Birdies, Boats and Brews

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

by Greg Wettman

If world-class golf, beautiful lakes and rivers, and delicious craft beer are things that interest you, put North Alabama on your bucket list. The folks in this area take the tourism industry very seriously and have made it a prime destination for Houstonians wanting to take an affordable but luxurious vacation.

The Silver Lakes clubhouse; photo by Michael Clemmer

Legendary Golfing

In the early 1990s, a man named Dr. David Bronner managed the retirement systems of Alabama. He felt strongly that the state’s pension fund would stay healthy if its investments were diverse, and believed that building and operating a group of championship golf courses would be a sound investment. Somehow he convinced legendary golf course designer Robert Trent Jones to come out of semi-retirement to design the courses for this huge undertaking.

The original courses opened in 1992 and 1993, with seven locations and 324 holes of first-class championship golf. It became known across the golf world as the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail (RTJGT), and has since expanded to 26 courses in 11 locations around the state. These courses were designed to challenge the world’s best golfers while still providing an enjoyable and memorable round for beginners and casual golfers.

Five of the locations are in Northern Alabama, between Birmingham and Huntsville. These courses are particularly spectacular because they incorporate the beauty of the many lakes and rivers in the area as well as the stunning Southern Appalachian Mountains. Elevated tees and greens with gorgeous panoramic views are common on these courses. Here are the details on two of the can’t-miss courses:

Silver Lakes
Located near Gadsen, AL, Silver Lakes is one of RTJGT’s premier locations, with 36 holes of forests, wetlands and grasslands. There’s a short course and three championship nines named Backbreaker, Mindbreaker and Heartbreaker. Surrounded by the Appalachian foothills and Lee’s Lake, they each provide their own unique challenges and beauty, and feature dramatic elevation changes. All 36 holes boast Champion ultra-dwarf putting surfaces.

Hampton Grove

This location outside Huntsville has two championship courses: the Highlands and the River course. It also features an 18-hole links-style short course. The Highlands course was renovated in 2008 and restored to its original Scottish links design; long-waving grasses frame rolling terrain and many fluctuations in elevation. The River course is mostly flat as it winds its way along the Flint River, and has the distinction of being the only RTJGT course with no bunkers. Before thinking that might make it an easy course to score on, take note that it has water on 16 of the 18 holes! The course features massive oak trees, including an enormous, 250-year-old black oak behind the 18th green, touted as the third oldest in the state.

Green fees along the RTJGT average $50; during peak season, the highest fee at most courses is $64.

More Golf Heaven

There are other great courses to play in North Alabama that are not on the RTJGT. Twin Bridges Golf Club in Gadsen is a 6,800-yard layout set along the Coosa River featuring Bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens. This course is enrolled in the Audubon’s Silver Signature Sanctuary program, which integrates natural resource conservation with economic progress and community education. It has a beautiful clubhouse atop a bluff overlooking the river, and houses a fully stocked pro shop and clubhouse grill. After golf, head over to Local Joe’s at Little Bridge Marina. Relax indoors or outdoors and enjoy some of the best smoked barbecue anywhere. Get the ribs!

Heading north, about halfway between Gadsen and Huntsville, is Guntersville. It’s nestled along scenic Lake Guntersville, home to Guntersville State Park. Alabama has six state parks with lodges and golf courses. The lodge and convention center at this location is outstanding in every way: It sits atop a foothill overlooking the lake, and each modern room has its own balcony with incredible views, not to mention the amenities of a fine hotel. The dining room and cocktail lounge are also excellent.

Across the road is The Eagle’s Nest Course at Lake Guntersville State Park. This unique course sits on top of Taylor Mountain and offers golfers majestic mountain scenery. It has many elevation changes throughout the course; the fairways are wide but tree-lined, and welcome strolling deer from time to time.

 

Also located in Guntersville is a course that is a true masterpiece called Gunter’s Landing. Some of the views from the tees will take your breath away, as they overlook the mountains and the Tennessee River. The elevation changes are dramatic, and some of the par-3s are over gorges. The staff goes the extra mile to make your golfing experience one you won’t forget.

About 10 miles from Guntersville, in Union Grove, AL, is a treasure known as Cherokee Ridge Country Club. This beautiful tract features a 17-acre lake on the front nine and an 80-foot waterfall cascading into Lynn’s Creek on the back 9. The lush fairways are Bermuda, and the greens are bentgrass. The signature par-3 fifth hole features five separate tees with bulkheads on the lake—it’s a photographer’s dream. Cherokee offers lodging at the newly renovated seven-bedroom Lake House overlooking the course and the lake. This Cape Cod–inspired facility has all the comforts of home, including a full kitchen, conference room, bar and living rooms. The huge back patio overlooking the lake has barbecue pits, rocking chairs, cozy tables and chairs. It will accommodate 15 to 20 guests for group gatherings, family reunions or just a weekend getaway.

