I spent last weekend in Seattle for the Rutgers - University of Washington football game. The less said the better about the final score, but I did get some decent pictures on the field. See the photo gallery. Football always offers a lot of great opportunities for pictures, even when the game isn't going well, so I'm glad that the season has started. I am always busy on these road trips with football, so as much as I tried I was not able to do any real sightseeing, other than looking for a good place for lunch near U of W (I settled for a local burrito place) on Friday afternoon. However, there was a highlight worth mentioning. After the game I visited Elliott Bay Brewhouse and Pub (www.elliottbaybrewing.com) near our hotel (Marriott near the airport), in Burien. It was very good, both the beers, I tried several, and the food (Cuban sandwich with fries - with a really good spicy dipping sauce that I can't remember the name of). I recommend it. When I first came in, it didn't seem to be the most friendly place, but before long I was talking to a couple other patrons and to the bartender and it was a very nice place to spend the evening. I wish it wasn't across the country. By the way, they also have two other locations in the area.
I had planned to write a short piece about my trip to Seattle last weekend, but once again I find that I let too much time pass before writing on this blog page, so I will bring you up to date before I get to that. I don't know that anyone is interested one way or another, but here is what's happened since the last time I wrote.
I made my annual golf trip to Ireland back in April. For the first time, I didn't go alone. My friend Ken, who I play golf with regularly, decided that he wanted to come with me. My first rule for traveling, and one that I suggest everyone follow, is that I do not share a room. I have done it in the past and by the end of the trip it's 50/50 whether I want to kill the other person. I am not kidding. I suppose if I was more used to sharing a room it wouldn't be so bad, but that doesn't apply to me. So the trip cost a little more than it could have been, but I got my rest every night and Ken is still alive. Another suggestion when traveling with a friend is that one person make the arrangements and collect money as you pay it out. Just make sure your travel partner is reliable. Otherwise, get the money up front. I made all of the arrangements for our trip. For everything I paid everything up front, Ken reimbursed me before we left. On the trip itself, it was the same. Any time we went to dinner or there was another charge for the two of us, I paid with a credit card (the best way to pay over there to get a good exchange rate), then totaled it all up at the end of the trip, and he reimbursed me when we got home.
Most of the trip was to places I have been to, and written about before. The first new place, which was our first stop, was Spanish Point Golf Club. Spanish Point is a small, little known place not far from Lahinch. The course is a short links course, a warm up for what was to come. It cost only 25 euro and was a fun place to play. After our round we had dinner at a nice pub in Lahinch, Kenny's Bar. The food was good and there were plenty of people to talk to. That night we stayed the night in a small B&B, The Siding. It's not luxurious by any means, but it's inexpensive (40 euro), comfortable, and breakfast was good. If you go there, you do have to pay attention to find it. It's just east of town, and visible from the main road, the N67, but not actually on that road. There is a sign that says something like "Siding B&B - Look Left" as you are coming toward Lahinch, and you will see it on a road parallel to the main road across a field. We passed it and had to turn around to get there.
Day 2 was two rounds at Lahinch Golf Club. Lahinch ended up being Ken's favorite course of the trip. I wouldn't say that, Ballybunion Old is still my favorite course, but Lahinch is a great place to play and we had a great time. I also like the food in the clubhouse there. After our afternoon round, we packed up and drove down to Ballybunion, stopping on the way for dinner at The Creamery in Bunratty. The Creamery is a stone building with a good atmosphere and food just a short walk from Bunratty Castle. I much prefer it to the more famous Durty Nelly's, which is kind of a dive bar (not that there's anything wrong with that). Our day ended with our arrival at 19th Lodge in Ballybunion. I love it there, a sI have said before. Mary and James Beasley are the nicest people you would ever want to meet and treat me like family. I suspect they treat everyone that way. The accommodations are first class there and I highly recommend it. And what makes it even better is that it is located right across the road from the golf club.
The next couple of days were spent in Ballybunion. It's my favorite place in the world. Not only do they treat me great at 19th Lodge, but they are just as nice at the Golf Club. I have read a couple of reviews (a very small percentage) that said the service was bad at the Golf Club. I an assure you that those people were the problem, not the staff at the club. They are incredibly nice there. The menu in the clubhouse could be a little more extensive, but I am not complaining.
Next on the itinerary was Tralee Golf Club, which is not really in Tralee, but it is near Tralee. I guess the nearest town is Ardfert. Before they built the golf course, parts of the Robert Mitchum movie "Ryan's Daughter" was filmed on the beach there. Prior to that Sir Roger Casement was captured near there while trying to smuggle guns from Germany into Ireland for the Easter Rising of 1916. By the way, we were there on the 100th Anniversary of that Easter Rising, which led to Irish independence from Great Britain.
