Gordon on Golf

How to make your lawn perfect like a golf superintendent

Lawnmowers at Royal Portrush
Note to readers: As COVID-19 continues its impact, some garden centres, lawn maintenance companies and equipment rental outlets are open in some regions while others are not. Therefore, some of the tips provided here may not be practical at this time. However, no matter what the circumstances, gardening remains a healthy form of self-isolation!

Introduction

You back out of the driveway, heading for the golf course, and as you pull away, you look at your lawn and ask yourself, “Why can’t that goat pasture look like the fairways at my course?”

The obvious answer is “time and resources,” according to Sean Gunn, superintendent at The Country Club in Woodbridge, Ont.  “We spend hundreds of hours a week maintaining our turf and the average homeowner spends, what, an hour or two? You just can’t expect the same results.”

It’s much like watching the pros at the RBC Canadian Open or the CP Women’s Canadian Open and wondering why you can’t play the game at their level. When the pros aren’t playing, they’re working on their games. When you’re not playing, you’re most likely just working.

But just like a few lessons with a PGA of Canada pro will elevate your game significantly, cadging some tips, hints and hacks from members of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association and other turf experts will help improve your lawn.

The Cutting Edge

First thing in the spring, sharpen your lawnmower blade. You can do it yourself with a file or grinder (always following the proper safety guidelines) or take it to a local small-engine repair shop. At The Country Club, Gunn sharpens the blades of any of his members who bring them to his shop. “If your blade isn’t sharp, you’re tearing the grass plant, not cutting it,” Gunn says.

Cut at 2.5 inches (about six centimetres) or higher to encourage deeper root growth. Taller grass can better handle drought conditions and shades the soil, helping prevent weeds from sprouting.

Under normal conditions, cut your lawn at least once a week and don’t cut off more than a third of the leaf blade. Cutting more than that stresses the grass.  Leave the clippings on the lawn as they provide a source of nutrition for the grass. Cut in a different direction each time.

The more you cut, the denser the lawn will become.

“Grass wants to grow, so if you keep cutting it, it will find other ways to get larger and grow new tillers [shoots],” says Gunn.  “This is how we get putting greens to be so dense.”

Water, water everywhere

Course superintendent Ken Bruneski is sure his course is “the hottest property in Canada,” so if anyone is qualified to speak about watering guidelines for lawn, it’s him.

Located in a semi-arid desert near Oliver, B.C., NK’Mip Canyon Desert Golf Course sees many days each season with temperatures reaching 40C.

With higher temperatures being witnessed across Canada due to climate change, Bruneski’s experience provides valuable advice for homeowners.

With the luxury of a sophisticated irrigation system, he waters his fairway deeply three times a week during the overnight period.

“It drives me nuts to drive down the street and see houses with sprinklers going non-stop during the heat of the day. That’s not helping your lawn at all. In fact, it’s harming it.”

Depending on the amount of rainfall, the average lawn needs a deep watering (two to three centimetres) a couple of times a week, ideally in the evening.

“One irrigation hack is if thunderstorms are coming and your lawn is pretty dry and you happen to be home, water your lawn to get the surface wet to break down the surface tension so the rain from the cloudburst can be accepted into the lawn,” advises Dr. Eric Lyons, Associate Professor of Turfgrass Science in the University of Guelph’s Department of Plant Agriculture.

“Proper water management is paramount in the success of the lawn,” says Gunn.  If you’re really into it, he recommends you purchase a rain gauge. For about $10, it’s an inexpensive and accurate method of monitoring your lawn’s water input.

 Those pesky pests

“A healthy lawn is just like a healthy human who doesn’t have to see the doctor that often,” says Gunn.

Alan Golick agrees. Now a sales representative for Lawn Life Natural Turf Products (www.lawnlifenaturalturfproducts.com), Golick has 20 years’ experience in the turf business, including stints as an assistant course superintendent.

With environmentally conscious bans on traditional herbicides and pesticides, companies like Lawn Life are continually developing alternatives to control weeds and pests.  Company founder Richard Reed was a trailblazer in this category and the company now services the turf industry, lawn-care companies and homeowners.

