Golf Balls

When I was a kid, I’d often show up at the Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto.  At 6:00 am on Saturday mornings.  Juniors could tee off starting at 7:00 and meanwhile I had a job to do – replenishing my dwindling supply of golf balls from the flow of the Don River.  I had so much fun getting so wet.

Decades later, Jody and I enjoyed walking by the Oldman River in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Lovely trees in the river bottom, a golf course beside and always the flow of water gurgling nearby.  I didn’t need to find golf balls but I did it anyway, much to my dear wife’s amusement.  And the joy I felt when a white treasure winked up at me from the fallen leaves!

Yesterday, it was pouring buckets but I wanted to walk the fairways and rough of Tarandowah Golfers Club, a spiritual home of mine.  I put on rain pants and my trusty winter coat.  In the parking lot sat three lonely cars, one belonging to the ever hopeful pro who stood patiently in the clubhouse.  He knew about my shtick:  “Enjoy your walk, Bruce.”

Off I went into the stiff breeze and the barrage of raindrops.  I was just so happy!  I sauntered down the middle of the first fairway, all alone in the world.  Behind the first green, the grass falls down to a creek.  That’s where I needed to go.  I searched amid the long leafiness, seemingly without success.  Then a small white object appeared, tucked into its nest of grasses.  And – no more than a foot away – another ball made my acquaintance.  Joy times two!

I have a system, no doubt set in place to massage my ego after a round of 112 at Tarandowah.  When I’m walking, and not playing, I par a hole when I find one ball there.  Two balls is a birdie, no balls a bogey.  So par for the entire course is having my pockets bulge with 18 of the little darlings.  My record has been 22 under par (40 balls)  which would equate to a score of 50 in the real game of golf – eight strokes better than anyone has ever accomplished.  I’ve told a few golfers about my clubless exploits but they all seemed unimpressed.

Wow – it was getting wet out there, but happily I was three under par after four holes.  Now for the gem:  The fifth is a long uphill par four with a farmer’s field bordering it to the right.  The soil was gooey, the pondlets were several, the shoes squished at nearly every step.  But look what I found!  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, … 33 golf balls poked their dimples at me.

Many a time, I thrust my forefinger into the mud and pried out the prize.  Some wiping on my rain pants and into the pocket it went.  As you might suspect, my coat has big pockets, and as I finally trudged back to the clubhouse, I looked like a squirrel with its cheeks full of nuts for the winter.  But there was nobody around to see my personal vestige of loveliness.  Oh well, I knew I was glorious … complete with mud smears, coated hands and wet everything, despite the rain protection.  I was just so dirty … so wild … so strange.

The grand total?  43 balls, which represents a new standard for all golfers to aspire to.  I expect any moment now that my doorbell will ring and TSN/ESPN/CNN will come calling.

Choosing A Golfer

It’s Saturday morning, “Moving Day” in golfing parlance.  During the third of four rounds, players often move way up or way down the leaderboard.

I’m about to head downstairs at the B&B for breakie.  Among the weighty matters I must ponder is  which golfer I will follow for eighteen holes.  Brooke Henderson is Canada’s sweetheart, an 18-year-old who’s pretty, hits the ball a long way and has a glowing smile.  She’s the obvious choice … but maybe not.  Cheering for Canada feels good but it has the sense of ethnocentrism – my group is more important than people outside my group.

Going with someone close to the lead seems natural too.  I feed off the drama of win-lose situations.  So Marina Alex from the USA is the head of the pack right now.  Wander with her … or perhaps not.

In the spirit of the human family, I could choose any twosome on the fairways of Whistle Bear Golf Club.  We all have the joys and agonies of being human.  I could watch life reflected in the birdies and bogeys of the golf course.  Just pick someone at random, Bruce.  Hmm.  No, I don’t want to do that.

