After leaving the grounds of Glen Abbey Golf Club last Sunday, it was depressingly apparent I wasn’t going to experience professional golf like that for possibly a long, long time. It was as if my golf-viewing career had peaked.
It all began while I stood on the 17th tee box at Swan-E-Set Golf Resort on a sunny weekday morning when a Twitter message notification sounded on my phone. I don’t get a lot of messages on Twitter so naturally my curiosity resulted in me digging through my bag as my brother hit his tee shot.
It was from @ShawGolf. “This is your last chance. Please advise if this is Chris Heavenor.”
They had sent me a message earlier that week asking if this account belonged to Chris Heavenor; I had decided not to answer assuming it was spam, or at best a mediocre trial offer for a new higher speed internet option.
Hmmmm. Now I’m torn. Fine, I’ll cave. “What’s up?” I reply.
“Did you submit a photo into Shaw’s Winter Tee Time Contest?” the mysterious Shaw Golf messenger writes back.
“I sure did,” I retort, with excitement quickly growing inside.
“Great! You’re the grand prize winner of our Winter Tee Time Contest!”
I immediately start doing the Joey Tribbiani/Drake Ramoray shifty eyes.
Now remember, I’m on the golf course at this time, and I’m actually playing quite well. As this unexpected little dollop of news begins to sink in, my nerves start to collapse as if my last name ends in ‘de Velde’. I restrain from informing my brother, Cam, as he is playing even better and I wouldn’t want to disrupt that. It was more difficult than you could imagine; I was literally ready to burst at the seams.
After matching pars on 17 (mine was much better than Cam’s), my brother was set to tee off on the 18th. I became intensely preoccupied scrolling through my phone reading what the grand prize entails. I couldn’t believe it: Round trip airfare for two to Toronto to watch the RBC Canadian Open, Canada’s National Championship. Holy shnikees! It continues, two nights accommodation downtown Toronto, tickets for both Saturday and Sunday to the tournament in Shaw’s exclusive Skybox on the 18th green, limo service to and from the airport, shuttle service to and from the golf course, and an $800 Puma Golf Prize pack. Say whaaaaaat?
At this time, Cam has just smashed his three-wood down the left-centre of the fairway as he usually does when the big stick isn’t required. As I stood over my ball, my hands began to tremble with the excitement of the recent developments, as well as how entertaining it will be informing my brother of it all. “Don’t hit it left for God’s sakes,” I mutter to myself. Make par on 18 and I’m in with a 79. It would only be my fourth time breaking 80 in my purely amateur golf career. POW!
“Of course…,” I moan as my hands roll over quicker than a Federer cross-court winner. Ball gone. I take a 6 and fire an 81. Thankfully my spirits aren’t too quashed in large thanks to Shaw … and maybe the post-round lager. While Cam and I poured ourselves a healthy pint from the pitcher and briefly began dissecting our rounds, I casually slid over my phone and instructed him to read my message conversation. He surprised me and managed to sound out all the words without any additional assistance.
“NO WAY!” He says looking up from my phone in amazement. “That’s unreal!” he continues, half chuckling under his breath.
“Sooooo who are you gonna take?” He asks cautiously as if there was ever a doubt.
I joke for a moment that I’m going to bring a friend from work, but he sees right through it. I mean, this would be grounds for a pitching wedge to the back of the knee had I been serious. And believe me, that kid can swing a wedge!
While Cam’s busy texting his wife the good news, I check and confirm the dates of the tournament. July 23-27. The dates ring a bell. Did I have plans that week? …CRAP!
My wife and I have a little something called the birth of our third daughter scheduled for July 15th. Errrrr. This could prove difficult. Lucky for me I’m a master at negotiating – or more likely my wife is the greatest.
The Golfing Gods were on my side and our little bundle of joy arrived five days early with no problems. Not that it made life any easier on my wife, but I managed to make my way onto the plane without any major bruising or lacerations. Phew! She’s a keeper.