Golick recommends a proactive approach to weed control, suggesting a selective herbicide that targets dandelions, plantain, creeping charlie and other common weeds. More importantly, he says homeowners must ensure good fertility in their soil by introducing, among other elements, composted fertilizer and more exotic inputs such as kelp (seaweed), humic acid, and compost tea (simply a mix of compost and water).

Dandelion

“A great lawn starts and ends with healthy soil, a healthy eco-system,” he says.

Lyons, who is also the director of the Guelph Turfgrass Institute, says if you have a healthy lawn, hand weed in the spring and apply a chemical control in the fall.

“If you have significant weeds, then a spring application would be recommended. To get the most effective control with iron-based alternative weed-control products, apply them in enough volume according to the label. That requires two applications three weeks apart.”

He also advises to apply a broadleaf weed control product before the first frost in the fall. If using an iron-based product, the daytime temperature should be about 20C consistently for both the first application and the next one three weeks later.

Enrich your experience

“What I see the most is homeowners not fertilizing or fertilizing at the wrong time,” observes John Scott, superintendent at Summerlea Golf and Country Club in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que.

Not that you want to spend your holiday long weekends working on your lawn but if you are serious about keeping that grass well fed,  Mark Schneider says you should get your spreader out four times a season: Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving.

In the spring, resist the urge to fertilize before May 24.

“The grass is still waking up from the winter and trying to build its roots. The key is to apply the right amount at the right time at the right rate and at the right place.”

Schneider, who was the superintendent at several Ontario courses, now is the technical sales representative for NuTrite (www.nutrite.com), a leading supplier of fertilizers to golf courses, lawn-care companies and homeowners.

Along with his easy-to-remember schedule, he has some other simple tips for fertilizing.

“Buy a premium product with a high slow-release factor. Follow the instructions on the bag. Don’t over-fertilize. Avoid the economy brands.

“The most important thing is to get a fertilizer where the first number is the highest.”

You no doubt have gone shopping for fertilizer and seen three numbers on the bag. 10-10-10. 12-0-4.  33-0-3. And so on.  Starter fertilizer, spring fertilizer, fall fertilizer…  It doesn’t have to be confusing.

Those numbers identify the proportions of three elements: Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Of those three, experts agree the first one—nitrogen—is the most important.

“Most lawns do not need much phosphorus,” says Lyons, adding that, in general, “the last number on the bag should be about half to equivalent of the first number.”

Generally, says Schneider, use the same fertilizer all year long.

Hole-y aeration!

Our experts are divided on whether you should aerate and/or dethatch your lawn annually. (Back in the day, some folks swore they were aerating their lawn by wearing their metal golf spikes while mowing.)

Aeration is the process of removing plugs of soil from your lawn to relieve the compaction and introduce air, water and nutrients to the roots. Dethatching removes the layer of dead and decaying plant material between your grass and the soil. While a certain amount of thatch is beneficial, too much insulates the roots from getting enough water, oxygen and fertilizer.

You can rent a power aerator and/or a dethatcher or hire a lawn service to do the job. Small lawns can be dethatched with a specially designed rake while larger properties will require a power unit.

Lyons and Bruneski downplay the necessity of these practices for the average home lawn but Scott Bowman begs to differ.

According to the Speare Seeds web site (www.speareseeds.ca), Bowman is the company’s general manager and “turf genius,” so his opinion is well worth considering.

He suggests aerating your lawn in the late summer or early fall but never in the spring and early summer. “If you aerate in the early part of the season, those holes are a perfect spot for weed seeds to fall into and germinate. Now instead of a great lawn, you’ve created really healthy and deep-rooted weeds.”

Sprouting up

When it comes to anything turf-related, Bowman’s credentials are impeccable. That “turf genius” tag is no joke. Prior to his current role, he was a superintendent at some notable courses, including Glen Abbey Golf Club. He also is co-owner of South Port Golf Course in Southampton, Ont.

As soon as the snow melts, our pent-up desire to get a head start on our lawns is released. But Bowman and other experts say hold your horses, rein in that impulse.

“Everybody’s excited to get going, but if you don’t time it right [seeding], you’re just wasting your time and effort and money,” says Bowman. “You won’t get real germination and if the seed sits there long enough, it loses its viability.” That’s “turf genius speak” for “the seed is dead.”

