Showdown at Sawgrass III

A rematch at TPC Sawgrass nine years in the making.

The Beatles Suite at The Edgewater Seattle

For a hotel and Beatles junkie, this was pretty much as good as it gets.

Nessie, Inverness, and the Left Side of the Road

Exploring The Highlands of Scotland.

London Calling

18 Hours with Her Majesty

An Introduction to Links Golf at Castle Stuart

After spending less than 24-hours in Scotland, it was apparent that some things are done a little differently across the pond. They drive on the other side of the road, traffic lights are mostly replaced by roundabouts, and the average American golfer could squeeze in an early morning nine before most coffee shops turn the open sign. As I would quickly learn, those differences also extend to the game of golf, and in more ways than one.

Here in the former Colonies, golf has evolved into a giant game of lawn darts. We send the ball sailing through the air and, if we're lucky enough to find the green, we watch as it stops just a couple of feet from where it landed. There is certainly no denying the appeal to this type of golf.. The sight of a perfectly struck shot flying toward the flag against a backdrop of blue sky is never short on inspiration.

Across the Atlantic, that same shot wouldn't stand a chance.

To put it mildly, the seaside links variety of golf - the kind that we watch each year during The Open Championship - is an entirely different animal. The ground is firm, the turf is short, and the wind ranges anywhere from a mere nuisance to good luck standing up. But it's the degree of unpredictability that is sure to drive the uninitiated golfer bonkers. The wind and concrete-like turf make the lawn darts game impossible, so instead the ball must be flighted low and allowed to run along the ground. There's just one problem.. Most of these courses were built long before the invention of the bulldozer. Meaning the fairways are littered with humps and bumps and knobs that send the ball bouncing every which way. For the golfer accustomed to Shot A producing Outcome B, links golf at first seems a little unfair...

I hate to break it to you, but golf isn't fair.

My links golf education began at Castle Stuart, the host of this year's Scottish Open. In a land where many golf club charters predate the Constitution, Castle Stuart is the new kid on the block. Having opened in 2009, this is what you might call a "modern links;" one that was painstakingly shaped and molded into a course that has quickly landed among the best on the globe.

It was the perfect place to start my education.

But first, there was a not-so-small order of business to address... My golf clubs. Since the thought of handing them over to the airlines frightens me more than that giant spider in Harry Potter, I entrusted Luggage Forward - as I had once before - to get my only prized possession across the pond. Their service is as seamless as it comes, and while it cost more than what the airline bag fees would have, the convenience and reliability made it money well spent. After a few days of pacing my living room while they were in transit, my good friend Ru Macdonald - Scotland's tireless golf travel ambassador, who just happened to be at Castle Stuart - sent a pic of my clubs waiting in their storage room.

It was time.

In typical Deej fashion, I arrived to Castle Stuart a solid two hours before my 9:30am tee time. I expected to find a busy clubhouse and practice area, bustling with anxious and excited golfers like myself. As it turned out, I was all alone... It seemed that, like the coffee shops, even the golf courses get moving a little later than back home. I was the first name on the tee sheet, at a time when I might have been making the turn at Muni. Not that I minded.. It gave me plenty of time to enjoy the clubhouse view with a sausage and egg roll before teeing it up.
No pic of the sausage roll, but the trademark chili for lunch was awesome.

I was joined in my initiation to the links game by Castle Stuart's Director of Golf, Jeremy Matte. An American transplanted to Scotland, Jeremy spent much of the morning sharing with me the ethos behind all things at Castle Stuart, giving me an even higher appreciation for what they've accomplished here in The Highlands of Scotland. He also waxed the floor with me in our match, taking me down 4&3. More on that later...

Put simply, Castle Stuart doesn't fit the mold of your typical "championship" course. For many, the greatness of a course is proportional to it's degree of difficulty. By this logic, the higher the perceived difficulty, the better the course must be. Yet these are the same courses that usually leave the golfer battered and bruised and questioning why they ever took up the game. The one aspect that's usually overlooked by this flawed line of thinking... Enjoyability.

Not so at Castle Stuart.

