Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tasting the Fruits…make that the Ice Cream…of My Labor

NOTE: This story is indirectly about golf, but it is related to the US Open at Pinehurst, therefore posted on NC Golfer.)

When I slowly but surely tasted my first spoonful of “Chocolate Rocker,” the wonderful flavor of my favorite chocolate ice cream ever made many years ago by the Fairview Dairy (it’s gone but there’s still a Fairview Dairy Bar in Sanford) hit my taste buds. “I’m gonna love this,” I said to myself.

As I sampled the “Charleston Sea Salt Caramel,” the distinct tastes of salt and caramel and the crunch of vanilla wafers (not soggy from being in the ice cream) were wonderfully evident. “This one, too!”

And, then there was the “Nana’s Banana Pudding.” Let’s just say throwback thoughts of good old creamy banana puddin’ with lots of bananas and more of those crispy vanilla wafers, not the mushy type of real banana pudding, were my immediate reaction. “Great on a hot summer afternoon, or a cold winter day, spring, fall, early morning, late night, anytime,” I thought.

My sampling, an indirect request of the Mooresville Ice Cream Company, was complete. It was not until the week of the US Open that I came to understand that writing about the golf tournament held at the Pinehurst Country Club was my ticket to free ice cream, North Carolina style.

My story (Open for Viewing: The US Open in Pinehurst) about viewing the US Open went up on Raleigh &Company the morning of Monday, June 9, and a few hours later, I posted on my frequent golf blog, NCGolfer, a short intro to the Raleigh & Company narrative, linking the two. Disclaimer: I write because I enjoy writing, not to gain perks but if someone wants to give me something for my toils, well, then so be it.

The next day at 2:39 p.m., an email appeared in my inbox from Laura McGuire, an account supervisor at Concentric Marketing in Charlotte. The text of the note with reference to NC Golfer: We found your blog with the recent article on the big event of the week..... U.S. Open at Pinehurst! Wanted to let you know we represent Front Porch ice cream which is a Carolina brand being served at Pinehurst during the Open. We're thrilled with the partnership. We assume you're going to be at the Open.... we'd LOVE for you to sample Front Porch while you're out there and let us know what you think! We'd be happy to overnight several Front Porch flavors to you in Cary, NC, if you would be interested in mentioning it on your blog while you're writing about Pinehurst this month. 

Obviously, Laura and others at Concentric didn’t really read my blog which, along with the Raleigh & Company post, said I would be watching the golf tournament from the comfort of my easy chair in front of my 60” VIZIO HD. But who was I to turn down ice cream. So we started an email exchange.

I responded: I appreciate your email and I would love to sample Front Porch at the US Open, but I was unable to secure tickets this year (if you have any extra passes, please let me know). However, if you’ll send those samples to my home, I’ll gladly sample them and post in my blog and on another site, mentioning your participation in Pinehurst and my thoughts on Front Porch.

Laura McGuire: Jim, thanks for your reply! We sure will get some ice cream sent to you. Would you be able to receive and sign for an overnight package containing dry ice to keep the ice cream.... well, ice cream?!! :) What days this week would be best to receive? Do you have any favorite ice cream flavors? How many hits do you get to your blog? Do you plan to continue writing about the U.S. Open at Pinehurst throughout the tournament? Unfortunately, we do not have any extra tickets ourselves. 

Me: Yes, I work from my home, so I’m here most all day every day. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday are good days as long as it’s in the morning. Favorite flavors? Hmmm…just about any! I’m partial to cookie dough, but anything with fruit, nuts, caramel, chocolate, etc….just about anything. Hits on my blog really vary with the subject. I’ve been as high as 3000 a day and as low as 30 a day. I’ll probably not post every day about Pinehurst, but after I taste your ice cream I’ll write about it and say something about your presence there. Are you just sampling or selling? Inside the gates? Outside the gates? Tell me more of your locations. After I write about Front Porch, I’ll add a link on my website to Front Porch.

Laura McGuire: Jim, great! I will follow up with the shipping info so that you know when to expect it. Here's a bit of info about us. Thanks! 

Front Porch® Served at U.S. Open
Designated Official Ice Cream of Pinehurst Resort
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (June 10, 2014) – The Front Porch® Carolina Churned ice cream brand proudly announces its partnership with the Pinehurst Resort as their official ice cream. To kick it off, Front Porch will be offering the perfect cool down treat at the U.S. Open 2014. Front Porch will be sold to the public and offered to the media during the two weeks of U.S. Open events at Pinehurst, including the Women’s Open beginning June 12th.

