Sauble Beach. It is the second largest fresh water beach in the world says the Sauble Beach Chamber of Commerce. Cottages are the mainstay of the town which swells from two thousand souls in winter to fifty thousand in the summer months. In the winter people conduct their lives in the usual small town ways: stocking up on groceries at the Valu Mart, journeying to the Hepworth Legion for some drinking and maybe some dancing and card games, planning and participating in the annual Winterfest parade, partaking of church bazaars and otherwise putting in time before the annual summer onslaught.
Our family, like so many others in Southern Ontario, was drawn to Lake Huron’s beaches. I can remember renting a cottage in Kincardine and later, camping at the Pinery near Grand Bend. All had good beaches and I can remember many a day spent making castles in the sand or finding old pieces of wood debris to “sail” along the sandy shore. Times spent at those beaches provided me with some unforgettable memories that I can still vividly recall to this very day.
When I was eleven, we went to stay with some family friends (or distant relatives – I can’t recall exactly) at a cottage in Sauble Beach. Eleven is really a crummy age. You are not old enough to wander on your own around town. You are too old to play with toys or crayon in those silly colouring books. This was before video games and computers. My sister, who was three at the time, kept my parents busy containing her in the house and I was not anxious to babysit. Johnnie Mizzi’s parents, who always asked Johnnie to look after his younger brother Paul at the most inconvenient times (like all the time), had tainted my desire to help entertain my little sister.
I remember getting quite bored listening to adults talk about friends and relatives and events from a number of years ago. Fortunately, at sunset one evening, we got the call of the pipes. Like most of the town folk and its summer residents everyone was drawn to the beach on Thursdays for the “Bagpipes at Sunset” celebration. It was fascinating to watch stocky grown men parading in tattoo formation up the beach, sporting their Scottish plaid kilts of many colours, blowing continuously into those weird instruments. The image in my mind is one of big silly dressed men embracing a sheep under their arm, squeezing the poor animal and causing it to bleat incessantly while trying to escape.
The event lasted much longer than I had imagined. It was only after it ended and we went to get the super sized ice cream cones that it all seemed worthwhile. I must say an ice cream cone where you can pick multiple flavours for your three scoop, ten cent cone, was very special. (Years later when working as a manager for Bell Canada during an extended labour strike, I was posted to Owed Sound and did telephone installations in the Sauble Beach area. I can remember cruising the streets of town in my Bell truck and finding an ice cream stand that still offered those massive cones). There was much drinking and talk when we came home from the Sunset tattoo. Amidst the festivities, my dad and the two others decided the following morning they would go golfing. Dad asked me if I wanted to go. I had never played golf before and knew very little about the sport. But I told him I was very interested. It was a great way to get out of the boring cottage.
Next morning, dad woke me up at 6 am. Was this when people went golfing? Oh my. I got dressed while others slept. The other golfers joined us and we got into the car for a short drive to the Sauble Beach Golf Club. First off, we went to a little building where my dad explained to the attendant that I was going to “caddy” for him. The starter, as he was called, said it was okay and told us we would “tee off” at 7:26. I had no idea what all this meant and was glad that our next destination was the golf club’s restaurant where we sat down to a big breakfast of bacon and eggs and toast and jam. I loved this part of golf.
We finished up eating and then went outside, preparing to “tee off”. My dad quickly explained how the game was played. “You use a ‘club’ to hit a ball into a distant hole in the fewest number of hits possible”, he said. “You can carry my bag and watch for awhile until you understand how the game works. The most important thing is to be quiet when someone is hitting the ball and always stay behind them at a distance to avoid being hit”.
When everyone hit, I stood and watched, holding dad’s bag of clubs. I don’t remember where the other two men hit their balls, but I do recall watching my dad’s fly fairly straight. After he hit the ball, he grabbed his knee, cursing quietly and then standing up again. “Trick knee”, he said. Every time he hit the ball he did the same thing. I tried to understand why it was so important to grab your right knee after hitting. As the others did not do the same thing, it became apparent that clutching your knee like dad did was not part of the game.
Watching all of them, I found it amazing how a golf ball could travel so much farther than a baseball. Clearly, it was important to keep the ball on the shorter grass. If you hit the ball into the higher grass or into the woods, everyone had to help you find your ball. My dad said, “It is a two shot penalty if you lose your ball. And balls are expensive. Always keep your eyes open when you are in the woods. You might find a ball someone has lost”.