Playability and recovery are the order of the day here. Wide fairways and enormous greens make for eye-pleasing targets. Where the errant drive or approach typically finds a wide range of punishment on that "championship" course, at Castle Stuart the golfer often finds they still have a shot and a chance for redemption. Granted, the next shot will be much more difficult than if they'd executed the first properly, but the opportunity to salvage something out of nothing sure beats a lost ball.
Where not to hit it on #1.

That's not to say that Castle Stuart is easy.. Far from it. Just ask the 15 guys who failed to break 80 in the first round of this year's Scottish Open. But imagine the satisfaction when your dreaded slice shows up at the tee, and instead of spending the bulk of your day searching hopelessly in the gorse, every now and then you find the ProV resting comfortably on the fairway. 
On the fairway, but contending with this...

Speaking of gorse.. The round at Castle Stuart marked my first meeting with this vile plant. Gorse blooms a vibrant yellow and orange each spring, which was still around when I visited in June. But don't let the pretty colors fool you.. This thorny weed is most definitely what the devil grows in his garden. If your ball finds a gorse plant, don't even bother.. Just drop another and play on. 
Vile weed.

In addition to its offering of redemption, perhaps the defining characteristic of Castle Stuart is its abundance of spectacular views. The landmarks along the Moray Firth are framed into shots like the work of a talented photographer. For example, the course's namesake stands backdrop behind the 4th hole, while the trademark infinity greens give way to the Kessock Bridge or Chanonry Point Lighthouse. All of this is by design, and all of it serves up vivid memories even on a grey and dreary day. 
Castle Stuart behind the par-3 4th green.

Of all the new things I was introduced to as part of my links golf initiation, the aspect I enjoyed the most had to do with my score... Specifically, the lack of one. This was my first real experience with match-play; where each hole is its own match, and the person who wins the most holes is the victor. It really is a shame this style of play is pretty much non-existent on this side of the pond. Instead we add up each gut-wrenching stroke at the end of the day, as a reminder of just how lousy we are at this cursed game. 
Where not to hit it on #18.

All I know is, Jeremy was 4 holes up on me with only 3 to play.. A rather stout beating, and one that was sealed when his drive on the 10th careened off a rock in the firth and back into the fairway. What may seem like an unlucky break for yours truly, however, was really just the opposite. The sight of that ball being thrown out of the bay is just one of countless images that I hope to carry with me forever. It also sums up my introduction to links golf rather well...

Sometimes the bounce goes your way, sometimes it doesn't, but at Castle Stuart.. It sure is great to play the game.

Enjoy Your Stay.

Nessie, Inverness, and the Left Side of the Road

In most circumstances, saying goodbye to your better half for over a month would be a rather somber occasion. Yet when I ditched MJ at London's Victoria Coach Station, I bolted out of there with more pep in my step than Gene Kelly during a thunderstorm. OK, sure, I was a little sad, but feeling sorry for myself would have to wait for another day. For now, I had a date with The Home of Golf.
No sign of Nessie.

While MJ rode the bus to Cambridge, I caught a different kind of bus - read: easyJet - to the Scottish Highlands and the city of Inverness. Golf was, of course, the main attraction, however my plans for the first day of this adventure didn't involve my clubs. Instead, my goal was to recover from the hectic last few days of travel with a nice leisurely afternoon establishing my bearings and exploring a few of the sights.
My chariot to Inverness.

In hindsight, "leisurely" may not have been the most appropriate adjective.

What can only be described as anxious exhilaration hit a fever pitch when my flight buzzed the art deco clubhouse at Castle Stuart Golf Links while on approach to the Inverness airport. That sense of "Holy crap, I'm really here" had officially set in, and in that moment I was both incredibly excited and absolutely terrified. Why was I terrified, you ask? Because I knew a man was holding a sign with my name on it in the terminal, and I'd have to face my biggest fear with this trip straight away...

Driving on the left-side of the road.

This would be the 2nd time I'd ever driven on the "wrong" side of the road; my only other experience being on the island of St. Thomas where I just followed my dad in a jeep right in front of me. As I checked-in at the car rental office, I tried recalling all of the tips I'd picked up from the 322 blogs I read before the trip. Just then, the agent said something that snapped my out of my nervous trance...

"We've upgraded you to a nice BMW."

