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Christmas Letter 2010

Dear Friends,

I guess you’ve been wondering why you haven’t heard from us in a couple years at this joyous time of year.  Well suffice it to say the internet has arrived in all corners of the globe!  I’m afraid to say I am unable to give you my exact location due to a less than friendly government but it’s looking good for a full exoneration and pardon…Hallelujah indeed!

And now on to a  little update on The Halls.

Audrey had a peculiar year to say the least  tending bar in a small taberna along the Mexican border.  The way she tells it is both funny and exciting, a cross of Ian Fleming meets Rachel Ray.  You see while I have been “away” she of course has had a few things around the house needing repair.  Although mail is erratic in my current digs I do get copies of some rather large invoices from handymen.

One in particular, I was to find out months later, led to her interesting time south of the border.  I wasn’t even aware we had a fireplace but apparently it was crumbling and needed immediate repair.  Audrey, conscientious homeowner that she is, called a repairman right away.   It seems he ended up staying a few day while he finished his work and fell in love with Audrey’s famous Margaritas.

It turns out this gentleman, Juan I think, is also a partner in Las Chicas Blancas, a small family owned establishment along the Rio Grande and was in desperate need of a bartender.  Well Audrey just doesn’t know how to say no to a person in need so off she went…what a sweet and considerate wife I have…love ya hun.

Since both Mom and Dad were elsewhere most of the year the boys dealt with their “Home Alone” odyssey with typical responsibility and trustworthiness.  Granted they had to sell off most of our things including  the boat and cars to keep themselves in peanut butter but I thought it showed real substance of character to save the furniture for firewood.  There’s always time to finish High School after all.   Granted it’s a little barren around the old ranch but we’ll make due.

We are just so thankful to be together this Christmas another banner  year and hope this finds your family as happy and healthy as ours.

Merry Christmas!

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Mother’s Day 2010

Mothers Day is today.  When I was a kid I used to say “Why isn’t there a kid’s day?”  My Mom would say dragging out the first sylable…evvveryday is kids day.”  You too?

Well she of course was right about this and everything else she used to say including what a good son I was.

I’ve devoted this space to Mom before and between us friends when I need a good cry I go back and read it.  It may sound arrogant to tell you I bring myself to tears once a year but really it’s more sincere than false, and I love it every time.

But that was then and this is now.  I want to tell you about my good wife and the Mother she has turned out to be.  You can tell by the photo above that at 23 she  was (and is)  a stunner.  A head turning beauty with more charm than sense.  When her Dad, the Rev. Dr. Claiborne Bell, ushered me into his office to ask for her hand, he was as kind as he was concerned.  For that I am forever grateful.

A Catholic boy with questionable prospects was going to take his light away…he was a learned man but more than that he was a man of faith…faith in young people and real or imagined, faith in me.

A few years later we had welcomed two boys into our world and family and ever since Audrey has been devoted to them in every beautiful sense of the word.  As little boys I was a Friday- Sunday Dad.  Off to here or there to make a living and a career…calling home at bath time from a 5-star resort in Scottsdale, Sea Island, or Hawaii…it’s what we did.

She on the other hand gave up her life for them.  She was there for the first smile, walk, words, and post-diaper moment.  Audrey left CNN on all day just to hear adults’ voices…tough stuff at times for someone with a wonderful way with people and a very good education…but it’s what we did.

What was the return?

Two exceptionally grounded kids with many accomplishments behind them and countless ones ahead. Every hour you spent at home will continue to pay dividends.

I want to say publically honey that it was you and all you…and it was worth it.

Happy Mother’s Day, you’re The Best In Golf.


Your “Boys”

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Masters Report, Part 2 of 2

My parents, George and Connie, are bit of a  shall we say, unusual story.

George wasn’t a child of the depression, he was already an adult.  Born in 1904,   Theodore Roosevelt was to be reelected that fall after the assassination of William McKinley and would go on to to win 32 states with over 7 million votes.

By comparison Barack Obama won 28 states and just shy of 70 million popular was a different time.

George was a Golf Pro…check that, he was an Old Pro.

Connie had an  interesting childhood to say the least…which over a Grey Goose I would be more than happy to take you through…for the sake of time and privacy though suffice it to say she grew up in trying circumstances to become one of the people in life you just gravitate to, a person you might want to be like…she lacked the ability to judge people by their appearance, religion, or any other differentiation we force on each other…a beach girl with all the moves…she was 22 years younger than George.

