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I'm taking my annual one-column breather from the nation's political storms to promote not-exactly-earthshaking ideas that have been bugging me and, maybe, you.

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This year: golf on television, parking your car, simplifying voicemail and non-alcoholic beer (also wine).

Golf: Prior to last Sunday's CBS coverage of the PGA Championship, I was prepared to plead with the TV networks to please tell us golf enthusiasts one vital piece of information previously almost always denied us.

To quote my son-in-law, single-digit-handicapper James Morehead of Seattle, "What every amateur golfer wants to know is how far the pros are hitting those drives."

Overall, TV golf coverage has become delightfully high-tech, with helicopter-produced diagrams of the holes, aerial shots from blimps, arrows showing the ridges and slopes on greens and, sometimes, the distance of putts.

But the networks maddeningly would not reveal how far Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and the others -- and the LPGA women, too -- hit their drives.

Sure, occasionally an announcer would say, "Wow, that one went 370 yards" and very, very occasionally a graphic would show the distance of a drive.

But the usual pattern was such that, if you really wanted to know how far a drive went, you'd have to sit with a hard-to-find hole-by-hole course chart and wait for a graphic showing the distance a player still had to go to get to the green.

Then, you'd have to do some fast subtraction to figure out how far the first shot went.

Well, last Sunday, CBS did what I'd been yearning for years for the networks to do. For the leading, thrilling twosome of Tiger Woods and Y.E. Yang, a graphic went up after the drives on practically every hole showing the drive distance and the distance to the pin.

And not only that, occasionally CBS even gave us an aerial shot after tee shots with a yellow line electronically drawn across the fairway showing the 300-yard line, much as TV nowadays always shows the first-down line in football.

I hope everyone reading this column this far -- and sharing my driver envy -- will write to CBS Sports and thank it for taking this step.

But I hope you'll urge CBS to go further and make it routine in golf coverage to show the distance for every drive during every round of every tournament, along with the distance to the hole.

And, please, NBC, ABC, Golf Channel, ESPN and TNT, please follow CBS' lead and let us know how far those drives went.

Phones: When you call someone's cell phone and they don't answer, you always hear from a lady who says:

"Your call is being transferred to an automatic voice messaging system. The number you dialed, XXX-XXX-XXXX, is not available. To page this person, press 5 now. At the tone, please record your message. When you are through recording, you may hang up. Or press 1 for further options."

My idea: It ought to be possible to hit, say, À, to avoid having to listen to that whole 25-second spiel for the millionth time and just get to leaving a message. Or 5, to page this person.

Autos: This happens to everyone. You're driving along, looking for a parking place on the street. You find one. You pull ahead of it to back in, but the car behind you pulls up so close that you can't back up.

Why? Because that driver really doesn't know that you want to back up until he sees your backup lights go on -- too late. If you used your directional signal, he might not know you were parking.

The solution: Cars need a special light in back that means (though probably doesn't say), "I'm Parking. Back Off."

Nonalcoholic beer: Good restaurants, food stores and even many bars in America now recognize that there are millions of us recovering alcoholics -- or designated drivers -- who will buy nonalcoholic beer. So they sell it.

And, though I haven't had a real beer in 23 years, lots of nonalcoholic brands taste as good as any other beer. Drinking friends have told me so.

But there are lots of places that sell the real stuff that don't carry nonalcoholic -- notably airlines and many sports stadiums. They ought to.

And hardly anybody carries nonalcoholic wine, which is nowhere near as good as the beer but in some instances isn't bad. My favorite is Fre Merlot, made by Sutter Home, a California winery.

I'd love to see restaurants carry it, but I doubt that's going to happen anytime soon. So my idea on this front is: If you bring your own, restaurants ought to let you drink it with no corking fee just to honor sobriety.

Next week, it's back to the political wars. But this August, I hope we've improved life in America a little, even if a very little.

Copyright 2009, Roll Call Newspaper

Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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