After adding on every possible insurance available, I waited outside and watched as a glistening piece of German machinery was pulled around. I confirmed with the attendant the type of fuel and color coding of the gas pump handles - Black for Diesel, Green for Unleaded... Like the lanes, also the opposite of the U.S. - and just like that, I was off.

I quickly discovered that there was just one problem... This car, by U.K. standards, was enormous. Combine that with lanes that felt as narrow as the monorail track at Disney, plus the unnerving sight of cars passing on my right, and I felt like I was 15 with my learner's permit all over again.

And then came the roundabouts.
Wait... What??

About 2 minutes into my leisurely afternoon, I was completely stressed out. As I barreled my way through one roundabout after another, without the slightest clue if I was doing so correctly, one question kept coming to mind: How was I going to handle this for 6 days? It was now that I had a decision to make... I could toss in the towel on driving for the day and head straight to my hotel, or I could suck it up and continue with my plans.

I decided that the best way to overcome this fear was to rip the band-aid right off. At the next roundabout, I veered left and began my quest to find Nessie.

I'd love to tell you that the driving got easier that afternoon, but it didn't. Despite appearing on the map as a relatively main highway, the route which paralleled Loch Ness was nothing more than your average two-lane country road. I soon discovered that in Scotland there's no such thing as Interstates, and the four-lane divided highway was a luxury I encountered just once during the entire trip. The rest of the time was spent on these narrow, winding, shoulder-less roads.
I did this... A lot.

Along the way, I spotted an odd road-sign with the picture of a camera on it. Just a few yards ahead, there was a rather pretty pull-off area alongside the shore of the lake. Given this road was basically one long picturesque tourist trip, I assumed the sign notified folks like me that a nice photo opportunity was just ahead. I was wrong... Turns out that little camera sign warns of the possible position of speed cameras. I didn't learn this helpful little nugget of info until the very last day of my trip. Thankfully, the car rental agency hasn't forwarded me any speeding tickets... Yet. 
Not Scotland, but look... A Kodak moment ahead!

After 45-harrowing minutes, I finally arrived to my intended destination... Urquhart Castle. For the most part, Loch Ness is nothing more than a giant lake.. albeit, a rather gorgeous one. But.. toss in the ruins of a 13th century fortress and a little sunshine, and I had something that made the drive entirely worthwhile. Not eager to return to the car anytime soon, I made an iced coffee in the gift shop's coffee bar - they hadn't heard of such a thing - and soaked up what would prove to be the last sunshine I'd see for three days.

It was a good decision to soak up the rays while they lasted, because I was just a few miles up the road when it was time to learn how to turn on the Beamers windshield wipers. The rain was nothing serious, but enough to make my next destination a drive-by of sorts. The Culloden Battlefield was the site of the final stand of the Jacobite Rebellion which sought to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne. It also marked the final "pitched battle" - basically, two rows of troops facing each other and firing - on British soil. The rain seemed appropriate, given the lives lost and the 100 years of suppression, known as the Highland Clearances, which followed.
A stone honoring the members of one of the clans lost in the fighting.
The red flags mark the line of British troops.

By now it was going on 6pm and the hunger pains were coming on strong. I made my way into the heart of Inverness, pulled into the tiniest hotel parking lot imaginable, and checked-in to my digs for the next two nights: the Best Western Inverness Palace. Don't let the name fool you.. my general thought on the hotel is "Meh." The location is great, but it's clearly well past its prime and is a tour group turn-and-burn operation. That said, I slept like an absolute rock both nights. 

I'm sure part of that opinion stemmed from an unfair comparison to the Rocpool Reserve, which was my first stop on my tour of the food scene in Inverness. This place oozed class and reinforced what I knew before departing - that this was where I should have stayed - if only I could have stomached the rate. Both the smoked salmon and whisky cocktail I enjoyed here were among the best I've had anywhere. 

The next morning, I quickly learned one of Scotland's quirks... Everything opens later than on this side of the pond. Coffee shops were locked up tight until 8 or 9am, many restaurants didn't start serving until 7pm, and even the earliest tee times at the golf courses were often much later than "normal." For an "early to bed, early to rise" type, this took some getting used to, and I'm not sure that I ever did.
Don't tell the authorities... I imported a bag of Entenmann's. 

