Archive for February, 2006

Saturday Night in Kerikeri

Posted: February 27, 2006 in Uncategorized

Update:  After my trip to New Zealand, I wrote this article for Bloomberg Markets magazine:  Julian Robertson’s New Course

… and here’s a brief synopsis of the trip.

Saturday night is a night out on the town of Kerikeri, a sleepy little village that Julian says reminds him of growing up N.C. as a kid 60 years ago. “People are very casual and little kids run around barefoot all over the place. I just love it,” he says.

Me, Julian, Josie, their son Julian III, Jason (the club’s Kiwi-born pro) and his leggy, blonde wife Diana head to Re-Co, a local Tapas Bar. (As predicted, barefoot children are wandering about the property.) As we enter, many local stare in Julian’s direction, but I suspect they are more interested in Diana, who is wearing 4-inch heels that make her over 6-feet-tall. Julian mingles with friends, as we find a table under a Ponga tree. “I need a beer,” Julian says. Gotta love the guy!

The man dubbed in the local papers simply as the “Rich American” marvels at the fact that we all can eat a hearty dinner for less than $100 U.S. Yes, he’s truly a value investor.

After dinner, during which Julian comments about the “fantastic figure” of our waitress, we head to the new Centre at Kerikeri (Which was built with the help of about $2 million of Julian’s cash) to see Mass Ensemble, a Malibu, California-based performance troupe that was on the second night of a two-day gig.

The two-hour show, which featured an earth harp (whatever that is), yoga dancers, a three-armed guitar, and drums mounted on the wall made to resemble clouds, was one of the more interesting performances I’ve ever seen. Julian seems to enjoy it and comments on the “incredible flexibility” of the tattooed, blonde yoga dancer. Gotta love the guy!

Sunday, I wake to a stunning sunrise coming up over the 10th fairway.

Cows moo in the pasture below my porch, as I grab a fresh mango from the fruit bowl. (Note to self, tell Debra to ask for more mango in the weekly office food orders. I think we can all agree on that!)

At 8:30 a.m., I have the practice range to myself as Julian and family attend mass at the VERY quaint St. James Anglican Church in Kerikeri (one of the oldest churches in NZ, I’m told by Diana, who said “I do” to Jason in the church.)

I play 18 holes in 2 1/2 hours by myself, carding my third 91 of the trip, but this time I played from the 7,100 yard blue tees just for “fun.” I’m loving the new grip Jason has me using! What a guy.

Oddly, It’s Sunday morning, sun is shining, wind is calm, the course is one of the world’s best, and I note the fact that me and another single are the only one’s on the course. (I was informed of this by the pro shop staff when I stop to leak after 9 holes, and I have to take their word for it because I never physically see the alleged chap.) Clearly Julian isn’t making money off the course.

My new mate “Photographer John” and I corral Julian after he returns from church and usher him to the 17th green where we have scouted out a spot for his cover portrait. It’s a lovely location, with the Cavalli Islands in the background. Stunning, really.

Julian is a good sport, as the shoot takes about 30 minutes due to the constantly changing light. While John’s trigger finger fires away — “Julian, you look magnificent,” he says. “Oh, you’re a natural! Brilliant mate!” — Julian casually greets the stunned guests as they arrive on the green.

“I’m so glad y’all like it,” the owner says in a southern drawl before I usher him back to his mark (two tees stuck into the green) for a few more pictures.

After helping packing up his gear, John and I tag along with Julian and Josie for another nine holes. This is when the big man is at his finest. He loves to compliment himself on well-struck shots, while loudly wishing against his wife’s efforts. The bogey-filled banter is classic stuff.

As Julian hits a pitch from a drastic sidehill lie, over a ridge onto sloping green, I tell him that is was a “great shot.” He grins, quickly turns to me and replies “It was WONDERFUL shot, just a fantastic golf shot!”

Wiped out after a long day, Julian goes to bed at 7 p.m. John, Jason, Diana and I go into town for some grub at Café Jerusalem. Very tasty, actually. After, we then head to a nearby Island to go Kiwi spotting. Kiwis, the flightless treasure of all of NZ, are an endangered species mostly due to the 80,000 possums that hunt and kill the helpless nocturnal birds.

