Hockey Starts To Clear the Clutter

THE National Hockey League has begun to go "progressive." The latest sign of forward motion came last week, with the announcement that the league would scrap the confusing names it uses to identify conferences and divisions.

Beginning next season the Clarence Campbell and Prince of Wales conferences will become "Western" and "Eastern," respectively. At the same time, the divisions - now known as the Smythe, Norris, Patrick, and Adams - will be renamed the Pacific, Central, Atlantic, and Northeast.

The NHL, under new commissioner Gary Bettman, apparently concluded that there are better ways to pay tribute to hockey's heritage, including its great names, than to use them in staking out what are really geographical groupings. Bettman, who came over from the National Basketball Association where he played a key role in that league's phenomenal growth, obviously is bringing some NBA concepts with him.

Besides the name changes, hockey is rejigging some of the divisional alignments as new franchises are added in Anaheim, Calif., and Miami next season. The playoff format is also being restructured and will bear a strong resemblance to the system used in basketball. In a nutshell, qualifiers will be determined more by conference than on a divisional basis, thus presumably rewarding the best overall teams. Wimbledon keeps on the grass

Tennis traditionalists breathed a sigh of relief last week upon learning of Wimbledon's plans for a major facelift. Assuming the proper permits are granted, the All England Club outside London will begin to enlarge and modernize its facilities during the next two or three years without altering the complex's essentially English character.

Translation: The club will stick with grass and open-air courts despite the groundskeeping requirements and perennial rain delays.

"The uniqueness of Wimbledon is grass. There really is no other alternative," said club chairman John Curry in announcing a 20-year master plan that will increase the maximum daily attendance by 25 percent, to 35,000.

Suggestions to install a retractable roof over Centre Court were rejected on principle, Curry said.

"We believe Wimbledon is an 18-court tournament, and it's not possible to cover 18 courts." For fairness, tournament officials realize, all matches should be played as much as possible under the same basic conditions. TLC for a golf hole

Although golf's top athletes converge in Augusta, Ga., each spring for the Masters tournament (April 8-11 this year), the picturesque Augusta National course is the star, with its lush fairways and flowering trees. The current issue of Golf Digest magazine reveals the extent of efforts to maintain a postcard appearance.

Large grow lights have been employed as a beauty aid for the storied and much-televised 12th hole, a par-3 over water tucked into Amen Corner. The lights are strung up each night and taken down each morning. They supplement the limited sunlight that strikes the green, shielded on one side by tall pines.

The green is also pampered by a series of underground pipes, installed in 1981 as a way to regulate soil temperature. The ground can be heated to prevent frost or cooled to prevent heat damage during the sultry summer months, when the course is closed. Andrew Young jumps Olympic gun

As the International Olympic Committee mulls over whether to choose Beijing to host the Olympics in the year 2000, another potentially tough political call may be surfacing. Former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, a member of that city's Olympic committee, has pledged to help bring the Games to South Africa in 2004.

Considering that South Africa was only reinstated to the Olympics last year after a 32-year absence, and that the country's racial climate may remain volatile long after the formal end of apartheid, some might consider it premature to place South Africa's name in the hat - at least until there are sure signs of political stability.

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