My time in Inverness was short, but in the end it provided exactly what I needed in advance of the busy week ahead. Here I found a welcome pause in the hectic travel, a few memorable sites, and the opportunity to adjust to things like 18 hours of daylight, wacky coffee shop hours, and the left-side of the road. That last one did get much easier with time, which allowed me to focus on the all-important task ahead...

7 golf courses... 5 days.

Enjoy Your Stay

London Calling - 18 Hours with The Queen

In the 10 years that we've been together, if there's one thing that MJ and I have mastered it's the art of the deal when it comes to traveling without one another. She plans a girls cruise, I go to Streamsong for a weekend of golf. I pay a visit to The King at Bay Hill, she goes to Jekyll Island for a 5k supporting her beloved sea turtles. This yin and yang has served us well, so when she pitched me the idea of going to Cambridge (England, not the wannabe in Massachusetts) for a month, I saw a prime opportunity to cash-in.

The terms of this deal were rather simple.. We would travel across the pond together and once there she'd jump on a bus to Cambridge, while I'd catch a flight to The Home of Golf. Everybody wins, with a small bonus tossed in as well: we'd have most of an afternoon to explore London together.

The long-awaited journey began in Orlando, where we took the relatively new non-stop to London Gatwick offered by Norwegian Air. Overall, the flight was a mixed bag.. We saved a boatload over the non-stops on Virgin and British Airways, the 787-Dreamliner was outstanding, as was the service throughout. On the other hand, the flight was nearly 3-hours late and MJ's entertainment console didn't work. That said, we'd certainly fly Norwegian again, but anyone considering the flight should bear in mind that an on-time departure is dependent on the same occurring on the inbound from Gatwick.. A long-shot, at best.

After breezing through customs, we hopped on the Gatwick Express train to Victoria station. Since MJ's bus would depart from Victoria the next morning, and I'd need a lift back to Gatwick, this was an uber-convenient way to get to the city. Sure, it's more expensive than the other train options to town, but worth every penny. Just be sure if you've booked a round-trip to not use the return ticket for your inbound leg, otherwise you'll be stuck at the kiosk scanning away like a moron. Not that I would know from experience or anything.

We checked-in to our room at the Z-Hotel, which proved to be the smallest I've ever experienced, even in Europe. Given the short stay, the location was far more important than spacious accommodations, and the Z-Hotel being across the street from Victoria Station delivered in spades. Plus it allowed us to brush up on our hopscotch skills getting from the door to the bed.

Since it was going on 3pm, and I was bordering on turning into Joe Pesci from the Snicker's commercial, we set off for our first destination which also held the promise of food. Naturally, a few blocks from the hotel we received the most appropriate welcome to London possible.. A downpour. Thankfully one of those cool black cabs spotted us cowering under an overhang and stopped to give us a lift.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me that our first stop in London was the original Hard Rock Cafe. It was here that it all started in 1971, and I had a feeling that our server - who exceeded the average employee age by a few decades - may have been part of the opening team. But it was her response to my ordering the-entree-formerly-known-as The Pig Sandwich that sealed her place in my heart forever...

"Oh I'm so delighted to hear you call it by its proper name."

By the time the check came, the rain had stopped and we began our whirlwind tour of the city. Where else would we start but with a visit to Her Majesty?...

Then it was onward to another landmark which, due to its appearance in Peter Pan, has quickly become a favorite of our nephew, Old Sport. Thanks to my main man Steve Jobs, we were able to blow his mind in real time, even if it did require taking selfie video on a ridiculously crowded street.

Unfortunately we missed getting to pop inside Westminster Abbey by a matter of minutes, but the view outside provided enough inspiration to hold me over for a while.

As the sun was beginning to fade, along with our energy level from the long day of travel, we made our way back to the hotel via a stroll through St. James Park. This took us by Horse Guards Parade, where beach volleyball was played in the 2012 Olympics, and MJ got her first sighting of some of The Queen's Guard. 

St. James is the very definition of an urban oasis. It was bursting with color and it seemed every bird in the city called the park home. As did some of the largest swans I've ever seen. 

