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Tuesday, 22 January 2013


I’ve played golf for about 45 years, badly. Over those 45 years I’ve hacked my way down fairways from Webhannet in Kennebunk Port, Maine to Crown Isle on Vancouver Island and as far south as a golf resort in Innisbrook, Florida where the sight of alligators is not uncommon. I’ve seen a herd of deer come out of the woods at Upper Canada Village in Ontario, strolled a course in Saskatchewan with sand greens and small cacti where you stuffed your green fees into a mailbox kind of thing on the honour system.
Innisbrook Golf Course, Florida
To me, golf courses are some of the more beautiful places on the planet. A regulation par 72 golf course takes about 3-1/2 to 4 hours to play and being with others in a foursome for that amount of time you get to know a bit about who you are playing with in ways you might not ordinarily pick up on.
Something like 1% of people who play golf rarely break 100. When you consider that most professional golf tournaments are won by a pro who finishes the four days under par (72 is par on most courses for 18 holes) you kind of get the idea that is a fraction of that 1% who are the crème de la crème and even they have really bad days.
Before starting my golf stories let me get a few golf jokes out of the way.
Why is it spelled G-O-L-F? Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.
Why is it called “golf”? Because the “F” word was already taken.
When I was a kid in the 1950s, I used to caddy at a golf course in the well to do district of Montreal called Hampstead. Hampstead Golf Course was a bastion for white Anglo Saxons. For a number of years there was an unwritten rule in the community that houses were not to be sold to people who were Jewish. While caddying it wasn’t uncommon to overhear anti-Semitic jokes. In the early 1960s, the golf course was bulldozed and today the Town of Hampstead is mostly Jewish including the mayor. Revenge is sweet I guess.
We used to sit on a bench amongst a grove of trees several yards away from the pro shop on hot summer days waiting sometimes hours on end for a golfer to come along and say he needed a caddy. Sometimes the whole day would go by with nobody looking for a caddy and we would take the long walk home dejected but still found ourselves back on the bench the following morning. Every now and then some older boys would turn up and let us know in no uncertain terms that they were first in line. The going rate for a caddy back then was about a buck for 18 holes. I’m not sure if we should have been admired for our persistence or pitied for being gluttons for punishment.
Back in the 50s nobody wore a bicycle helmet and if you were thirsty on a hot summer day and not close to home you simply got a drink of water from the garden hose tap at the side of someone’s house. It shouldn’t be surprising that there was something on golf courses back then called “shagging”. Shagging was chasing around and picking up the golf balls that a golfer was driving off a practice tee. There is a reason that driving ranges today have covered carts that are used for picking up practice balls. I think I got winged a few times back then. At least an ambulance didn’t have to be called.
One early evening I was out shagging golf balls for some guy and at the dinner table that night I told my father that I had made a fairly quick 50 cents shagging balls for a guy named Ben Hogan. I could easily be duped at that age.
Ben Hogan
I bought some golf clubs when I was about 21 years old. I had 3/5/7 and 9 irons, a putter and a driver. The first golf course I ever played on was a 9-hole place called Grovehill which was near Dorval on the west side of Montreal Island. I remember hitchhiking there. For some odd reason I found that the most comfortable way to swing a golf club was to do it cross handed. Over the years this type of grip was commented upon more times than I care to remember. I once had a guy in Kamloops who had finished in the BC juniors close to the top of the leaders list try to help me change my grip but it just wouldn’t work. I am stuck with it.
A few years later, I was living in Toronto with two roommates who I had gone to high school with in Montreal and they were both into golf. A lot of English speaking young guys had moved to Toronto and for a few years there was kind of an unofficial golf tournament for ex-Montrealers. I remember seeing rats as big as cats near the Don Valley Golf Course. I also remember seeing one guy throw his ball over some trees so that it landed on the green.