After landing in Toronto, we were greeted by a transportation service agent who was even holding up a sign with my name on it. Just like in the movies! A brand new Lincoln picked us up and brought us to the first hotel we’d stay for Friday night in Oakville. Cruising in leather luxury. A good start.
Once entering our room, we noticed Shaw was kind enough to lay out our Puma Golf prize packs on the beds in case we wanted to sport any of the gear the next day. Acting like teenage girls in a mall, we excitedly tried on all our clothing and checked ourselves out in the mirror. Completely aware of how ridiculous we were acting, we began making pretend golf swings testing out the clothing. There was just no avoiding it, Puma set us up big time!
The next morning we got geared up and ready to rock and roll to the course. While in the elevator, it stopped on the third floor and in walked Davis Freaking Love III! I didn’t know he missed the cut, but his Ryder Cup luggage compilation suggested it. I avoided the subject and attempted to make some light conversation that a) made it known I was aware of who he was while also playing it cool; and b) avoid being that guy who asks for a picture right away. It only took me ten seconds to fail at both of these. Smooth work, Heavenor.
Once thanking DL3 for the photo, I tracked down Cam to get on the shuttle. Arriving at Glen Abbey was exciting. It was early Saturday morning so not many groups had teed off yet. It didn’t stop Cam and I from catching up with Abbotsford’s Nick Taylor for a couple holes. It was great to finally see him play live.
An early Saturday highlight came on the par 4-8th where Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa missed his approach left. He made a pretty good pitch to about eight feet and went on to drain his par putt. Considering the speed and undulation of the eighth green, it was a great up and down. As Ryo walked passed to the next tee, Cam complemented Ryo on a great par.
“Thanks, man.” Ryo replied as Cam and I grinned at the acknowledgement.
That there, people, is why golf is one of the truly great sports to watch live – player interaction. Could you imagine standing on the goal line beside Roberto Luongo watching him make a save, then complementing it afterwards only to have him reply? Glen Abbey was a real treat in terms of sightlines and fan interaction.
Once we located the Shaw Skybox conveniently placed behind the 18th green, we entered to take a look around. It sat approximately 60-70 people comfortably with 5 rows of seating at the front and five to six high-top tables at the back. Shaw spared no expense. Each seat came with a complimentary blue Shaw golf hat. There was a gourmet chef preparing different meals throughout the day as well as an open bar (which may have been utilized heavily). It was golf-viewing heaven. Just as impressive was the inconspicuous white trailer located directly next to the Shaw Skybox which housed a posh men’s and women’s bathroom. As a casual fan, this little ditty was worth its weight in gold considering the long line ups for the rows of outhouses located in the spectator pavilion. Shaw was not only winning, but running up the score.
After devouring a delicious omelette and maybe a ceasar or two, we made our way back onto the course to pursue Surrey’s Adam Svensson. Impressively, Adam made the cut and was putting together another phenomenal round. He is going to be a great Tour player, mark my words. Svensson went on to post a solid 69 on Saturday putting him in contention for Sunday.
A recent favorite of mine on Tour has been Brooks Koepka. A long hitting young American kid with great hair. Being able to stride down the fairway next to Brooks created such a unique experience. I was loving it. In fact, on a par 4, Brooks pushed his drive right of the fairway into the rough. I made my way to his ball and literally stood four feet away from him while he dialed in a wedge to a front pin. So damn awesome.
When Saturday wrapped up, we caught a shuttle downtown Toronto to the Four Seasons (!) where Shaw was forcing us to stay for the weekend. This was another first for me and let me tell you, if you get the chance to post up at the Four Seasons, you do so. The room was exquisite. I mean, they even had a TV built into the mirror in the bathroom. C’mon!