To have been in the UK for about five hours without having fish & chips seemed like a bit of a travesty, so our final stop for the night sought to rectify that. We found it at The Shakespeare, just across from Victoria Station. A tourist spot for sure, but it served its purpose well. 

After a restful night at the Z-hotel - which included some quality time at their complimentary wine & cheese reception - I awoke with the same feeling toward London that I carried away from my last overnight visit some 10 years ago. This is one of the world's great cities with history at every turn, however I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for a multi-day trip here. Perhaps if we had time to wander off the beaten path, I'd have come away feeling differently, yet my impression of London is it's a nice place to stop off on your way to somewhere else. 

And as it turned out, we both had somewhere else to be...

Enjoy Your Stay

What I Learned As A First-Time Author

So you want to write a book, or perhaps you’ve already written what’s destined to be the next great American novel. Either way, right about now the same question is probably bouncing around inside your brain… Now what? 

As a first time author, the path that leads from Once upon a time to can be a daunting one. I should know, because I just traveled down it myself. Throughout the entire process - from research and writing to publishing and promotion - there were many sleepless nights and lessons learned. And while I am no J.K. Rowling, what follows are a few tips from those teachable moments that other aspiring authors are sure to encounter along the way. 

Let me tell you what I’d wish I’d known, when I was young and dreamed of glory… ~Hamilton

It’s Probably Gonna Cost You 

Sorry to rain on your parade, but the fact is you’re probably more likely to replace Matthew Mcconaughey in the next round of Lincoln commercials than to have your masterpiece picked up by a publisher. This is especially true if you happen to be writing about a niche topic, such as the history of a municipal golf course in a small town in Central Florida. The self-publishing industry makes it possible for anyone to get their story to print, but they don’t do it out of the goodness of their heart. Do some research into the cost of self-publishing early on and decide just how much this dream is worth to you. 

Barnes & Nope 

We’ve all had that dream.. You know, the one where you walk into the local mega-bookstore and see your name alongside F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.A. Rey. Well, the odds of this one coming true are just as long as getting that publisher to pick up the tab. But that doesn’t mean the dream has to die.. It just means you have to take matters into your own hands. Buy a cup of coffee, and donate a couple copies to the man. 

Keep It To Yourself 

If every guy who said he was going to write a book actually did so, the Earth would be devoid of trees and paper its rarest commodity. Let’s be honest… Telling someone you’re writing a book sounds ridiculous and chances are quite high they won’t believe you. Skepticism that will sting if you’re already well into the writing. On the other hand, if your friends and family are the supportive type, the good-hearted questions of “How’s the book coming?” may add unnecessary pressure beyond what you’re already putting on yourself. Especially if they come during a nasty spell of writer’s block or a much needed break. My advice: keep the project a secret for as long as possible. 

Know When To Say The End 

There will likely come a time when your book is basically done, but you just won’t let it go. Rewording a sentence here, moving a paragraph there.. It is so easy to tweak the thing to death. It’s understandable, given the amount of time, blood, sweat, and tears you poured into it. When I reached this phase with my book, I got to a point where I just had to say “Enough.” I set a date when the work would officially end and stuck to it. If I hadn’t, chances are it would still just be a lousy Word document. 

Don’t Keep It To Yourself 

Remember what I said about not telling anyone about your book? Well, there’s one big exception… Once the book is complete, have a few of the people closest to you read it a couple of times, especially if they are knowledgeable on the topic at hand. A few sets of fresh eyes will help you spot things - be it typos, inconsistencies, etc. - that you might have otherwise missed. The urge will be to keep it under wraps until the hardcopy is in their hand, but they are sure to be just as honored with the chance to read it first. In the end, the feedback may prove more valuable than the satisfaction of handing them the finished product. 

Pay For The Proofread 

Seriously…. Few things are more annoying and detrimental to the flow of a book than typos. If you self-publish, don’t go cheap on the proofreading. You worked far too hard to have minor things like misspelled words and grammar put a damper on it. Which leads me to the next tip... 

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff 

So there I was, minding my own business one night, when I saw it... A typo. Instantly, the walls felt like they were caving in around me; my mind raced for hours and there was little sleep to be had. In this case, it wasn’t an improper use of “their” or “there,” but a factual error.. Albeit a minor one that few, if any, readers would ever notice. But I noticed, and I beat myself up over it for days. 