Water, Water Everywhere

North Alabama has some of the most beautiful lakes, rivers and streams in North America, including the Tennessee River and Lake Guntersville. Lake Guntersville is Alabama’s largest lake—it’s 75 miles long and covers 69,000 acres—and was created by the building of Guntersville Dam on the Tennessee River. Surrounded by mountains and foothills, the scenic views on this lake are stunning.

Free boat ramps and private marinas dot the lake’s perimeter, and so do great places to eat and drink. One of the best is Somewhere on the Lake in Guntersville. This place is a beach bar that’s nowhere close to a beach. Not only does it have a fun atmosphere, but it offers an excellent menu featuring a wide variety of entrées from grouper to prime rib.

Lake Guntersville; photo by Brian Weis

The lake is widely known as one of the best bass fishing spots in the nation. Large-mouth bass are the main draw for anglers but the lake also has an abundant supply of other fish including brim, crappie and catfish. Boating, camping, kayaking, hunting and eagle watching are also popular activities on and around the lake.

The Tennessee River runs from the northwest corner of Alabama down through the heart of north Alabama and back up to the northeast corner of the state. It has been dammed up to form several lakes, and provides recreational activities as well as commercial transportation use. Flint Creek is a major tributary along the river, and is utilized for many water sports near its confluence with the river because of the vast width of the creek and calm waters that are created by the sheltering geography.

Beer Blast

The North Alabama Craft Brew Trail was unveiled in 2016 by the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association to invite beer enthusiasts on a self-guided tour of eight craft microbreweries. Each microbrewery offers tours of the facility and awesome taprooms, where their unique beers can be sampled and purchased.

Back Forty Brewery in Gadsen is one of the first breweries to open in the area, and is currently the largest producer of alcoholic beverages in the state. Owner Jason Wilson is a walking encyclopedia of beer. The tour here is amazing: Back Forty uses almost only locally grown ingredients in its beer, and recycles the grain used in production through local cattle companies and bakeries so the hamburger patties and buns served in the taproom are “coming home.” The brewery produces a beer called Cart Barn that’s the official beer of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and is available at all their locations.

Yellowhammer Brewery in Huntsville is another mandatory stop. General manager and part owner Ethan Couch has built one of the best taprooms anywhere. In addition to the wide variety of award-winning beers offered, in 2015 the brewers paired the brews with popular former food truck Earth and Stone Wood-Fired Pizza to open a brick-and-mortar version at Yellowhammer’s new location. The result is a beer and pizza lover’s dream. Yellowhammer’s T-Minus Kolsch is a tangerine Kolsch named in honor of Tang, and is the official beer served at Huntsville’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center nearby. The center is an official NASA visitor center and home of Space Camp. It provides a great experience while in Huntsville.

North Alabama offers these great destinations and more. There is a Wine Trail, a Barbeque Trail, a Birding Trail and a Hallelujah Trail featuring historic churches more than 100 years old.

Seven Miles of Bliss

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

by Matthew Abernathy

On a recent weekend getaway, my wife and I discovered a hidden gem on the west coast of Jamaica. The Royalton Negril Resort and Spa is nestled on one of the Caribbean’s most idyllic settings along a stretch of seven miles of the most beautiful beaches imaginable.

The Royalton Negril is an all-inclusive experience (they call it “All-In Luxury”), and we were blown away at the attention to detail put forth. (For starters, we were greeted with the warmest of welcomes that included chilled cocktails and cool eucalyptus wash cloths after a somewhat arduous trip from the airport in Montego Bay.) The resort features 407 elegantly appointed yet modern suites, as well as world-class, reservation-free dining, a top-tier spa, a splash park for the kids and a fitness center with all the bells and whistles. There’s no shortage of daily entertainment, and the nightly shows don’t disappoint. (More on those later.)

The lush view of Bloody Bay at the Royalton Negril.

A Dreamy Start

The resort is made up of three distinct sections—the Resort, the Diamond Club and the adults-only spot called The Hideaway at Royalton Negril—with the goal of personalizing your stay. Being that my wife and I were looking for a romantic getaway, we opted for The Hideaway. When we arrived at our room, we were greeted by our own personal butler who showed us around. Right away, I fell in love with the bed, which the butler explained was the resort’s very own handcrafted DreamBed—dreamy indeed! The rooms come equipped with Wi-Fi (there’s connectivity throughout the resort), and there’s also complementary long-distance phone calls to North America if you need to stay in touch with your loved ones back home.