About 90 percent of all NZ natives have never seen a Kiwi in the wild, Jason tells me. If so, how can it be that I might actually see one? We wander through the bush for about 90 minutes with our guide, flashlights at the ready.

We all stop, flashlights go dark. Our guide hears one in the bush about 5 meters away. We stand still waiting for the little bugger to pop onto the path. Alas, he never appears. I’m beginning to feel like the dumb American tourist, only to be reassured by Photographer John that, as a NZ native himself, he though it was “cool mate.”

At least we get to see the Southern Cross and the Milky Way in the clear New Zealand sky.

We drive back, and with thoughts of the long-billed Kiwi dancing in my head, I doze off to bed.

Morning light brings about a helicopter ride with John in Julian’s personal helicopter for some aerial shots. We cruise up the coast with the door of the chopper removed. It’s “Apocalypse Now” in Kiwi-land!

“I love the smell of golf course fertilizer in the morning, it smells like birdies.”

As we hover 300 feet above the 8th tee, the pilot steadies the stick, John works his wide-angle lens, and I just chill in my front seat uttering “Roger, That” into the headset at random times.

We set the bird back down. I take Julian into the lodge’s Tiger Room for a 20-minute sit down interview. After that, John takes the Robertsons onto the course for a few last candid shots.

Sure that we have everything we need, John and I take yet another helicopter ride (at Julian’s insistence) with a French-Canadian waitress from the lodge, her boyfriend and
Landon Nordeman – a photog in town from NYC that went to Duke with Julian’s son.

After a 45-minute flight, Andrew (the pilot) gently sets the bird down on a beech in a remote bay. “Roger that,” I proclaim.

Joe, a local Maori who will be taking us via bus through a forest to see Tane Mahuta, the world’s largest Kauri tree, greets us. The 2,100-year-old behemoth is so big they’ve given it a name. The English translation for the Maori name of Tane Mahuta is “BIG ASS TREE!”

At 169 feet high and about 45 feet around, it’s an unbelievable site, but not nearly as fascinating as Landon’s insistence of taking pictures of complete strangers eating ice cream in front of the tree. “It’s just classic,” he says. “This tree is HUGE, I’m halfway around the world, and these people are just eating vanilla ice cream. Classic!”

At this point, I realize that I admire Landon’s outlook. Funny what happens when you stare at the world all day through a camera lens, I figure.

The tree, legend has it, was discovered in the 1930s by some local road builders who had wandered into the bush to take a leak. True story, sadly.

The trip back to the lodge features some low-level flying at 125 knots over the crashing waves of 90-mile beach. We also scale some mountaintops and dive down the other side, giving me a taste of how B.A. felt on the A-Team!

Home beckons. John and I make our way to Kerikeri airport.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s even SMALLER than the Hawke’s Bay airport. On the way, we stop for some fish and chips and a few Speight’s beers.

A two-minute drive to the airport, five minutes to check my bags and return the car, a 30-minute wait for my delayed flight and I’m off. When I land in Auckland, I have 40 minutes to get over to the International terminal and make my connection. I get there just as they are boarding. “Roger that!”

After I reach LAX and wait an hour for my bags, I become aware that they didn’t make the flight. Then I discover that my flight to The ATL is delayed for an hour, at the least. And there’s no Hot Spots in the Delta terminal! Heck, I might as well be in NZ with the lack of technology here. Oh well. I still manage to post this using my cell card.

Another 5 hours or so, and I’m home. Roger that!


In The Land of The Kiwis

Posted: February 24, 2006 in Uncategorized

Alright folks… settle down! let me explain myself. This area of the world isn’t quite in touch with technology yet. In order to get online, I am now sitting in the clubhouse at Kauri Cliffs using the club’s broadband line.

Yes, I could have tried harder to post something earlier and TRULY feel bad for letting y’all down. Well, not really. No more excuses. Here we go.

First, let me say I miss my wife and kids tremendously. (that was for extra credit)

On to the journey:

The flight to LAX was fine, but not nearly as nice as Business Class on Qantas.

As I’m walking between terminals at LAX, I hear Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip, utter during a concert playing in my ears…”This one is for the Muttenbirds. The Muttenbirds of New Zealand.” I then realizes this trip is my density… or destiny.