Classic Southern-inspired flavors will be available like Nana’s Banana Pudding, Chocolate Rocker, Charleston Sea Salt Caramel, Caroline’s Coffee and Caramel, Scarlett Red Velvet, and Dreamy Vanilla Cream. Front Porch Ice Cream will be available in perfect-for-sharing pints at various public outlets over the course of the U.S. Open and at the Grab ‘N’ Go Convenience Store, which will be set up on site. The Front Porch brand has approximately 20 different Southern-inspired flavors and is available at several local retailers, including Harris Teeter. In addition to at-event distribution, Front Porch Ice Cream will also be available to guests of the Pinehurst Resort throughout this year. A custom flavor is in development for Pinehurst.

About Mooresville Ice Cream Company, LLC:
Mooresville Ice Cream Company, LLC, maker of Front Porch Carolina Churned Ice Cream, has been using the freshest and highest-quality ingredients to produce premium ice cream since 1924. Founded by B.A. Troutman and R.C. Millsaps in Mooresville, N.C., this family-owned business focuses on producing exceptional, hand-crafted ice cream. Its latest brand, Front Porch Carolina Churned Ice Cream, offers flavors inspired by memories of Southern summer nights rocking on the front porch. Front Porch flavors can be purchased in Southeast grocery stores, including Harris Teeter, Lowes Foods, BI-LO, and Food City. It is also available at the authentic ice cream parlor next to its original creamery in downtown Mooresville, NC. For additional information, please visit Front Porch Carolina Churned Ice Cream.

It was Thursday morning, the day of the opening round of the US Open, when the FedEx truck pulled into my driveway with a box about the size of a case of wine. Inside, packed in dry-ice in a Styrofoam container were three pints of Front Porch: Chocolate Rocker, Charleston Sea Salt Caramel, and Nana’s Banana Pudding. While grateful for the samples, I was a little disappointed because Front Porch’s website features photos of 21 flavors including Lemony Sunshine, Sassy Strawberry, and Peachy Keen, all of which I should have requested. But, along with the three pints were three coupons, each covering the cost of a pint so I’ll probably make those selections sooner than later.

As far as my critique of the ice cream, well, it’s decadent, to say the least, and a very nice North Carolina product that rivals the Ben & Jerry’s that anyone and everyone who loves ice cream has come to enjoy. Now, here’s the “downside” (skip to the last paragraph if you don’t want to know) and reasons for its scrumptiousness. In a half a cup of ice cream, the Chocolate Rocker has 180 calories, 9 grams of fat and 19 grams of sugar; the Charleston Sea Salt Caramel has 190 calories, 10 grams of fat and 19 grams of sugar; and, Nana’s Banana Pudding has 180 calories, 10 grams of fat and 17 grams of sugar; but, so what?!?!?

I didn’t make it to Pinehurst for the US Open, and I’ll not make it to the US Women’s Open, but I did get to enjoy some delicious ice cream—the real stuff, not the yogurt or non-fat fake ice cream—as I indulged watching my favorite participation sport. It was a double victory for me. Even if you’re not a golfer, I strongly suggest you forget the calories, the fat and the sugar reported on the side of the container and make every attempt to try Front Porch Carolina Churned ice cream. My goal is to sample all 21 flavors and those soon to come.

Writing about the US Open from a distance is just okay. I would have preferred to be on site. But, either here in my comfortable office or there walking the grounds of sacred Pinehurst No. 2, there’s nothing like enjoying the fruits…make that the ice cream…of my labor. This story is to be continued...

Monday, June 09, 2014

Viewing the US Open & a Lonnie Poole Golf Course update

The US Open is this week and the US Women’s Open is next week, both being played on Pinehurst No. 2, a wonderful (who am I to give it that description) creation of Donald Ross. Many say it’s his most creative, his best. Will I be there? Maybe, but probably only in spirit. I do not have tickets, didn’t even make an effort to get one, so, most likely, I’ll be watching in the comfort of my home, in front of my 60” VIZIO HD.

At the end of the four days, Thursday-Sunday, weather permitting and ties not welcome, there will be a Champion, but I believe the winner will be the golf course in particular and Pinehurst in general. Instead of using this space to write more about my take on this week’s tournament, I’ve penned a story for a new and creative website, Raleigh & Company. You may putt your way there by clicking on that link and take a look at the entire website, or you can drive directly to my story by going to Open for Viewing: The US Open in Pinehurst.