Once we settled in, it was time for a bite to eat. We were delighted by the outdoor dining experience at Ocean Point Bistro. The food was excellent—we ordered the Chef’s tasting menu filled with delectable, fresh seafood and local fare. The staff was attentive, and the atmosphere on the bay was breathtaking. To finish off the night, we stopped by the popular Martini Mix; when you visit, you must try the espresso martini.

Natural Beauty

The next morning, we hit up the buffet at the Gourmet Marche. The restaurant offers a wide variety of both international and local favorites to please even the most discerning of palates. They even have a good selection of healthy options, and a designated section for the kiddos.

After our a.m. fuel session, we hopped on a bus to one of the most beautiful regions of the island that proved to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. We traveled off the beaten path and through the deep countryside and into the heart of Westmoreland, which includes the renowned Mayfield Falls. The picturesque area comprises several widely spaced cascades and all-natural pools (folklore purports healing powers of these pools).

The property is approximately 14 acres of exotic plants and wildlife, and our guides took the time to explain almost everything that we encountered along the way. With one mile of river and numerous cascades along the way, comfortable water shoes are a must At the end of the tour, we were treated to an authentic Rastafarian lunch of curried chicken and dirty rice—it was a real treat.

The stunning view from The Hideaway rooms.

A Meal to Remember

Later that evening, after a short rest in our room, we attended the C/X Culinary Experience. This seven-course meal was truly unique in both the ambience and the delicious food. Each course was presented by the executive chef with wine pairings and musical selections.

To round out the evening, we decided to attend one of the resort’s nightly entertainment venues. Magical Michael—inspired by Michael Jackson, of course—was the show of the night; it was lively and energetic, making for a fun night out.

A Bittersweet Goodbye

With one day left, it was time for some much-needed relaxation at The Royal Spa. The spa has an amazing hydrotherapy circuit, along with a full roster of treatments, including full-body massages, couples massages, body wraps and other therapeutic practices such as authentic shiatsu and Hawaiian Lomi Lomi.

Now we were relaxed and ready for our next outing at the iconic Rick’s Cafe. After a short bus ride, we were greeted at the front door of a very unassuming entrance; once we entered, we were left speechless!

Overlooking the bay on the far west end of Jamaica, the cliffs at Rick’s are known for some of the most beautiful, uninterrupted sunsets in the world. It’s a must when visiting Negril. The café was the first public bar and restaurant of its type on the West End Cliffs, offering an alternative to the majestic seven-mile beach.

The night was just getting started, though, and we were off to Hunter’s Steakhouse. The open-kitchen eatery made it the ideal place to watch as the chef and his crew cooked our aged beef steaks to perfection. We capped off the evening at the XS Disco Bar, where we knocked back creative cocktails and danced until the wee hours of the morning.

If you get the chance to visit Royalton Negril, make sure you have more than a few days to explore this side of Jamaica. I wish we would have had more time to discover the rest of the area, as we truly enjoyed every minute we spent in paradise, along the seven miles of bliss.

You can take exercise classes at this pool, complete with a swim-up bar and an ocean view.

Test the Waters

April 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Travel Blog, Uncategorized

by Marion Jacob

Perched on the majestic Caribbean shores of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the Mayakoba Resort offers four exclusive luxury hotels surrounded by natural forests full of wildlife, freshwater lagoons and crystalline beaches. The newest is the long-awaited Andaz Mayakoba-Riviera Maya, a welcome addition to round out this spectacular master-planned retreat.

Mayakoba—which literally means “village of water”—prides itself on sustainability and protecting the natural environment, while creating a luxurious escape to what feels like another world. Wake up to bird calls from more than 200 species, and experience nature right from your room.

Get Appointed

Stay in the presidential suite at the Andaz, enveloped in tropical scenes of serene lagoons and lush greenery, or behold the Fairmont’s hypnotic waterfront views and superbly cultivated gardens. Lose yourself in the Rosewood’s ultra-comfort service and white-sand beaches, or rent a villa at the Banyan Tree with your own private plunge pool and garden terrace.

The Andaz Lobby.

Get Busy

Start off the day with a farm-to-table breakfast buffet at Cocina Milagro at the Andaz, overlooking the pool, or enjoy a good book while swinging in one of the hanging-egg wicker chairs. Set up tee time at El Camaleón, a world-class golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman and home to the PGA Tour OHL Classic.

Like a chameleon, the surrounding vistas change from mangroves and cenotes to sand dunes and white beaches. Take a ride in a golf cart tram through the winding roads of the exotic forests to El Pueblito, El Corazón de Mayakoba (the Heart of Mayakoba). Here, you can shop at boutiques filled with handmade textiles and pottery, take a cooking class at El Pueblito Cooking School or eat lunch at La Fondita. In between meals, enjoy a refreshing fruity drink at Bang Teng Thai or coffee at El Cafecito. On Sundays, they hold Mass at Santa Cruz Chapel, which is followed by the weekly farmers’ market.

