Only three days ago, I said to my wife,“If our winter weather could only be just what we’ve had so far this year, I think I could handle it.”
We’ve had enough snow to appease the retail trade, enough sunny days to remind us that summer is only 130 days away and pleasant temperatures allowing my daily regimen of playing golf or hitting a few balls will return.
I should have known better.
It snowed all day shortly afterwards, with wet heavy mush and continued the next day with a lot of ‘little snow” which as we know, isn’t good unless you are a skier, who calls it powder.
So I came indoors instead of working outside.
Now, I’m looking at one of the most forlorn sights of all time. Because we didn’t expect so much snow, I haven’t brought in the flags/pins from our new nine-hole pitching course.
Stout black numbers on a red square perched atop a bright yellow pole are fluttering in the wind as the snow drifts higher and higher. It might melt, but I don’t think so. In fact, it’s bringing to look a lot like Christmas.
With huge amounts of time now available and this piece to write I was drawn back to the year that is about to end.
On the frivolous side, it rained more last spring than during any period in recent history. A little more important, Tiger didn’t play until last week and very important, my friend, Attila Becsy defended his Canadian Seniors Diamond Division championship.
The Tiger story had a nice ending for the year when he played well enough in his first tournament to be optimistic about his 2018 schedule. His swing looks sound, he putted very well and he didn’t walk up the final hole carrying his leg over his shoulder.
Some sad things happened this year.
One is the announcement closing the Desert Inn Golf Course in Las Vegas. Given some of the fantastic courses available in that city one might ask “Who cares?”
In 1974, the Canadian PGA organized a 72-hole pro-m there. We played McCormick Ranch, Paradise Valley, Sunrise and Desert Inn, four wonderful courses.
We had a 20-minute drive from our hotel at the Desert Inn to McCormick Ranch, Sunrise and Paradise Valley. We walked through the hotel to get to the first tee at Desert Inn. All four courses disappeared from their original organization long ago.
First, let me say, so did the Desert Inn disappear but it was redesigned into the Wynn Golf Club opening in 2005 with full amenities and a $500. Appropriately, the original course hosted the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions accompanied by a wheelbarrow filled with $10,000 in silver dollars for the winner in true Vegas style.
By 1974, I had traveled to Florida, many points in Ontario and across Canada to play the Canadian Tour, but nothing was as grand as Las Vegas.
We saw Wayne Newton. Elvis Presley entertained just down the street. Barry Manilow, David Brenner, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and Frank Sinatra were all there.
The cost to see the Allan King show in the Stardust Casino was a cover charge of $20. However, the cover charge included $20 worth of drinks. Booze in a casino was free when you were gambling and less than $1 at the shows. This meant if you ordered a mixed drink as your cover, they brought you 20 drinks on a tray.
At a table of six, there would be over 100 drinks on the table at the beginning of the show because there was no table service during the entertainment. I’m sure times have changed. Maybe, they now bring you a big jug per person.
One of the absolute thrills of my life came when I was practice putting at Desert Inn before our round. I putted to a hole only to see someone putting from the opposite direction. It was Stan Leonard.
I played a practice round with him when we were playing the B.C. Open. Instantly, it occurred to me that I had just read his name on a cairn located in the centre of the putting green. He is a past champion of the Tournament of Champions, among a list containing such names as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Sam Snead.
Here I was face to face with one of the premier golfers in Canadian history in the exact place where he had been presented the winner’s trophy and the famous wheelbarrow. We spoke briefly recalling a nice match when he and I were partners only three years earlier at Richmond Golf Club in B.C.
Another Sin City highlight came when my traveling buddy, Frank Whibley, won the 72-hole tournament. His amateur partners and mine were not married at the time and tended toward a slightly different form of entertainment than he and I did, traveling with our wives.
Frank had played some on the PGA Tour in the mid-60s and was always among the highest finishers in our local events and here he was again accepting the trophy after beating my other friend Stan Leonard on the last hole.
I don’t know what ever happened to the trophy, but it was a monster. What I do remember was Frank standing on the stage of the Crystal Showroom, receiving this silver memento from singer Gordon MacCrae and Peggy Lee.
Lee finished with the presentations and closed the show by singing ‘Is That All There Is.’ It sounded different to see her sing it than the sounds that come from the radio.
The Desert Inn hotel is gone, the Desert Inn Golf Course is gone, my friend Frank Whibley is gone and now the Wynn Golf Course is gone.
Last month Alvie Thompson passed away. He was a terrific player and a nice guy. I was the summertime assistant at Meadowbrook Golf Club. In the winter, I worked at Slazenger, repairing clubs and on weekends, I was the bartender at the golf club.
In an effort to generate revenue, the club rented the clubhouse to the Toronto Snowmobile Club.
I remember one Saturday night sometime around 1966 or ’67 when three local golf professionals – Jack Lally, Paul Cluff and Alvie – were taking a little cruise around the course and neighbouring farm fields at about midnight.
There was a full moon and it was some kind of cold. Alvie’s ride didn’t have a headlight, so they agreed Paul would lead followed by Jack, followed by Alvie and they would drive three abreast in a sort of “wing” formation.
Everything was perfect until they raced down the 15th fairway toward the small bridge spanning a little creek. Since the water was moving quickly, it didn’t freeze. Cluffie whizzed across, followed safely by Jack, then … plop!
The superbly engineered “wing” formation neglected to consider the bridge was only wide enough for the first two machines. Alvie crashed the snowmobile into the creek and then had to stand up in the freezing water to escape.
Last week, I went to Gordon de Laat’s funeral. Gordon celebrated his 100th birthday last April.
As the officiating priest said “The poor man was taken right in the prime of his life”.
He was not only a friend; he was one of my idols. I loved how intensely he competed. He wasn’t vicious or wanting to smash an opponent’s face in – all he wanted was to do his very best. If he won, he won. If he didn’t, it wasn’t his turn.
Gordon, who spent 30 years at Weston Golf and Country Club in Toronto, had a dream of building his own golf course, which he did calling it Mayfield Golf Club.
Most of the construction was completed as he could afford the time and the money. Forty years later, his vision stands. He built 27 holes and a sufficient clubhouse.
All it sells is golf, carts and refreshments. There are no airs, no grandiose facilities, no arrogance and no snobbish ways. The rules are comfortable, everyone is polite and friendly, but more than anything, they are all golfers plain and simple.
Gordon treated everyone with dignity and respect. His pricing was on the low side of average and his course was fun and playable. However, one way in which his business differed from other golf courses in the area is that he had no clue what people were talking about when they said “business is down.”
In the last 25 years, his business had never been down. Beginning early in the spring and continuing throughout the summer, his starting sheet was always full every day and in years of limited snowfall, he was open.
He understood what golfers want – a competitive product at a fair price and to be well treated. Not all of Gordon’s days in his life were perfect, but when you live to be 100, you can throw away some bad ones and still come out ahead.
The holiday season brings with it a desire to tidy up a few things before the New Year. It also brings a sense of reflection. Some things I wish I could change, but I doubt the changes would please everyone so best they stay as they are.
As I look back on 2017 I will miss a few things and a few people, but one bright light for me is writing on Ian’s GNN blog. I’ll miss Desert Inn. I’ll miss Alvie Thompson. I’ll miss Gordon de Laat and for the past six years, I’ve missed my travel partner, my playing pal, my friend Frank.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!