Mudball trophy 1990

This time of year, is a tough one for Canadians as the winter persists and thoughts naturally drift to the golf season. Years ago, when I was in the retail golf business February and March would be considered the busiest months as golfers get the itch to research new equipment and make purchases of the latest and greatest game improvement breakthroughs. Wiarton Willy annually provides the most accurate estimate of just how much winter is really left, but alas not really in most of Canada. The reality is winter just keeps on going and as a result creates desperate yearnings for sports fulfillment that only a Canadian golfer can truly experience.

Those yearnings were never insignificant for an unlikely foursome of golfers:

  • Mike, the master of organization, and pioneer in early adaption
  • John, a fan of self-help golf books, and insightful observer of life’s everyday challenges
  • Bill, the confident achiever at most things he set his mind to doing (not the least of which was exceling at golf)
  • Rob (a.k.a MainstreetRob), the unhappy interventionist with views on why most things will not work and the official poo-pooer of adventurous dreams

By mid-March the pangs to play reach a feverous condition. The phantom successes of previous year’s golf experiences take over and the annual trip to Syracuse is seriously reconsidered. Because the climate is so much warmer in Syracuse, a three-hour drive directly south of Ottawa, it is widely believed that the Canadian golf season can be hatched a full three weeks ahead of the hometown courses. Early spring is the time to throw weather caution to the wind and go south – to Syracuse, that is.

One early spring, the tradition was reaffirmed as Bill announced his availability to play golf in Syracuse (his schedule was always very tight). This generally set off a series of “let’s goes” from the other three with a small caveat from Rob who was concerned about the potential for adverse weather and the fact hotel reservations at this late date might be difficult, even in Syracuse. He was quickly overruled. Mike was anxious to combine an early golf trip with a chance to investigate the new all-weather apparel fabric called “Gortex”. John was eager to try out his new golf swing, having spent hours during the winter with golf swing books and videos recrafting his previous approach. Bill had just a very small window to schedule in golf.

We set off in Bill’s vintage yellow Mercedes, clubs and suitcases squeezed into the trunk and the four of us seated in relative comfort on the old diesel’s comfy leather seats. The snow disappeared by the time we reached Watertown and we watched the outside temperature gauge in the cockpit of the Mercedes climb to 53 degrees Fahrenheit. That was a veritable heat wave for Canadians.

The weather forecast did not appear great for the weekend, though, but we knew, as all golfers do, that it never rains on a golf course. We arrived at the Cicero Driving Range in a slightly misty rain and found that we were the only ones there. Perfect. Chuck, the range owner, came out to greet us: “Welcome to Cicero my crazy Canucks”, he said. “Have I got a deal for you”. The thing about Chuck was that he always had a deal for us, and all other Canadians who came to Syracuse as well. Canadians were his primary source of income.  “I’ll knock another $50 off your purchase if you deliver these clubs to somebody who lives near you. It will save them a trip down here”. Chuck always wanted to help his Canadian customers. Of course, making deliveries also saved the duty being charged at the border for Canadians if you could sneak a few extra clubs back in the trunk. We told him we would see about deliveries when we dropped in on our way home.

It just so happened that Chuck had just received the newest metal woods made by Callaway. It was a new company that was revolutionizing the golf business. Rob grabbed one of the new Callaway drivers with a Memphis 10 shaft and began hitting balls (it later turned out that this was a ladies’ shaft that in full season produced some of the finest snap hooks the game had ever seen – but that is another story). In the springtime when muscles are stiff and the swing is still rough, this was the perfect driving club. And did those drives go! Rob couldn’t believe how much farther he was able to hit them compared to his regular Walter Hagen (persimmon) woods. “How much is this one, Chuck”, he asked. “You just keep it for the weekend and when you come back we’ll make a deal”, said Chuck. That night on the range Rob just kept hitting them long and straight. Chuck should have sold it to him then and there. He would have paid big bucks for that metal driver. (Rob still has it and refers to it as his Baby Bertha. It was the forerunner to Callaway’s Great Big Bertha which took the golfing world by storm a few years later).