Okay, I’ve decided.  I will walk with whom I perceive to be the nicest person out there – kind to her fellow golfers and to the fans, accepting of her mishit shots, loosy goosey on the fairways and greens, with an easy smile.  Lydia Ko from New Zealand.  She also happens to be the number one player in the world, but right now she’s eight strokes behind Marina.  I want to see a full human being.  I want to see her interact with other human beings.  I want to cheer her on.

Time to eat.  Time to walk.  And my day unfolds before me.

Geekly Walking

There was Bruce in 1966 and then there’s Bruce in 2016.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed attending golf tournaments.  I love standing behind the tee and watching the top pros hit the ball high and far.  Sometimes it feels like it will never come down.  Then, as the golfers head down the fairway, I motor down the rough, either pausing where their balls stopped or stepping up the pace towards the green to watch the approach shots.

Back in 1966, I’d walk 36 holes every day, following one group in the morning and another in the afternoon.  Feeling my oats.  In 2016, however, my feet are saying no to such heroics.  I saw 27 holes on Thursday, about 23 on Friday, and 18 yesterday.  But so what?  I was out there seeing Brooke Henderson hit the ball.  My feet were really sore at the end of the day.  But my soul was singing.

I love the journey of golf.  I’m not the type to plunk myself down by a green and watch 50 golfers parade through.  There are the agonies and ecstasies of 18 holes, and I want to see them.  A well placed cushioning pad on my left foot diminished the pain and allowed me to be there to see Brooke fall and rise.

I developed blood clots a few years ago in my left leg.  They’re now dissolved, thanks to the medication I’ll be taking for the rest of my life.  But the leg really swells up on long car trips or lengthy ambles over the green grass … if left unattended.  Attention means wearing compression stockings – long black fellows that come almost to the knee.  In winter, I don’t give a hoot, but warm weather produces a t-shirt and shorts on my bod, so my stockings are in full view.  There have been times in the last two years when I’ve been too embarrassed to wear them, and I’ve paid the price.  This week, my black legs are on display.  People stare a bit.  Maybe it doesn’t make sense to them to see an “old” fellow boogieing down the rough in search of golf shots.  Oh well.  It makes great sense to me.

There will come a time when I won’t be able to walk near Brooke for a full round.  I’ll be sitting beside that green holding a cold one.  But that time is not now.  In two hours, I’ll be standing near the first tee as she hits her initial shot of the day.  I’ll be all decked out in designer black, ready to ramble.  It makes me happy.

 

Fun

It’s always been a word I enjoy.  Decades ago, I came up with a test for human beings.  Once I had talked to them a couple of times, I wondered whether I’d like them to be my friend.  The test was simple and totally unscientific.  Do they ever use the word “fun”?  It’s often proved to be accurate.

I’m in Ann Arbor, Michigan, watching Canada’s Brooke Henderson play in the LPGA tournament.  After so many years, we finally have a golf hero to cheer for.  Yay!  Brooke sits in tenth place right now, with two more rounds on the weekend.  I’m thrilled to be here.

I’m staying at the Red Roof Inn and get a free breakfast every morning at the nearby Big Boy restaurant.  Breakie out in the world means reading the sports section of the newspaper, in this case The Detroit News.  It’s so much fun.  (Hmm.  There’s that word.  Guess I’ll be friends with me.)

Happily, the Detroit paper has two articles about the tournament – the Volvik Championship being held at the Travis Pointe Country Club.  I was expecting to hear about players’ assessment of their golf games, and the challenge of the course (such as really fast greens).  There was some of that, but I was taken with quotes from three of the four golfers who were featured.

Ariya Jutanugarn (from Thailand):

“I’m really happy with it and I really enjoy playing golf right now.  So I’m not thinking about I’m going to win, I’m going to lose.  I just have fun and keep playing good.”

Marina Alex (from the USA):

“I’m just going to enjoy it and have fun.  Going to just work on all aspects of my game so I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and see where that leaves me.”

Jennifer Song (from the USA):

“I just want to take one day at a time, one shot at a time and just see how things go.  I just want to have fun out here.”

