In November, my mind often turns to golf. I know what you’re thinking. Golf? November? But you see, for the avid golfer (and to be clear, “avid” is not the same as “talented”), November marks the end of the season if you happen to reside north of the 49th but not in Victoria. I know this because last year at about this time, my son, Calder, and his cousin, Chris, took my brother Tim and me golfing for our last game of the season. It was a tad nippy that morning. In fact, had I owned a snowmobile suit I would surely have worn it. I remember thinking as I stepped out of the car that it was a day better suited to running the Iditarod dogsled race through the wilds of Alaska than playing golf in Aurora. But we persevered and had a great day, the frostbite notwithstanding. One suffers for a game one loves (and/or hates, depending on my previous shot).
My 45-year love-hate relationship with golf began on the schoolyard at Bessborough. You see, in Grade 8, my two option courses were boys cooking and golf. I believe you’ve already suffered through a column on my culinary misadventures in boys cooking class. Who could forget that classic recipe, Rodeo stuffed hotdogs? (Believe me, you don’t want to know.) I was somewhat more successful in golf. In the first few classes, we learned the grip and then practised a rudimentary swing in the gym (in this instance, “rudimentary” is the very definition of euphemism).
Eventually the class ventured out into the schoolyard where we made sporadic contact with plastic whiffle balls. I don’t know if you’ve ever struck a whiffle ball with a golf club, but it bears only a remote sensory connection to the feeling of hitting a real golf ball. Of course, we didn’t know that then. I was using my grandmother’s golf clubs in the class. Like most grandmothers, she was quite a bit older than I, and so were her clubs. Some of the wooden shafts were even straight. But I loved banging that whiffle ball around the playing field, and occasionally into the air where it was supposed to go. We also learned the rules of golf and the esoteric etiquette that governed the sport, which was less interesting, but still important if you hoped to play the game with any frequency.
The culmination of the class was a trip to Flemingdon Golf Club to play a round on the nine-hole course. It was the first time most of us had actually hit a real golf ball. That was the day my obsession with the game was forged. I loved it. I scored a 53 on my nine-hole round that day. I was going to include a photo of that first scorecard alongside this humble column but I couldn’t find the key to my safety deposit box. (Of course, I’m kidding. I have the key, but the bank was closed when I thought of it.)
You might think that my first nine holes would be my worst round. That’s how most sports work. Not so with golf. To this day, I still occasionally fire in the 50s on the front or back nine, before uttering an expletive-laced, but hollow, pledge to give up the game.
Shortly after I started playing golf, brother Tim began his golf journey. I attribute my continuing superiority, if not dominance, on the golf course to my slight head start in the game, though I suspect Tim would quibble with “superiority” and flat out reject “dominance.” For years we kept a running tally of all our games together – hundreds of games – and only a handful of strokes separated us, in my favour I might add.
In my life as a novelist, I’m a charter member of the “write what you know” school. While my novels are decidedly not autobiographical, I know a lot about the worlds I write about. In my latest, Albatross, my narrator grows up in Leaside and becomes the best golfer in the world. Well, I did grow up in Leaside.