When we left Tralee Golf Club, we headed for Dingle, a great little town, as I have said before. This year the trip happened to fall on the weekend when there was an arts festival and a bike race in Dingle, so my favorite place to stay, Castlewood House, was booked when I tried to reserve rooms (almost 6 months in advance). Instead, we stayed at Greenmount House. It turned out to be an extremely close second to Castlewood House. Greenmount House is VERY nice, located on a hill overlooking the town, closer to the center of town than Castlewood. Castlewood is a little longer walk, but it is right on the bay, and the walk back from town at the end of the night is a highlight. Both have terrific breakfasts, but my favorite is the Eggs Benedict at Castlewood House. I did miss that a little, but I was in no way disappointed with Greenmount House.
The next day was the last new destination, Dooks Golf Club. Dooks is about an hour from Dingle Town, at the entrance to the Ring of Kerry. We had the misfortune of booking our tee time the same time as an outing was going on, but they were very good about getting us out on time, between two groups. This was the only round in all that I have played in Ireland that I had to wait to hit shots due to the people in front of us. It was a little annoying, but not terrible, by US standards, and the scenery was fantastic (see my photo gallery). If the course was anywhere but Ireland it would be near the top of the list of places to play in its area, but it has the misfortune of being near a few of the top courses in the world. And if the competition wasn't tough enough already, the guys who built Bandon Dunes in Oregon are said to be building two new course, when the get the necessary approvals, just 300 yards across the bay from Dooks. We passed the location on the way from Dingle. If you are a golfer, can it get any better than southwest Ireland?
The last stop for golf was Ceann Sibeal (Dingle) Golf Club. I have played there before and written about it, but there was something special there this year. Up on the hill overlooking the course they were building a set for the new Star Wars movie that they were to shoot there a couple of weeks later (in May). You can see pictures of it in my photo gallery.
Finally, a couple more quick mentions. The first is Dingle Crystal (https://www.dinglecrystal.ie). I went to their shop in town and bought a couple of things. I definitely suggest stopping in if you get to Dingle. Also in Dingle, there is a pub where all the famous people go, from Robert Mitchum to Julia Roberts to Tom Cruise (who filmed parts of "Far and Away" on the Dingle Peninsula). The pub is Dick Mac's. Don't miss it.
Funny. I had planned to post to this blog on a regular basis, but it hasn’t happened, unless you consider once or twice a year “a regular basis”. Too wrapped up in actually doing things to stop and write about them, I guess. I see that my most recent post was back in May, before my first trip to Scotland in June, followed by fall and winter sports seasons. I might as well write about them now, before I forget even more of the details. The big story of 2015 was the Scotland trip. It was a short one, only four days, but it was memorable. I hadn’t planned on going to Scotland for another year, at least, but I was given a nice credit from United Airlines in exchange for bumping to a later flight home from Omaha, so I took advantage of it before it expired in October. It was strictly a golf trip, but I did bring my camera, of course.
The day I left was a long one. It started with an hour drive in the morning to my pre-school niece’s soccer game, and then back home. I followed that with a pitch and putt game and lunch with my 10 year old friend. After that I finished packing, rode to the airport, and then flew overnight to Edinburgh. I have two lasting memories of Edinburgh Airport. The first is of the soldiers walking around with assault rifles (sorry, I am not a weapons expert so I can’t give a better description than that). The other is the ridiculously long walk from baggage claim to the rental car pick up. It had to be at least a quarter mile. My tip is to grab a cart instead of wheeling golf clubs and other baggage individually.
From the airport, I had a four hour drive ahead of me to Dornoch, in the Highlands, north of Inverness. I took the A9 highway all the way from Edinburgh to Dornoch. The scenery along the way on the A9 was a little disappointing. You really have to get off the main road to see the scenery that people dream of. Unfortunately, I didn't have time for that. I was more than 24 hours into my day, and still had 18 holes of golf ahead of me when I arrived. Scenic detours were not an option. I was told that the A9 is the most dangerous road in Europe. What makes it dangerous is that it is basically three lanes, one going in each direction and a passing lane that alternates going in one direction and then the other. When impatient drivers pass, they can cut it too close to the change in direction of the lane and end up in a head on collision. If you don’t make that mistake, it’s an easy drive. Also, the police are now tough on speeders, so it is not as dangerous as it once was.