I moved on to Banff and played the course at the Banff Springs a few times. Once I nearly brained some old ladies on a park bench nearby with an erratic tee shot. Golf and I were not simpatico. I like the game but I’m not very good at it. My cross handed swing didn’t help any. I don’t think I ever played golf more than 10 times in any given year.
I finally settled in the Vancouver area and tried my hand at golf again. I knew people who were really into the game and found myself playing with them on mostly public courses in and around Vancouver. Fraser View, Langara, Musqueum and other courses like Green Acres, Hazelmere, and Country Meadows. I even went across the line to Washington State to play a few times. I never progressed very much. Occasionally I would hit a decent shot or have a nice putt and that seemed about all I could hope for.
One summer I went down to Lake Okanagan to visit a friend at his country place and we ended up playing golf at a beautiful course near Vernon, BC called Predator Ridge. It was a brutally hot day and the course was a bit on the hilly side you might say. I was really struggling in the heat and shanking a lot of shots and I could see that it was throwing the other guys off a bit. When we got back to the clubhouse I made the decision to forget golf for a while. I didn’t touch a club for about 5 years.
I was a businessman in Vancouver and from time to time I would get freebies like tickets to the Vancouver Molson Indy and the Canucks. Once I even got floor seats to a Vancouver Grizzlies-Seattle Supersonics basketball game in Seattle including dinner. I wasn’t a big golf fan but did take advantage of yet another freebie which was tickets to see the Greater Vancouver Open golf tournament at Northview Golf Course in Surrey, BC.
My supplier was in the paper business and they set up an entertainment tent on some scaffolding near the 18th hole.  I saw more than a few chunky guys who were in the printing business work their way through the buffet and booze bar.  Mostly we just hung around the 18th hole if we ventured away from the tent.
 I saw some of golf’s greats in the early 90s. People like Mike Weir (he won his first pro tournament at Northview) Sergio Garcia, Mark Calcavecchia, Rory Sabatini and the late Payne Stewart. The road up to the clubhouse at Northview is now called Payne Stewart Drive. It is a beautiful course but unfortunately the skyline is spoiled a bit by power lines.
Just for the record, Dow Finsterwald won the British Columbia golf championship in 1955. Dow Finsterwald. Now there’s a name.
I started to dabble at golf again in the late 90’s. I was hardly anything more than a dabbler at any time in my life. Around 2005 I sold my business and retired to Vancouver Island. I played golf a number of times with my son. One weekend he brought some friends over to the Island and we played a nifty executive course called Arrowsmith about an hour away from where I lived. A few years earlier my son had caddied for me on the same course and he kind of slowed things down by hunting for turtles in the ponds.
My son has a friend named Lucas who is kind of a slight looking guy with a wry sense of humour. One weekend my son brought his friends over to play golf. Lucas hit a nice tee shot over the water and I followed him with a drive that ended up within feet of his. “Looks like you are in Lucas country.” Lucas said to me. Priceless!
16 year olds at Arrowsmith Golf Club, Lucas putting, my son Dean in blue.
Vancouver Island has some really great golf courses. Olympic View is impressive in Victoria. Morning Star and Glengarry are two really nice courses near Qualicum Beach. Crown Isle up Island in Courtenay is as good as it gets. The clubhouse even has a cigar room that overlooks an antique car collection.
For the past few years I have played on an executive course called Winchelsea View that is close to where I live. From the back nine you can see the small Winchelsea Islands below. Last year my girlfriend gave me my first Big Bertha. I always was and still am a hacker but every now and then I can put 2 or 3 shots together in a row. I’m still cross handed but…I can whack that little orb over 200 yards once in a while. My girlfriend joins me on the course now at least once a year and I have pointed out that I’m not the best guy to get tips from, but she continues to ask.
Linda swinging away.
Winchelsea View Golf Course
Winchelsea Islands in distance.
So…what do I know about golf other than that I generally suck at it?  Well I know it is great way to spend a sunny day for a start, a decent way to get some exercise. I know that most golfers have a weakness to their game. Maybe they have a tough time with their putting or short game. Maybe they have trouble with a hook or a slice. For some it is just focussing. No disrespect (well maybe) but I have come upon more than one golfer over the years who thought he was a lot better at the game than he actually was.
I’ve always like the idea of turning up at a golf course and joining complete strangers for a round. You meet some interesting folks out on the links. Last year I turned down the opportunity to share a joint with a guy I was playing with even though we were about the only 2 people out on the course. For some reason, on this particular course during the week, if it gets really really hot out nobody turns up for a round. Or maybe it is that the green fees are slightly higher than other places?
Years ago I played golf with a British guy who was a very good golfer. He told us that shortly after coming to Canada that he was hanging out in a pub and someone asked him if he would be interested in washing windows. He ended up starting a business washing windows on some of Vancouver’s largest buildings and had become so successful that he spent most of his time playing golf.
Another time I was playing golf with another British guy and his son. The other person in our foursome was a young guy in his early twenties with a bad temper. He would curse and yell when he screwed up a shot and there were quite a few screw ups. Finally around the 6th hole the British guy took him aside and told him that he would have to ask him to leave if he persisted with his behavior. The little chat seemed to straighten him out.
Golf, almost more than any other game is about etiquette. Most that play the game are aware of the dos and don’ts. Unfortunately, there are some that are oblivious to anyone other than themselves.
One day, my son and I were playing golf with a padre. I can’t recall his denomination. He was only going to play the first nine holes. Around the 2nd hole he got into some religious stuff and I pointed out to him that I am an atheist. I told him that he was welcome to have a crack at my son for the next 7 holes if he wished but that we were cut from the same cloth and his chances would be slim. Nobody was converted that day.
I have a friend who watches a lot of golf and I used to tell him that I didn’t get watching golf on TV. Now I find myself watching the same stuff. There is something kind of soothing listening to that Irish lilt from David Feherty. Oddly enough, for such a cheerful guy, apparently he has had a long battle with depression and alcoholism.
About 10 years ago you could see old Bobby Jones short golf instruction movies on TV every now and then. They were made in the early 1930s and are truly amazing in that a lot of the tips Mr. Jones offered way back when are still relevant today.
Bobby Jones
I remember the good old days when Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, and Trevino were ripping it up. When Tony Lema died in a plane crash When you would see names on the leaderboard like Dr. Cary Middlecoff and Julius Boros. Chi Chi Rodriquez pretending his putter was a sword.
Tiger had his run and now there are guys like Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Steve Stricker and a lot of others are giving him a run for his money. What is in your head has a lot to do with being the best and my guess is that Tiger is still working on that.
Today, women’s golf is clearly dominated by women with Asian backgrounds for some reason.
Let me add a little comment about the US Masters. First of all the word “Masters” isn’t a particularly good choice for a tournament in the deep south. Secondly, why do the caddies at the Masters have to wear overalls? Aren’t we a bit past that kind of stuff? And thirdly, last year the Augusta Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia where the Masters is held, invited 2 women to join the club. Is this really what one would call opening things up for women?
In closing, let me add on a list of some of the great golfers who have come from Canada. As Canadians, we sometimes like to point out that we have accomplished a few things.
Mike Weir…won the green jacket.
Stephen Ames…making a come-back this year?
George Knudson…once served him dinner at the Banff Springs Hotel.
Gary Cowan…forever the amateur.
Dave Barr
Jim Nelford
Moe Norman
Stan Leonard
Richard Zokol…Disco Dick.
Al Balding
Sandra Post…I think I once ran into her in a bar in Vancouver.
And not to forget a guy named Gord Lariche who once told me in the 1960s in Montreal about hustling golfers in Texas and ending up with a new Avanti sports car. Then again that might have just been a BS story like many others told out on the links.



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