I tell you all this for a reason…it’s Masters Report Part 2.

We left home at the reasonable hour of 4:00 PM  Wednesday, making our way to Aiken,  SC.

The next day Michael, 17, David, 14, and Audrey, timeless,  would experience their first Masters,  As I may have mentioned in a previous post, my old friend Fred Warren put it best.  “I only want to go if I can take someone for the first time.”

Brilliant, that described our adventure.

We took Old Hwy 78 through the country to Aiken.  The Dogwoods, Plums, and Forsythia were in all their glory…stop here for a little tip.  When you  can stay off the interstate in the South in the Spring, do it…it’s more than worth the hour you lose.

We had dinner in downtown Aiken.  It was just a pleasant coincidence that 62 years earlier to the day, George and Connie were married a block from where we had Jalapeño Poppers and Patty Melts…they were married during The Masters on April 7, 1948…Bobby Locke, the South African golfer, was the Best Man. That same year he would win  The Chicago Victory Open by 16 and in the next 10 years three British Opens…the boy could golf his ball.

Never really heard the whole story but who cares?  Just try to  imagine the suits everyone wore.

Then not so early to bed thanks to friends Meg, Laura, Joe, and Patty.

Next day broke bright and warm as it should be in Jaw-Ja in April.  We made our way to the course at the un-Godly hour of 10.  I was teaching my boys that it’s not quantity at The Big One but quality…they had no trouble staying in bed.

The rest of our magic day:

10:00 – 11:30 Amen Corner in the bleachers behind 12 tee, several pre-lunch pimento cheese sandwiches consumed

11:45-12:30- a tour of the Press building by friend Geoff Russell.  Several celebrity spottings but no more important than the young and intrepid reporter from The Fort Worth Press,  Dan Jenkins.  He was enjoying a late  morning Marlboro when I approached him.  All I wanted was for Mike and Dave to remember they met him at The Masters (his 53rd) when they were young.  He was gracious and friendly, mission accomplished and  dead solid perfect.

12:30-3:00- more food, a little sweet tea, and some wandering around the course by the boys.  Audrey and I had worn ourselves out from the hills so we sat under the big tree.  His Tigerness teed off at 1:47, a sight to see and a sound to hear…all was forgiven by the reaction of the patrons that day. During their travels the boys witnessed Phil’s first eagle of the week at 13 … they delivered a stellar report of the event.

A few hundred bucks in the concession “tent”  and out of there… home fishing on the dock at 7:20…martini at my right hand.

For the first time ever we all watched the broadcast together all day Sunday… coincidence?

What a day.

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Masters Report Part 1 of 2

It was 1994 when Audrey and I moved to Atlanta.  We had each “served” 10 years or more in Chicago with the good and the bad.  The good being lifelong friends who we still laugh with, the bad being 5:00 wake-up calls to move the car before the snow plow buried you for several days.

Upon arrival to the heart of the new south I started working with a new group of neat people, many of whom I am still connected.  Ed Butler, who for the last 8 years has been my business partner, was my boss and Freddy Warren, then my co-worker, now a bitch of a competitor at Links Magazine.

But the guy who made my week this week was Steve Howard…let me explain.  First though a quick story.

When “SH” and I were first getting to know each other he asked me if I had ever been to a “bigtime”  college football game.  He’s a Georgia Bulldog and as all southerners know college football in the south is King, Queen, Prince and Princess.  Wanting to sound at least somewhat traveled I replied that I’d been to USC-Notre Dame, Michigan-Ohio State and was there the day Northwestern clinched their first Rose Bowl since ’49.

“No” he replied, “I’m talking about BIGTIME  college football”…’nuff said.

On to our topic…about 1997 or so the practice rounds at The Masters had gotten out of hand.  The usual routine of selling tickets the day of had become as antiquated as the mashie-niblick.  For whatever reason (Tiger) the world had awakened to the fact that one could lay down 10 bucks and stroll the fairways of Jones, Hogan, Palmer, and The Bear.

So what they did was pure Green Jacket.  They created a lottery for practice round tickets.  We all filled out the form,  anxiously awaiting word…Steve was the only winner.

Fast forward a couple years and I’m sitting in my office minding my own business.  Steve intercoms me and tells me to come down to his office right away, something was afoot.