I arrived at the B&B, Highfield House, on the outskirts of Dornoch, safely. It is a nice place, and I recommend it, although it's a tight squeeze through the opening in the stone wall into the just as tight parking area. I only had time to check in and drop my bag, then it was back on the road for another 25 minutes drive north to Brora Golf Club for my first round of golf. I have to think that the only reason why Brora Golf Club is not more highly rated is that it is not a very long course. I loved it! It’s very low key, which I like, a lot of fun to play, and so scenic! Check out my pictures: Brora Golf Club. What makes Brora somewhat unique is that cows and sheep graze on the course. My plan was to play my round and then go back out afterward to take pictures, but I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera while playing. As I walked down the first fairway, I passed a cow lying in the middle the 18th fairway to my left. It would have made a nice picture. Unfortunately, the cow was gone by the time I finished. I did get some pictures of sheep running near one of the greens though. FYI, if your ball lands in manure, you get a free drop, if you want to pick up your ball. I managed to avoid that, and had a great time. When my day finally ended after driving back to the B&B, I had been up for 34 hours straight.
The next two days were filled with 36 holes per day on the world famous Royal Dornoch Championship course. What a fantastic golf course!! It's what one comes to Scotland to play. Your round begins with what seems like an easy enough short par 4, but if you don't put your tee shot in the fairway, you risk ending up in one of the hidden pot bunkers on either side. My first tee shot went right and a little short and was in one of those bunkers. All I could do was get it out and hit my 3rd shot to the green. From there, the course gets really fun. The second hole is a par 3, about 175 yards. It has one of their signature "inverted saucer" greens. That term, which I have read so much, is really misleading. From that, I thought that the green was just on a hump that was kind of hard to hold without rolling off. Well, on either side and behind, it is about a 10 foot, 45 - 60 degree decline if your ball rolls off, and it DOES roll off. And if you miss too far right, left, or long, you are in the gorse bushes and your ball is gone. You don't even think about going after it. Gorse is pretty, but nasty and impenetrable. If you end up below the green, the best option is to putt. I did better at that than I thought I would. Putting up a slope that is about 60 degrees (I am guessing) and 10-15 feet up, is tough. It's easy to leave it short and have it roll back down, or hit it too hard and have it go down the other side, or, as was the case on some holes, go into a bunker on the other side. I think you get the idea. I've seen greens that were designed like this before, but these were twice as high as anything I can remember. After the second, it was one great hole after another. The signature hole is the 14th, "Foxy". It's a long par 4 with no bunkers, but it doesn’t need any. A fantastic golf hole! Parring it during my second round was my golf highlight of the week. My lowlight was my the start of my first round of the second day, when I found myself hitting the ball well, but pulling everything left. That is just deadly at Dornoch. I lost 6 balls in the gorse on my first 5 holes and was worried that I would run out of balls. Fortunately, I straightened things out and I finished with balls to spare.
Overall, I would have to say that Royal Dornoch is not over rated by any means. it is just a fantastic place to play golf! My only criticism is that it isn’t the most photogenic course I have played. I was unlucky in that by late afternoon it got cloudy both days, so I didn’t have great lighting, and didn’t even try to go back out for more pictures than I got while playing. Even with good light, I can’t imagine pictures of Dornoch would match what I get at Ballybunion in Ireland, or a few other courses, Brora being one of them, but I would like to have tried.
The golf course aside, Dornoch and its golf club is a nice place to visit. I hope to go back again. However, I would not go again in June, or during the summer. I like traveling in the off season much better. There were too many Americans on vacation and who live there in the summer. I travel to meet and play golf with local people, not other Americans. The worst example was a pleasant, but overly talkative American who asked me to join him for our afternoon round. I agreed, but was near horrified when he showed up on the first tee in a GOLF CART! You just don’t do that on a links course! They only allow it for people with disabilities on the championship course, so it is very limited, but he seemed fine to me (not that I should judge). He asked if I wanted to ride in the cart. I respectfully declined. That would have been almost sacrilegious to me. On the other hand, I did meet several local people who were very friendly. I was eating lunch in the clubhouse one day, and the club president came over to introduce himself, thanked me for visiting the club, and asked me how I liked it. I can assure you he was not disappointed with my answer.
And that was it. The next day I drove back to Edinburgh and flew home.
Comparing Ireland to Scotland as a golf destination, Ireland is currently less expensive, and flying into Shannon into the less populated southwest is preferable to the busier Edinburgh or Glasgow if you are driving yourself. Also, Ireland is smaller so there is less time wasted going from one place to another. On the other hand, there are an awful lot of great things to see and do in Scotland in addition to the great golf courses. You certainly can’t go wrong playing golf and seeing and photographing the sites in either. You have to try both and make your own decision.