In my last post, in this space, NCGolfer, much of the article centered around the Rex Hospital Open golf tournament of the Web.com tour moving to Lonnie Poole Golf Course (LPGC) from the TPC at Wakefield Plantation. Nothing official yet on the move, but renovations at LPGC are underway with the touranment change in venue in mind and at an estimated price tag of $1,000,000! Yes, one million dollars, just four years after the course opened on the NC State University Centennial campus in Raleigh.

In the project, as written about earlier, there is a complete sand bunker overhaul. The sand is being removed down to the clay; the bottoms of the bunkers are being flattened to some degree; a layer of rock is being laid and then covered with a glue (for lack of a better explanation) over which will be a topping, then a liner and then new sand. Balls that land in the faces and walls of the bunkers should roll to the bottom to offer the golfer a flat and much easier shot. Some of the sand bunkers will be reshaped and be made smaller. Some of the islands will be removed. Work on the sand bunkers began in May with the completion date unknown.

In addition to the sand bunkers, all par three tee boxes will be rebuilt, according to those in the know. There are five par threes, and about 19 different teeing locations for the various tee markers. At LPGC, there are six different sets of tee markers with all but the NC State Competition tees out every day. View the scorecard at LPCG Scorecard. The reason for rebuilding the tee boxes is because: 1) they were too small to begin with; 2) more than 38,000 rounds a year are being played at LPGC; and, 3) the maintenance staff does not move the markers enough to prevent major destruction in specific spots (see reason No. 1).

And, it appears, just for the Rex Hospital Open, the 17th hole will be played from a new, temporary tee box. In the last post, I wrote that the second hole would change, but that idea has been nixed because of the cost of building a green to PGA Tour standards. But, the PGA Tour, we understand, is concerned about traffic flow from the 16th green to the 17th tee, so instead of the current tees for the 17th hole, a special tee is on the drawing board. It will be placed to the right of the 16th green between the 16th fairway and the 18th fairway. That’s actually a cost that does not need to be taken on by anyone. Despite the confluence of the 13th green, the 14th tee, the 16th green and the 17th tee, and the desire to spread the traffic flow, the course is fine just as it was designed. If it is built, those teeing off on No. 17 will be in danger or stray drives from the 16th and 18th tees, but the traffic flow will be better. Hah!

And, last but not least is the continuation of a drainage project that was started last year. There was not enough money to complete the project at that time, so it’s being rolled into the other renovations.With solid clay soil under all fairways, and with lots of low spots developed while building the course, drainage has been and probably will always be an issue at LPGC.

Again, total cost is said to be One Million Dollars (click the link) as Dr. Evil said in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The question is: from where does the money flow? My guess is that some of it comes from the PGA Tour, if indeed the Rex Hospital Open is being moved to LPGC, but the remainder is a puzzle. No word from Dan Adams, NCSU Associate Vice Chancellor of Enterprise Services which oversees the entire operation of LPGC, but this is one case of the University putting in money to bring the course up to par with either a cash contribution or a “loan” of sorts to be repaid with donations. Inquiries have been made; no response has been forthcoming. Was that Dan Adams asking for the ransom money?

By the way, now that the course rankings for 2014 by the North Carolina Golf Panel are out, if the Rex Hospital Open moves to LPCG from TPC at Wakefield Plantation, the Web.com even will be moving from the 73rd ranked course (Wakefield) to No. 78 on the list: NC Golf Panel CourseRankings for 2014. In that ranking, Wakefield rose from No. 90 to No. 73 while LPGC dropped from No. 72 to No. 78, most likely the result of Wakefield hosting the NC Golf Panel one day last year and LPGC not.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A great golf attitude: Aiming for course record every time out; & Is Rex Hospital Open headed to Lonnie Poole Golf Course?

“I try to shoot the course record every time I play.”
If you read the print edition of Golf magazine, a Sports Illustrated publication, and especially if you’re from North Carolina, you should enjoy the last page article of the February 2014 edition. It’s written by excellent golf writer Michael Bamberger and about 21-year-old Jason Collier of Weldon NC. Bamberger, as he was driving (his car not a golf ball) north on Interstate 95, came across Collier in April 2012 at the Chockoyotte Country Club in Weldon, a stop by Bamberger to play a round of golf.

The Golf magazine story details how Collier loves to play golf for the enjoyment of playing golf and to the best of his ability. Not interested in school; not a burning desire to play professionally; but with a game good enough to tie the course record of 61 at Chockoyotte in the fall of 2011 when he was 19. His attitude, aside from the enjoyment of the game, Collier is quoted in the article, “I try to shoot the course record every time I play.” When asked if golf means more to Bubba Watson than to him, Collier answered, “No way.” Now that’s a great attitude no matter your level of golf ability.