We had decided on finding a nice joint to have a steak but were immediately diverted when Cam noticed six gentlemen in the hotel lounge enjoying some food. To my surprise, four of the six were in fact Gary McCord, Ian Baker-Finch, Frank Nobilo and Peter Kostis. If you’ve ever watched golf on TV, or at least heard it, you would recognize these iconic voices. I’m not quite old enough to remember, but these four gents were also very fine players back in their day.
We quickly strategized and grabbed the table behind them. Why not, right? Cam was in awe staring at them like there was an invisible Victoria’s Secret fashion show in progress on top of their table. My back was turned, but I’m sure I made it more than noticeable by the amount of times I blatantly craned my neck around to eavesdrop.
I made one or two comments towards Mr. Nobilo, who was directly behind me but nothing was sticking. Our grand hopes were these six would finally cave and invite us to their table. No dice. Maybe we set the bar too high. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I thought of a stunt that was essentially harmless but at best would resonate with these chaps for a few days. I went up to the bar and ordered six shots for their table. I asked our server to then deliver these shots compliments of us.
When the shots arrived, and the server performed his task in a less than award winning fashion, Mr. Baker-Finch stood up, said thank you and shook my hand. There was a slight buzz at the table as the men wondered what the shots were and why I had bought them. I simply replied “It’s a warm up for the Golf Channel tomorrow.” Less than my best, but I’m glad I formulated a coherent sentence given the more-than-six-less-than-twelve Stella Artois I had consumed thus far.
“Hmmm. Golf Channel warm up? Alright, then.” replied Mr. Kostis. I encouraged everyone to drink up and they did so in moderate synchronization.
“Not bad,” announced Mr. Nobilo.
“Yeah, yeah. Pretty good,” answered Mr. Kostis.
One of the group’s associates, a man I was not familiar with pointed at the sides of his jaws claiming that’s where the shot hit him. “Gets ya right here,” he exclaimed through clenched teeth.
“Ok ok, so what was it?” asked Mr. Baker-Finch.
“I’m surprised you all didn’t recognize it,” I said with a fabricated amount of condescension. “That was one of the best there ever was. Those were Arnold Palmers.”
“WHAT?” exclaimed the unknown friend through a relaxed jaw this time.
“You mean a John Daly,” questioned Mr. Baker-Finch, suggesting it was the alcoholic version of an Arnold Palmer.
“No, gentlemen, those were 100% Arnold Palmers. You’re welcome.” I finished, arms spread wide as if finishing an impressive magic trick.
Laughter erupted amongst the table. Well, at least that’s how I prefer to remember it. Either way there were definitely some chuckles. The boys opened up a little more in our direction after that, but we never did manage to squeeze up to that table.
As the group was packing it in for the night, I had explained to them that Cam was planning to play the Canadian National Mid-Amateur Championships at the end of August in Nova Scotia. Bingo. This managed to get their attention. Instantly we were afforded some level of credibility as opposed to the creepy fanboys five minutes prior. Mr. Kostis and Mr. Baker-Finch were quick to supply some advice and comments on the course as well as competition in general. I think the best part of the evening was when Mr. Kostis wished Cam the best of luck. It sounds simple. It’s said everyday in a magnitude of different circumstances. However, when you break it down, how many people participating in the Canadian National Mid-Amateur Championships can say they’ve been personally well-wished by Peter Kostis himself. I’m guessing the answer is between zero and two. All in all, these four boys were the cream of the crop; pure class wrapped up in a variety of button-down dress shirts. Thanks, fellas. You definitely helped make our trip one of the best we’ve ever experienced.
As we parted ways up to our respective rooms, I decided to use the washroom. While walking past the bar I noticed Canadian Rap artist Drake. I stopped (obviously) and quickly expressed how I was a fan of his and not to change much, he’s doing great and it’s working. He smiled, said thanks and shook my hand. I walked down the stairs towards the washroom just shaking my head. Had Jim Carey been standing next to me at a urinal I wouldn’t have even been surprised. What a fun night.
Waking up Sunday morning would have been a chore had we not been getting onto a shuttle and heading out to repeat the previous day. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve had that much jump in my step at 7:00am regardless.