For the first time in a year I’ve changed the photo on my home page. As much as I liked the old one, this new picture is definitely an upgrade. I really can’t believe my luck in getting it. I went to the softball game thinking I might do OK. The sun was out and I expected to have a couple of innings of good light before the trees lining the first base side blocked the setting sun. It didn’t work out that way. Basically the entire infield was in the shade right from the start. I got a decent picture of our girl hitting a home run in the top of the first inning, but nothing special, and figured that would be the best of the night. Then she went out in the field, to pitch. As she warmed up, I saw that there was a small gap between the trees, and the sunlight was hitting her perfectly! It could not have been better if I had set up the whole thing. Despite having to shoot through the chain link fence, I got a series of pictures that includes what has to be the best one I have ever taken. This was definitely a lesson that you can’t predict when the perfect moment will come, so show up and be ready. Coming on the heels of my shot of the chance meeting of my rental car and a flock of sheep on a narrow country road on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, the point was made twice in a 30 day period.
I am home in New Jersey and back to work. I had planned to write something each day of my trip, but never got around to it. I'll try to give some of the highlights now. The weather stayed warm and sunny for my entire 3 days at Ballybunion. I got in a lot of golf, met some people, and in the evenings I went looking for photos. The course is quiet in the evenings, and I was able to walk around without dodging golf balls, and the light is great about an hour before sunset. It isn't real easy to get good golf course photos. Most of those I thought would be good ended up quite boring, but when I found the right positions, it was worth the trouble. I hope you like them. My golf highlight of the week occurred on Thursday morning. After trying, and failing, to par the signature 11th hole (Watson) on the Old course 6 times in my two trips there, I hit a perfect tee shot, followed by a near perfect iron shot to less than a foot from the pin. I tapped it in and still had not parred the hole - I birdied it. Overall, I didn't play great all week, but I came away from Ballybunion with an even greater respect for my favorite course. I don't think any of the holes are weak, and many are outstanding, the greens are fast and in excellent condition, and they made some improvements that will be well received by all. The new first tee, as I mentioned in my last post, is a big plus. I was told that before next season there will be all new grass on the greens and they are moving the 7th green closer to the cliff that overlooks the beach. I look forward to seeing it.
On Friday I traveled south to Tralee Golf Club. Going from Ballybunion to Tralee requires driving on some very narrow, sometimes single lane, roads. Very scenic, but it makes me nervous at times. It's worth the drive. The views on the golf course are so nice! Unfortunately, my luck with the weather ran out, so I left the camera in the car, but the golf was good despite the on and off rain showers. This course is the favorite of many people. The front 9 is nice, but relatively tame (and the par 5 9th is currently replaced by a temporary par 3 3A). The back 9 changes to a tough test, going up, down, and around some massive dunes, with spectacular views of the bay. I wish the weather had been better, and that I didn't have to drive to my next stop afterward. There must be great photos to be had in the evening there.
When I was finished playing I continued my drive south to DIngle for the weekend. The Dingle Peninsula has a lot of great places to photograph, the most famous of which is Slea Head. I was on the peninsula all weekend and got quite a few good photos, along with more golf, but I really could have spent the whole week here just looking for more photos. I didn't even scratch the surface. One new thing I did was attach my GoPro camera to my windshield and shot video while I drove one day to and from Dingle Golf Club. The result in no way does justice to what I saw in person, but it will give the viewer a taste of what it's like there. The golf course was just one more place with terrific scenery. It's not as highly ranked as the others I played during the week, but I loved it! Not a real tough test without wind, but there was wind, a lot of wind, and I hear it is like that all the time. The course was in good shape, and rough around the edges, which I like, and very playable. One hole I really enjoyed was an uphill par 5 with a dogleg right. You can try to cut the corner, but you have to hit your tee shot over a pasture that is out of bounds, and it you slice it, you will hit the house to the right of the pasture. A real risk/reward shot. And my best shot of the day! I could play that course all the time and not get tired of it. It may not be world class, but it's very good. It's fun and won't beat you up.
A highlight of the weekend happened purely by chance. I was driving along on a narrow road, when around a bend coming toward me was a flock of sheep and their shepherd. They took up the entire road. All I could do was sit there and wait for them to pass. Fortunately, I had my D4s sitting next to me on the passenger seat and I recognized the opportunity and shot a few frames through the windshield. I had considered getting out of the car, but didn't know how the sheep would like it. I was so lucky to have my settings close to what was correct and I got a few good shots out of it. It's something that you live for when you are looking for rural Ireland photographs!
On Sunday the weather was clear again, so I took one last trip on Slea Head Drive around the peninsula before turning north to my last stop in Doolin and Lahinch. It's a 4 hour drive from Dingle. Between Doolin and Lahinch are the Cliffs of Moher, so I stopped there for while. It was late afternoon and relatively clear, so I got a few photos that are decent, but not nearly as good as I would like. Then I continued to Doolin. Doolin is a very small village and I thought it would be a good place for pictures, but I was disappointed. They were having some type of celebration, so the streets and pub were packed with people. The opposite of what I want to see when I am taking pictures of a small village. I guess I will have to wait until my next trip and hope for a more normal day.