Today, as told by Bamberger, Collier works “running carts” at TPC Wakefield Plantation in Raleigh and is taking classes at Wake Tech Community College. He’s working for Wakefield head PGA professional Paul Dickens, who was born and raised in Roanoke Rapids, learned to play golf at Chockoyotte, attended NC State University where he played on the golf team, and worked for several years as assistant pro to Larry George at River Landing in Wallace NC before going to TPC Wakefield. When speaking about Collier, Dickens is quoted in the Bamberger article, “Golf came easy to him. I don’t think he ever had a lesson. Great hands, great imagination. I think he’s been happy from the day he’s had a club in his hands.”

The article was enjoyable. I read it two or three times, understanding more and more that a positive attitude and steady desire to do your best every time out is what drives success on the course, at least for me. I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy the story.

Is the Rex Hospital Open moving to Lonnie Poole Golf Course?
The Golf magazine article, when it mentioned TPC Wakefield Plantation, reminded me there’s a possibility the Rex Hospital Open of the Web.com Tour will be moving away from TPC Wakefield Plantation in 2015, going to the Lonnie Poole Golf Course (LPGC) on the NC State University Centennial Campus. When I heard that rumor in December, I made a few inquires, got stonewalled by some and answers from others, some who asked they not be named in this article to prevent retribution from those in a position to do so. Imagine that!

This year’s Rex Hospital Open is scheduled for May 22-25 at Wakefield, a McConnell Golf facility, but, according to Alan Wolf, media relations manager for Rex Health Care (a division of UNC Health Care), there is no contract to hold the event at Wakefield beyond 2014. “I can confirm that the Rex Hospital Open is in the final year of our agreement at TPC at Wakefield Plantation and McConnell Golf,” he wrote in a December 27 email. “We’re looking forward to another exciting tournament in 2014. After that, the Rex Hospital Open has submitted a facilities agreement to McConnell Golf for consideration in 2015 and beyond. We haven’t entered into any negotiations and have nothing else to share at this time.”

“Negotiations” may be too strong of a word. According those who want to retain their anonymity, there have been serious inquiries by NC State University, and officials at Rex Health Care and the PGA Tour are giving it serious consideration. It is not known as of this posting which side initiated the idea of moving the tournament to LPGC. Dr. Dan Adams, the associate vice-chancellor for the NCSU Division of Campus Enterprises which oversees operation of LPGC, is leading the discussion for the University, according to the sources, and he’s not talking as usual when it comes to the business of LPGC.

Dates for the event could be part of the discussion. Raleigh native Chesson Hadley won the 2013 tournament which was played June 20-23. The 2014 event is scheduled for May 22-25 which avoids near direct conflict with the 2014 men’s US Open June 12-15 and the 2014 women’s US Open June 19-22, both being conducted at Pinehurst No. 2, less than 90 miles away. If the Rex moves to LPGC and if it remains with the late May dates, it would follow about three weeks after the NCAA Division 1 women’s regional golf tournament scheduled for early May 2015 at Lonnie Poole.

Moving to Lonnie Poole Golf Course would put the tournament on a course ranked higher on the list of golf courses in North Carolina by the North Carolina Golf Panel. In the 2013 Top 100 golf courses ratings, Lonnie Poole was rated the 72nd best course in the state while the TPC at Wakefield Plantation was 90th. The next rankings will be available in late March/early April 2014 and Wakefield’s ranking could change considerably since the Golf Panel, of which I am a member, played the course as part of its 2013 schedule.

If the Rex Hospital Open is played at the LPGC’s full length, the Web.com Tour professionals would find a course slightly longer than the par 71, 7,257 TPC at Wakefield. The NC State University layout, designed by the Arnold Palmer Design Company, is a par 72, 7,358 yard course from the Competition tees. The course ratings and slopes for the two are similar with Wakefield at a 74.9 rating and a 137 slope while Lonnie Poole Golf Course has a 74.8 course rating and a 145 slope.

However, Lonnie Poole could be shortened about 135 yards if the 235-yard down-hill par 3 2nd hole is played to a temporary green about 100 yards from the current Competition tee markers. The current routing of the 2nd hole could slow the pace of play and cause spectator movement issues. The original design of the 2nd hole included a teeing area adjacent to the 8th tee and a green close to the back of the tee at the 3rd hole.  Due to environmental regulations, the tee was moved across a creek instead of the hole being played across the creek. So, instead of having a short par 3 across a small stream, the course architects and builders routed the 2nd green away from the 3rd tee, creating a longer and more difficult hole. NC State University could have applied for a variance from the rules of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) but decided against it to stop an appearance of DENR playing favorites to another entity of the State. By playing to the current green at No. 2, the tee shots of the following group would be delayed as the players would exit the green by walking towards the 2nd tee for about 100 yards before headed to the 3rd tee.