He had just received a letter from Augusta National.  They explained in “The Letter”  that they  had cut off the waiting list when The Rockford Files was the number one show on TV and needed to replenish.  Steve, the letter continued, could expect to be the owner of Masters badges within a few years.

This obviously shocked us as we read the letter for the fifth time and sure enough the next year Steve was a badge holder to the most prestigiuous sporting event in the world…not the state, not the country, but the world.

So this year I called him back in March and told him of my lament that my kids and great wife had never seen The Masters.

His response was swift and typical of him.  The badges were mine to take the family.  Wow what a conversation.

Next post…the day itself.

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On The Eve of Something Different…

About a year ago, plus or minus, my son Michael was born.  He came into the world in a not so usual way.  After several hours of labor he was on his way.

Audrey  worked as hard as a looper lugging a Burton leather bag uphill at Oakmont in the summer, and was  understandably wrecked to say the least… but something was wrong.

The jovial “we’ve done this a hundred times this month” attitude of the OB and nurses vanished.  His umbilical chord was wrapped around his neck and every second mattered.  I was too scared to lend any sort of support I’m embarrassed to say and the combination of Audrey’s strength and the Ivy League education of the Doctor and the ice-in-the-veins calm of the nurses pulled it out in the end.

I assure you Jack never made a 4-footer to win a major with more quiet confidence.

His little brother David came along just a few weeks later  with a lot less fanfare but an equal amount  of hard work by his Mother. Fulfilling my part with the style and aplomb my friends have come to expect, I  inhaled a nice piece of cherry pie in the cafeteria a few minutes before the delivery.  Never let it be said I didn’t shine at the moment of truth with gritty determination…no ice cream on the pie but a half pack of Marlboro Lights outside the maternity ward.

A few days later on the way back to the hospital I informed Big Bro that we were heading to McDonald’s and then would be retrieving Mom and baby brother to bring them home.  “Oh No” said The Heir…we could visit them but no way was The Spare coming home with us…and he was serious.

It seems as I write this that  I’ve made a slight error.  They weren’t born this year…it only seems that way to a me.  They are in fact almost 18 and almost 15…an Eagle Scout and a soon to be Eagle Scout.  A 4.0 + student looking at colleges and an equally good student upstairs either playing his violin or his Stratocaster….two respectful, smart boys who always have the time to help with no questions asked.

Don’t let anyone tell you the youth of today are in trouble…I have mine and know many of my friend’s kids who prove they are better than we were in every way.

Where in the world has it gone?

It’s Spring Break.  As long as my boys have been alive Masters Week has been Spring Break.  I spent the first few days in Augusta with clients having fun, drinking Kettle One and Silver Oak…rare beef and bluebird sky rounds of golf with a caddie.

No complaints to be sure, it was important to the business…and just plain crazy fun.

It occurred to me about the middle of last summer though that in a very short time they will be off on the adventure that is the rest of their lives…not mine, but theirs…and they had never been to The Masters.

I on the other hand had become bored with it.  Too much trouble with the traffic and the crowds…I was too cool to care…what a spoiled brat I had become.

Thankfully though I woke up from my near-end-of- round nap and am taking them this year on Thursday.  The irony of it being Tiger’s reboot isn’t lost on any of us.  His first day back will be my first day walking down the hill at 10 with my boys…circling down 11 and at 12 and, if there’s room, hanging out in the grandstand for a couple hours.  My hope is we will share our first pimento cheese sandwich there.  This is about us.

I’ll say “Hogan always waited to feel the breeze on his cheek before teeing of on #12” sounding smart and not knowing or caring in the least if the legend is true.  We’ll sit by 16 green, trudge up 17 and 18, and head home.

Don’t wait…next post,  The Masters  Report.

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I Hit A Golf Shot Today…

After three weeks of swinging my weighted club, watching what I eat, and dreaming of Royal Dornoch, I hit a real golf shot today.

It was a  6-iron on the par- 3 fifth at Cassique on Kiawah Island, SC.  What makes it cool is, depending on the previous hole,  you either play a ball busting uphill par 3 or a downhill easy one shotter where most of the holes-in-one in the county are made.

Ours today was the more difficult of the two.  My shot wasn’t close…Mark E. Mark hit it a lot closer and made birdie…but my shot was as good as I’ve hit it in months.  The road is long but I think I can make it.

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