My good friend John loves to play golf more than anyone I know. Rain. Snow. Doesn’t matter. Fifty-four holes in a day. No sweat. He hangs his hat in Caledon and is constantly batting the ball around Devil’s Pulpit and Paintbrush, and more often than not, at the 54-holes that is Osprey Valley. Hes always talking about another golf outing.
Got 61 holes in on Saturday at Osprey, he said to me this week. Would have been more, but we had cart trouble.
And, believe it or not, he wasnt playing in some sort of golf iron man. Thats just an average weekend.
To many Osprey is confounding. There never seems to be that many people at the place, but the courses are always in great shape, always priced right and always a tremendous amount of fun to play. I actually think the Wasteland/Heathland grouping is the best 36-hole facility in the country. At 54 holes, nothing is close. What else is out there? Cardinal? Come on. But no one can figure out how the owner turns a buck on the place. I dont care “ it is next to perfect in my mind, a fine mix of rustic charm and challenge that is how golf should be. No palatial clubhouse. It doesnt need it.
Anyway, I never expected to be playing golf this late in the year for a couple of reasons. For at least part of the year I actually disliked playing. The ball never went where it was supposed to, and all I could remember while playing was how easy it had once been. Where did it go? I’d hit balls on the range that would basically go in the direction I was aiming, but that never transferred to the course. I was a mess. To compound matters, my adjustments to my swing hurt my left wrist — so now I was hurt and the ball didn’t go anywhere near the target. There were many times when I cursed the game. Playing golf at a passable level is a remarkable challenge. That’s what makes it beautiful, remarkable and unforgiving all at the same time.
Don’t get me wrong, I still loved the game, hoped it would get better. I remembered playing to a 2-handicap, but that seemed a distant memory, and it was five years and two kids ago. Maybe I wasnt built to be a very good player. Maybe it was fleeting and wasnt meant to last. Then, after a particularly awful game in August with my mortified instructor, Bruce McCarrol, and my peer, Lorne Rubenstein, I thought a wholesale change was needed. My hooks would put ducks to shame. Smothered was a better way of describing them “ and this wasnt just with my driver. It was everything. Ever hooked a sand wedge? I have.
McCarrol suggested a solution by way of fanning my clubface open as I took it away — or at least feel like I was doing so — in order to eliminate my dreaded hook. I did that and had some luck. Then a couple of days later at the range at Angus Glen, I worked double time fanning my irons open. Suddenly I hit controlled cuts. The ball reacted the same way time and again. I was excited about the possibilities of golf for the first time in months. I could feel the clubhead close properly at release. It wasnt shut any more. I started to gain confidence in my long irons. Until then I’d been turning down games — and most people don’t say no to a round at the National. I did, on more than one occasion. Ever had those dreams where youre taking an exam for a course you never attended? Ive had that one, but it never scared me the way my dream about hitting it OB on the third hole of Eagles Nest did. Id wake up with cold sweats. Painful I tell you.
I went to bed that night after my Angus session thinking the sensation that had created the cut shot would disappear the next day. I wouldn’t remember what I’d done. But a couple of days later I was back out on the range doing the same thing and the cut was there — time and again. Suddenly the hook with the irons was gone. My first game out with the new flight wasn’t perfect, but I was in the low 80s again and could see progress. I became optimistic about what I was accomplishing and the game became exciting. Id wake up and want to play, whereas Id spent part of the summer trying to avoid it. At one time McCarrol said I needed to simply take up the invitations and enjoy the game. No one cared how I played, he said. That wasnt why they wanted to bat the ball around with me. But that isnt me. Im competitive in practically everything I do. I would walk away from the game rather than not play well. Im sure my detractors would have loved that. Maybe it was time to become a politics reporter who could name all the courses by Stanley Thompson.
The cut continued into September. It wasnt perfect. Ill probably always be hit-and-miss with my driver, busting it long with a little draw sometimes, and hooking it others. But being able to hit a 220-yard 3-iron again put options back into my game. I could just keep the ball in play on tighter holes. I started posting some nice scores “ not great, but solid. Enjoyment came back into my game as my shots became predictable.
Fast forward to the last two weeks. John wants to play Osprey.
As many holes as we can get in RT, he says, his voice rising at the end. Thirty-six at the least, but only because of daylight!
So I made the hour-plus drive to Osprey, tipped it up on the Heathlands as a foursome (including one guy who actually hit me with a shot last year), and bombed around in 2:45. I shot 77 “ not that it mattered. I love the course and I loved playing it the way it was supposed to be played. My rejuvenated game allowed me to start being inventive, to dream up recovery shots and be aggressive when it was called for. Golf was fun again.
That afternoon I made a couple of birdies in a row playing the parkland course at Osprey from the black deck (the Hoot? Who can say?). When I added it all up the score came out even, something I hadnt done since 2005. I looked forward to playing again, but when one plays 36 in the middle of November the realization is that golf is near an end. In past years I might not have missed it. But now I needed it to continue.
And so it did “ for one final jaunt round the parkland course, starting in the fog on Monday, and then a few holes on the favored Heathland before calling it a day. The morning round went well; the stroke was needed some effort, but not much and I hit the ball straight while the fog held up, keeping it in play and allowing me to find it. The afternoon round was always going to be a rush “ I had to be back in Toronto for an appointment by 2:45.
We rushed through six holes, starting with the existing 18th, a par-3 over water to a green built into the amphitheatre of a hill. A nice par there, a chip and a putt on the opener for five, and a green in regulation on the par-3 and I was beginning to think this might be my day. A nice drive on the third, a long par-4 playing into the prevailing wind offered another par. Now time was running out and Id have to dash. I leaned on a driver on the par-5 fourth and hit it flush, a little draw 300-yards out. Pulled a 3-iron out and went for the green, putting it on the fringe. A chip and a putt later Id made birdie “ almost certainly my last hole of the year.
This really isnt about my golf game “ though that is certainly a factor. Having fun and playing well are, for my, intrinsically linked. Shouldnt be that way, as John pointed out in an e-mail after our round, but it comes down to the expectations we have of ourselves.
While pros or industry personnel dont expect writers like you or avid golfers like me to be great golfers we expect more from ourselves or at least to be respectable, John wrote. But we also have to remember that there is nothing wrong with us not being in the seventies all the time and to remember to enjoy the times we are playing golf — which is greatest game out there.
Hes right. It is a beautiful and maddening game. That is what makes it so great.
So heres to the passing of another golf season and to the terrific fairways of Osprey Valley. And most of all, heres to dealing with our own expectations, finding joy in golf and supporting a passion with the friends who share our fairways.