Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Ryder Cup 2014


There were some pretty nasty comments floating around following last Sunday’s conclusion of the Ryder Cup. At least from the contingent on the North American continent.


Every two years, an American contingent of golfers takes on a group from Europe for bragging rights. There is a wee cup that goes to the victors, seventeen inches in height. That little cup is perhaps the most hotly contested piece of hardware in the sporting world today.


For many years, the Americans dominated the game. 1977 was the last year that the championship was played between Americans and golfers from Great Britain and Ireland. European golfers joined the team in 1979, and, for some reason, things have not gone very well for the American golfers after that date. Since 1979, the Europeans have won the title ten times, the Americans seven. Europe has been represented by players from: Spain, Sweden, France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark.


The Europeans won the title for the third consecutive time on Sunday at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. In 2016, the Ryder Cup will be contested in Minnesota. The 2018 Cup will be played in France at Le Golf National Club.


For the past couple of years, legendary golfer Tom Watson has been responsible for assembling the American team. He is the captain, and it was his duty to put together a winning team. There are singles matches, and different types of foursomes. There are 28 points at stake, and teams receive half points for ties.


Following the devastating loss, an American commentator spoke with Phil Mickelson, the most successful player on their team. I was a bit shocked when the interviewer intimated that one day Phil would likely become the captain of the team. I was more shocked when Phil began criticizing the entire American process: team selection, team chemistry, team philosophy. Hardly a team approach from the left-handed player.


Watson had decided to sit Mickelson out for the games last Saturday. Mickelson and Keegan Bradley did not play well Friday, and the captain went with a hunch to play Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. Mickelson was steamed at the slight, and likely dashed his chances of becoming a captain any time soon with his tirade.


The European team was led by Rory McIlroy, the best golfer in the world today. But it was a 38 year old rookie from Wales who really put a pin in the American balloon. Jamie Donaldson was four strokes up on Keegan Bradley with four holes to play. His nine iron shot from 146 yards out rolled next to the cup. That was all she wrote. Captain Watson shook his hand, signalling the European victory.


The Europeans had scored 16 ½ points to 11 ½ for the Americans. They got to pop the corks, and kept the Ryder Cup for the eighth time in the last ten championships.

The players receive no prize money for their efforts. The golf associations and the television networks do quite well from the event. There are enormous crowds following the golfers throughout the week. All matches are hotly contested, to say the least. National pride, and all that stuff.


Serious golf fans on this side of the Atlantic can now go back on their regular sleep schedule. They set their alarms for three in the morning last weekend, as the golf was six hours ahead of us, thanks to Sir Sanford Fleming.


James Hurst

September 30, 2014


Friday, September 19, 2014


World Basketball Championships 2014-Spain



This year’s edition of the World Basketball Championship wrapped up on Sunday night. Naturally, the games were serious stuff here in Spain, as they took place in Barcelona and Madrid. There was a serious setback for the local fans in the quarter-finals, as the Spanish team fell to the French, 65-52. That was not supposed to happen, as the Spaniards were ranked second in the tournament, and were supposed to meet the other team in the final. That would be los Americanos.


The Spanish team is composed of several NBA players of some repute, including former Toronto Raptor Jose Calderon. The brothers Gasol also played for the Spaniards. Pau Gasol led the team with 17 points before he fouled out. Calderon added 5 points, but only played 14 minutes. There was a great hue and cry after the game, from the fans. They were very critical of the coaching staff. They may have been some merit in that; however, the home team made two shots from 22 attempts outside the arc.


Boris Diaw had an awesome game for the French. He led the team with 15 points, knocking down three from beyond the line in 7 tries. Rudy Gobert, who plays for the Utah Jazz, added five points but pulled down 13 rebounds. The French were clearly superior under the baskets, pouring it on in the second half after trailing at half time. Thomas Heurtel pumped in 13 points, at critical times.


Coach Orenga put it simply: “France played better. They controlled the boards, they shot better. This loss saddens me. For the fans, for the organization, for my family, truly sad.” He realizes heads must fall after such a humiliating defeat. His job is in jeopardy.


The semi-finals took place before the weekend championship game on Sunday: France and Serbia, USA and Lithuania. The Serbians disposed of Brazil, 84-56. They were led by Teodosic with 23 points, and Bogdanovic with 12. As is the usual case, the Americans have breezed by their opposition, Mexico and Slovenia. On Saturday night, the Serbs disposed of France, in short order. They jumped out to a large lead, and France was never able to recover. Nic Batum had a huge game for France, pumping in 35 points, going 8 for 10 outside the arc. Teodosic countered with 24 points for Serbia, a strong game.