Despite reading it 1217 times, and enlisting friends and a professional proofreader, you can pretty much rest assured that some sort of typo will make its way into your book. Try not to sweat it, because a) It’s not truly the end of the world and b) It’s an easy fix. Not to beat a dead horse, but you put too much personal capital into this book to let something so small detract from your achievement.  

Be Loud And Be Proud 

For many of us, self-promotion is a messy business. And yet, if anyone is going to read your book, that’s exactly what it will take. Sure, it may feel a bit uncomfortable, but let me take this opportunity to remind you…. You wrote a freaking book! Your friends, family, and perhaps even the community will be proud. You should be too. Post about it on social media, write the local newspaper, give copies away if you have to.. Enjoy the glory, because it will be very short lived, but most of all… 

You earned it.

Arnie & Me

My brother is a pretty well traveled guy. He's marveled at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, gorged on tapas on Las Ramblas, shucked oysters fresh from Elliott Bay, and drained a birdie putt on #18 at Torrey Pines, among many other adventures. And yet, if you were to ask him his favorite place in the world, the Bay Hill Club & Lodge would be at, or very near, the top of the list.

Why Bay Hill? Simple.... Arnold Palmer.

Right smack in the middle of the theme park capital of the world lies The King's winter home for the last four decades, as well as the host of the PGA Tour event that bears his name. There's a distinct 1970's feel to the place from the moment you pass through the front gate. It's charming, unpretentious, and the polar opposite of its counterparts in Miami and Ponte Vedra. While the other members of the Florida Swing have spent millions on flashy new clubhouses and a continuous string of resort renovations, Bay Hill has simply remained what it always has been... A tribute to the man who made it all possible.

Over the last few years, my brother RJ and I have made a weekend at Bay Hill an annual tradition. Both of us would agree, for anyone that is passionate about this great game, The Lodge might possibly be the greatest hotel in the world. It is nothing short of an Arnold Palmer museum, and after several visits we still haven't come close to seeing all of the memorabilia.
My favorite picture in The Lodge... Arnie & Ike.

But it's not only the history.. There's something about being at Bay Hill that just feels.. comfortable. Almost like returning home. Be it the bleu cheese chips in Bay Window, the French Toast in the dining room, or the nightcap by the firepit outside of the clubhouse. Oh, and did I mention the shampoo? This stuff is so great, RJ gave me a year's supply for Christmas.

While my brother and I are unanimous in our approval of The Lodge, the actual golf course is a different story. He loves it. I hate it. Sorry Mr. Palmer, but it's true. No amount of nostalgia and history will change my mind. I could go on and on about how Bay Hill is the poster child for penal golf architecture, however I'll spare you the dissertation. Simply put, the course is just too damn hard.
Seriously.. What is fun about this?

The experience at The Lodge offsets most of this pain, but we'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't admit that what has really kept us coming back was the hope of meeting The King. For years all we've heard from staff and fellow guests was that from October thru April, Arnie is always at Bay Hill. After four visits between the two of us without a single sighting of Mr. Palmer, my brother decided to take matters into his own hands.

It started with a letter to Mr. Palmer's office in Latrobe, which somehow succeeded in both reaching his longtime assistant, Doc Griffin, and making it clear to him that we weren't desperate fanboys. The reply that came via email was a polite "We'll see what we can do, but don't get your hopes up." Still, this felt like progress..
My brother celebrating victory in The Showdown at Bay Hill II

In addition to sending the letter, RJ suggested that we plan the next Bay Hill outing on a weekday. The common denominator of all of our previous trips was that they were on a weekend. The thought was that perhaps Mr. Palmer made himself scarce over the weekends when the club was busy. The logic seemed sound, at least to this desperate fanboy.

We were joined on this trip by our good friend and member of our regular foursome, BV. My brother was stuck in an unfortunately timed meeting, so the plan was for BV and I to head down early for 9-holes and RJ would join us after work. For the first time ever, I arrived to Bay Hill hoping to not see Arnold Palmer... at least not until my brother arrived. If BV and I managed to meet Arnie and my brother didn't.. after all of his planning to make it happen.. I'd never live it down. RJ not being one to hold a grudge would be happy for us, but I'd never forgive myself.
The Showdown at Bay Hill I with our Dad.