Well, well.  Sounds pretty cool to me.  May we all have fun.

 

A Golfing Life

Okay, so I’m addicted to the game and to the beauty that is the Tarandowah Golfers Club.  And I see analogies to life as I set off with my clubs.  Eighteen holes.  A journey from infancy to old age.  Hmm.  I wonder what hole I’m on now.  How about 14?  I’ll take that. I just don’t want to be on the 18th green, facing a three-foot putt.  But none of us know when the final hole-out will come.  I best enjoy my walk on the pretty green lands.

Let’s contemplate the sweet spot.  If I hit the ball on the central area of my clubhead, it’s effortless and high and long.  Some of my moments in life are like that.  I don’t do anything … wonders just decide to surround me.  Maybe a smile, a flower, or writing this blog.  And then there are the times when my golf ball hits the shaft of the club and zooms into the rough way to my right.  Or a toe hit.  Either one feels yucky, like hitting a stone.  Away from the course, I might say the wrong thing or stumble on the sidewalk.  Perhaps I can’t remember what I went down to the basement for.  Or how about constipation?  No sweet spot there.

I’ve never broken 100 at Tarandowah.  I’ve created a personal par of two over par for each hole.  That would give me a score of 106.  Two days ago,  I finished the front nine with 49, four under my par.  Oh bliss!  I saw future golfing glory spread before me on the back nine.  Then I “birdied” the 10th … five under par.  What a good boy am I.  On the 11th, a long par four, I hit a fine drive that unfortunately wandered right, slipping into a bunker.  No sweat.  Just a little sand shot to get back onto the fairway.  All this is sort of like a perfect day at work – crossing off items from my “to do” list, saying wise things in meetings, having people smile and nod approval.  And then …

It took me six shots to get out of that trap.  My final score on the 11th was 16.  Felt like a layoff notice.

Whether heroic or devastating, the journey continues to the 18th green.  Miles from performance issues, I simply walk the fairway.  And I will continue to do so until my ball drops into that final hole.

Creating A Day

 

Now that I’m firmly in place at the Tarandowah Golfers Club near Avon, Ontario, it’s time to compose a journey.  In my brain, I know that each day is one but I want that perception to become a deeper reality.  Centered on my days spent walking the fairways, I want to create a series of experiences that I can repeat many times.  Sort of an heroic quest … for breakfast … for sitting in a comfy chair, blogging or reading … for an evening meal and brew.

So I ventured forth this morning towards golfing heaven.  Where will breakie reside?  Avon doesn’t have any restaurants but the town of Belmont is nearby.  On a previous trip, I ‘d seen a sign for the Belmont Diner.  Just to be sure, I googled “Belmont restaurants” but no diner materialized.  Maybe the place is closed.  I remembered that there was a supermarket in the same building so I phoned there, and found out that the diner was alive and well and open till 2:00 each day.

I pulled into the parking lot and opened the door to a gaggle of conversation.  Six guys at one table, about twelve women at another.  Ahh … my kind of place.  I sat at the lunch counter and was greeted by a smiling waitress.  Later, she was there in a jiffy to refill my coffee when she saw the severe angle of my cup.  “It’s not my first day on the job, nor will it be my last.”  As I chowed down on my bacon and eggs, a conversation unfolded with a woman nearby, focused on our mutual love for Stephen King.  Very cool.

Next on my menu was that comfy chair.  I had discovered that Belmont has a library and that it was open today at 1:00.  And here I sit, tapping away.  Maria welcomed me and set me up with a library card.  Free Internet plus a space for me to enjoy Stephen or perhaps a book about the spiritual side of golf.  Oh … life is good.  It’s so quiet in here.  Just a customer or two.  And there’s a big old clock on the wall which reminds me of my grandpa’s farmhouse way back when.  Maria and I have chatted some about Belmont.  She’s even told me there’s a pub in town – The Barking Cat.  Hard to get my head around that name but sounds worth checking out.