I watched the Americans play against Slovenia. Needless to say, it was bittersweet for the Slovenian fans. Many had made the trek to Barcelona, only to witness the thrashing by the powerful US squad. Mind you, the American team could have been even stronger, had Lebron, Duncan, Kobe and Wade come to play. The stars are not here. No matter.


For the Europeans, this is important stuff. To us, as Canadians, it is about as important as the World Hockey Championships that they play during the Stanley Cup playoffs. You know that tournament. It is for losers. If you do not make the playoffs, or if you get knocked out early, you can be flown to some exotic European location to pull on a team Canada jersey, take a few shifts, then head home for a long vacation, and watch the Hawks and the Habs on TV.


The Americans crushed the Serbians in the final, 129-92. There was a glimmer of hope for the Serbs early in the game, and they led 15-7. The Americans regained their composure, scored 15 straight points, and never looked back. They ran the floor, they cleared the boards, they drove the lane, they shot out the lights. No contest.


The powers-that-be in international basketball are tinkering with new formats. Good luck. Inevitably, it will be a great contest, for second place. Not much fun in that. 



James Hurst


September 15, 2014




Corrida de Toros 2014

Many of you have always been fascinated with the television coverage of the “Running of the Bulls” that takes place during a fiesta week in Pamplona every year. There are courageous folk who run in the streets, trying to avoid the horns of nasty bulls. It is a dangerous practice, to be sure.

But that same activity also takes place in many other towns and villages in Spain. Usually during the fiesta week, the side streets are barricaded to keep the bulls moving from start to finish. Most often, young bulls are used, and they are accompanied by young cows. This activity is not as dangerous as the one in Pamplona, but still gets the blood stirring.

There are large areas in Spain where you will find empty bull rings. Bullfighting has been banned along the Mediterranean Coast, from the French border as far south as Valencia. Ernest Hemmingway loved the fights, and wrote extensively about the bulls, the fighters, and the mystique of the institution. Several of his books have been made into movies, and, for a better understanding of the subject, they are recommended.

By no means would I consider myself an authority on the subject. I attended one bullfight, more than forty years ago. I was mesmerized from start to finish. I did read extensively on the topic, and I enjoy visiting the sites. A week ago, on Sunday, there were bullfights in several rings in southern Spain. Unfortunately, our schedule did not permit a visit to the ring. There was also a fight in the village of Mijas, in a tiny bull ring that might seat 2 000 people. There are some bull rings that will comfortably hold 100 000 patrons.

The bullfighters working in Mijas come from southern Spain. That is the case with most of the matadors. A majority of the bulls also come from the southern areas of Spain, and are carefully selected before they enter the ring. Christian Guerrero, Lazaro Escalona, and Juan C. Benitez fought the bulls last Sunday. The surname Benitez is famous in the circles of bullfighting, as “El Cordobes” was a Benitez. He was the most famous matador in Spain for many years, and retired virtually healthy.  

That is not always the case, as many matadors, also called toreros, have been killed in the ring. They must work carefully, and quickly, as no bull fight can last longer than 15 minutes. After that period of time, the bull becomes extremely dangerous. There is a large entourage that accompanies the bullfighter: banderilleros, responsible for placing the colourful banderillas on the flanks of the bull, picadors, those on horseback who prepare the bull to charge in a consistent manner, and a host of others.

The entire team parades into the ring before the entrance of the bull. The actual event is broken into three stages, known as tercios. To begin the fight, the torero works the bull with his cape to judge the charge of the bull. The final act is performed only by the matador, using his red cloth, the muleta. In fact, bulls are colourblind, and respond to the movement of the cape, not the colour.

The bullfight has been an institution in Spain for more than two hundred years, and you will also find bull rings in many Spanish-speaking countries, southern France and in Africa. It is not for everyone, but it is a spectacular event, and it captures the imagination of many aficionados every Sunday during the summer throughout most of the country.  


James Hurst

September, 2014.

Sunday, September 07, 2014


Soccer in Italy 2014


They will be lining up at the turnstiles at the Stadio San Paulo in Naples this coming Sunday for the big game between the home team and the visitors from Verona. Of course you will remember that name from Shakespearean plays, and you might still hear Juliet on the balcony looking for her lover. I digress.


There will be more than 60 000 fans jammed into the facility, and they will be keyed up, as the 2014-2015 Italian soccer season is just getting underway. The Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli, the official name of the Naples team, was founded in 1926. They had likely been kicking around the round ball for years prior to that date, but that was when they began in earnest.