My last day was spent on the golf course at Lahinch. Lahinch is another world class golf course. Last year I played there and was disappointed because the course was not yet ready for play and there were temporary tees made from driving range mats, and players were required to carry small mats and hit off them from the fairways. Not this year. I was very satisfied. It moves to a solid # 2 behind Ballybunion Old in my rankings of all the courses I have played. There is not a weak hole in the bunch. The signature hole is #4, Klondyke. It's a par 5 that requires a tee shot to a narrow fairway, followed by a second shot over a dune that is about 4 stories high, unless you want to hit around it. Hated it last year, and loved it this year. My morning round was an education in Irish weather. Over the course of 4 hours, I got cold, wind, light rain, followed by clearing, followed by moderate rain, followed by almost clearing, followed by hail and a lot of wind, followed by sleet, followed by a light rain, followed by clouds, then clear skies. I kept the camera in the car. After lunch I went out for another round and it was clear, but extremely windy, all afternoon. This time I brought my camera with me and got some stills and video of the place. Not great, but not bad I guess. I also took some photos of my playing partners, a father-son from Toronto, John and Christian. Good guys. It was fun playing with them.
I should have everything posted in the Places folder by the end of the weekend.
09:30 AM (in Ireland): As those marvelous dunes come into view, I am just as excited as I was the first time I saw them. This is it. Ballybunion Golf Club. One of my favorite places in the world. It took a six plus hour overnight plane ride and then a two hour drive to get here (on the left side of the road, from the right side of the car), but I am not tired at all. I can't wait to get out there. I will stop in at 19th Lodge, the B&B where I stay, first, then I go across the road and tee off at 11:15 AM. Ballybunion, for those who are unfamiliar, is one of the best golf courses in the world. Located along the low cliffs above the Atlantic ocean in County Kerry, Ireland, it is what's classified as a "links" course. There are no trees, and the only water on the course is a small creek (whatever they call a creek here) that cuts across a couple of holes. One might think that this would make the course easy. That one would be wrong. It has other obstacles that make play difficult, if not treacherous, as you make your way up and down the fairways and greens that that are routed around and between those dozens of massive dunes. The first is the nasty rough that surrounds each fairway. Landing a ball in the rough is very likely to require you to reach into your pocket for a new one. That rough just swallows balls. You might see exactly where your ball lands, and five solid minutes of searching will be worthless. Another obstacle is the dunes themselves, which require tough uphill, downhill, and sidehill shots. The third obstacle is wind. Often there is a LOT of wind that blows the ball all over the place. Just what a golfer does not want if he is trying to avoid that nasty rough, or the Atlantic ocean.
4:30 PM: I made it through the round, but now I am feeling the 27 hours without sleep. It is not an easy walk, and my play was erratic, but the weather here is great! Short sleeve weather with not a cloud in the sky, not what one expects when they come to Ireland to play golf. What was expected was the wind, a lot of wind. The course has not grown into what it will be in the summer, but it looked terrific. The people here have made a lot of improvements since I last played here. The new first tee, for example, makes the design of the hole much better, and brings the famous cemetery more into play. Some of the changes are not quite, for lack of a better word, mature, but by next year this place will be even better than it already is. Tomorrow I will bring my camera out on the course to get some pictures of the new stuff. Unfortunately, I was just too tired today. Golf course photography is, like all landscape photography, something that needs to be done right or it's very boring. I'll give it my best shot, but it will have to wait until tomorrow. Fortunately, the weather is expected to be good again.
In a few hours I will be on a plane heading to southwest Ireland, the third April in a row I will be making this trip. It's mainly a golf trip - 9 rounds of golf in 7 days, and thinking about a 10th, on a few of the top links courses in the world. I am also bringing cameras along to capture still and video images of some of the things I see. As was the case the last two trips, and also my trip to Wales before that, I am going alone. As much as I would like to have friends along with me, I love traveling alone. I make up an itinerary that is exactly what I want to do and where I want to stay, with no compromise to account for others, and it forces me to talk to a lot more people than I would if I was part of a group. I can be with friends the other 51 weeks a year, so why travel across the ocean to do the same thing this week? I will do my best to avoid Americans in general this week. That would be impossible in the summer, when we overrun their golf courses, but in April I have been reasonably successful.
I am going to try to post to photo galleries, and to this blog page, every day while I am there (if Internet is available). I have already been to most of the places I will be going, but I added a few new ones that should be interesting. After landing at Shannon Airport tomorrow morning, I will drive to Ballybunion and stay there for three nights. I might make a side trip or two if I can drag myself away from their golf courses. Then I drive to Tralee for more golf, on the way to a weekend stay in Dingle. On Sunday I will drive north to Doolin, with a stop at the Cliffs of Moher. Then it's golf at Lahinch on Monday, and a drive back to Ennis for the night before my Tuesday morning flight home.
