by | June 29, 2012 4:35 pm


GRASS VALLEY, Calif. — With the U.S. Open being played in San Francisco this summer, I realized I could start the trip in Los Angeles, take a long drive up the coast to the Olympic Club and subsequently to Sacramento, which would provide an opportunity to visit with friends along the way. 

   The sports beat is fun, but it doesn’t take much effort to enhance a trip to a golf competition. There is more to experience than witnessing the efficient striking of a golf ball. I like that and also enjoy spending time with past champions like Jack Fleck and Billy Casper and sitting in on press conferences to hear Jim Furyk detail his round or see Tiger Woods scowling about something or other. But the side trips, the exposure to different landscapes, and rubbing up against the flavor and lifestyle of the left coast with friends is often more stimulating than the golf. 

   Seeing the sunset at Santa Monica beach, observing the cultural mix of people, and reflecting on the history of Golden State makes you realize there are some features to California that are truly golden. To enjoy breakfast at a place in Santa Monica called Farmhouse, where you can get eggs and bacon just like Everywhere, USA, with Steve Oney, an LA resident who once worked with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and wrote an illuminating book on the murder of Leo Frank ? a story which took place in Marietta in 1913 but is a fresh reminder of how far a mob will go when it takes the law in its own hands. To spend time with Rob and Julie Moran (who have Georgia ties) and see them underscore family objectives with daughters Maiya and Makayla ? finishing the last week of school, taking in a recital, going to church, and enjoying family oriented outings at the beach, a backyard cookout that included corn on the cob and iced tea ?makes you feel right at home. 

   At Santa Monica Beach, you can relax or you can tour the Marion Davies home, which was built by newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst who had the notion, “nothing but the best” for his mistress, who once said, “With me, it was 5% talent and 95% publicity.” 

   At a stop at Pepperdine and after a visit with Ed Larson, onetime UGA professor who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book “Summer for the Gods,” you learn that his book, “Empire of Ice,” (about Shackleford’s exploration to the South Pole) has had him making appearances in London and Sydney. We ate blueberries from bushes he planted and enjoyed a nice California Syrah from Terry Hoage Vineyards. Larson drove us down to Malibu Beach by Barbara Streisand’s home but mostly talked about the likelihood of a national playoff for college football. Ed is a passionate sports fan. 

   At Paso Robles, you find Hoage, former Georgia All-American defensive back, in blue jeans and dusty shoes, tending his highly productive vineyard. When his wife, Jennifer, cooks supper, Terry can go into his winery and draw a carafe of wine from his best vintage, “The Hedge,” named for Georgia’s famous hedges. Of all the things I would like to be able to do in life, I think that would be one of the most fulfilling.  Draw your own wine from your own vat for supper! How great is that? 

   When San Francisco is overrun on the weekend, you have to fight the wave of tourists, but you can’t ignore the opportunity to ride “the little cable cars halfway to the stars.” I can remember when it was 50 cents and you could just jump on at Fisherman’s Wharf and ride halfway to your hotel. Now you stand in line, maybe 45 minutes or longer, and the fare is six bucks. Nonetheless, I am in incorrigible tourist. 

   If you take dinner at Scoma’s and a drink at Aliota’s, you comingle with countless visitors. Your spirits are elevated with the quirky flights and abrupt squawks of seagulls but insulted by the abundant motorcyclists who have discovered Fisherman’s Wharf and rev their engines in your face. 

   A tour of Sacramento State, hosted by Bobby Etter, the ingenious Bulldog place kicker in 1964-66 leads to Grass Valley to spend time with an old high school pal which segues to the final stop at Lake Tahoe for lunch and a visit to the Donner   Museum at Truckee. You remember the Donners? Some in the party survived a brutal winter by resorting to cannibalism. Their plight was brought on by foolishly trying to take a short cut on a route which had not yet been established. 

   Makes you realize that, like “Wrong Way Corrigan,” you do something wrong headed and you may be remembered forever: Donner Museum. Donner Road. Donner Pass. Donner Lake. Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce, Truckee Historical Society. Selah

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