Mayakoba offers a variety of activities, including hiking and biking through meandering nature trails, bird watching for those rare and unique species, honing your archery skills on the four-target range, or taking a guided kayak tour through the Mayakoba waterways.

A boat in the lagoon.

Get Fed

You can also take a leisurely tour of the entire resort via the Mayakoba Connection ferry service. Stop by each of the hotels to enjoy a meal and live music from the myriad restaurant options: tasty tostadas and tequila from Olla Ceviche at Andaz; authentic Thai cuisine from Saffron at the Banyan Tree; sushi from Agave Azul at the Rosewood; or golf club standbys and Latin wines at Koba on El Camaleón.

Get Rejuvenated

The 24-hour butler service at the Rosewood, with personalized room service and housekeeping, is the ultimate way to relax. Use the Rosewood Mayakoba app to request services for those special moments. Think: a romantic bubble bath, an intimate dinner or even a helicopter ride over the Kulkulcan Pyramid in Chichen Itza.

The private villas at the banyan tree.

For rejuvenation and spiritual healing, opt for treatments rooted in ancient Mayan rituals, such as the Mayan Clay Purification treatment at Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont, or a fresh honey body scrub and massage at the award-winning Banyan Tree Spa. The spa at the Andaz has six treatment rooms and two hydrotherapy areas dedicated to your relaxation, as well as a full-service salon to keep you looking as great as you feel.

Palmetto Bluff

April 21, 2018 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

By Tom Flynn

The costal regions and islands along South Carolina’s coast make up the Lowcountry, a collection of historic communities, natural habitats and southern hospitality. With all that comes tourism.

Deep in the Lowcountry, between Hilton Head and Savannah, sits Palmetto Bluff. The 20,000-acre development is nestled along the May River, a coastal estuary teeming with wildlife. Entering the community is like stepping back in time. Building exteriors resemble 1930’s architecture, winding roads lead to quaint shops and restaurants, parks, chapels and outdoor activities; classic one-speed bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation. Residents of the 700 homes and guests of the Montage Palmetto Bluff are pulled together through an extensive list of activities and events and form a strong sense of community.

 

Life in this mainly getaway community can be tailored to individual desires. The amenities are reserved for residents and Montage guests, so tee times on the Jack Nicholas designed golf course are readily available, parks are never crowded and traffic jams are nonexistent. Reading a book on a park bench and watching neighbors play Bocce Ball is a good way to spend the afternoon. Preplanned activities are numerous, 10-20 per day. Yoga, cycling, tennis clinics and paddle boarding entertain the athletic. Beachcombing, Sip- n-Sail river cruises amid the dolphins and porching (tea and lemonade gatherings on a porch) for the social. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy archery; shoot sporting clays, fish and kayak. There are tons of kids activities, a state of the art four-lane bowling alley and everyone gets together evenings for S’mores at the fire pits.

 

The property touches 32 miles of May River shoreline. The marshy estuary has an eight-foot daily tide change. When the water is out you can walk out and harvest oysters by hand. When the tide comes in so do the dolphins, chirping, playing and feeding. Alligators and beautiful white egrets are always plentiful. A good way to experience the May River is a cruise on Grace, a luxurious wooden yacht built in 1913. Many holes on the golf course play along the river, diners enjoying Lowcountry cuisine at Cole’s have stunning views of the marsh while eating fried pickles. Numerous preplanned activities and excursions take place on the river.

 

In heart of Palmetto Bluff sits the Montage Palmetto Bluff, a luxurious gem of the south. The resort rests on a tranquil lagoon, miles of hiking and biking trails lead through the nature reserve. With dining options and bar, the Montage is the liveliest spot in the community; many residents gather there in the evenings and listen to live music.

The world class Spa Montage is an attraction all its own with the finest treatments and amenities. Enjoy the fitness center, eucalyptus steam room, redwood sauna, pool and cold plunge after your signature 90 minute facial. Most of all, the Montage’s amenities and guests inject energy into Palmetto Bluff.

 

If one tires of paradise and feels the need to getaway from their getaway, Bluffton is less than a 30-minute drive. Virtually every building in this historic town was burned to the ground during the Civil War by Union troops. The guides at Bluffton Bike Taxis will show you the few surviving structures, outline the towns history and show the best places to eat and drink with the locals. The Old Town Dispensary has lots of outdoor seating, Lowcountry grub and live music. Farm arguably has the best food in the region, possibly any region. Many restaurants have a chef who runs the kitchen and a Matre D in charge of seating and service. Farm adds a third partner; the farmer who grows produce and sources the best meats and seafood. Their fresh, light tappas sized plates are absolutely amazing; the crafted cocktails are an added bonus.