If the tournament moves to Lonnie Poole, the professionals may find renovated sand bunkers, maybe the toughest sand bunkers of any golf course in North Carolina. Most of the sand bunkers at LPGC were poorly designed with steep faces that are over-sanded creating buried lies that sometimes hide most of the ball, even in the fairway bunkers. Just a slight rain creates sand run-off in the faces that require heavy maintenance to bring the bunkers back to playability. Several sand bunkers have islands of fescue, bushes, trees and other growth that contribute to loss balls in the middle of a bunker. While LPGC is considered a public course, the design of the sand bunkers was not completed with the general public and pace of play in mind. One person, a professor of Crop Science at NCSU and who was very influential in the “appearance” of the course wanted it to have the look and feel of Pine Valley Golf Club which is consistently ranked as the top golf course in the United States if not the world. I guess Crop Science professors are allowed to dream.

It is not known if the sand bunker renovations can be completed in time for the Rex Open if it moves, but the LPCG golf course advisory committee has voted to make changes to the sand bunkers which would include some design modifications and the replacement of all of the sand, this just four years after the course opened. The renovation is estimated to cost between $150,000 and $300,000 depending on the extensiveness of the project. The money is expected to come from donations just as the building the course and clubhouse has been funded.

Lonnie Poole Golf Course has aggressively solicited golf tournaments of various levels since it’s opening in the summer of 2009. There have been nine collegiate tournaments, one United States Junior qualifier, several Carolinas Golf Association regular and senior one day events, and a few Carolinas PGA pro-am tournaments. There have been three qualifying tournaments for the Rex Hospital Open at Lonnie Poole Golf Course. Yet to come are two NCAA Division I regional tournaments, one for the men May 15-17, 2014 and one for the women in May of 2015.

Lonnie Poole Golf Course and its Carol Johnson Poole Clubhouse have been constructed through donations with some debt paid through operating profits. Few outside the University Administration know how much tax money is spent supporting the golf course such as with administrators, professors, department heads, and other NCSU employees. LPGC is owned and operated by a University established LLC (some sort of shell corporation) which does not provide budget figures to the public even with public records requests, saying the course is a private entity and not subject to the laws that require the release of those records.

However, Dr. Adams, Associate Vice-Chancellor for NCSU Campus Enterprises and a state employee who has an annual salary above $175,000, has oversight of the LPGC operation. According to the official NCSU website, “Campus Enterprises is NC State’s lead division of retail and hospitality organizations — University Dining, NC State Bookstores, Trademark Licensing, Lonnie Poole Golf Course, University Student Centers (Witherspoon, Thompson, Price and Talley), and the Wolfpack One Card Services.”

According to the golf course website, Lonnie Poole Golf Course “also facilitates turf grass and storm water research associated with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Likewise, the golf course serves as a teaching and training facility for the Professional Golf Management (PGM) Program in the College of Natural Resources.” The greens superintendent, Brian Green, is a direct employee of NC State University with the title of University Program Manager in the Campus Enterprises Department and at 2013 annual salary of $82,500. Most other employees at the course are either part time in the course maintenance department or work for Carolinas Golf Group which has a contract to manage the day-to-day operation of LPGC. The NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (and the turf grass program of the Crop Sciences Department) are responsible for the maintenance of the golf course, taking that duty just last fall away from Carolinas Golf Group.

Inside the Clubhouse, expected to open soon, the Wolfpack golf teams, both men and women, will have offices, locker rooms and other facilities. The NCSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the PGA Golf Management (PGM) program (under the NCSU Department of Parks, Recreation and Management Department) will have classroom and work space in the club house. So, despite it being a “private” facility because it’s under that LLC, a lot LPGC is officially part of NC State University. The University, through the Campus Enterprises Department and the (shell) LLC, has a contract with the Players Retreat to handle the food service at Lonnie Poole Golf Course.

Dr. Adams was asked via email to respond to this story but as of post time had not responded but then none was expected from him. No official word from anyone else. Of course, the discussions could fall through, or Rex and McConnell Golf could come to an agreement that extends the tournament's stay at Wakefield. Time will tell.