By John Garrity
Thursday, March 08, 2007

POIPU BAY, HAWAII -- Jim Furyk is the leader at the halfway point of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, and I'd like to get into that. But I just left the Champions' Dinner at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, and I'm thinking the winner is Grand Hyatt executive chef Larry Eells for his seared opah musubi with plum pickle accompanied by soft-shell-crab spider slaw. Chef Eells entered the Grand Ballroom a decided underdog to Hawaiian hotshots Sam Choy, Roy Yamaguchi and Russell Siu, but Eells was on his home course, and his opah -- that's a fish, for those of you who don't watch the Food Channel -- was opulent.

But that's just my opinion. And this week my opinion counts for even less than usual, because I'm not covering the tournament for Sports Illustrated. Instead, I'm amusing myself for Sports Illustrated. On Sunday, I strolled next door to the Poipu Bay Golf Course and played a relaxing round with the distinguished Turner Sports essayist and bottle washer, Jim Huber. On Monday, I pulled on my green golf glove and went out as one of Tiger Woods' pro-am partners, garnering an impressive first-place trophy for my efforts. Two hours later, I drove to the airport in Lihue to pick up my wife. I then drove her mad with a shot-by-shot account of my round, which I styled after Huber's work, only with more words.

Today, I didn't play. I spectated. I followed Furyk, Woods, Geoff Ogilvy and Mike Weir for all 18 holes of the first round, stopping now and again for a macadamia-nut cookie or a quick nap in the shade of a palm tree. At day's end I was footsore and red around the edges, but I came away convinced that the PGA Grand Slam and Poipu Bay combine for the best spectator experience in golf.

I'll spare the fancy prose -- I'm not working, remember -- and just list my reasons.

No grandstands. The Grand Slam's four golfers start on the first hole and walk for four hours. If you want to see some golf, you have to walk, too. The upside is, you don't have to sit on a wooden plank for three hours, broiling in the sun, to watch Tiger two-putt from 20 feet.

One group. What's better than a four-man field? You get to see every shot by every player. As opposed to the 80.000 fans at the 1997 Phoenix Open who only saw Tiger's hole-in-one on TV replays.

Great marshals. I've never seen crowd-control handled so gracefully. Dozens of smiling but well-trained volunteers direct spectators into wide lanes around the tees and greens, enabling everyone to keep up.

Fairway access! Where, since the 1960s, have you been able to follow pro golfers up the fairway and watch them hit their approach shots from behind? Hey, you can actually see the flight of the ball!

Everybody wears shorts and flip-flops. It's not simply a question of being laid back. Most of these spectators look as if they slept in a hammock after a long day doing nothing.

The 13th hole. That would be the water-guarded but drivable par-4 that was shortened to about the length of a driveway to bring out the gambler in the four pros. (Tiger's round tanked at 13. He blew his drive into the drink and made bogey, while the other guys made birdies.)

Trade winds. Where do the Hawaiians get these 12-mph breezes that ruffle your hair and cool your brow while you read Michener and split pineapples with a machete?

The cliff hole. That would be Poipu Bay's 15th, which plummets from a pinnacle tee to a sun-drenched sward on a vertigo-inducing cliff. Knuckleheads ignore the warning signs and creep out on the lava-rock rim to stare down into the sea. Haven't they ever seen a whale before?

Rainbows. It seems like every afternoon brings a brief sun shower and a brilliant band of color. Davis Love's victory 'bow at the '97 PGA pales in comparison.

The way I see it, there's only one way they could spoil Poipu Bay for spectators -- by letting in too many spectators. But that's an argument for another day. Tiger trails by three, the ballroom cleanup is stacking chairs, and I'm off to bed with visions of plum pickles dancing in my head.

You 'da man, Chef Larry.

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