Northforker Weekend: Crossing another item off the bucket list

The view from the 13th crossing at Shinnecock Hills. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Coming up on 40 years old next year, I’m starting to think a lot about my bucket list.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly planning to kick it any time soon, but that pending birthday has made me think about things I haven’t gotten around to doing yet and places I’ve always wanted to see. This mostly involves going to sporting events and seeing new cities. 

It started when my wife asked what I’d like to do to celebrate the Big 4-0. “Would you rather a party?” she asked. “Or maybe a vacation?” We ended up talking for a bit about possibly renting an RV and taking the kids on a ballpark tour.

The reason I ultimately got back to thinking about the bucket list this week was that I crossed off another sports item near the top of my list when I took the train to Southampton for the opening round of the U.S. Open last Thursday.

As a Long Islander, I always just refer to the course as Shinnecock, but I learned very early on why it is in fact formally known as Shinnecock Hills. My friends and I made the decision to start the day walking the back nine, which meant climbing the hills along the 10th fairway, watching as a threesome of mostly unknown golfers saw their tee shots bounce and roll into the rough.

With the wind whipping, it was apparent right away that nobody would shoot par for the tournament, something that became reality when repeat champion Brooks Koepka missed a putt on the 18th green Sunday and finished 1-over for the title.

The crowd at the entrance to the course. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

While the course was frustrating for the athletes, most of the complaints I heard about the Open last week was how the crowds and traffic made life inconvenient for them. For me, and I’m sure many others, I was simply grateful to have one of the world’s biggest annual sporting events in my own backyard. (Granted, I don’t have to drive through Southampton every day.)

To beat the traffic, I took the train out of Patchogue. A friend who came from the North Fork took the shuttle bus from Gabreski. Aside from my train being a bit crowded and having some expected delays on the way back to allow for regularly scheduled eastbound trains, neither of us had any real issues traveling this way.

As for the experience on the course, there are few more beautiful sights in the world of sports than the 18 holes at Shinnecock. After walking the back nine, we spent most of our day between the fourth and seventh tee boxes, staked out to see the most talked about group of the day with Tiger Woods and the world’s top two players Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas.

It was the first time I had the chance to see Tiger play in person and his legendary focus was on full display. His sensitivity to noise, was particularly striking.

The crowd was baffled when he suddenly set up to tee off at the seventh hole only to abruptly stop and look off into the distance, peering over those of us gathered to watch one of the game’s great players in action. Everyone looked at each other trying to figure out what caught his attention.

Tiger Woods tees off on the fourth hole. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

It turned out it was the sound of someone’s swing at the fourth tee behind him that distracted him. He’d end up stalling as the next two golfers took their first shots before he took his. It was the faintest sound given the distance, but enough to stop him in his tracks. I suppose you don’t get to be Tiger Woods with a normal set of senses.

The other big takeaway for me was just how effortlessly the PGA can function in what is essentially a makeshift village on a golf course set up to do business for only a handful of days.

I know there were problems along the way, but I can deal with a concession stand running out of chicken sandwiches as the kinks are being worked out on day one. Considering how many people at a given event are volunteers or temporary staff, it’s simply remarkable how the tour can move through a city nearly every weekend and put on a smooth-running tournament for hundreds of thousands of spectators.

• I had said two weeks back I was looking to focus this column on the food I ate at the open, but with a gallery ticket, I ended up eating nothing too extraordinary. In fact, if I had one knock on the event, it would be the lack of localization of the food in the general concession areas. Michelob Ultra and a run-of-the-mill cheeseburger doesn’t make for great copy. I’m sure these decisions are driven by economics, but it would have been great to sip a can of Montauk beer or Bridge Lane wine as I walked the course.

• The first time I ever ate a baked good from Claudia Fleming at North Fork Table & Inn my life was changed forever. To see her on CBS this weekend sharing some tips for strawberry rhubarb cobbler was a real thrill. Speaking of Claudia, she’ll be honored at Dan’s Chefs of the North Fork next month. Much love and congratulations from your friends at northforker.

• Dan’s Papers is also getting set for its GrillHampton event and North Fork Bacon & Smokehouse’s Patrick Gaeta was interviewed in advance of it. Love his Palmer Albariño wine pick!

• Looking for something to do this weekend? There are a couple of worthy cocktail parties Friday: one to support our bays at Macari Vineyards and another to support our rights to watch fireworks explode over them at Sunset Beach on Shelter Island. Strongs Marine is also hosting a fishing tournament Saturday and a Ferrari club Sunday, which should be a pretty cool sight to see.

• North Fork Link, this year’s shuttle service from North Fork Promotion Council, returns July 7. Lisa Finn at Patch attended a press event introducing it.

• We rolled out a new monthly column last week from Sara Berliner, who runs the North Fork Family social media accounts. She has a lot of fun ideas for future topics, so be sure to check out her work toward the end of each month.

• Mixologist Joe Coleman of Grace & Grit is a go-to for us for cocktail pieces and we’re formalizing the relationship with a regular monthly column from him as well. He’ll also be featured in our July issue, which hits newsstands next week. Check back for his first column tomorrow and be sure to make his “Last Dance” recipe.

• One parting thought: IT’S SUMMER!

Grant Parpan is the content director for Times Review Media Group, overseeing a number of things, including content planning for northforker.com and magazine, the posts and videos we create for advertisers, and the company’s digital platforms. Have an idea for a story? Email him at gparpan@timesreview.com.