Before you think about seeding or over-seeding your lawn, wait until the soil temperature is at least 12 to 16C. You can either use the familiar broadcast seeder or rent a slit-seeder which creates gaps into which it inserts seeds. In any case, the seed must have contact with the soil to germinate.

According to Bowman, your lawn should be over-seeded every year, preferably in mid-August when the days are warm, the nights are cool, the dew is heavy and the fall rains start to arrive. It’s a good time, he says, to incorporate this with your aeration and/or dethatching.

When it comes to the type of seed to use, Bowman says that is dictated by a couple of factors: the type of soil and how much effort you want to dedicate to your lawn.

“Every lawn is a reclamation project to one extent or another. It all depends on what your personal threshold is.”

Don’t even think about bentgrass, favoured by most courses for tees, greens and fairways.

Bowman says bluegrass, most commonly used for the rough on courses, has shallow but aggressive roots. “It’s a nice, high-end grass but requires more inputs [of water and nutrients].” The fine fescues are more drought resistant while perennial ryegrass “grows just about anywhere.” That’s why most seeds sold at retail are blends of these types.

Raking: More harm than good?

According to Lyons, the theory behind raking is that it removes old leaf and stem tissue, allowing the soil to warm up and the grass to grow more vigorously in the spring. However, much like aerating early in the season, raking opens up the soil and allows it to warm, causing increased germination of weeds.

“You don’t see them raking the rough at the golf course, do you?” says Lyons. “Generally, the effort put into aggressive raking would be better spent elsewhere on your lawn unless you have tree leaves to remove or you’re renovating a weedy lawn.”

Having said that, aggressive raking in the spring will remove dead crab grass and/or annual weeds from the previous year and allow over-seeding to take hold.  In an area with limited weed controls, he adds, raking does more harm than good and also is a lot of work.

Old Man Winter

The first step to prepare your lawn for the oncoming winter, says Gunn, is to stop cutting the grass to let it “harden off.” In Woodbridge, Ont., where his course is located, this is about the third week of October.

“Hardening off is letting the plant prepare itself by sealing the last cut you did to prevent any carbohydrate loss.  Carbs/sugar are the antifreeze that keeps the plant alive during the winter.  The more carbs/sugars, the heartier the plant.

“Letting the plant grow a little longer in the spring and fall is a good idea since the daylight is shorter and the strength of the sun is weaker.  The longer the blade, the more efficient the plant is at photosynthesis.

“I use the analogy of grass and solar panels.  The more solar panels you have, the more energy you can attract. “

The key to a good spring is strong preparation in the fall.  Schneider says about 80 per cent of your lawn-care efforts should be focused on the period from August to November.

Lyons emphasizes the importance of removing leaves as they fall and don’t allow them to get trapped under the snow.

Finally …

When it comes to your lawn, like your golf game, you likely will never be a pro. But if you practise the fundamentals, you can be a respectable amateur.

Having said that, Canada has a diverse ecosystem and while the preceding are general guidelines, you may have to adapt them to your specific area. Speak to a local turf expert—like the superintendent at your course.

Blog Gordon on Golf

5 guidelines to build your romance through golf

Golf couple
Carruthers Creek, Ajax, Ont. (Rachel Wittenberg/ Love the Moment Photography)

Even the dating web site eHarmony recognizes that, listing “15 reasons to date a golfer.” Among them, “golfers strive for emotional balance,” “they know how to make conversation,” “golfers understand they must forget mistakes and move on,” and “committed golfers are in it for the long haul.” Finally, these relationship experts point out, “you’ll be spending countless hours together in pristine park-like settings. Not a bad way to nurture romance.” They might have mentioned etiquette, balance, equity and all those other fundamental values in the game. As well, the rules would be worth mentioning. Not the new Modernized Rules of Golf, although those certainly have their place in the actual playing of the game.

THE COLONY, TX - OCTOBER 05: A couple watches as Brooke Henderson
THE COLONY, TX – OCTOBER 05: A couple watches as Brooke Henderson of Canada plays the first hole during the Third Round of the Volunteers of America Classic golf tournament at the Old American Golf Club on October 5, 2019 in The Colony, Texas. (Photo by Chuck Burton/Getty Images)

I speak from experience, as I mentioned earlier. My wife took up golf after I did and fell for it as hard, or maybe harder, than she fell for me. We’ve done all things listed above, from golf vacations to couples’ nights to including family. And while the pure meaning of Valentine’s Day is focused on your one and only, and my wife and I have spent many delightful hours golfing together, I can tell you that one of my everlasting memories is the sight of our son and his grandfather golfing together. That’s something else I truly love.

