Golf links fathers and sons in many ways. For comedian Gerry Dee, it’s not surprising his introduction to the game came with a humorous twist involving his dad. I ask the star and writer/producer of the CBC Series Mr. D, which was just renewed for a fifth season, about his first tee shot and stroll down the fairway.
“It’s a funny story,” he recalls. “I was 12-years-old and a buddy asked me to play golf at Don Valley Golf Club in Toronto. I called my dad to ask for his permission. I said dad, ‘I’ve never been on a golf course and I’ve never tried it, can I go?’ Right away, he said no!”
To understand why a father wouldn’t let his son golf, you need the backstory. First, Dee’s dad was very strict. Second, before coming to Canada, the elder Dee was a policeman in his native Scotland.
“There was a very famous serial killer in Scotland named Peter Manual in the late 1950s and my dad was working when he was in the midst of his killing spree,” Dee explains. “He killed a little boy on a golf course, so my paranoid dad was like, ‘no you can’t go golfing’ because he had this story in his head of this murderer.”
Dee wasn’t about to let his dad’s paranoia about this Scottish lunatic, which was ingrained on his brain, prevent his pre-teen longing to hit the links. “I hung up the phone, but then I called him right back. It was probably the first time I ever defied my dad. I told him I’m going golfing and he was like, ‘what?’ I said, ‘I want to go and I’m going!’ It was the first time I ever remember talking back to my dad and, in so many ways, it turned out to be the greatest thing I ever did.”
The comedian’s golfing debut was not memorable for the score (he shot 136, which included a few mulligans), but he vividly remembers that round. He was addicted with the sport. The next year he enrolled into a sponsored program at Bayview Golf & Country Club where he paid just $150. “My parents didn’t have to be members because they couldn’t aff ord it,” he explains. “I had five great years at Bayview. I won the men’s club championship twice – once as a 17-year-old and once when I joined for a year as an adult.”
Dee is lucky to still have his dad around. Today, they joke about that life-changing phone call from 34 years ago.
“Over the years, he’s come to watch me golf a few times,” says Dee. “Back in 2001, I was trying to qualify for the Ontario Amateur at Toronto’s Donalda Golf Club. I said, ‘Dad you’ve never seen a tournament, why don’t you come?’ So, he did. He followed me around the golf course and it was the worst mistake I ever made! Here is a guy that can’t break 100 and he was yelling at me things like: ‘Why did you do that? Don’t use that club? I told you to hit it in the water!’ I was like, ‘I told you to hit it in the water?’ You don’t say that!’
It’s another one of those father/son moments Dee will never forget. After six holes, he was six over. What turned out as a fortuitous omen from Mother Nature, there was a thunderstorm and everyone had to run for shelter and wait out the rain.
“At the time, my dad was around 70 and there was a two-hour rain delay,” Dee recalls. “So, my dad said he was going to go home. After he left, I went birdie-birdie, and then made par on the remaining holes to make the cut. It was the only Ontario Amateur I ever made. I got home and my dad said, ‘I don’t know how you did that as you were terrible when I was with you!’ It was funny, but I have a lot of great memories of golf with my dad and I’m thankful for that.”
Over the years, Dee has also taken his dad golfing a few times. The comedian laughs that, despite the disparity between their ages and their handicap factors – Dee consistently shoots in the 70s and his dad is lucky to break 100 – his father still tries to give him lessons on the course.
“My sister took up golf and she’s better than him too,” Dee adds. “It’s just a dad being a dad. He can’t beat me, but that’s just the nature of being a dad. I’m the same way with my kids. It’s just nice to get out on the course with him.”
Today, Dee is a father of three children and enjoys sharing his love of the game with his son and two daughters. “I knew what golf did for me as a kid, so as a dad I’ve exposed my daughters and my son already to the game,” he says. “We are fortunate that I can afford to join a golf club now. My daughters have already taken lessons. I think the discipline, the manners, the rules, and the etiquette, and everything that is instilled in golf is the best thing for kids that a dad can teach their kids in a sport and I’ve seen that already.”
What else is it about golf, besides these generational ties and memorable family moments, does Dee love about the sport? It’s mainly about the valuable life lessons golf teaches.
“I’m very competitive and what I love is there is a score in golf,” he explains. “I think that is why so many kids cheat and take mulligans because you want to improve that score. When you get to a point where you realize you are just cheating yourself by moving your ball, that’s when you become a real golfer.”
Golf is also addictive. “You play well one day and the next you balloon,” Dee adds. “I remember a day when I was 16 where I hit 16 greens in regulation. I don’t remember what I was doing and I’ve never done that again in my whole life. There is something in golf that always pulls you back—that one good hole that makes you go, ‘Ah I think I’ve got it!’”
Does his chosen career as a comedian suit golf I wonder, asking whether it helps to have a good sense of humor when you are golfing? “I think it helps you to forget because in comedy you can have a bad show or a bad audience and you need to have a short memory,” Dee says. “Golf is no different. You can’t three-putt a hole and think about it for the next 10 holes. You have to have a short memory and just take the good with the bad; it’s the same with the entertainment business.”
Over the years, Dee’s profession has allowed him to play some of the world’s best courses, including Augusta National where he teed it up the day after Adam Scott won the Green Jacket in 2013.
“I forget how lucky I was,” he says recalling this experience. “I wish I had taken more pictures of me standing on various bridges, by that plaque, etc. I went as a sports reporter and I remember talking to Bob Weeks and saying, ‘I recall there is a draw for the media to play the course and if you win, you get to play the course. He said, ‘Ha! I’ve been here 17 years and never been drawn once.’
“So, I flew home on Friday, but I had put my name in the draw,” he continues. “I called at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning and talked to the woman at Augusta to check if my name had been drawn and she said, ‘Yes! You tee off tomorrow!’ So, I got on a plane, made a connection and I drove there.”
Dee played the front tees in a foursome that included a Quebec reporter, Japanese reporter and Irish reporter. “The pins were still where the Sunday pins were,” he recalls. “It was my first round of the year and I shot 82 with a quadruple bogey! I treated it like my own little Masters.”
When he’s not touring the country performing live, or filming Mr. D out on the East Coast in the summer, you’ll find the comedian teeing it up at The National. “It’s the toughest course I’ve ever played,” he says. “I’ve played Kiawah Island, played Oakmont and played Augusta, but from the back tees I’ve never played a harder course and a lot of guys on the PGA TOUR that have played it will tell you that too.”
Other golf highlights for Dee include doing an event once with Moe Norman, interviewing Gary Player and seeing Jack Nicklaus at the Masters.
“There are so many great things golf has done for me,” he concludes. “It’s the greatest sport out there. I love hockey, but if I had to pick a sport for my kids I would pick golf any day over hockey for so many reasons … it’s been so good to me.”
This article was originally published in the June 2015 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.