Amazingly, I haven’t crashed the car, yet. It’s a lovely smoke grey Mazda 6. Just like the one driven by Mr. Bureau Chief, other than the fact that the steering wheel is on the right side. I’m still getting used to that fact. Cant tell you how many times I turn the wipers on when I signal to make a turn. (The turn signal is on the right side, idiot!)

After I locate the County Hotel
in downtown Napier and take a much needed shower, I make a call to Cape Kidnappers to meet up with the club’s head pro, Jeremy Carlsen for an afternoon round of golf. The 27-year-old Oxford, England native is a charming fellow who got the job through his friendship with Julian at National Golf Links in the Hamptons. I’m later told that his first six months on the job were hard. His fiance, unhappy with living in NZ, dumped him. “He’s better off without her,” Julian will later tell me in a not-so-sympathetic tone.

Later that night, while having a couple Tui beers at the County, John Crawford, the five-time New Zealand photog of the year strolls up in a pair of lime green clogs, dark sunglasses, a t-shirt and weathered jeans.

The scars on the side of his forehead from the recent removal of a couple melanomas are clearly visible. Crazy looking dude.

Our first day together included 6:15 wake up call and a 30-minute trip back to the course for some pictures as the sun rises. The Cape is where the sun rose first in the world for the new millennium on Jan. 1, 2000.
Me, John and Jeremy are the only ones at the course at this time. Standing on the edge of 500-foot cliffs, staring out at the South Pacific as the sun rises is not a sight that too many people get to see. At this moment I truly feel like king Boondoggle.

Later, I will hit a tee shot off this 16th tee into the ocean. It hangs in the air for 11 seconds! I shoot a 47-44 for a 91. I’m pleased as punch with that, not that anybody cares!

After a night at the Wind Sock, where John and I listen to perhaps the greatest drummer we’ve ever seen, I make my way up to Auckland. From there, I drive 4 hours up the coast to Kauri Cliffs. An Amazing drive!

Kauri Cliffs is about 30 minutes north of Kerikeri, a sleepy town on the northern tip of the North Island.

That night, about 15 guests, including myself, have a barbecue on one of three beaches on the property with Julian and Josie Robertson… this is not a typical barbecue… we have Wahoo, Tuna, Lamb, Steak, Shrimp… and much more. I have now achieved emperor Boondoggle status.
It’s during this dinner that I find out that Julian’s sister, Wyndham, once dated Mike Bloomberg when he worked at Salomon Brothers. A little known fact.

The next day – today – I play golf with Julian, Josie and head pro Jason McCarty, a former pro on the Australasian and Japanese Tours. Julian drops off after nine holes to go take a nap, but not before draining a 15-footer for par on his final hole after I somehow managed to roll in a crazy 35-footer for par. He pumps his fist, stares at me, and says “take that!”

I continue on with Josie and Jason and manage to throw together a tidy 42 on the final nine holes (the front nine) for a total of 91. Yes, that means I shot a woeful 49 on the front, not that anybody cares!

After a post-round shower, I bolt up to the clubhouse

to write this post before I depart with Julian and crew to attend a show at the Kerikeri Arts Theater.

That’s all for now mates! I will try to post again tomorrow to avoid the wrath of the B Pod!

Posted: February 20, 2006 in Uncategorized

I’m sad to report that after winnning our first three preliminary-round games by a combined score of 25-5, we lost our next two games 1-0 and 3-2. The disappointment, combined with a locker room filled with crying 9 and 10 year-old boys, led me to resign my coaching position, effective immediately.

While in Huntsville, I learn that my wife is sick of hearing about my trip to NZ. “She’s sick of hearing about it too!” Mr. Bureau Chief says to b-podders while at the Big Apple Circus!

No Kiwi fruit for her…

At least I don’t frop f-bombs in front of young children! Nice one MJ.

G’day mates.

Posted: February 17, 2006 in Uncategorized

Before going to Kiwi-land, I decided to stop off in Huntsville, Alabama, to coach the Atlanta Fire Squirt A (10-under) travel hockey team in the Southern Youth Hockey League playoffs. It’s a common stopover people make before traveling to the other side of the earth!

As you can see by our league record, anything short of victory will be unacceptable! If we lose, simply blame it on the fact that the coach had his mind on other things!