Meanwhile, Mike was chatting with someone inside the pro shop and trying on the “Gortex” rain suits. “You guys should get one of these suits”, he said. “You’ll be warm and dry this weekend”. It was clear to all of us that the weekend looked to have a bit of rain. But the rest of us were not prepared to fork out the $300 Mike paid for his suit. The regular rubber rain suits at $30 seemed perfect, given the fact the rain was not likely to continue for the entire weekend.

watchWe left Cicero feeling good. Mike had his “Gortex” rain suit. Rob his Callaway driver. Bill a strange looking Ping putter and John a golf watch with a sand trap visible behind the golf club hands. At $4.95 he felt it was a steal. And it kept time.

The next morning, we had a tee off time at Radisson Greens and not surprisingly there were very few others there. The temperature had dropped to the mid-forties but the misty rain had at least stopped. We had a good day, although we were quite cold when we got back to the hotel. We warmed up with a “wee dram” of scotch that Bill had bought at the duty free and then we went out for an all-you-can-eat crab leg dinner advertised at a local restaurant we had driven by.

We noticed when we entered the restaurant that it was packed with women of all ages, most seated in small groups and all drinking with what appeared to be reckless abandon. Clearly, they were eyeing us but we were too engrossed in a detailed analysis of our day’s results to give it much more then a passing thought. After all, our dinner after golf was a valued tradition, part of our golf rite of spring.

At one point, we noticed the room had grown remarkably quiet. Every table but ours had emptied and the ladies were gone, or so we thought. John, on his way back from the men’s room, realized they had all retreated to a downstairs room where music was playing loudly. He noticed that the sign at the top of the stairs read “Chippendales Tonight”. No wonder those ladies were checking us out! Sexy middle aged Canucks feigning an interest in crab legs. They must have thought we were part of the entertainment…or so we speculated. (Shades of the Full Monty). We went back to the hotel, prepared to consume more scotch while discussing this subject in greater detail.

The news at the hotel was not great, though. Apparently, a snowstorm was due to hit the Syracuse area tomorrow. On Sunday, our last day. A little snow could not unnerve four golf deprived Canucks! John researched the weather reports as far south as Florida, but the weather outlook was grim everywhere. Mike concluded we couldn’t catch a plane to Florida anyway. Bill practiced putting with his new Ping putter. “We came to play golf, and play golf we shall”, he muttered. Rob advised everyone to wear warm clothes under their rain suits and to take extra golf gloves. For his part, he had brought a golf glove for both his right and left hands so they would remain warm. Mike told us all that we should have bought a “Gortex” rain suit like him. “You don’t need to wear anything under it except your jockeys. You’ll stay warm and dry!”, he proclaimed.

We reached the Liverpool course the next morning and it was raining. The wind blew from the north and it really was quite cold. Again, there was no one on the course. We took golf carts to try and remain dry. By the fifth hole Mike was shivering convulsively and he couldn’t bring himself to tee off. “This Gortex doesn’t keep you warm at all…but I am dry”, he confessed. “I need a coffee and some warm clothes under this suit”. He left us but returned mid-way through the seventh hole. But the day was not going well. The rain began to drive down and then suddenly it changed to snow. Snow in Syracuse? On a golf course? Impossible! But there it was. We kept playing, ignoring as best we could the undesirable elements.

By the ninth hole the snow had begun to accumulate. When a ball landed, we could see a little tail forming as it rolled a few feet ahead. It would be difficult to keep playing without losing balls. After a short huddle, we agreed that this would be the last hole. John made a remarkable shot after that and putted in for a par. The rest of us simply picked up. We ran to the clubhouse just as the pro was about to close the door. “Sorry guys, we’re closing for the day. Come back tomorrow. The weather forecast shows a real warming trend. It will be in the seventies by Wednesday”.

We started to drive home but had to stop in Cicero to see Chuck. Bill got his Ping putter for half price. Rob got his metal driver with the Memphis 10 shaft for $50 but he had to make a delivery to someone on Smythe Road in Ottawa. Chuck told Mike, though, that he would not take back the Gortex rain suit as he had only worn his underwear under it.

We set off for Canada in the old Mercedes at exactly 3:07PM golf watch time, according to John.

Several years later we got together to talk about that weekend at a local pub. 25 years had passed since this (in)famous Spring event in Syracuse. Remarkably, John pulled out a detailed diary of the rounds played with comments by each participant. And of course, The Mud Ball Trophy immortalized with the mud encrusted ball that he had used to obtain a par on the last hole at Liverpool that day. He still has it.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been back to play again for the Trophy. Which makes me think…

Wouldn’t it be great, though, to try another Spring session this year?