I don’t love Toronto. It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a Montreal Canadiens fan, or a Montreal Expos loyalist, or that I grew up in Ottawa. Perhaps it’s because there’s no good bagels, or the condos block the view of the lake, or I can’t justify the inflated real estate prices just to fight commuter traffic. More likely it’s simply the claustrophobia of a metropolis—my angst could be born of any conurbation. A few summers ago I recall being up in The Big Smoke for some meetings, and stayed a little longer than I had hoped. The urbanity was getting to me. My cellphone wouldn’t stop ringing. My inbox grew like a festering weed. A migraine set in. In a blind panic, I reached for the phone a speed dialled a friend. I didn’t even bother with pleasantries.
“Golf?!” I half-yelled, half-begged.
“Give me ten minutes,” my saviour replied.
Within moments we were in his car, golf bags and briefcases thrown carelessly in the back seat. I closed my eyes as we weaved through traffic, desperately trying to make our escape from the clutches of the municipality. The slowly dissipating cityscape eased my tension, and gradually my journey to leisure therapy mitigated my dread.
Truthfully, I’m not even quite sure where we went. Maybe it was up to Collingwood and The Georgian Bay Club. Or The Credit Valley Golf and Country Club in Mississauga. Or Alton’s Osprey Valley Golf Course. All terrific courses in wonderful communities that revel in harmony and stark opposition to a city’s discordance. What was important is that we were free, free from being tethered to our desks, our screens, and, yes, maybe even our families.
The interesting thing about golf is that even though I’m not very good at it, it relaxes me like a full-day massage. Golf, as frustrating and addictive a sport as any endurance, is more than just an athletic challenge. A day at a golf course like The Georgian Bay Club (I really think that may have been it, as I think I remember that dog leg right on the 7th) allows for an expanse of reverie, distance from the urban chaos and stress of the day. It provides peace and serenity, the healing of nature combined with the vitality of sport.
A strange quality to golf’s estimable serenity is that I don’t love golf. I don’t hate golf, but I have no natural skills, little confidence, and deeply flawed form. I’m a blade of grass shy of a birdie on one hole, and double-quintuple bogey on the next. If I never golfed again, it wouldn’t rob me of sleep—I would soldier on unaffected. But I enjoy the day. I like the time with old friends—and new—out for an afternoon with nothing to better to do than chase a dimpled white ball around a lush pitch of well-manicured nature.
But what is it about golf that provides respite like no other activity, no other I’ve found anyway? On a day like my frantic escape from the city (now that I think about it, it may have been Credit Valley; I recall finding the Credit River off the tee on 11) it was about the fraternal or sororal, not just sanctuary. Friends catch up. How’s the new house? How’s business? How are the kids? How’s your dad? How’s your mum? It’s the minutiae that can only be enjoyed with friends, minutiae that in the city can seem like torture, but on the fairways, under the shade of epic pine, revelling in the bucolic, it is bliss.
With our feet up on the cart’s dash, we talk about work, politics, exercise, and getting old. As we order lunch and a few cold drinks, we talk about how the economy drives you to madness, about breakfast meetings, and our favourite TV shows. As we replace our divots we talk about mortgages, and love, and nine irons. We pause briefly in the contentedness of quiet. We mark the occasion of our continuing friendship in silence, as we line up puts, or just rest in the majesty of the course’s inherent beauty.
That day there was nothing much I remember about the chaos of the city or the therapeutic paradise of the course. The memory lacks detail. All I can recall is the vacuum that relieved me of my worry and my partner trying to convince me to play 36, so maybe it was Osprey Valley with its three course options: Heathland, Hoot, and Toot; or perhaps he simply wanted to enjoy a second round at the beautiful Crosswinds Golf & Country Club, set against the backdrop of the Niagara Escarpment.
Golf was never something we thought we’d do when we were young. It was not something we aspired to. Before the mid-nineties rise of Tiger Woods and golf’s expansion into cross-cultural, cross-generational, and cross-gender appeal, golf was a sport for our fathers, for the elderly and elite. But the sport’s rapid evolution to a universally alluring recreation opened our eyes not only to just a pastime, but a lifestyle. The relaxation isn’t simply reserved for the course. The entire environment of the sport promotes escapism.
Consider the courses mentioned above: Credit Valley, Crosswinds, Osprey Valley, and Georgian Bay. They’re not simply strolls through the pastoral. They’re destinations, synthesized vacations only a short drive from the home or the office. It’s an exotic getaway right in your backyard. It’s a cottage without the mortgage. They offer world class dining, event planning and hosting, amenities and activities catering to children, and a community of like-minded souls who also need escape. Golf provides an oasis, a refuge from our lives which have become seven day-a-week, twenty-four hour-a-day endless cycles.
The friend who picked me up and saved me from a metropolitan breakdown is a more avid golfer than I. He gets out three to five times a week, and vacations where—and only where—great golf is readily available. He knows these courses, this lifestyle, and the sanctum they provide him and his family. What surprises me most about his experiences are the stories of the people he has met at the various clubs he frequents, and not the cliché of networking and business connections (thought they certainly exist) that are a trope of golf’s cultural dissemination. He spoke intimately and affectionately about good people, about people like him, who just needed some place to go, someplace to luxuriate in an adjournment from reality.
Back on that day, during that liberation from metropolitan angst, we got caught up in the fairway traffic of an afternoon of golf. Play was slow. Everyone was there not to rush through a round, but to savour 18 holes of arcadian relaxation. Because, out there, away from that which burdens us, there’s time to wait. To reflect. To stand in a circle of golf shirts and cold drinks to share anecdotes, parables, euphemisms, and stories. But these moments aren’t long enough. Somehow, the clocks are our enemies, and responsibility is overwhelming. There are children to care for. Wives to love. Mortgages to pay. Lawns to cut. Vacations to plan. There is everything away from the fairways and greens. But it stays there, if but for a moment. And in the realities of contemporary life and modern day pressures, that moment happens to be just enough.