Staff Blog


Friday, June 18, 2010

More Than Fairways

OK. We get it. The famously tough U.S. Open course conditions—the predatory rough, the fast fairways and beguiling greens—make it really hard on the professional golfers.

Cry me a water hazard. They're getting paid to stroll some of the most superlative stretches of coast anywhere. Their season started in Hawaii, stopped over in sunny SoCal and traipses around the East Coast's finest courses all summer. People live to give them free sirloins and clean their cleats.

The real challenge is trying to catch a glimpse of their swings; the real heroes are the fans braving bottlenecks that pinch hundreds into swaying baby-step parades. They build calves of steel from constant tippy toeing. They develop sharp keyhole-precision eyesight, able to track a Lee Westwood putt through just a sliver of between-shoulders daylight.

They also apply classic golf course technology to overcome galleries that grew as deep as eight or 10 people at certain points during Thursday's opening round.

Jeff Parker of Los Angeles told me he got his five-times magnification periscope from Phil Mickelson's dad after the 2000 U.S. Open for $40. As Tiger Woods addressed his second shot over the huge chasm that haunts the approach to the 8th, someone somewhere in the gallery scrum shouted Parker an offer: "$10 for just one second!"

The camoflauge scope: cooler, cheaper ($28 according to one user) but less zoomy—no magnification on this model. The earpiece this female fan has on relays the ESPN radio feed on course so folks can follow the wider tournament action. The device is available free for anyone with an American Express card.

All things being equal, though, my favorite periscope is the original edition: dad's shoulders.

There were other techniques afoot as well. Some climbed oaks.

Others watched from the beach.

Joanne Druery of Hilton Head, South Carolina, who traveled here to volunteer with four of her college cronies, had a pretty sweet vista of the shoreside 10th from her elevated scorekeeper cradle.

I was left to more creative means to sneak just a peek of a putt. That included climbing one of the electric wheelchairs that the USGA furnishes that someone had abandoned and trying to follow an ESPN camera team under the ropes. I did successfully mount a bottled water delivery cart for this look at the 8th green (above).

The crowds only thicken when the Phil Mickelsons of the world are in an adjacent fairway. And when Tiger Woods plays through it's dramatically more clotted. (For a look at all the elements Woods is up against—from his wife to golf history to himself—click here.) Just the photogs following Woods alone (above) could fill The Tap Room.

Good luck finding a seat here to watch Woods, Ernie Els and Lee Westwood play 7. Like almost all of the sponsor tents, skyboxes and grandstands, this towering four story bleacher was erected specifically (and temporarily) for the U.S. Open.

The most massive makeover: The complex of soaring tents on what was Peter Hay—football fields worth of square footage peddling gear, grub and signature souvenirs. The Weekly's Adam Joseph filed a special report on its transformation earlier this year.

Back in the on-course crowds, superstar sightings aren't impossible—just potentially distant. Here's a look at Tiger through the grass at the scenic 7th, at the top center of the green.

And Woods (right) joined by Els (left) and Westwood on the 11th fairway. There's a golf shot worth admiring.


Click away for more on fun guys to root for, the 18 most intense U.S. Open moments at Pebble Beach and a newly remixed catalog of Pebble Beach Golf Links history.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sustainable Brands has an app for that.

The sad truth is, we're probably doomed. Our oceans are choked with plastic, our babies are little bundles of flame retardant, and a very cute grebe in Madagascar just went extinct.

But the folks at the Sustainable Brands Conference, held at the Monterey Conference Center June 7-10, were peppy anyway. There's still money to be made.

The conference has been criticized for giving green cred to some of the world's most polluting companies - like Clorox, Dow Chemical and Wal-Mart. At the same time, it assumes corporations must clean up their acts. And it inspires businessfolk (who fork out $2,300 per conference pass) to make changes that can have major global impacts.

SB10 also engages lots of little companies that are doing cool stuff.

Like Design Ecology, a Petaluma firm that installs living walls that remove volatile organic compounds from the indoor air.

And PeopleTowels, a Monterey startup that sells reusable, pocket-sized hand towels made from all-organic, Fair Trade cotton. According to the website, the average American worker uses 2,400 to 3,000 paper towels annually at the office. By switching to PeopleTowels, that same worker can save save one-quarter of a tree, conserve 250 gallons of water and reduce 23 pounds of landfill waste per year.

ECO eyewear makes shades using recycled metal and plastic, and plants a tree for every pair sold.

Even Monterey Bay Aquarium was there, giving out its Seafood Watch pocket guides. I won't be caught in a sushi joint without one.

But I can't shake my skepticism about the huge corporations. While their efforts are certainly a good thing, I don't see them trailblazing a revolutionary new breed of sustainable capitalism.

OK, so Frito-Lay's Sunchips are now sold in plant-based, compostable bags. That's an improvement over the old zombie bags, which will continue to blow around the planet, or swirl in an ocean garbage patch, for all eternity (perhaps passing through a few turtle and albatross guts along the way).

And PepsiCo, which owns Frito-Lay, is surprisingly on the right side of the climate lobby, supporting cap-and-trade and renewable energy bills. But does that make PepsiCo a "sustainable brand," considering the incalculable damage their packaging and emissions have done to the planet? Why not make all their products, from Gatorade bottles to Cheetos bags, compostable? Why not go all-organic? A single product's biodegradable snack pack will not save this spaceship.

Starbucks also tooted its green horn. Ben Packard, company VP of global responsibility,talked up the goal of making 100% of Starbucks coffee cups "reusable or recyclable" by 2015. The company produces almost 1% of the 500 billion cups used once, then thrown away, worldwide every year.

Customers are encouraged to bring in their own mugs for a dime off, Packard said. There are already front-of-store recycling centers in S.F., Seattle and (next month) New York City, soon to be followed by Chicago, Atlanta and Boston, he said. Customers can recycle their cups on the way out of the store...

...except that most people take their lattes to go. Packard admits that 80% of Starbucks cups leave the stores with their cups.

Doug Woodring of Project Kaisei, a San Francisco nonprofit working to find ways to clean up and re-use that swirling vortex of plastic litter in the ocean, wasn't super impressed by the Starbucks pledge.

“ 'Recyclable' is a very deceiving word. Just because it’s recyclable does not mean it will be recycled," he said."And to me, the paper cup is not as dangerous as the plastic lid and straw. Those are what will last 300 years."