A few weeks ago I made my first road trip to photograph a sport other than football. My friend Bud Wells and I went to Purdue University to watch Rutgers Softball play a weekend series. His daughter is on the Rutgers team and he is manager of RU athletic equipment services. The teams were scheduled to play three games, one each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It didn't work out that way. Friday's game was canceled due to cold weather. I had not been aware that they did such things, but considering that it was snowing lightly as we drove, they made the right decision. Instead, we toured the Purdue arena complex, which is the practice, game, equipment, and training venue for several of the school's teams. It's a nice place. A lot of it was added on within the last year or two. They did a good job with it.
On Saturday it was still cold, but not quite as bad as Friday, and the sun was out. The game was on. In fact, two games were on, including the postponed game from the day before. Purdue has brand new baseball and softball stadiums. They have brick exteriors, a good amount of seating in a crescent that runs from just beyond first base, around behind the plate, to just beyond third base, and an enclosed press box complete with an elevator that takes you up to it. The facilities are much better than at Rutgers. Hopefully RU will get the funding to make their upgrades. Our athletes deserve to have at least what the Purdue kids have. Facilities aside, the games went well for Rutgers. They won the first, and although they lost the second, they made a nice effort late to come back from a big deficit.
On Sunday, it was a little warmer, but the sun was gone, and there was rain off and on. They got the game in, but not without a long rain delay. Rutgers won in extra innings. This was more of a buddies trip than strictly a photo trip, so I didn't even bring my long lens, but I got a lot of pictures of the games themselves. With a smallish crowd, I was able to move around a lot to get pictures from many angles. For a good part of the time I was in the front row next to the dugout. No special credential was needed to be in a good spot.
If you ever go to Purdue from New Jersey. Driving is possible, but it's a long drive. We chose to fly. There are two major cities within easy driving distance of Purdue, Chicago (2 hrs) and Indianapolis (1 hr). Flying into Chicago has the advantage of more flights on bigger planes, and the flight cost is a little lower. The advantage for Indianapolis is that it will be a shorter drive when you get there, and the lower rental car cost will probably offset the higher flight cost. For lodging, the Lafayette/West Lafayette area has several good options. We chose Hampton Inn. I stay at Hamptons all the time and I've never had a bad experience. This one is located in Lafayette, maybe 5 miles from Purdue, and right on a main highway with lots of shopping and restaurants nearby. We went to a couple of them for quick meals, and then into West Lafayette, near campus, to eat and drink in the evenings. Friday night was O'Bryans 9 Irish Brothers Pub. They have live music on weekends and it's just what you would want in an Irish Pub. I hope I don't have to explain that further. On Saturday we went to Lafayette Brewing Company, a brew pub. They have a nice selection of beers there and the food is good. We both got their Scottish Ale and were not disappointed. I recommend both places. The only downside to both is parking. 9 Irish Brothers has a very small parking lot, and Lafayette is a storefront place with no lot, so you have to find a spot on the street. You might have to walk a little.
This weekend I end my wrestling season with the toughest three days for photography of the year, the NJSIAA State Tournament at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. It’s a double elimination tournament for 336 wrestlers in 14 weight classes, starting on 8 mats for the first few rounds. On Friday night I will be running all over the arena trying to get as many pictures of as many wrestlers as possible. I am working with The History of New Jersey Wrestling, so the more the better. Most photographers are media guys covering specific wrestlers or areas, but I am not that lucky. I can't take too many bouts off if I am doing my job well. I never know who will be looking for their picture on my website. By the end of Friday night, my legs will be killing me from running up and down stairs, and kneeling down and getting up every few minutes for several hours.
They cut down the number of mats on Saturday, and I can stay on the arena floor and just move down the line from mat to mat, so it is easier, but it’s still a lot of hours with a camera up to my face. Late Saturday afternoon, the first of the really important rounds starts, the semi finals. The semis are wrestled on two mats (with wrestle backs on each side of them), and I can’t relax. There are a lot of great matches and great photos to be had, and I don’t want to miss a single one if I can help it.
On Sunday, we have the consolation medal rounds on three mats. As much as I want to work hard there, I have to save as much energy as I can for the finals in the afternoon. At any time, the definitive moment of the tournament can happen, and if I don’t get a shot of it, I’ll be kicking myself for weeks. Hopefully I will catch a lot of great moments and go home satisfied, but I never do as well as I would like. I will end up with at least 2000 photographs by the time I head home. And the work doesn’t end there. I still have to go through all 2000, deleting the bad ones and cropping, fixing exposure, etc. for the good ones. That will take the better part of a week, doing it in my spare time when I am not at my day job. And then my life will be my own again.
