Being November 11, it seems like a good day to be somewhat reflective. On top of that, yesterday I had the chance to sneak out to Scarboro Golf and Country Club — one of my favourite places to play in the country — for what will likely be my final round in Canada this year (my apologies to James Dodson for stealing the title of his terrific book.)
Scarboro shoudn’t still work as well as it does. After all, part of the course backs onto a group of apartment buildings that are — how shall we put it — less than desirable. The course, the only AW Tillinghast in Canada (based on a routing by the legendary George Cumming), is exceptionally fun to play, with a great mix of short, clever holes (#3, #7) and long tough ones (#2, #5).
I arrived at Scarboro planning to play on my own. I recently read a golf column by media relations practioner Tim O’Connor about playing golf on his own. He made a number of good points about the pleasure of playing golf by one’s self. Many people, who see the game as being about comradery, are reluctant to play golf solo. I actually enjoy it — rarely keeping score, simply trying to hit shots, and dropping another ball down when the first shot doesn’t work out. Last week I did just that at London, Ont.’s delightful and fun Firerock GC. Yesterday, I hit Scarboro’s first fairway at 1:45, with slightly over three hours of daylight in front of me. Without a warmup, I hit a fine drive down the long first fairway and was off.
A lot of things cross my mind when I play golf on my own. I often think about stories I’m working on, people I still need to call, things I need to do around the house. That usually goes away after a hole or two — especially if I turn my BlackBerry off. I thought about what a good weekend would mean to my friend Alan McLean, who is playing in China this week (he struggled yesterday in the third round to fall to 29th spot), and about the fact I only hit two types of drives these days — big high draws and low, snappy hooks.
Inevitably I started reflecting on the state of the game and what I had experienced over the course of the 2006 year.
For me, it has been an exciting year professionally speaking. I left the Post in January to build my own business of freelance writing, speech writing and consulting. To date I’ve exceeded my expectations, which is a relief. I have now written a twice-monthly column for Scoregolf.com for almost a year; wrote a cover story for T&L Golf in the U.S., and now have a best selling book on my hands. This blog has also been a big factor in my successful year. After nearly two years on Blogger.com, I moved the site to join Jeff Lancaster at Ontgolf.ca. I hoped to expand my readership, which at that point number a couple hundred a day. Now with 1,000 people showing up each day to read it, the experiment is unquestionably a success. Thanks to everyone who shows up each day to see what I have to say about golf. I’ve enjoyed all of the comments and debates. Golf is a remarkable game and deserves all the attention and scrutiny it receives. All in all, a fine year.
It has also been an interesting year for Canadian golf. In Ontario, many courses have seen rounds dip. The best courses have seen flat round counts, but many are down 5% to 15%, and revenue is down even further. Some of this has to do with a wet October that kept patrons off of fairways. Some has to do with the state of the game in the country. We need to find a way to attract more people to the game — something James Cronk, the head of the new Play Golf initiative, is trying to figure out as well.
In Ontario, some courses had very successful seasons (Copper Creek), while others rebounded from disappointing 2005 years (Bond Head, under new management). The Niagara golf region, hit by a high Canadian dollar and border issues, continues to struggle to find a way to attract golfers. All of this uncertainty has led to a number of courses hitting the market — there are a handful apparently for sale currently — and is fueling the continued concerns that the Ontario market has overexpanded, exposing courses to serious financial repercussions.
So we finish another year of golf in Canada with a lot of questions, many of which only time will answer.
As for me, well, I saw and played a lot of great golf this year (Western Gailes, Coppinwood, Hamilton G&CC, Highlands Links, Kingsbarns (again!), Riverside in Saskatoon, Maple Downs in Maple), and look forward to what next year offers.
I reflected on all of this yesterday as I played a little speed golf through a series of holes on the back nine at Scarboro yesterday. I hit some good shots — and a couple of nasty fat ones — but that didn’t matter. It was a lovely Friday afternoon in November and I was playing golf. How much better does it get?