much about golf, having never played, but my dad set about educating me as we strolled down the main entrance road of the club. A golf course has 18 holes, which generally stretches out over 4-5 miles. From what I understand, when the course is built it is played by a professional, who establishes the standard number of strokes it takes to get the ball in the hole; if a player matches that number of strokes it’s called “par.” A typical course includes at least four 3-par holes, four 4-par holes, and four 5-par holes, and the par for a course is usually 72.

The course at Congressional CC has two less 5-par holes than normal, making the par for the course 70, which is more difficult. If a player gets a ball in the hole one stroke under par, it is called a birdie: good and not uncommon, especially for pros. If a player gets a ball in the hole two strokes under par, it is called an eagle: excellent and much less common. A hole-in-one is so exciting that unspoken golf etiquette calls for the player to buy drinks for everybody at the bar. Considering that a hole can be 174 to 602 yards away from the putting square – hitting a hole-in-one is quite a feat. (My dad has hit two hole-in-ones in his life.) Didn’t see any of those today – but saw a few birdies and missed one eagle when I went in search of lemon icees.

The object in golf is to get the lowest score possible. If a player hits par on every hole, his/her score is “0” or “E” for even. If a player gets the ball in under par, his/her score goes into the negative digits, and today, Appleby played a -9! Choi played a -7, (we watched both play the 18th hole) and Tiger scored a -2 (his first child was born just three weeks ago – no wonder he’s preoccupied.)

Congressional CC is exceptionally beautiful, the kind of place where you regularly see wild deer, fox, geese, and heron. Potomac, where the club is located, is made up of rolling hills and lots of wooded areas and dotted with ponds and lakes, so every once in a while I would get a bird’s eye view of the tournament. The whole affair was like a large, stately and quiet state fair. I could see long organized lines of people crisscrossing the greens, hiking towards their next destination. The crowd was surprisingly young (30’s and 40’s) and surprisingly ethnically diverse. Having grown up in this area and having visited several of the country clubs over the years, I can assuredly say that I saw more people of color in one place than I ever have before in Potomac. This, I believe, is an intended result of Tiger Woods’ promotion of this event.

And Tiger Woods. Despite the fact that my mother said he looked like an ordinary man and that his head was smaller in real life than she expected; and despite the fact that he nearly didn’t make the cut for the competition (players had to be in the top 75 by the end of the second day; the first day he came in 77th, but came in 12th on the second – today was the third day of the tournament); Tiger was definitely the highlight, not only for me, but for pretty much everybody else as well – as evidenced by the mass exodus of more than half the crowd when he had finished playing. The excitement whenever Tiger was near was palpable; people burst into spontaneous clapping and cheering whenever he approached, regardless of how he had been playing. And all day long, no matter where we went, we could hear people whispering, “Tiger this, and Tiger that.” Really, the buzz and crowds were all about Tiger.

We had the good fortune to see Tiger as soon as we entered the club grounds as he was practicing on the driving range right by the entrance. He was across the street and we were up on a hill and had a good view of his shots. As I imagined that there would be hordes of people around him whenever he played (I was right), I figured that this would be my one good view of him for the day. It turns out that golf celebrities, while still requiring armed security, are more accessible than I thought. We got another great view of Tiger on the 16th hole when his ball landed directly under our bleachers. Then later, when we started to make our way over to the next hole, we were suddenly blocked by ropes. The players were headed our way. Tiger was coming! Tiger and his caddy (did you know that caddies make up to 10% of the prize money? and that they give the players advice?) passed within a foot of me! I was cheering and clapping along with the rest of the golf fools – but he kept his eyes straight ahead and stayed focused. We saw him again when he played the 18th hole and we were recharging with iced tea and cheese and crackers. Smooth player. Some say that he may be the greatest sportsperson in history – not the greatest golfer, the greatest athlete ever.

All in all, I have to say that I enjoyed myself and got some good exercise today. It was much, much less boring than I had anticipated, and as my mother exclaimed on our way out, “It was FUN and GOOD EAT!”

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