The best golf shots come at the parties

Wild piano-playing impressario Jason D. Williams on top of his piano at one of the News Sentinel Open parties.

Wild piano-playing phenomenon Jason D. Williams on top of his piano at one of the News Sentinel Open parties.

The News Sentinel Open Presented by Pilot golf tourney earlier this month was a huge success, organizers say. Golfer Martin Piller walked away with a $99,000 purse and more than 38,000 spectators got a taste of the professional golf experience.

“It was a home run,” said Adrian Pearce of the News Sentinel, who helped pull off the labor-intensive event that requires the services of scores of volunteers. “It keeps getting better and better,” he said.

But for me, the best parts of the week-long string of activities surrounding the tournament were the parties. Technically, they are “pairings parties” for the participants of the Summit Medical Group Pro-Am on Monday and the Calhoun’s Pro-Am Classic on Wednesday to find out which professional golfer they will team with on the course. But, to tell the truth, that technicality easily could be handled by email. It’s just an excuse for two great parties. Which is fine by me.

The first, on Sunday night, is always at Chesapeake’s downtown. It precedes the Summit Medical Group Pro-Am on Monday. (read more)

Urban League treads where needed most

Taylor Gazaway shows off her new sneakers.

Taylor Gazaway shows off her new sneakers.

School has started, and everybody wants new shoes for the occasion. New shoes make you feel special. They give you a great start and a fresh perspective on the new year and all the promise it holds. But some children come from homes where buying new shoes for the start of school is not an option.

That’s where Shoes for School comes in. A service of the Knoxville Area Urban League in partnership with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Shoes for School provides new tennis shoes and school supplies for children in need. Local community organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley and the YMCA handle pre-screening eligibility, and the children get a pair of shoes selected specifically for them.

The 2014 event, now in its 11th year, provided shoes to 1,500 children and school supplies to many more. Organizers estimated more than 4,000 people were at Caswell Park earlier this month for the festivities. And it really was a festival-type atmosphere, rather than a feeling that the kids were receiving charity. (read more)

Museum ‘Collectors’ find culinary masterpiece

At Blackberry Farm, the chip and dip appetizers involve caviar!

At Blackberry Farm, the chip and dip appetizers involve caviar!

We were reminded once again recently that if you pay attention and remain flexible, awesome cultural opportunities can come your way in our little part of the universe. The most recent example: a five-course dinner at Blackberry Farm complete with wine pairings with well-known artists Red Grooms and Andy Saftel.

It seems the good folks at Blackberry Farm turned up with some extra dinner reservations available for an “Artists in Residence” program they had lined up exclusively for Blackberry Farm guests. In order to fill the slots and provide an opportunity for some local art lovers, Blackberry Farm offered members of the Knoxville Museum of Art’s Collectors Circle a chance to buy them. They weren’t cheap. But we thought it was worth $175 each for the over-the-top food and wine for which Blackberry Farm is famous. This is a great example of a win-win-win. Blackberry sold their dinners, Collectors Circle members got a great evening with two popular artists, and Blackberry’s guests got a chance to mingle with some local art lovers. (read more)

All aboard the Big Love Bus! Go Smokies!

Moxley Carmichael intern Martha Ashe boarding the Big Love Bus for a ride to her first baseball game ever!

Moxley Carmichael intern Martha Ashe boarding the Big Love Bus for a ride to her first baseball game ever!

After a crazy, busy week at Moxley Carmichael (not complaining), we were all looking forward last Friday to our planned company excursion on the Big Love Bus to the Tennessee Smokies game.

The Big Love Bus is a client of ours. And Alan and I had purchased at a charity auction a suite at the Smokies — generously donated by Phillips and Jordan. We thought it would be a great combination — and it was.

We stocked the bus with our favorite refreshments (another client is the local Miller distributor, Cherokee Distributing) and when the bus stopped on Union Avenue beside our offices in downtown Knoxville, we all piled on for the 30-mile trip during Friday rush hour traffic. It was the most pleasant evening commute we’ve ever had, thanks to our friendly bus driver, Carlene Collins.

The  Big Love Bus operates in Knoxville and Nashville. It is a wonderful way to get a group around. An old fashioned school bus, it has been completely renovated into a party bus on the inside with two air conditioners, a sound system, comfortable seating, a built-in cooler and other fun amenities, including a chalkboard ceiling for expressing your creativity. (read more)

“God’s Answer to Our Prayers”

You can see both the Tennessee River and the Smoky Mountains from God's Answer to Our Prayers.

You can see both the Tennessee River, in center of photo, and the Smoky Mountains from the garden called God’s Answer to Our Prayers.

A few miles from downtown Knoxville — less than 10 minutes, for sure — lies a romantic, unique and inspiring garden called God’s Answer to Our Prayers – or GATOP, for short.

It belongs to a brilliant cancer physician and researcher, Dr. Alan Solomon, and his wife, Andrea Cartwright. Solomon purchased the 28-acre property in 1971 from a couple named Lynn Hobbs and Jerry Will. They’re the ones who named it. Seems they had been having a hard time finding a place because one of them just  had to live in sight of water and the other had to live in sight of mountains. This property filled both requirements, thus the name, “God’s Answer to Our Prayers.” (read more)

Going mad for a great cause!

Joan? Nah, Deborah Franklin, Joan's spitting image!

Joan? Nah, Deborah Franklin, Joan’s spitting image!