 

Palmetto Bluff feels hours and ages away from the real world. It’s actually less than 25 miles from Savanah, Ga. In 30-40 minutes after departing the plane, you can be sitting in one the Montage’s luxury rooms, snacking on the shortbread cookies and bourbon milk jam they leave as a greeting gift and watching alligators sun on the banks of the lagoon. Enjoy the Lowcountry!

 

Stations of the Crosshairs

April 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE TV –“We’ll be back with more shootings, stabbings — lots of yellow police tape — and apartment fires. Speaking of stabs in the back, have you noticed how much fake news there is on television, in newspapers and social media? You can’t trust the mainstream media, but you know who you can trust? President Donald Trump.”

What? In the middle of my 10 o’clock local news I’m getting this blatant sales pitch for the President? How can this be? The next night I turn on the same station. “Tired of being stuck in traffic, getting junk mail and lied to about global warming? I’m Chip Chap. We here at Channel 0 want you to know the truth instead of the fake news being put out daily, if not hourly, by the left-wing media. We feel as honest journalists that….”

“Chip?”

“Yes, Muffy?”

“Why are you reading this alt-right propaganda right in the middle of the program, and making it sound like news?”

“You didn’t get the memo? Our bosses at Sinclair Broadcast Group have sent out orders that we insert their scripts in every news show, up to nine times a week. These pieces are called ‘must-runs’ because they are not a suggestion. It’s mandated, otherwise, as the CIA says, we will be terminated with extreme prejudice. There has been plenty of grumbling from the station manager on down, some are threatening to quit, but thus far no one has, and you know why.”

So it has come to this. There has been unprecedented press bashing, particularly under the Trump administration, but this is a new, and dangerous, wrinkle in the news biz. And who or what is the Sinclair Broadcast Group anyway? I never heard of it, so I check their website and discover it is a publicly traded American telecommunications company controlled by the family of company founder Julian Sinclair Smith. Based in Hunt Valley, Md., the company is the largest television station operator in the United States by number of stations, and largest by total coverage; owning or operating 193 TV stations — including nine in Texas, but none in Houston, so far — in 89 markets.

This number may grow. Sinclair is trying to buy Tribune Media, with 41 stations, for $3.9 billion. Sinclair’s stations currently cover one-third of America and, if the Tribune deal goes through, three-quarters of the nation will have a Sinclair station. Another biased news story, but true: The F.C.C. under Trump has loosened the rules governing how many TV stations any one company can own. This allows Sinclair to buy Tribune Media. The chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, led the charge for changing the rules, but the top internal watchdog for the commission found the whole deal and timing didn’t pass the smell test, and has opened an investigation into Pai and his aides. Wonder if this story will make the Sinclair news?

But it is not a TV network like CNN, Fox or NBC. Sinclair owns or operates local stations including all the major networks affiliates, plus the CW, Univision to the WeatherNation. This allows Sinclair to control what you see on those stations. For example, the Friday, April 30, 2004, edition of “Nightline” consisted entirely of Ted Koppel reading aloud the names of some 700 U.S. servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq. But Sinclair, being an ultra-conservative voice that supported President George W. Bush and his Iraqi War, refused to broadcast that show, on its — at that time — seven ABC affiliates. So viewers in those cities never saw the show.

A week later I try to watch my Sinclair station again. “This is Chip Chap with the latest news about gun control, that commie liberal movement to take away your God-given right to own and shoot a 105 howitzer in your backyard if you wish.” Lordy, Sinclair is out-Foxing Fox. “But the mainstream media is shoveling out fake news. You can only rely on Chanel 0 for the truth.” The network has a Terrorism Alert Desk which daily carries items aimed at scaring the bejesus out of its viewers, and there is commentary by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump spokesman. Here’s an actual must-run: Sinclair stations guard against the “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.” The anchors give no specific examples. Needless to say, Trump tweeted that it was funny to watch “Fake News Networks” criticizing Sinclair for being biased.

Deadspin Media, a sports news site, posted a video showing dozens of news anchors reading the same script about “fake stories.” It is hilarious with all the blow-dried beautiful anchors, standing in front of sets reading KAAA and WWWW reciting exactly the same words as in a chorus. The 98-second video has already been seen by millions of people. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” did a lengthy segment on the Deadspin video, showing the words being repeated by several robot-looking anchors. Co-host Mika Brzezinski said she was surprised some of the local anchors didn’t refuse to read it. “This looks like something we would mock the Russians for doing during the days of Pravda,” said co-host Joe Scarborough. Dan Rather’s website said that it was “sickening” to watch.

This just in: the network’s anchors can’t afford to quit. If they leave before their contract is up, they can’t take another job in TV for six months, face mandatory arbitration and must pay back as much as 40 percent of their annual salary. That’s practically indentured servitude. I tune in to Sinclair one more time: “You can’t believe the mainstream media, which only presents warped and biased reports. Right. Muffy? Oh, I’m being told Muffy quit because she can’t stand these must-runs from Sinclair. That’s gonna cost her a bunch.” Like the man said, there is “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories,” and I just watched one.


