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Honest answers, good guys and other random thoughts

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Random thoughts while waiting for Annika Sorenstam's real score at Colonial.

I spent the last week talking to golf course directors, resort general managers, and state and local tourism officials across the U.S. about the impending war with Iraq. I received two types of responses when I asked about the potential impact on the golf and travel industry: honest ones and public relations drivel.

No surprise there. The big shocker was the origin of the honest answers. Arizona and Florida rely on tourism like Adam Sandler relies on bad humor being the opiate of the masses. But tourism spokespersons from both states didn't pull any punches when asked point blank if war would ravish their golf and travel industries.

The general take from Florida: The war, no matter how long it lasts, will be devastating during the first couple months. But we aren't going cry on our Grouper sandwiches while our fairways and amusement parks sit empty. We are going to drop all guises and compete on price. We are going to promote the heck out of intrastate travel. We will survive.

The general take from Arizona: Our golf industry stomached a 50 percent decrease in business following 9-11 and it could be years before our group sales return to late 1990s levels. For now, we'll suck it up and rely on our solid local base and just forget about any international business. We will ban together to stretch cooperative advertising dollars. We will survive.

The key to sustaining the golf and travel industry amid war and a beaten down economy will be a sober recognition among golf destinations that they are going to have to change the way they package, market and price their product. From the looks of it, the biz is in good hands.

Leonard is one of Tour's good guys

A non-travel related item, but I have to get something off my chest. Justin Leonard won the Honda Classic last week in true Leonard fashion - by coming from behind. Leonard has a new swing, a new wife, a new dog and generally speaking, a new life.

Now it is time he gets a new reputation - one that is accurate. Because he wears his hat down to his eyes and rarely chats up galleries, the 30-year-old Texas native is often perceived as aloof and arrogant. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have had occasion to interview him a couple times over the years, but one experience stands out in my mind.

It was at the 1998 Tucson Open where I was a member of the gallery and not the working media. I was following Leonard and David Duval's group on Saturday, mainly because it was the highest profile pairing in the field. The ice-cold Michelobs I had pilfered from one of the hospitality tents finally caught up to me so I stopped at a series of port-o-johns at the turn.

Leonard had the same idea (sans the beer influence), as he strode in behind me. While we were waiting for the first available john, I looked at him and asked, "So which group are you following?" His face went stop sign red. When I broke out in a smile, Leonard let out a sigh of relief followed by a hearty laugh.

Just then the door on the closest john opened and an elderly woman appeared in the doorway. She seemed to have some issues making the step down. Both Leonard and I walked over and offered to help, but she was on her way the time we got there. Leonard gestured to me to go first, because I had been waiting longer. I said, "Thanks, but you have a tee box to get to."

Five holes later, the need hit again. This time, no Leonard. However, as I was opened the door to the john, I felt a hand smack down on my shoulder and pull me back. It was Duval, and he muttered something about official Tour business. Jerk.

That afternoon when his round was over, I spotted Leonard walking into the restaurant at the Tucson Omni National Resort to grab a bite. I caught up with him and congratulated him on a well-played round. He said thanks and asked me if everything had come out all right at the turn. We both had a good laugh.

Duval went on to win the Tucson Open that year, but Leonard went on to win the vaunted Players Championship. Nice guys don't have to finish last, and it says here that Leonard has a shot to win two to three more times this year, including bagging his second major.

Hootie and Martha overshadow a great golf tradition

Poor Georgia. First, its venerable major becomes a proving ground for women' s lib, the Clan and any other group with the protest bug. Then the governor publicly contemplates returning the Confederate flag to the state flag (hey, didn't they host the multi-cultured Olympic games here?) And if that wasn't enough, there's the whole University of Georgia/Jim Harrick college basketball scandal thing.

But let's not forget, there's also Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Reynolds Plantation, White Columns, East Lake, the Golden Isles and Chateau Elan. There's good food, good people, fond memories of the game's past and great golf. So to borrow a line from Grammy award-winning crooner John Mayer, "Why Georgia, Why?"

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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