The U.S. Senior Open in St. Louis?

It's a Cinderella story

The U.S. Senior Open is at the Bellerive Country Club (12925 Ladue Road; 314-878-2004) this year! We didn't know what that meant either, but after checking the official Web site (www.2004usso.com), it became clear it had something to do with golf.

Not that this tidbit of info really cleared anything up. Golf is a sport and the backdrop for one of the greatest movies of all time (Caddyshack rules!), but that was the extent of our knowledge. So Arnold Palmer and Hale Irwin and Tom Watson (pictured) will be competing, and the finals will be on television -- why do we care? What does "golf" mean to us as a demographic?

For answers, we sought someone who could explain golf but wouldn't go all crazy talking about mulligans or mashie niblicks. There was only one man who could maintain his cool while getting to the heart of golf: Jimmy Vavak, bassist for Riddle of Steel, proprietor of the Rocket Bar and golfer. (And before you decry golf as "not rock & roll enough," remember that Iggy Pop has been playing golf for years. Iggy. Pop.)

Beat the heat at Meramec Caverns, where it's always 
60 degrees.
Mark Poutenis
Beat the heat at Meramec Caverns, where it's always 60 degrees.

According to Vavak, who's been a duffer for "about ten years" but doesn't play regularly enough to have a handicap, the appeal of golf is very simple: "It's quite challenging just to hit the ball straight." Of course, there's also the camaraderie. "Mainly for me, it's hanging out with my dad. Drinking beer, playing golf, smoking cigarettes." These are strong attractors for many men.

But how about watching golf on TV? Just talking about it brings sleepiness. Does Vavak recommend televised golf? "Um, yeah. Occasionally. If, uh...not really." Vavak points out that golf is "not a blatant, quick, entertaining, in-and-out kinda thing." You have to invest some time in understanding the game and wait for the payoff. Better to go in person, then, and become part of the whole experience.

Practice rounds for the U.S. Senior Open begin at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, July 26. Official play begins at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 29, and continues through Sunday, August 1. A pass for the week costs $130 but gets you in every day of the tournament; you might consider asking Dad to foot your bill. In return, take Pops to the Rocket Bar (2001 Locust Street; www.rocketbar.net) on Friday, July 30, for the Riddle of Steel show. Then everybody can talk golf and enjoy some home-grown rock & roll. -- Paul Friswold

Garden Party
Older Than Dirt

SAT 7/24

Henry Shaw, founder of the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard), never married; his real love was his garden, which he opened to the St. Louis public in 1859. In honor of Henry's 204th birthday, admission to the garden is free all day. Party, party, par-tay! An organ grinder, silhouette artist and clown will entertain at Spoehrer Plaza from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. And remember to look up -- there may be a stilt-walker hiding in the magnolia trees! A Victorian-era Henry Shaw (he's still a bachelor, ladies!) will be available for photos at Monsanto Hall, and he looks pretty good for 204. For more information call 314-577-9400 or visit www.mobot.org. -- Amy Helms

See Meramec Caverns!

If your tolerance level for kitsch is high and you find yourself bored out of your gourd one hot summer day, consider a day trip to Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri (I-44 West, take exit 230 and go left), where the temperature is a constant 60 degrees.

The caverns truly are remarkable, even if the members of your tour group look like they stepped out of Deliverance -- and even with the much-too-sentimental patriotic light show at the end. There are plenty of fascinating rock formations to gawk at, and Mirror River's optical illusion is mesmerizing -- it appears to be at least 75 feet deep, yet is actually only a foot and a half in depth.

Admission is $14 per adult. For more information check out www.americascave.com or call 800-676-6105. Oh, and try not to step in guano. -- Guy Gray

Kickin' Grass

SAT 7/24

A guided prairie-hike tour? Isn't a prairie one of those flat, open spaces that surround St. Louis? Why do you need a guide on a flat, open space?

Because, Junior, the Rattlesnake Master calls the Heartland Prairie in Gordon Moore Park (Route 140 in Alton, Illinois; 618-466-9930) home, as do the Blazing Star and the Partridge Pea. They sound like bad dudes from a kung-fu movie but are in fact types of wildflowers and prairie grasses that grow throughout "The Prairie State" (which is, apparently, Illinois' nickname. Who knew?). At 8 a.m. you can take this free guided tour to learn more about these ominously named grasses, and then you can use one of their names as your handle the next time you go online to play Quake. Just look out for the Rattlesnake Master when you plug in. -- Paul Friswold

 
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