It’s midsummer and the Knox Heritage Summer Suppers are in full swing. As you may know,  Summer Suppers are great little fundraisers for the nonprofit preservation organization, Knox Heritage. They consist of a string of dinner parties, most held in unusual places with a committee of creative hosts who think up entertaining themes, etc.

This one, dubbed “Mad Men Client Appreciation Party,” was held in the brand new offices of BarberMcMurry Architects in the historic Arnstein Building downtown at the corner of Market Street and Union Avenue. Only, on this night, BarberMcMurry was transformed into a 1960s advertising agency in the heart of Manhattan.

Many of us are gearing up for the final episodes of Mad Men, the popular TV show centered around Don Draper and his pals at the ad agency Sterling Cooper. So, it wasn’t hard to coax the 90 party attendees into 1960s attire. Some were even dead ringers for the show’s cast members. Grab your cigarettes and your martini and let’s stroll through the party! (read more)

Sweet P’s serves up “sisterly” spread

Guest Ranee Randby enjoying the intermezzo during the six-course chef's table.

Guest Ranee Randby enjoying the intermezzo during the seven-course chef’s table. She looks happy, doesn’t she?

The good folks at Sweet P’s Barbeque and Soul House had another of their occasional chef’s tables last month and we were lucky enough to snag seats. As you may recall from a previous post (click here), owners Christopher and Jonathan Ford started these as a way to allow their chefs, Josh Russell and Eddie Faircloth, to have a break from flat-out barbecue cookery and do something a little more creative.

The (very loose) theme for this meal was “reflections from Knoxville’s sister cities.” Inspiration came from the seven cities with which our fair town has forged a sisterly relationship: Chelm, Poland; Chengdu, People’s Republic of China; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Larissa, Greece; Muroran, Japan; Neuquen, Argentina; and Yesan County, South Korea.

It was a little easier to stick to the farm-to-table concept this time than it was at Sweet P’s last chef’s table, which was held in the dead of winter. “Eighty percent of this meal was picked yesterday,” Chris Ford said at the start.

My advice is to get on board this train the next time. It will be announced on the Sweet P’s website. All of us guests were just blown away by the caliber of the food. There were great wine pairings, as well, thanks to the folks at Ashe’s Wines & Spirits, to whom Chris took the menu to seek suggestions.  (read more)

Southern Summer’s Night: A blast!

Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr., in west Knoxville earlier this summer.

Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., in West Knoxville earlier this summer.

Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., was nearly destitute. He had been working at a car wash and had only one pair of jeans and one jacket in November 2010 when he and his wife left their hometown of Logan, West Virginia, and headed for New York City, where they stood for more than 12 hours outside the Javits Center to audition for NBC’s America’s Got Talent.

Less than a year later, on Sept. 14, 2011, after a performance of “My Way,” a song popularized by Frank Sinatra, Murphy won the $1 million grand prize and began a headlining act in Las Vegas.

Earlier this summer, he appeared in Knoxville at the historic Middlebrook mansion during a benefit called Southern Summer’s Night, a fundraiser for The Hope Center at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. The Hope Center provides, at no charge, caring support and assistance to all individuals and families living with HIV. Inpatients, outpatients, people relocating to this area or newly diagnosed individuals have a safe, non-stigmatizing place to feel encouraged, valued, and also have a voice.  (read more)

Drum roll begins for 2014 News Sentinel Open

News Sentinel publisher Patrick Birmingham, right, with golfer Ben Bates, who has played in 18 of the Knoxville professional golf tourneys, including the first in 1990.

News Sentinel publisher Patrick Birmingham, right, with golfer Ben Bates, who has played in 18 of the Knoxville professional golf tourneys, including the first in 1990.

If you are in Knoxville today, you surely have started to hear noise about the News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot, a professional golf tournament that will celebrate its 25th year in Knoxville August 11 through 17 at Fox Den Country Club.

The News Sentinel Open is part of the Tour. Owned by the PGA Tour, it is the way for a professional golfer to earn a membership card that will allow him to play on the “big” PGA Tour. And make a lot of money.

The News Sentinel announced this morning (click here) that Pilot has signed up to be a presenting sponsor of the tournament for two more years after this. This is significant because if Pilot had dropped its sponsorship — and it previously only had committed through this year — the Knoxville Open likely would have died.

Here’s why I care. Sure, watching golf is a fun way to spend a beautiful afternoon. And the hospitality tents on the golf course are fun to visit. And the exposure and spending the tournament generates are good for Knoxville.

(read more)

Cheek and wife partner for perfect green team

Chancellor Jimmy and Ilene Cheek at their west Knox home hosting "Supper in a City Garden."

Chancellor Jimmy and Ilene Cheek at their West Knox County home hosting “Supper in a City Garden.”

The good folks at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum believe that a garden can bring joy to anyone — whether a city or a country dweller.

To that end, they have organized a series of garden parties in a wide variety of settings. The one we went to this month was smack dab in the middle of suburbia. It was at the home of University of Tennessee-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and his wife, Ilene. Their house is on Stratfield Way in a new subdivision off Northshore Drive in deep West Knox County. You would never know from looking at the house from the street that there is a bountiful vegetable garden in the backyard.

The Cheeks have a division of labor, so to speak. Ilene loves flowers and is in charge of all of those in the front and back yards. But the vegetable garden is Jimmy’s. The rain held off on the evening a couple dozen of us gathered there to check out the gardens and enjoy each others’ company.

The event, called “Supper in a City Garden,” was a great contrast to some of the other garden parties we have attended, courtesy of the Knoxville Botanical Garden. But, in my book, almost any garden party is a good one. (read more)