I liked the idea of watching the men playing golf and walking along after the shots. There was dew on the grass and before long my shoes got very wet. Still, it wasn’t too uncomfortable. I was enjoying myself. The sun shining on the dew made the grass sparkle. I could hear the birds singing in the trees. It was really sort of beautiful. Golf wasn’t like baseball (which I really liked). Golf wasn’t noisy. There weren’t people watching all the time and eating hot dogs in the grandstands. There was no band to play at the seventh inning stretch (there is actually no seventh inning stretch in golf – you just keep walking). It is quiet playing golf but it can be regularly rewarding. The best part of golf is watching your shot go far and straight, kind of like a home run. I was very happy when dad’s ball stayed on the shorter grass. He always seemed to hit it a bit farther than the other men, and straighter. I wanted to play just like him.
After a few holes, my dad turned to me and said, “You want to play”? “You bet!” He reached into his bag and pulled out a club. It was old. It was shorter than the others and had a thin metal blade. On the back it said Made in Scotland – J. Bremner – Deep Mashie. My dad explained that it was a cross between a five iron and a six iron, which of course meant nothing to me. It was light and I swung it back and forth. He showed me how to hold the club. Left hand holding the “shaft”. Right hand below it. Thumbs facing in a straight line down the shaft. Little finger of the right hand overlapping the little finger of the left. It all felt very funny, not like holding a baseball bat.
He handed me three balls and said, “If you lose these you will have to find some new ones. Try and keep up with us”. “If you are going to play golf”, he said, “you gotta start somewhere. So go to it”. That’s all he said. He walked to his own ball, hit it and started walking away from me on the short grass (fairway). I threw down a ball and quickly swung at it, missing it entirely. Again, the same thing. Finally I hit it and it rolled down the fairway. The men were now getting farther away from me. I suddenly felt pressure to keep up. I kept swinging, realizing that if you could hit under the ball it would go farther. And eventually it did. And sort of straight, too. Fortunately I was also keeping it on the short grass.
I caught up to the men at the green – the area where the grass was cut much shorter than the rest. When on that special grass, the person farthest from the hole hits first. As my ball was sitting on the green, dad handed me his special club which he called a “putter” and said, “Now hit the ball into the hole”. This part seemed easy. I hit my ball and it started going where I had aimed. Soon, though, it began to follow the slope of the ground, rolling away from the hole. Obviously, “putting” was not that easy. Eventually, I hit the ball into the hole. Dad asked me how many shots I had taken. “Twelve”, I said. “Did you count the times you missed the ball?” “Do you count them too?”, I asked. “Yes, he said, “in golf you have to count all the strokes, whether you hit the ball or not. If you don’t count them all you are just cheating yourself”.
The more I played, the more I liked the game. Soon I was hitting my shots farther than the other men; once I even hit it farther than my dad. Putting was hard though. I counted all my shots (and misses) – 97. I still had the three balls my dad gave me when I started. And I found two others searching for lost balls. Dad smiled when I gave him back the five balls. “These are yours, now”, he said.
When we finished, my dad came over to me. He gave me a hug and said, “I think this could be your game. Just keep practicing”. And then we went home to the cottage; the adults to talk and drink, and me to practice with the mashie and my five golf balls in the backyard. I did a lot of backyard practicing (at our house) in the years after that. I made myself a green in our backyard, had obstacle courses and became quite proficient at the “short game” as a result. I later joined a golf course and played incessantly as a young teenager.
My first time playing golf is a lasting memory for me. First, because it started me off on a life-long interest from which I still obtain great pleasure. Secondly, for the satisfying life experience I obtained playing with my dad. I only played golf with my dad a handful of times after that first session. His trick knee really kept him from playing more. Years later, when I played the game with my own children it made me realize how satisfying it must have been for him to introduce me to this game that we both enjoyed so much. Based on my own experience, though, I think the greatest satisfaction wasn’t just in playing the game that we both enjoyed; rather it was from playing the game together. I long to be able to play with him again; and with my own children too. The first will never happen as he passed away many years ago. The second can still occur although my kids are deep into their own lives. Perhaps my grandchildren. And maybe, just maybe I can convince Judy to also pick up the game. After all, “You gotta start somewhere”.
By the way, I still have the old Mashie.