But what I really liked about the new date was THE PLAYERS new position between the Masters and the U.S. Open. With five monthly whopper tournaments on the schedule now, theres no time to let down. No time for swing changes or hibernation. Get your brain right: Its big tournament season. THE PLAYERS has succeeded in enhancing the events on either side of it. I enjoyed the Masters even more, knowing there was another must-see tournament just down the calendar. And I feel the same way about our national championship.
Im also looking forward to the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club for three other reasons: location, location and location. I grew up in Pittsburgh, of which the little village of Oakmont is a suburb. Everyone in Pittsburgh, golfer or not, good player or hack, stands in awe of this huge swath of sporting real estate. Its right up there with the late, great Forbes Field, Pitt Stadium, the not-as-pretty but just as historic Three Rivers Stadium, and the current venues, PNC Park (Pirates), Heinz Field (Steelers) and Mellon Arena (Penguins). In a city that eats it sports by the big, hot bowlful, Oakmont is a major course in the feast.
Id like to offer a little friendly guidance for enjoying one of the friendliest cities in America. Yes, I hear you: Im biased. Well, of course I am. Thats the point.
Play Ball. Yes, the Pirates are in town, starting Tuesday of Open week. Go. There are two three-game interleague series, one against Texas, the other versus the White Sox. (Theyre all 7:05 p.m. starts, except Sunday, which is 1:35 p.m. But you should be at Oakmont then anyway.) PNC Park follows the pleasing trend of integrating ballyards with the city, la Camden Yards in Baltimore. The city skyline rises beyond the outfield, just across the Allegheny River. Very cozy, very pleasant. Sorry about the team, but its a building year. (By this time, we should have been able to build a skyscraper.) Oh, and dont miss rubbing the toe of each of the big statues of Pittsburgh baseball heroes outside the stadium: Honus Wagner (home plate entrance) and Willie Stargell (left field rotunda gate) and Roberto Clemente (center field gate).
Youre So Thin; Eat Something. Pittsburgh is one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the country, thanks to immigration from all over the world to fuel the industrial revolution starting in the mid-19th century. That means if you want to find a halupki, a kreplach or a bowl of borscht, you can. If you just want to find out what these things are, you need only stop someone on the street. If the Italians dont know, theyll have a Polish friend down the street.
That said, all kinds of interesting foods, ethnic and non, are available in Pittsburgh. If youre up late (or early), dont miss Primanti Brothers, the sandwich dive originally meant for truckers and produce workers in the citys wholesale Strip District (Penn Ave., Liberty Ave. and Smallman Street in the 12 blocks or so north of 10th Street). Here, your pastrami, roast beef, whatever, is piled onto thick slices of Italian bread with whatever fixins you like. Fries with that? Sure ' right on the sandwich. (Were a very efficient city.) Dont knock it til youve noshed it. And the people watching at 2 a.m. is the best anywhere ' black tie next to black light t-shirts, do-rags side by side with doo-wop. Dig it. Open midnight to 3 p.m. Oh, and if the guy who ordered the same as you did gets charged 50 cents less, go with the flow. You probably got more meat.
Traffic of Steel. Hey, the city is what, 300 years old? Give us a break. Straight didnt work well in colonial times. Fact is, its not a city of direct routes. That applies especially to the Oakmont area. One two-lane bridge takes traffic from State Route 28 across the Allegheny and up Hulton Road to the golf course. Leave earlier. Be patient. Strike up a conversation with the guy in car going the other way. Chances are hell have time to show you pictures of his grandkids before the light changes.
If Youre So Inclined. For one of the best city views in the world, ride the Monongahela or Duquesne Inclines. These special railcars run on the tilted tracks that hang on the side of Mount Washington, the huge ridge just south of downtown. Theyre our version of cable cars. At one time (my grandmothers), more than a dozen inclines took people, goods and even horses and carriages up and down the regions steepest hills in an age before a lot of folks could afford cars. Now, the inclines offer unobstructed views of a shimmering downtown, which begins at the point of a triangle of land where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. (The Ohio flows into the Mississippi eventually, so we figure Mark Twain owes us.)
Pronunciation. Dont let the river names throw you. Just do mouth stretches and repeat after me: Allegheny (al-uh-GAIN-ee), Monongahela (muh-non-guh-HAY-luh) and Ohio (Paterno has more coaching knowledge in his little fingoh, sorry; got carried away).
The People. I saved the best for last. You will never find more pleasant, friendly, helpful and charitable folks than the ones I grew up with. It may be the best place in America to have a flat tire, because someone will stop. Heck, a whole crew of guys might stop. One will detail your car while the others change the tire.
Seriously, though ' I think youll like it there. These people will put the open in U.S. Open.
See you there.
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