Starbucks? Check. Shuttle? Check. Sunday at Glen Abbey for the final round of the RBC Canadian Open? Ohhh, big time check.
We started the morning following Adam Svensson again. This time for seven holes. His ball striking was pure and in great tempo, but his putting was killing him that day. He had about three decent looks for birdie and one for par, all within 10 feet, that never got a sniff of the hole. It was unfortunate he couldn’t get the flat stick going, but he’ll be just fine.
Paired up with Svensson on Sunday was a golfer by the name Brian Harmon. He’s been playing well lately on Tour so I was intrigued as to how he would fare only being a few shots back. What quickly stole my attention was not Harmon’s smooth swing. It also wasn’t his deceptive length off the tee despite being smaller in stature. To put bluntly, from my brief experience watching Harmon, he’s got the mouth of a weekend hacker out there. Numerous times we witnessed Harmon swear loud enough for children in the gallery to hear, but he also slammed his driver down on the tee box twice while kicking his tee to the side. It would have been kind of awkward had Cam and I not been a few pops deep at the time.
Now I know what you’re all thinking. So what? We all do that. True. Most of us casual golfers swear enough during 18 holes to make a truck driver blush. However from my minute experience with professional golf, it’s an entirely different animal. Maintaining emotions on course is a must for any player who wishes to maintain good play or rebound from some poor swings. A great example is Camillo Villegas. On the difficult par 4-6th hole at Glen Abbey, he snap hooked his drive into the trees. So far in fact he nearly went out of bounds into the driving range. Par seemed far out of the question at that point. Yet, I watched Camillo walk down the fairway with his playing partner Brooks Koepka. Both were smiling and laughing as they made their way to their balls. It’s possible I suppose Brooks is the funniest person on Tour, enough to bring a sullen Villegas to a smile, but I wouldn’t put money on it. Villegas remained calm and composed, even after he attempted a hero 5-wood cut shot from the rough under trees that unfortunately ended up in the water. The difference in attitudes was uncanny.
Now it’s very plausible Harmon was just having a bad day. Maybe he slept wrong. Maybe he couldn’t get a room at the Four Seasons. Maybe he didn’t have access to an omelette bar. I don’t know. But what I do know is from what I saw, Brian Harmon doesn’t bring the best attitude to the course and if you have a child with you, make like Beanie in Old School and have them put on their earmuffs.
As the day wore on, we decided to post up in the Skybox for the final nine holes of the tournament. What a great idea that was. The quality of shots hit into 18 were phenomenal. The gallery began to really grow on the side slope of the clubhouse and the atmosphere was buzzing as everyone’s eyes went back and forth between shots hit onto the green and the constantly updated leaderboard.
A great moment while sitting in the Skybox was watching D.A. Points walk off the final green and wave to the crowd. He thanked everyone for their support and for coming out to watch the tournament. That’s a guy right there who gets it. Great stuff.
Canadian David Hearn had been leading most of the final round. It seemed as though he would be able to hold on. There was a buzz around the course the entire day as fans spoke of the 54 year long drought Canada has had in producing a champion at this tournament. T’was not to be. Not only did Bubba Watson turn on the nitro and birdie five of his final six holes, but Australian Jason Day birdied the last three holes, including a phenomenal 22 footer on 18, to edge Watson by one and Hearn by two. It was a very exciting finish. Had Day only made par on 18, Hearn would have had a chance to tie with a birdie or win with an eagle. Either way it was fantastic, and Cam and I witnessed all of it only feet away in the beloved Skybox. Simply amazing.
Day was a true class act accepting his trophy. He went as far as to say he felt like a Canadian this week due to how great the fans were to him all week. He also said it would be an honor to return the following year to defend his title. I’m sure Golf Canada hopes he stays true to that because he is a fantastic player, and a great champion.
The whole weekend is not something Cam or I plan on soon forgetting. What a life.