2014 is history. Although I didn’t get to as many total events as in previous years, I did travel quite a bit. For one reason or another, I made road trips to Atlantic City, Ocean City MD, Southwest Ireland, Seattle, Annapolis MD, Bedford PA, Columbus OH, Lincoln, NE, East Lansing MI, College Park MD, and Detroit. Some places I liked better than others, obviously. I have yet to see anything that beats Southwest Ireland for its combination of nice people, interesting things to see and places to stay, and tremendous golf courses!
Of the places I went to for sports events, Lincoln NB was the best, and might be my favorite of all time. It is just a great place to go for a football game! Their impressive stadium, which has been sold out for every game since the Kennedy administration, is on campus, it’s walking distance from a nice downtown area, and the people of Lincoln are as friendly as you’ll find. I think everyone from Rutgers who attended the game felt the same way. If one thing stood out, it was the ovation and words of encouragement that the visiting players got from the home fans as they crossed the concourse on their way from the field to the locker room after the game. That kind of thing does not happen anywhere else I have been.
Detroit was a pleasant surprise. I fully expected to want nothing less than to go home from the minute I arrived, but that was not the case. It is far from the best city I have been to, but where we were, in the business district, it was actually quite nice, for the most part. There were several good places to eat and drink within walking distance. My favorite, by far, was Sweetwater Tavern. Fantastic wings and the best pulled pork sandwich I’ve had. Detroit still isn’t on my list of potential vacation destinations, but they seem to be on the right track rebuilding the city.
I finally pulled the trigger and upgraded to the Nikon D4s last week. It is replacing my D3, and my D3s is being demoted to secondary camera status. I am excited. When the D4 was released last year I decided not to upgrade, thinking, despite never wanting to be outgunned, that the D3s and D3 were still good enough. In retrospect, now that the D4s is here, it was a good decision. That's not because the D4 was not a much better camera than what I had, but because I doubt that I would have bought the D4 and then the D4s just a year later. It would have killed me to ignore the D4s. What a camera! Last night I took my first few test shots, comparing low light performance of the D4s against the D3. I didn't expect the D3 to be as good as the D4s, but it was stunning to look at a shot I took with the D3 at 6400 ISO, then compare it to the same shot with the D4s at 10,000 ISO (Yes, 10,000). The D4s shots were SO much better! They were in a completely different league. I can't wait for the fall sport season to start. My days of disappointment with my results from under those terrible lights at Piscataway High School might finally be over, or at least I won’t be able to blame the camera any more.
July is about over and there are a few weeks of down time before the fall sports start. Looking back at 2013-2014, it was a good year. I can’t say that I did all I wanted to do, but I did a lot. In the fall I traveled to California for the first time, to Fresno by way of San Francisco, to be on the field for one of the 25 best college football games of 2013. I also went to Dallas, Louisville, Orlando, Hartford, and Yankee Stadium, all for Rutgers football games. Between those trips and the home games I fit in as many HS and Pop Warner games as I could, and a lot of soccer as well.
Winter was dominated by my wrestling coaching and officiating duties, which made it hard to do a lot of photography, but I did as much as I could. I finished the season at the NJSIAA State Championships in Atlantic City. As is the case every year, the state tournament in AC is exhausting. I spend the better part of three days running all over the arena trying to get as many pictures of as many kids as I can. With up to 8 mats going at once, it is a huge challenge.
Spring began with a long golf weekend in Ocean City MD, and then a week in southwest Ireland. I wish I could go to Ireland or Great Britain more than once a year. Great golf, great pubs, great scenery, and great people. I highly recommend it to everyone. When I got home it was baseball/softball/lacrosse season. Softball was the primary concern this year, due to my two favorite athletes, Ashley and Meaghan, being softball players. I went to as many of their games as I could fit in, including one Saturday when I went to one of Ashley’s games in the morning, then drove a half hour to Meaghan’s game, and then back for another of Ashley’s. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of watching them play, or ever thinking I got a good enough picture of either.
By the end I had spent hundreds of hours taking thousands of pictures. I will enjoy my few weeks of relaxation (except for my day job), but I can’t wait for the new season to start at the end of August.