I’m just about done here.  Even though it’s raining, I’m heading to Tarandowah.  Brought my umbrella.  I just might stroll the first fairway, with a song on my lips.

 

Discipline … And Letting Go

Now that I’m home, I’m going to take on a project that will require all my dedication.  Will I address world hunger or perhaps contribute to an elevated consciousness in Canada?

No

I’m becoming a better golfer.  There … no grand plan for touching the world, just me touching the land.  Hitting balls with a prayer that they’ll hang in the sky.  Wait a  minute – that sounds a bit spiritual to me.

I’ve become a member at Tarandowah Golfers Club near Avon, Ontario.  My plan is to go there most days and hit shots on the driving range until I get consistent enough to play the course with other members.  Tarandowah is a very difficult course which matches my golf game nicely.  But I’ll get there, supported by the lessons I’m taking from Derek Highley in London.

I was on the range yesterday.  Such a meditation.  I hit 200 balls, trying to “sweep the grass” and have the low point of my swing an inch or two in front of the ball.  I’ve never really practiced before so no wonder that I’ve never broken 120 at Tarandowah.

Consistently hitting the ball on the sweet spot of the clubface is one key to happy golf.  But consistency hasn’t exactly been my middle name.  And so what?  I begin.  Most of my shots were hit off the heel or toe of the club and squibbled unimpressively down the fairway.  My low point ranged from two inches in front to three inches behind, with corresponding tears in the earth.  Sometimes life felt effortless and the ball climbed in the air.  Mostly, though, it was like hitting a stone.

Again I say, so what?  I’m on the road to the sweet spots of life.  And I realize it’s possible to feel that sweetness even during the most wayward shot.  I’m on the grass, doing something I love.  I’m fully capable of letting performance thoughts go and revelling in the happiness of being at Tarandowah.  I met some fine people out there yesterday and that’s the realest joy of any activity for me.  Sooner than I’m expecting, I’ll be walking down the fairways beside them.

Day Seven: The Masters

As my body was saying no to me yesterday, I retreated to something I love … golf.  Specifically to the pro tournament I love the best – The Masters – at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.  For decades, I’ve wanted to be there, but tickets only seem available to the privileged few.

So it’s been me and my TV.  And I’ve become friends with some of the holes I’ve gazed upon over the years.  Friends with the greenest of fairways, the vibrant azalea bushes, the par 3 12th over Rae’s Creek, the par 5 15th with its second shot offering the invitation to fly your ball onto the green from far away.  I don’t know how it can feel like home, but it does.  The spirits of long gone golfers still walk the fairways … Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson, as do the heroes I grew up with, thankfully still with us … Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

Yesterday I pulled up a chair in front of the lobby bar TV and watched the drama for three hours.  I was happy.  Yes, the beach is out there somewhere but I was in my spot, reliving the joys of yesteryear, except now it’s Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day addressing the ball.

On this vacation, I’ve not only reread my favourite golf novel – Golf In The Kingdom – I’m now re-rereading it.  Such an obsessed young man.  Here’s a passage:

One day he shot a ninety, yes a ninety, my friends, and laughed and complimented me all the way.  Had a grand time, he did, never looking back at par, never panickin’ or cursin’, just steady through it a’, the same as he always is.  And that I say is the mark o’ a brave and holy man, that he can retreat like that from par without a whimper.

I don’t know if I saw any holy men on TV yesterday.  I did notice a lot of angst, wild gesturing and talking to oneself.  No one broke 70, the first time that’s happened since 2007.  Sterling golfers such as Phil Mickelson missed the cut.  He double bogeyed both the 15th and 16th holes, including a wayward launch into the pond guarding the par 3.

Golf is such a seductive and oft punishing game, mixed in with the moments where club and ball unite on the sweet spot.  To regularly bring forth sweetness during a round on the links is truly the gift of a great spirit.  I want to be a man like that.