We stopped by the front desk, headed straight to the dining room for a quick lunch and, of course, in walks The King....

BV and I sat somewhat paralyzed for the next few minutes as person after person stopped at Arnie's table to say hello. I was reluctant to do the same, not for fear of being rude by interrupting his lunch (which it was), but because I'd be doing so without my brother. Finally, BV made the hard sell...

"This could be your one and only chance. He'll be more pissed if you don't take it than if you do and he misses out."

He had a point... So I hatched a plan to head to the bathroom (my shirt was untucked and I had just eaten a burger, which I highly recommend) and as I returned, if and only if Arnie looked up as I passed would I stop. Again, part of me hoped he wouldn't notice, yet in the fog of the moment I had forgotten everything I'd observed over the last 10 minutes...

No one goes by Arnold Palmer's table without him noticing. He acknowledged each and every person that came by. From the Bay Hill members for which having lunch near him was just a regular Thursday afternoon, to our fellow starstruck guests asking him to sign their empty iced tea and lemonade bottles. As I rounded the corner toward the restaurant, The King and I locked eyes, and I think I managed to put together a few words about how much we enjoy Bay Hill.

"Well, enjoy!"

Success... Sort of.

We finished our meal, and The King did the same. A few minutes later, he took hold of the arm of his guest for lunch (Jimmy Roberts of NBC) and made his way, albeit slowly, out of the dining room.

As we made our way around Bay Hill's Charger 9, I couldn't help but wonder if BV was right. Would that be our one and only encounter? Surely, I hoped, my brother would get his chance...

After golf, BV and I sat in the Bay Window Lounge and enjoyed a beverage. Our plan was to meet RJ in the Men's Locker Room for a few hands of cards and cocktails before heading to dinner. On a whim, I decided to go survey the scene in the locker room first, thinking we may have been better off just staying where we were. I took one step inside and sure enough, there in the very first seat was Arnold Palmer...

Again, I tried to play it cool by pretending to be looking for someone who apparently wasn't there. I made a bee line back to BV, interrupted his conversation with an aspiring Tour pro, and told him we had to go. Back in the locker room, we set up shop at the table next to Arnie, and watched the door like a hawk, hoping with each time it opened that RJ would come walking through.

Roughly a dozen hands of gin and two cocktails later, still no sign. Arnie's glass was empty, time was running out... So I decided the time had come to let my brother in on the secret...

He made it... By now, BV and I were just totally accustomed to being in The King's presence, but RJ still had to work through the initial shell-shock that we'd experienced during lunch. Alas, this wasn't meant to be his moment. No more than 5 minutes after RJ arrived, Mr. Palmer shuffled out to his golf cart, and soon the Bay Hill locker room emptied.

My brother seized the moment.. He made friends with the bartender and struck up conversation with the guys who had been at Arnie's table, all of which led to an important question...

"If we're here at the same time tomorrow, what are our odds of shaking his hand and maybe a picture?


Fast forward to the next afternoon, we returned to the locker room, greeted our new friend behind the bar, and tried to pretend as if we were there for any reason except meeting Arnold Palmer. We stuck out like sore thumbs.

A few minutes later, and right at the appointed time, Arnie walked in and sat down in his usual chair.

"OK gents, we're going to strike while the iron is hot," the bartender said as he delivered our drinks.... "Mr. Palmer, we have some guests here from Ocala that would like to say hello."


Let this be a lesson kids... Always get to know the club bartender.

We sat watching the golf on TV for a little while longer, before making our way to the door. Mr. Palmer said goodbye as we passed his table, and it was then that things felt a little heavy.  As exciting as the last hour had been, there was a distinct sadness in the air as my brother and I pulled away from Bay Hill. In one unforgettable moment, we had just said hello and possibly goodbye to a man who has done more for us through a lifetime in the game of golf than we could ever imagine. This wasn't about a picture. It was about saying thank you to a beloved member of the family whose time with us is running preciously short.

Long Live The King