I have played golf for almost 60 years, began caddying 65 years ago and have been a member of the PGA of Canada for 48 years.
During that time, I have seen the popularity of Arnold Palmer and his effect on TV, the impact of a determined Jack Nicklaus and the wow factor of Tiger Woods. Each one of these eras shaped the game in one way or another.
From 1960 to about 1985, it was the great “land boom.”
Developers found out they could assemble a parcel of land and bank it by building a golf course on it. The business generated profits that paid taxes, mortgages and development costs as it waited until the time was right for development.
It was a perfect storm. You could borrow money for a down payment, borrow money for a mortgage, borrow money for golf course construction, use the course profits to pay for all of these and cover the rezoning costs.
At the end of the cycle you could sell or build. Either way, huge profits were/are made without ever using your own money.
Equipment manufacturers have also influenced the game. Lighter, faster, longer, straighter are all terms used in marketing new products. The quest to find the next longest driver or the straightest ball, have changed the complexion of the game. With the increases in distances, courses now require additional land to accommodate them.
Along the way, improvements in agronomy, technology in course maintenance equipment, scientific research in grasses, turf, trees, ponds etc. plus water use, computerized applications of labour, pesticides and even the weather have all changed the way the game is played.
At the beginning of my career, the only reference to growing the game came once a year when the members generously signed a form giving us permission to use their clubs in the annual caddie championship.
New junior golfers came more from local fields and parks. Young men took up the game either to spend time playing a sport in the outdoors or because they found out it helped them in business. Young women weren’t attracted so easily.
As I reflect back and review so many changes, I wonder what kept the game together. How did it survive being pushed, pulled, stretched and mauled in so many directions?
Balls that fly like ballistic missiles, drivers that resemble a pole vault pole, putters built with enough technology to compete with a space shuttle and playing surfaces that match those of a pool table all have had an impact.
If you compare these changes to those in other sports, you will find a soccer ball is still a soccer ball, a dart is still a dart, a puck is still a puck and a basketball is still a basketball.
Even though these sports have endured changes, a soccer pitch is still grass on the same-sized field, a dart is still thrown from the same distance at a target placed at the same height from the floor and a basketball court is still the same sized hardwood floor with a hoop the same size.
The only two things that have remained the same in golf during the modern era are the size of the hole and the size of the ball, despite some tinkering with both.
So what is the magic glue holding golf so beautifully together? Why is it so resilient?
The answer is friendships, people sharing the difficulties of producing a good shot in tranquil surroundings and plain old camaraderie!
Members at private clubs enjoy many, many organized functions – handicap events, club championships, member-guests, junior programs and the like, but private clubs only make up a small percentage of the courses available.
What about all the others? Strangely, all of these municipal courses, pay-as-you play, semi-private, resort and open fields have one common thread. They have volunteer players who revel in the feeling they get out of organizing events for others.
These men and women are not afraid to take on the role of volunteer chair. They oversee basic Monday morning men’s leagues, ladies’ days, weekly best balls and invitationals.
They come from a variety of backgrounds, some experienced, some not, but each one comes with the same basic motivation to put together events for the enjoyment of others.
It’s a thankless job! Ninety-nine percent of people recognize the effort and often pitch in in some way. They help with recording scores, soliciting prizes/donations, travel or even clean-up.
Recently, I played in two such events.
The first one was a two-day trip to Montebello Que. Nine golf professionals from Ontario, nine from Ottawa and nine from Quebec met for the eighth year.
Dave Clayton, the managing partner of Wolf Run Golf Club, Mike Veilleux, the golf ambassador from Richelieu Valley Golf Club, and Larry McCauley made the arrangements.
We toss a few bucks into a pot and laugh a lot while trying to beat each other, applying skills that long ago have left us.
Playing golf provides the most memorable situations, but meeting for breakfast and dinner so we can try to outdo the last story told with a bigger, more dynamic oldie is by far the best of times.
Some of these guys I have known for over 50 years, others not quite so long, but I sure look forward to seeing them every year. Thank you Dave, Mike and Larry.
The next tournament is called the Reunion Match Play Championship and is comprised of 36 Ontario PGA members who are over the age of 60 or Life Members.
The field is broken into three groups of six, two-man teams who play a five-game round robin sequence of matches lasting all summer. We have a list of over 50 of the finest courses in the GTA that host our matches.
The participants have known each other for 30, 40 to over 50 years, but over time, have drifted apart for various reasons.
This event has provided motivation to guys who long ago reduced their playing schedules or lost interest to rekindle a practice schedule and find time to hit a few balls because they have a partner and because they want to perform well.
Across the world in every corner of every country, there are people willing to stand up and put together small events – weekly, monthly or even annually.
The frequency doesn’t matter. The point is that people playing in these events spend a little more time playing golf. They take a few more lessons. They buy new equipment and they study tour results more closely. In short, they enjoy the atmosphere of golf more.
Long after the final 8,000 yard course is replaced with a nifty 6,000-yarder, there are no more 100,000-square-foot, money-slurping clubhouses and someone designs equipment that is playable and accepted by the public that places an outer limit of 250 yds on a long drive, golf will survive.
It will survive because of the unnamed soldiers who plod along organizing events and enjoying every minute of it.