Ashby watches at ashby2@comcast.net

Game On

April 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Features

by Rima Jean

Don’t let Lindsay McCormick’s appearance fool you. She might be small and blonde—and a woman—but the host of Super Bowl XLIX is a sports authority to be reckoned with.

“I grew up in a huge sports family,” explains the sportscaster, who also covered the most anticipated fight of the decade, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. “My entire family is obsessed with sports. So for me it was like, either learn to love it, or hate your life.”

Getting ready for her career in broadcasting, a young McCormick practiced on her stuffed animals.

A native Houstonian, McCormick became involved in sports and cheerleading at an early age. Her grandfather was drafted to play football for the Washington Redskins, and both he and McCormick’s brother went on to work for NASCAR. McCormick attended Auburn University in Alabama, where she got involved with the campus news station. When the resident sports anchor went out of town one weekend, McCormick was asked to cover the Auburn football games. She immediately fell in love with it. “When he came back to town, I refused to let him have his job back,” McCormick admits with a laugh.

One weekend, McCormick was on the sidelines covering Auburn play LSU, and ESPN’s College Gameday was in town and saw her in action. “They offered me a job as an intern with ESPN SportsCenter, and that was how, at 20 years old, my career started.”

McCormick’s expertise isn’t limited to football, either: She’s covered basketball—she was the sideline reporter for the quarterfinals of ESPN’s The Basketball Tournament—as well as boxing, covering the Timothy Bradley vs. Jessie Vargas fight, among others. McCormick contends, “I’ve had my fair shake with just about every sport, except baseball.” However with the Astros’ World Series championship win, she hopes to add it to her repertoire.

Her resume is impressive: McCormick was the stage host for Super Bowl Sponsor SAP alongside Marshall Faulk in San Francisco and served as NBC’s Sunday Night Football Social Host; she’s hosted the 2012 NFL Draft for CBS Sports, The Fan on Comcast SportsNet and was a panel analyst for Rip City Live. She also appeared on ESPN.com’s Streak for the Cash and ESPN College Pick’em and MTVU’s The Dean’s List.

Breaking the Glass Ceiling

With McCormick’s success in a male-dominated industry, there’s no avoiding the question of how she, a woman, made it to where she is today. “When I started 10 years ago, there were only a handful of women reporting sports. Erin Andrews was just getting started, Suzy Kolber had been there for some time, Linda Cohn…these were all women I looked up to, and they paved the way for other women to come into the field.”

Even with the help of these trailblazers, McCormick concedes it wasn’t easy. “I would go into these interviews knowing I had a lot to prove. I was going up against all of these men, and I had to prove my sports knowledge. The first question I would get was, ‘Why would our audience believe you?’” McCormick chuckles at the memory. “In hindsight, it was a huge insult, but at the time I thought it was normal. I felt I had to work twice as hard to prove to an audience that I knew what I was talking about.”

The boxing world, she reveals, has even fewer female broadcasters. “I’m hoping I can help change that over time.”

No Place Like Home

Despite her jet-setting lifestyle, McCormick recently bought a home in Houston in her childhood neighborhood, where her parents still live. She was in H Town, in fact, during Hurricane Harvey. “I drove out to stay with my parents when it happened. Our entire neighborhood got flooded. We stayed up for two nights straight in parkas holding buckets, trying to keep the water from coming into our home.”

McCormick celebrates the Astros’ World Series Game 5 win with her family.

Hurricane Harvey was a tragedy, and one that many Houstonians are still dealing with. “It’s amazing to see how the city has bounced back,” McCormick says. “And I think the Astros have a lot to do with that. Their win helped the city shift their focus from a tragedy to something that binds us together. I love how sports have the ability to do that.”

A Bright Future

McCormick can currently be seen in the romantic comedy The Bounce Back, available on Amazon Video and iTunes, playing a talk show host opposite Shemar Moore. She is also working on an augmented reality sports game for ePlay with fellow sports commentator and NBA champion and former Houston Rocket Robert Horry. “He was one of my favorite athletes growing up, and I’m so excited to work with him on this.”

As for whether she’ll be spending more time here in Houston? “I hope so. I go back and forth between here and California, but maybe I can finally learn some more about baseball by hanging out with the ‘Stros…”


Get the Lindsay Look

Just how does she get that glow? Here are her best camera-ready secrets.

Number-one beauty must-have: Resurface by Shani Darden Retinol Reform. It’s magical. Every celebrity you’ve ever seen with flawless skin either visits Shani Darden as a facialist or uses her serum.