I was at a retirement party for my friend Paul Schoeb today. There was a large turnout for a good guy. One of the people in attendance was Mrs. Jahn, a school nurse and the mother of one of my former wrestlers, Tim Jahn. I remember Tim as a nice kid and a good wrestler, but it's been several years since I've seen him. Mrs. Jahn brought me up to date. Tim is now living with his wife in Anguilla, which I am told is an island near Puerto Rico. He teaches art and is a very successful painter. Unfortunately I cannot intelligently comment on anything in the art world, so I won't try. I just take pictures of people running around. What I can say is that I was very impressed when I checked out his website. I suspect that you will be also. Here's a link: http://www.timothywjahn.com
Ansel Adams carried his 8x10 view camera all over Yosemite National Park, spending countless hours creating photographs that will live forever. Alfred Eisenstaedt became a legend by capturing moments in time such as the famous kiss in Times Square on V-E Day in 1945. Walter Iooss is one of the greatest sports photographers, and the guy who gets to work on the Swimsuit Edition for Sports Illustrated. I'm sure they all loved their work, were very satisfied with what they accomplished, and were well compensated for their efforts. Today I was the personal photographer for my friend Ashley, a nine year old softball player, and she gave me cupcakes. I WIN!
Tomorrow I play golf at The Club at Morgan Hill in Easton PA. I love this course. It's like playing golf on a roller coaster. There isn't a single hole that is on flat ground from start to finish and many are both up and down hill, with some side hill mixed in. I haven't had much success at Morgan Hill. Scratch that. I haven't had ANY success. Saying it beats me up every time is not sufficient. It's more in the category of aggravated assault, bordering on attempted manslaughter. You would think I would get better treatment from a place with the same name as mine. It's going to be fun.
I just got back from a six day vacation in Ireland. The plan was to play links golf and see some of the sights, both in and out of the pubs. Mission accomplished.
After flying into Shannon I drove about an hour northwest to Lahinch for two rounds of golf and to see the Cliffs of Moher. Driving on the left side of the road can be a little scary, but my tips are to keep repeating to yourself, "keep to the left and slow down", pull to the side and let people pass at every opportunity, check side mirrors to see that you are not too close to the center line or the shoulder, and don't let yourself be distracted. And always look both ways before turning right!! It takes about a day to get somewhat comfortable.
As soon as I arrived in Lahinch I went straight out to play my first round. The golf course at Lahinch is world class, but unfortunately it sustained some damage in the storms they had this winter and was not quite ready for play. Players were required to hit off a mat on the fairway and on some tee boxes. That really hurt the experience of playing there.
The town itself is small, and very quiet this time of year. In the summer it is packed with golfers and surfers. About a 15 minute drive from town are the Cliffs of Moher, and it's worth taking the time to see them. They are very impressive. The cost is 6 Euro per person to park and have access to the Visitor Center. I hoped to get a few good pictures there, but what I got was average at best. The weather and time of day didn't do me any favors.
After a second round of golf the next morning I headed south to Ballybunion. I spent a week there last year, playing 36 holes of golf every day on their two amazing courses. This time they were not yet opened for play due to maintenance, so I only stayed for one night prior to moving on to play at Tralee. I stayed at 19th Lodge B&B, which I highly recommend. It's a very nice house, right across the road from the first fairway of Ballybunion's Cashen course, and you'll never find hosts as nice as Mary and James Beasley.
Getting to Tralee Golf Club is fun. The roads go from narrow to narrower. At least one road is a single lane. When two cars meet, one has to find a place to pull over so the other can get by. It took longer to get there than expected, but I pulled into the lot with a few minutes to spare before my tee time. The course was designed by Arnold Palmer and it's challenging, but very fair. The views there are as good as you'll find on a golf course. I enjoyed playing there very much.
My next stop was Dingle. Dingle is a small fishing town that attracts a lot of tourists. My last day there, a Saturday, I saw several tour busses in the parking lot. I can only imagine how crowded it gets in the summer. The town has quite a few shops and a lot of pubs, most of which have live music at least on the weekends. Other than the pubs, the draw for me was the 30 mile Slea Head Drive, which circles the coast of the Dingle Peninsula. A National Geographic article once called it the most beautiful place on Earth. That's a tough thing to live up to, but I was not disappointed. My plan was to rent a bicycle and ride the loop, but a leg injury forced me to drive it instead. Driving is not a bad option. The loop is a lot more hilly than I thought it would be. There are plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the views, and many of the views are stunning. You can read a good description of the drive from Rick Steves here:
I spent two days in Dingle and I would say that is the minimum for anyone who wants to get a feel for the place. I stayed in the top ranked (by Tripadvisor) guest house in Dingle, Castlewood House, and it is worthy of the ranking. It's far more elegant than what I am used to, the staff is very friendly, and the food at breakfast is excellent (get the Eggs Benedict). It is located just past town on the main road, an easy five minute walk to town center.
Except for the two and a half hour drive the last day to get close to the airport prior to my morning flight home, that was about it. I didn't see or do nearly as much as I could have, but there's always next time.
You can find pictures from my trip in the "Places" folder.