I love golf. Not just the game itself, but everything around it. The ritual. The sanctuary. The routine. The glove. The grips. That feeling of flushing one dead centre down the fairway. I won’t be at the RBC Canadian Open this year — my wife and I have a one-year-old not quite in daycare — and taking those four to six hours off can be a challenge, not to mention strollers and fairways seem like strange bedfellows. But I know how meaningful those hours are to the golf obsessed. How precious that time is. How it takes weeks of negotiations with work and partner to book that time off. How we dream of trips to Cabot or Pebble but will gladly settle for an afternoon with our friends at a local pitch and putt.
It’s the little things I love. I love driving to a course I’ve never played, bag rattling in the trunk. I love sitting on said trunk in the parking lot, putting on my old golf shoes, cleaning the spikes with a tee. I love fiddling around in my bag, searching for the “good” balls, or discovering the odds and ends and unmentionables from the last round I played. (I’m here to report that yes, a granola bar can last all winter in a hermetically sealed environment). I love wiping off the club face with a towel, stretching my Dad Bod to the sky and finding some new crick in my neck or pain in my hip. I love arriving early, rare these days, and tinkering on the putting green. I love the smell of freshly mown grass on a dewy morning, first light rising above the horizon as you settle into an early tee time, birds chirping above in the hanging trees as you miss your first of many putts. I can forgive the inevitable duffs and missed chips and shanks — now I simply take a deep breath and move on the next shot.
Golf was a life raft for me throughout the pandemic. I played small, public courses around the Toronto area that provided an escape from condo-land and a city on life support. There were calls to turn city-owned public courses into parkland or urban agriculture, and don’t think this liberal bleeding heart didn’t sympathize with the concept. But these courses — cheaper, accessible — are for everyone, beginners and experts alike from all backgrounds, and the same can’t be said about private, members-only ones. There are plenty of condo developers you can write to about creating more public space, and plenty of city councillors to demand better food and housing security in Canada’s largest cities rather than blaming Dentonia or Scarlett Woods.
The golf course is an escape, a designated phones-off interlude to daily life where we play a silly, stupefying game for hours on end. Conversation is premium. Jokes are encouraged. Time is chunked up into 18 intervals, each hole unique, some shorter, others longer. If you’re lucky enough to be a member at a private club, the familiar faces of the staff are like seeing old friends. At my father’s golf course in Richmond, B.C., the women working in the pro shop still remember my name decades later. I am 44. You might see the same faces teeing off around the same time as you on Saturday mornings and say, “How’s the swing, Anne?” or “Still looking for that ball from last week’s wormburner, Sam?” Like our local cafes and now-hybrid workspaces, we missed each other. These third family relationships know your golf swing in ways your real family does not, nor cares to. The weekend hackers get it. There is a shared commiseration in this individually driven sport only golfers understand. This hyperlocal conversation lives in the lounge or on the tee box — try telling my wife about how I’m over-gripping a four-iron and she’ll be yawning before I can say “bogey.” But when she showed me the recent clip of Jason Bateman on “The Tonight Show” discussing his devilishly genius plan to encourage his daughter’s love of golf so they could travel the world playing together, sans wife mind you, I felt validated. Maybe she does get me.
The dialogue we have around this shared hobby sometimes feels like more than just a hobby, doesn’t it? Passion and obsession are paddlers in the same canoe if you ask me. The re-gripping of clubs during the winter months, the countless trips to GolfTown, the simulators. When you let the game sink into your bones like I have, you notice the little things: fresh divots, familiar ducks in a pond, the way the wind changes on the most difficult hole. Every golfer has a mental map of each course he or she has played around the world — sure, there was a game, but there was a trip, a view, an experience, and a memory. When I wrote about a round of golf I played with my dad in Tofino for ScoreGolf, a nine-hole gem tucked into the Pacific Rim National Park and part of the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve, it wasn’t just writing about a game — it was a love letter to the uniqueness of an experience and the memories the two of us shared walking under smoky skies, climate change and a pandemic raging alongside us. For one moment, we took our masks off and hacked our way through that course in the forest. I don’t even remember what we scored.
The RBC Canadian Open has returned after a two-year hiatus and this year it’s being held at the esteemed St. George’s in Toronto. I went to the last Canadian Open in Ancaster in 2019, when Rory McIlroy scalded the field en route to victory, and the lasting image of a Northern Irishman wearing a Raptors’ Lowry jersey is one of the finer moments of cross-sport pollination you’ll ever see. It is a thrill to see this country’s elite golfers in person — they number in the dozens now, with the grizzled veteran Mike Weir still teeing it up — go toe-to-toe with the PGA’s best. Corey Conners. Adam Hadwin. Mackenzie Hughes, and a host of others recently gaining status on tour. Follow newcomer Aaron Cockerill, or name brands like Justin Thomas or Scottie Scheffler. Seeing Conners’ sweet swing reminds you just how awful your own is, but a sense of awe washes that feeling away rather quickly. There’s a host of activities and new additions to the tournament this year if that’s your bag — “The Rink” on the Par 3 16th hole, or the death-defying Skyline Seating from theScorebet — signature fan experiences to this year’s tournament. For all the pomp and flash, I still come back to the game itself. Taiwanese golfer CT Pan recorded a 10 last week on the Par 5 11th hole at the Memorial and still made the cut, the first golfer to ever do so. He tweeted after the round: “This sums up my love and hate relationship with golf.” I’ve never felt more seen.
So, here’s to everyone heading out to the Canadian Open or watching from home. Here’s to the punch outs and the par saves. Here’s to long birdie makes and long drives piped down the fairway. Here’s to sitting on your trunk after a round and untying your shoes. Here’s to shooting ten over or two under this summer. Here’s to stingers and sandbaggers, duck hooks and lip outs. Here’s to just being there again. And hopefully next year, for myself, with a two-year-old toddler in tow.
Adam Elliott Segal is a freelance writer based in Toronto
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