Nighttime miracle-worker: I use the Deesse Professional LED Facial at night. It’s this red-light therapy that helps to boost collagen production and heals the skin quickly.

Drugstore find: Garnier Skinactive Moisture Bomb Sheet Mask. The masks hydrate your skin and leaves it feeling super soft.

Favorite ways to stay fit: I adore ballroom dancing as a form of exercise. I’ve been dancing since I was two years old, and started competing at the age of seven. Unfortunately, I threw my neck out doing a dip, but the injury introduced me to Pilates, which I’ve incorporated into my workouts. Pilates has been the best at helping me recover from my dance injuries while keeping me fit. It just transforms your body, and it’s perfect for someone like me, who is always on the go.

A Moving Experience

April 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE PHONE – “Hello. I’d like to change my water bill address,” I tell the city water department. “I’m moving to a new home. Well, it’s not really new. Like the car dealers say, it’s pre-owned. Very pre. If the place was any older, it would warrant a historical plaque.”

A recorded voice speaks up: “Thank you for calling the city water department. Good to the last drop, we like to say. All of our team members are listening to other whining customers, but one will be with you when she or he gets around to your silly complaint. Until then, please listen to some of our comforting music.”

Team members? They used to be called employees, or workers or wage slaves. I hear a click and then the music. I think it’s the love theme from “Patton.” The reason I have to make this call is that after 50 years, my wife and I are forced to abandon our house in Running Rats Acres because, during Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chose to release a flood of dammed-up water into western Houston, inundating formerly (maybe forever) dry neighborhoods. My house was downgraded by the city inspectors from “not worth burning” to “uninhabitable.” FEMA came up with $45.50 to help us recover, and the Red Cross gave us toiletries, then asked for a donation. Bill Clinton said he would feel our pain, and Donald Trump said he liked to feel. So we had no choice but to move, which is far harder than one might think.

It’s a story being told maybe 10,000 times along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Harvey, but briefly it goes like this: Find a cheap hotel to stay in, file 234 insurance forms, drag what’s totally ruined to the curb and wait for the city to pick the debris or watch the vandals and rats haul it away, whichever comes first. Eventually the survivors have to find new digs, and face the worse hurdle of all: changing addresses. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Nope. You would think by now our society could handle our nomadic lifestyle. About 40 million people move annually in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population moves an average of once every 5 years. There are, obviously, many reasons: shifts in the economy, for instance, from the Rust Belt to Texas, or an unexpected visit by ICE. The doubling of the divorce rate in the last 30 years results in many moves. In my case, it was a mud line about three feet up the den walls.

Ah, someone is answering at the water department. I give her my name, age, favorite sport (mud wrestling in the den) and address of my new home. They have no record of any such place. “Give us the account number of that house.” I have no idea. The team member puts me on hold again, (“National anthems from southeast Africa”) to speak to her supervisor. She returns and takes my phone number and says she will call me back on Monday. It’s 1 p.m. on a Friday and no one works on Friday afternoons. Moving on, the gas company has me get on my hands and knees to read the gas meter’s 32-digit number. The phone company puts me on hold while playing “Choice Busy Signals” as I wait for a “happy and excited management assistant” to get on the line and inform me that he needs my Texas driver’s license number (no kidding) plus my Social Security number. No DNA sample.

Then I face the ultimate challenge: the cable company. I used Disable Cable in my old house, which has been, shall we say, a challenging experience. Surveys show that the most disliked, if not hated, industry in the nation are the cable companies, passing airlines, the Postal Service and most hit men. When your TV set goes out as the detective says, “…and the murderer is…” that can be annoying, as well as “With no time left, here’s the Hail Mary pass which zzzzzzz.” My computer goes down in storms, power outages and nightfall. If you will recall, when I changed cable companies at my lake house in Varicose Valley, the cable company’s office had a big sign at the door: “No firearms allowed!” Inside was one firearm – on the hip of a cop. Past events hinted that was not your usual business office filled with happy customers. This time it was my wife’s turn to make the call. She rarely uses profanity, death threats or wants the name and address of the team member. Forty-five minutes into her conversation with Duc Phat in Hanoi, I bring her a box of Kleenex for her tears.

I also needed to change my mailing address. OK, in this case I admit it was confusing. I had gone to the post office and filled out a long form to temporarily change my address from my old house to my lake house. Three weeks later I began receiving mail – mostly Christmas catalogues. The rest was MIA. Now I needed to change the address again to my new place. If you write me a letter, send it by carrier pigeon or use semaphores.

In the midst of this White House-worthy chaos, and this is the honest truth, someone in California started charging things on my credit card. I got a call from that company, House of Cards, asking if I frequented Chipotles in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno. No. But wouldn’t you think if someone went to all the trouble to forge a credit card he would make higher-class purchases, like opioids, or rent Stormy Davis for the afternoon? On top of all the trouble and paperwork and lengthy phone calls from moving, I had to start changing all my automatic billings to my credit card.

