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Column #HR255 It was a dark and stormy night…

Monday, April 11, 2019
Column HR255
It was a dark and stormy night…

…many years ago, on December 31.

(In truth, it wasn’t “dark and stormy” but in the mid-50s with occasional showers. “Dark and stormy” sounds more literary.)

At Pine Meadows Golf Course in Martinez, California, the New Year’s Eve revelry was slowly taking shape.  The man who would become a living legend stepped behind the bar to “walk the plank.”  At 1:30 a.m. just two people remained – the Governors of the local dart league, Phil and Erlene Hakola.

The bartender accepted their kind offer to help with clean up in exchange for a game of darts.  This is the same bartender who spent the better part of the summer and winter making fun of all the dart players, especially on league night.  His first game was terrible although during the year he advanced to bad.

The rest is history.  Since that night things have changed and not only in darts.  In darts, gone are wooden darts with feather flights which were replaced by brass darts with feather flights which would be replaced with tungsten darts and plastic flights.  The feather flight became obsolete once players started to actually throw groups.  “Three in a bed” during league night back then could be as good for a post-game hookup as three trebles are today.

The players threw from 8 feet in the Colonies while the rest of the world threw at from 7’6”.  A compromise was met at 2.35 meters or 7’9 ¾”.  Darts moved on without a hiccup just as the world survived the “Y2K Doomsday Clock” on December 31, 1999, when the earth and life was supposed to come to a resounding end.

The bartender along with The Kid, Two-Dart, Poona Head and a couple of guys without nicknames formed a “C” league team called “The Nads.”  The bartender thought it would be funny when fans cheered “Go Nads!”  The name lasted years.

Back then, a set of Nicky Virachkul tungsten darts sold for the princely sum of $22.  Everyone tried to be very English.  When a 26 score was rung up, which it was often, it was “Bed and Breakfast” as the story was that was the cost of same in England.

The big event was the English invasion which started in Washington D.C.  Then, it was on to the Golden Gate Classic, followed by Santa Monica and finally the North American.  The big names from the UK were Bristow, Mr. Lowe, Whitcomb, Baker and Leighton Rees while the ladies were ruled by Maureen Flowers and Linda Batten.  The Nads would attend the 1975 Golden Gate Classic.  The ladies’ final saw the Queen of Darts, Maureen Flowers, face an 18-year old from Dayton, Ohio – Julie Nicoll.

Ms. Nicoll would have an auspicious start to the final when she tripped going on stage.  “I’m on my belly staring at my father’s face.  He says to me matter of factually, ‘You can’t win from here, Nicoll!’”

Julie would defeat Flowers.

The next beginner’s trip was to the North American held on the Queen Mary docked in Long Beach.  For the first North American 45 members of the Northern California Darts Association car caravanned after Wednesday night darts with many stops for a pause for the cause.  Most wore t-shirts with “Assault on The Queen” plastered across the back.  An extra room was rented just for the bathtub to store the beer on ice.

One darter from the group, a former trumpeter in the Marines, figured he could blow reverie at 6:00 a.m. into the ship’s intercom and it would be sounded in every room – which he did, and it was.  The phantom trumpeter was never exposed.  The North America would move to the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, still the culmination of each darting year.  Like Grand Central Station it was the crossroads of the darting world.

Playing steel darts was hard.  Every throw was an 8-foot putt and players had to know how to add and subtract to set up outs and then hit a double.  That aside, steel darts ruled but the handwriting was on the wall and ignored, maybe because no one in power could read.  Just two words: “machine darts.”

Steel darters made fun of the machine game with cries of “it’s too easy” or “I’m not paying to play darts.”  Golfing great Jack Nicolaus once explained a decline in golf in similar terms: it’s “too difficult.”

Bingo!

The once-a-week player, with no time to practice as they have lives, wants to have fun.  The steel tournament system has shrunk from its high point in the 1980s and early 90s.  The North America and other tournaments are long gone.

Once-a-week players have no chance at the few remaining steel tournaments and they know it, so stay home.  Machine darters play against those with similar ability.  Machine darts tournaments flourish.

It’s not rocket science.  Unless the USA comes up with a solution machine darts will grow and steel darts will continue to decline.  The “world’s biggest soft tip tournament, “NDA Team Darts” arrives in Las Vegas for a 7-day run this week.

Many players from the Golden Era thought that, maybe, when the PDC made its first trip to Las Vegas in 2017 it would occasion a “reunion” for American darters – an opportunity after so many years to get together and swap tales from bygone days while enjoying a refreshing beverage or two.

Some tried to convince the PDC that some type of event be held in conjunction with their event.  Those in power at the PDC turned a deaf ear displaying no interest, not even answering the queries.  To be fair the PDC needs America like a fat person needs to super-size a Big Mac, order of fries and a diet coke.

This year, the PDC’s US Darts Masters will visit Las Vegas over the July 4th week.  July 2 and 3 the North American Darts Qualifiers will be held (and is closed to the public).  Then, on July 4 and 5 will be the actual US Darts Masters.  There will be a ton of fans from the Motha Country where a 4-day tour is available for £1,250 ($1,629.61).  That tour includes air fare, 4 days lodging (two to a room) with beverages not included.

For Norte Americano’s tickets are available from www.axs.com with bleacher tickets at $47.60 – which with the usual Vegas gouge is $58.50 – and table seats at $69.40.  There are season tickets at $175.50 plus Vegas vig (also known as “juice, under-juice” or the “cut of the take” – in this case, the tax and handling fee that Las Vegas tacks on).  Last year, the bleachers were as bare as the bartender’s bald dome.

The lineup for this year’s Las Vegas event includes “Marvelous” Michael van Gerwen, Rob Cross, Daryl Gurney, Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price, Michael Smith, Nathan Aspinall and defending US champ Gary Anderson.

You may ask: what is a “Nathan Aspinall?”  He was UK Open champion and a semi-finalist at the World Championship.  Impressed?

Whilst driving around viewing his Kingdom the Old Dart Coach heard a radio commercial advertising a product for “A Reptile Dysfunction.”  How do you know if your reptile has a dysfunction?”

Stay thirsty my friends.