Two significant developments have occurred prior to my departure. No. 1: I bought a 30GB video Ipod! I can now hang with the cool kids at recess… maybe.

The other bit of news is not so cool. My wingman, one Daniel Acker, who hails from the island of Manhattan, has gotten the boot from the journey. Budget reasons. Now, I will need to track down some random Aussie photog that has stolen Acker’s gig once I arrive in Kiwi-ville. Bummer.

It’s probably for the best though. Acker likely would have gotten in the way, and been thrown to the turf – Bernie Ebbers style! For those unfamiliar with Dan’s work see the following CNN transcript from when he, in a mad dash to get the perfect shot, stepped in front of Ebbers as he was on his was to be sentenced!

S. O’BRIEN: Bernie Ebbers in court for his sentencing hearing.
With a look at that, plus a check of Wall Street, Andy Serwer’s “Minding Your Business” this morning. Good morning.
ANDY SERWER, “FORTUNE” COLUMNIST: Good morning, Soledad.
We have some pictures in of Bernie Ebbers coming into court just about an hour.
He’s a little punchy, I think it’s fair to say. We have that tape here?
Here we go. There’s Mr. Ebbers.
Ooh, is that a bump or a push?
S. O’BRIEN: A push and…
SERWER: That’s a bump.
That was Dan Acker, Bloomberg photographer, who — I think it’s fair to say — got in the way of Bernie…
S. O’BRIEN: Grabs him, pulls him down…
SERWER: And there’s the look, Soledad, the look.
S. O’BRIEN: Well, he’s going to be — he potentially could be sentenced to like 85 years in prison, right?
SERWER: Yes, 85 years, that’s right. Let’s talk about the markets. Stock trading up at this hour on Wall Street. S&P and Nasdaq going for five days in a row.

You will be missed Dan!

Posted: February 14, 2006 in Uncategorized

Family, Friends, Colleagues and Miscreants,

Just in case you cared, I have created this space for you to follow my travels to the far off land of New Zealand from Feb. 20-27.

If you don’t care, or simply find that this blog is a waste of space that details the meaningless minutes of the life of a wannabe Oscar Madison , please click here to read something much more interesting.

While in NZ, I will be visiting with Julian “Don’t Call Me The Big O” Robertson. Read more about him here.

With billions to spare, he decided to build Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers Golf Clubs.

For those unaware, New Zealand, a land reached by the Polynesian Maori in about 800 A.D. , was first settled by the British in 1840. The British colony of New Zealand became an independent dominion in 1907 and supported the UK militarily in both World Wars. New Zealand’s full participation in a number of defense alliances lapsed by the 1980s. In recent years, the government has sought to address longstanding Maori grievances.

The country’s 268,680 sq km land area is about the size of Colorado. With a population of about 4,035,461 (July 2005), metro Atlanta has more residents at 4,708,297 (2004), but far fewer sheep!

(There are 56 million sheep in NZ… That’s 13.8 sheep per person. Party time!)

Kiwifruit (once known as Chinese Gooseberry) gets its name from its fuzzy skin that makes it resemble New Zealand’s flightless Kiwi Bird.

The fruit is very, very nutritious. To learn how to “Sloop” a kiwifruit, see here

New Zealanders have also invented: The self-sealing lid; the stamp vending machine, the wide-toothed shearing comb, the bobby pin; the electric fence; the jet boat and
pavlova (however, the Australian’s also claim pavlova as their invention.
Quite the scandal! I shall get to the bottom of it!

In the meantime, feel free to practice The Haka, while I’m away. When I return I will perform it in person for those who care.

Sing along to the Haka!!!

Ka Mate! Ka Mate!

Ka Ora! Ka Ora!

Tenei te ta ngata puhuru huru

Nana nei i tiki mai
Whakawhiti te ra

A upane ka upane!

A upane kaupane whiti te ra!


English Translation:

It is death! It is death!

It is life! It is life!

This is the hairy person

Who caused the sun to shine

Keep abreast! Keep abreast

The rank! Hold fast!

Into the sun that shines!

Finally, to prove that my children will be in good hands with my wife while I’m away, here’s a picture of my daughter being bit on the head by a dog while under my care in Larchmont, NY.

She was fine. Just a flesh wound. Great pic by dad, though! Quite the shutterbug!