Ball marks – threat or menace?

Sometimes, in the furious pace of daily living, we lose track of what’s really important. Surrounded by shrieking cell phones, hopelessly snarled freeways and a never-ending onslaught of nightmarish economic trends, it’s easy to forget the things that make California great.

Things like, er, unmarked golf courses.

No question about it, there’s nothing like a rolling expanse of perfectly manicured green to bring life back into perspective and make things just a little bit better.

And to remind everyone of this transcendent verity, the Northern California Golf Course Superintendents Association has declared Oct. 8 to 14 “Ball Mark Repair Week.”

(Whaddya mean you don’t know what a transcendent verity is? Get with the program or get a mobilehome in Canarsie, pilgrim…)

During the week, golf superintendents at courses throughout Northern California will actively promote the proper techniques for repairing unsightly ball marks on the green.

You don’t have to swing a mean mashie to appreciate this inspired aesthetic effort, or to lend a hand at your neighborhood golf course. This program is for everyone who cares about enriching the quality of golf and its environment.

“We had such a great response to the Ball Mark Repair Program in the year 2000 that we decided to bring it back again this year,” reported Bob Costa, president of the Northern California Golf Course Superintendents Association. “As stewards of the game, we recognize the importance of education and the need to increase golfer awareness of ball mark repair.”

Damn right, amigo – ball marks hurt everyone…

As part of the effort to beautify regional golf courses, members of the superintendents’ association will be providing valuable advice during the Transamerica Senior PGA Tour at Napa’s Silverado Country Club Oct. 12-14. They’ll be handing out free ball mark repair tools and demonstrating the safe and effective use of the devices.

In addition, easy-to-understand (remember, we’re talking golfers here) posters demonstrating the proper way to repair ball marks will be prominently displayed in golf shops throughout Northern California.

Yes, when Ball Mark Repair Week rolls around this year, you won’t have any excuse for not taking an active role in repairing unsightly blemishes on the green.

Golf courses are among California’s most valuable unnatural resources and, despite the fact that they’re populated by club-wielding fanatics in funny-looking shoes, they’re worth keeping in tip-top shape.

Here’s how you can help:

* Acquire a ball mark repair tool.

* Go to the nearest golf course and identify a ball mark.

* Insert your approved tool at the edge of the mark (NOT the middle of the depression).

* Bring the edges together with a gentle twisting motion, but don’t lift the center. Try not to tear the grass (Like, duh…).

* Smooth the surface with a club or foot. You’re done when it’s a surface that you would putt over.

(NOTE: “Putt” in this context is a golfing term. It doesn’t have anything to do with riding your Harley-Davidson over the damaged area.)

Easy? You bet – and mighty rewarding, too.

Originally published October 7, 2001

Spinach balls: Love ’em or leave ’em…

Much like the Ghost of Christmas Past and fruitcakes that simply won’t die, there are some things that just keep coming back every holiday season.

Like holly.

And mistletoe.

And, er, spinach balls…

Yes, while some newspapers are famous for their heartwarming stories of holiday cheer or tales of bright-eyed Christmas tykes renewing their faith in Santa Claus, we’re best known for our spicy spinach balls.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

Trouble started nearly nine years ago when the newspaper’s perpetually perky food editor conducted a reader cooking contest, complete with a “Taste of the Season” cookbook, three truckloads of monogrammed coffee cups and some funny-looking spoons.

“What fun!” she trilled.

When the cloud of flour cleared and the last remnants of gravy were washed from our walls, we had a cookbook and in that cookbook we had a recipe for spinach ball hors d’oeuvres courtesy of Rosemary Ingram of Fairfield. And therein lies our recurring holiday dilemma.

Long after the cookbook was nothing more than yellowed newsprint, the community’s hunger for Rosemary’s spinach balls continued.

Every few months, we’d get a frantic call from a local cook who absolutely had to have the spinach balls recipe no later than yesterday:

“I’ve got 200 people coming for dinner and I left the recipe for spinach balls in Hayfork with Uncle Rudy and he’s, like, dead…”

So we reprinted copies of the recipe and we mailed out copies of the recipe and we faxed copies of the recipe and we even included the recipe in some rather obscure newspaper gift packages. And the calls continued to come in.

Finally, in 1995, we said no more.

“This is your last chance,” we sternly warned.

And our readers responded like they always do. They ignored us.

The calls slacked off for a year or two, but last week another frantic cook was on the phone following the elusive siren song of spinach balls.

I suppose I could have hung up, or told the caller “That recipe is no longer available. Have you considered courgettes a la mentonnaise?”

But no, I gave in and agreed to reprint the spinach balls recipe one last time.

This is really, really it. amigos. The last time. The very last time. Get it now or forever suffer in silence while you nibble on Vienna sausages and clam dip.

Spinach Balls

3 10-oz. packages of frozen, chopped spinach

3 cups herb seasoned stuffing mix

1 large onion, finely chopped

6 eggs, well beaten

3/4 cup margarine

1/2 cup grated parmasean cheese

3 tablespoons black pepper*

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon of thyme

Cook spinach, then drain and squeeze as dry as possible.

Combine all ingredients, mix and shape into small balls.

Bake on lightly greased cookie sheet at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

* You may want to halve the amount of black pepper.

Makes about 90 to 110 balls.

That’s it. The last time. Really. And no whining about the pepper, either. It’s good for you…

Originally published December 3, 2000