The team currently plays in Series A, the highest level of Italian soccer. The team had its greatest seasons shortly after 1994, the year that a certain Diego Maradona arrived in town. He had been convinced to come to Naples from Barcelona with a gentleman’s handshake, and twelve million Euros. In short order, likely with a certain influence from Maradona, the “Blues” began their greatest  years of triumph. They won the Series A title in 1986-87, and also in 1989-90. The won the Copa Italia five times, and won the UEFA Cup in 1988-89.


In a nutshell, “Gli Azzurri”, the Blues, is the most successful soccer club in Southern Italy. In their early days, they were also nicknamed “I Ciuccarelli”, roughly translated as the donkeys. Understandably, it was a derogatory term applied by their friends from the north. Needless to say, there are tremendous rivalries in Italy between the North and the South. Seems to be a somewhat global concept.


Maradona’s time in Naples grew short when he threw a few political comments into the ring. 1n 1990, he made disparaging remarks about the inequality in the country. The World Cup semi-finals were being played in Naples, between the Argentinians, (Maradona’s homeland), and the Italians. Maradona was also quoted as saying: “Naples has always been marginalized by the rest of Italy. It’s a city that suffers the most unfair racism.” He encouraged the Neapolitans to cheer for Argentina.


Shortly thereafter, he tested positive for cocaine, and never again played for the Azzurri. His number 10  jersey is the only one retired by the team, several years after he finished playing for Naples.

By 2004, the Club fell on hard times and went bankrupt. That would be mostly attributable to high wages, small crowds, a weak economy, and no television money. The team was rescued by a group headed by Aurelio De Laurentis, of cinema fame. The team was relegated to the third division, but quickly regained prominence to play in the Series A.


Of the 26 players on the main squad, only 6 hail from Italy. That is the nature of the beast, as all teams are made up of players from the international pool. One of the stars of the Naples team is Mertens, a name familiar to most of us! The season ends next May 31st. The team will play Sparta from Prague on September 18th, then face three Italian teams: Udine, Palermo, and Reggio, Emilia.


A decent seat will set you back more than $ 100, with prices similar to those in the NFL. Rivalries between the clubs are ferocious. Be prepared to duck an explosive or two during the game. Do not wear the other team’s colours in the wrong zone. You will be removed, forcefully.


Excuse me now. I am off to watch the opening season games of the NFL.


James Hurst


September 7, 2014

Monday, September 01, 2014



Golfing in Southern Italy

                                                    Allan Stitt and Steve Molaski

So you’ve lugged that bag of sticks all over Europe, and you’re in Southern Italy without a place to play.

You realize you are staying in the shadow of Vesuvius, that colossal volcano that decimated Pompeii a couple of thousand years ago. You also realize that Vesuvius lies in a volcanic area near Naples, Italy. The Phlegraen Fields are composed of a large volcanic area west of Naples. There are 24 craters and volcanic edifices, most lying underwater. But there are a few that can be observed in the process of hydrothermal activity in several places. In the Solfatura Crater, known as the mythological home of the Roman god of fire, Vulcan, there is constant volcanic activity---spewing of gas and lava.

The beach at nearby Bacoli was once the home of the Roman academy for training its soldiers. The nearby summer villas of Julius Caesar, Nero the fiddler, and the wall builder Hadrian stood along the shores of the Tyrrhean Sea. The third largest amphitheatre in Italy, the Flavian Amphitheatre, lies in the nearby port of Monte di Procida.

Someone suggests a game of golf in a dormant volcano. Excuse me? Yes, they assure us, in a extinct volcano. Now, having just toured the remains of Pompeii, witnessing the decimation of the entire area, I am contemplating the fact that, before the explosion, Vesuvius was supposed to be dormant. I visited Mount St. Helens on the West Coast years ago, furthering my view that no volcanoes are ever “permanently dormant”.

Carney Park is a military recreational facility located in the “permanently dormant” extinct volcano Capiglione, located in the Phlegraen Fields near Naples. The area is almost one hundred acres, lying in the crater covering the smouldering mass of lava below the surface.

The area is now a military facility maintained by the United States Department of Defense. Within the crater you will find, surrounding the exquisite nine hole golf course: an Olympic sized swimming pool, with necessary water slides, five adult softball fields, baseball fields, soccer pitches, football fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, and a host of other game sites. The mandatory snack bar and restaurant is at your service.

You will need to show your passport at the gate, as the area is under the jurisdiction of the American military.

We were accompanied by Lieutenant Colonel Steve Molaski, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, stationed at the NATO base near Naples. Also playing was Allan Stitt, current Senior Champion at the Bay of Quinte Country Club in Belleville. Both of those gentlemen know a thing or two about the game. Stitt was most impressed with the course.

The next day, we climbed Vesuvius in Steve’s trusty Ford Focus. Amazing geological structures, incredible hospitality!

James Hurst
September 1, 2014 


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