I found myself cheering for par while watching the action unfold, hoping that nobody would end the day with a sub-par score.  Let the huge obstacles wash over you and may you revel in walking the fine earth.  It turned out that seven players finished round two under par, with the total number of strokes they were under adding up to only 14.  Today, I hope this number diminishes to zero.  The game is bigger than all of us.  May the lessons inherent in stumbling, hooking, slicing and missing three-foot putts flow into the rest of our lives.

At 3:00 today, I’ll be back in the lobby, continuing my unusual vacation.  Following my bliss.  Watching life.

Golf Lessons

Yesterday I had my first golf lesson in years.  Today I became a member of Tarandowah Golfers Club in Avon, Ontario.  What did I learn?

1. “Too weak, too inflexible, too old” are just words and need not rule me.

2. Taking the cost of the membership and dividing it by the number of rounds I expect to play in 2016 is an inaccurate way of assessing value.

3.  Old swing thoughts, gleaned from books, have taken up residence in my head.  They may be wrong.  Such as moving farther away from the ball if I’m hitting shots off the toe of the club.

4.  “I belong to a golf club that is stunningly beautiful” is valuable beyond measure.

5.  I can control the swing with my mind.  I can hit off the “sweet spot” of the club without moving my feet back.

6.  I can find other golfers who see the spiritual side of the game, and are willing to talk about it.

7.  “I hit the ball low and to the left” is not a guarantee of the future but rather a description of the past.

8.  Just as I’m surrounded in the gym by well-muscled young men, I will see many excellent golfers at Tarandowah.  Comparisons are irrelevant.

9.  I have the power to put my need for greater distance on the back burner as I focus on the sweep of the grass and the “just right” meeting of club and ball.

10.  I can contribute to the well-being of other members … as a golfer and as a human being.

***

Follow your bliss

My Golf … Yesterday

I couldn’t take it any longer.  I had to drive to Tarandowah and walk the fairways.  Since the temperature was 5 degrees Celsius, I didn’t think I’d have company.  But there were five cars gently reposing in the parking lot.  Golf is such an addiction.

I walked into the clubhouse and said hi to Dave, the pro.  I remembered him and he remembered me.  I told him how I loved the course, how I had given up on golf being a part of my future, and how I was going to turn that around.  Now that I’m strength training and doing yoga, why can’t I have a smooth and powerful swing?  What will help is the lesson I’m having on Tuesday with a golf pro in London, a session that may be the first of many.  I’m not letting my favourite sport go.

Something was bubbling up inside me.  It was love of the land that is Tarandowah.  I had to get out there and walk.  Dave said that would be fine.  Not many players today.  (No doubt.)  So outside I went to the first tee.  I must have stood there for five minutes.  I was home.

I walked slowly down the fairway, pausing here and veering there.  The top of a mound in the rough beckoned me so I lingered there as well, gazing out at the beloved hole, plus its neighbours.  And no exaggeration with the word “beloved”.  These holes are my friends.

I loved gazing into the deep bunkers.  I’m so glad that there are over a hundred of them on the course.  On the green, I revelled in the dips and dives and imagined my putter navigating them with ease.  Guess you could say I have a vivid imagination!

On I strolled, pretty much in heaven.  Behind a mound near the fifth green, I found a spot where I could put down a chair, nestle into my book while listening to the birds and the nearby golfers.  And no one would see me from there.  I figure I’ll leave that experience for the warmer months, but fear not – I will sit there.

I walked all eighteen holes, experiencing eighteen companions.  Often I was astonished by the beauty.  I knew that I wanted this in my life.  As I left the eighteenth green and meandered towards the clubhouse, I realized that I was going to become a member at Tarandowah, not in some vague future but before I leave for Cuba on Thursday.  Will my lesson(s) give me the confidence that I’ll find people willing to play with me on this difficult course?  Yes.  I’m going to walk these fairways for years and years.  Happiness is …