So my advice to you is: don’t ever move. But if you do, take along a box of Kleenex.


Ashby is moved at ashby2@comcast.net

College Dropout

Like you, I stay awake at night worrying about the Electoral College. It doesn’t have much of a football team, but it does choose our presidents, no matter which candidate the American voters prefer. As we all know, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 2.9 million votes, even counting Trump’s write-in ballots from Russia. Al Gore got 540,000 more votes than George W. “Hanging Chad” Bush. In each case, it was not the popular vote, but it was the Electoral College vote that counted.

And Texas may start counting, too, finally. Federal lawsuits filed in Texas and three other states are seeking to end the winner-take-all system that awards every electoral vote from that state to the winning presidential candidate. The lawsuits argue that the winner-take-all system violates voting rights by discarding ballots cast for losing candidates. This is a two-party argument: Democrat voters in the GOP strongholds of Texas and South Carolina, and Republicans in Democratic California and Massachusetts have no say in picking their president. So if you voted for Hillary in Texas, your vote didn’t count, thus the lawsuit. In Texas’ case, it wasn’t state officials who filed the suits. They are perfectly happy with the current system. Indeed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will defend the state’s electoral-vote system, which was filed in San Antonio federal court in late February. Your tax dollars at work.

A bit of background: In 1787, the Founding Fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution, and stuck in the Electoral College (Article II, section 1.) as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote. Another version is they decided the average citizen wasn’t erudite enough to elect a president without a filtering process. Each state receives a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. senators (two in each state) plus the number of its U.S. representatives, which varies according to the state’s population. In the 2016 presidential election, California had the most with 55 electoral votes; other less populated states, such as Vermont, had three. Texas had 38 votes, and the 2020 census should give us two or three more.

You just thought we choose our President on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. No, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, (still with me?) the electors meet in their respective state capitals to officially cast their votes for President and Vice President. These votes are then sealed and sent to the president of the Senate, who on Jan. 6 opens and reads the votes before both houses of Congress. Who or what exactly is the Electoral College? It consists of 538 electors – Washington D.C. gets three. A majority of 270 votes is required to elect the President. The winner is sworn into office at high noon on Jan. 20 before the largest crowd ever gathered anywhere. Four presidents have been elected by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote. As we have seen, two of them won in recent years.

Forty-eight states have the winner-take-all system. Maine and Nebraska have a variation of “proportional representation” that can result in a split of their electors between the candidates, which seems a lot fairer than what we have now. As for Texans: “Everyone in Texas is being ignored, because Texas just doesn’t matter to the presidential election,” said Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard University law professor who was a leading organizer of the legal effort. Almost 3.88 million Texans voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Not a single vote counted. Most black and Latino voters, who make up more than 40 percent of the Texas electorate, have not had one electoral vote cast for their preferred candidate in the past four decades. (In the 1932 election, Franklin D. Roosevelt gathered all of Texas’ electoral votes with 88 percent of the popular vote. In 1992, George H.W. Bush did the same with only 40.5 percent in a three-way race against Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot.)

Being a solidly red state means presidential candidates don’t bother to campaign in Texas, although they come here for money. Indeed, GOP candidates consider Texas their ATM. If we give a lot of money, maybe one of us will get appointed to a top position – like Secretary of State. The candidates spend their time and funds in battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where there are a lot of Electoral College votes, as I was telling President Hillary.

The only time any money came back to Texas was in 2008 when Hillary and Barack Obama were both seeking the Democratic nomination for President. The Texas campaign was tough and mystifying to outsiders. It’s hard for missionaries to grasp the difficulties of running a state-wide campaign here. We are expensive. Texas is separated into 20 media markets, the most of any state. Former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, who was state director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008, told The New York Times, “It’s like running a national campaign. There are no similarities between Amarillo and Brownsville and Beaumont and Texarkana and El Paso and Austin and Houston and Dallas. These are very separate demographic groups with very diverse interests.” The primary election led to the Texas Two-Step with voting, caucuses, and late-night confusion.

If Texas went to a proportional vote, like Maine and Nebraska, presidential candidates would be forced to come here to campaign, hoping to get a slice of our big-delegate pie. That means renting hotel ballrooms and suites, cars, cops, caterers, lots of ads on TV, radio and newspapers. More importantly, everyone’s vote would count. We would no longer be spectators in the sport of government. This would mean amending the Constitution, but if Americans can change the charter to prohibit alcohol and give 18-to 21-year- olds the right to vote (they still don’t), we can drop out of college. So I can get some sleep.


Ashby is electable at ashby2@comcast.net