Gordon on Golf

Winter golf fitness for everyone

Winter golf fitness

all with a golf focus. There’s no question she’s qualified. A PGA of Canada professional, she’s the golf coach at Prince George Golf and Curling Club and the former coach at the University of British Columbia. She’s got a Masters in Human Kinetics and is a certified personal trainer, among numerous other credentials. She, along with Tracie Albisser, also a certified exercise physiologist, operates the Active Health Solutions facility (www.activehealthsolutions.ca ) in Prince George.

“There are lots of online fitness resources but they are mostly for the elite golfer,” says Holmes. “These videos are aimed at the average golfer.”

A large proportion of those “average golfers” this winter are snowbirds and other seniors who, because of travel restrictions necessitated by the pandemic, are stuck north of the border. Holmes suggests they see this not as a disappointment but as an opportunity.

“Off-season training will help maintain the flexibility, endurance and strength you gained in your golf swing over the summer,” she explains. “Instead of taking the winter off, work on all of these fitness essentials for the sport you enjoy.

“The golf swing is a single-action, single-sided, ballistic movement and the goal is to create rotational power for distance. This can be hard on the body, especially the back and shoulders. And when the golf swing is repeated over and over, injuries and issues can crop up. Compounding the concern is that, as we age, we lose muscle mass, flexibility and endurance, which are all fundamental to the golf swing.”

Holmes says one of the most common issues for older golfers is that their posture becomes hunched, with a rounded lower back and an inability to rotate the pelvis into a proper spine angle at address. Her translation: “You need to stick out your behind instead of tucking it under.” What all of that means, she says, “is that the rotation for the backswing is compromised and people swing with their arms instead of turning their shoulders. Ultimately,this causes a reduction in clubhead speed and weak shots that fade. This position also means that people tend to generate more shearing forces on their lumbar vertebrae (equaling pain in their lower back).

“And, finally, the rounded shoulders will reduce the space for the upper arm bone (the humerus) to move within the joint and people will start to complain of rotator cuff problems and injuries.”

One of her favourite catchphrases is “pre-hab.” Pre-hab is mobility and strength work done on an ongoing basis to address common weaknesses or muscle tension.

“The body parts that are meant to be mobile, like your neck, hips, shoulders or thoracic vertebrae, should move with ease,” she says. “When these are tight, other parts will move to compensate during the swing.

“If you can prevent injuries or minor deficits before they become a problem, you will enjoy playing good golf and not lose any distance.”

Holmes’s folksy, friendly, cheerful and chatty “golf coach next door” approach requires no special equipment. A towel, key lanyard, wooden spoon, a thick book and a chair will do for starters. A golf club or similar is handy but not for swinging—just to help with extension.

Each video is 30 to 40 minutes but, as she points out, “you can do these at your own pace and your own comfort level.” Take it from me. The “pause” button comes in handy.

Gordon on Golf

7 ways to feed your golf addiction this offseason

Novelist Paul Theroux once said: “Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” He could never have imagined just how true those words would ring right now.

Not that we have much choice. Most of us, the sensible ones that is, are staying home because of the pandemic and the precautions imposed to prevent its spread. Kudos to us.

So what’s a golfer to do? We’re mired in a Canadian winter with travel south of the border restricted and limited opportunities to congregate at public golf simulators, ranges or other golf-related activities.

Don’t despair!

If you don’t have the space, budget or inclination to have a home simulator, there are myriad options to pass the time … “prepare” as Theroux suggested … until, hopefully, golf courses across Canada reopen in spring. Online instruction, social media, podcasts (what?) … even, dare I say, books and magazines … all not only can improve your game but boost your spirits as well.

READ

As an author myself, I may be biased but I enjoy turning the pages of a book or magazine. My special area of interest is course architecture so, after rereading the essentials yet again, I look for Canadian authors. Keith Cutten’s The Evolution of Golf Course Design is a fascinating deep dive into the broader question of not just how course design evolved but why. James Harris’s Stanley Thompson and Icons of Canada has no equal in its in-depth examination of Canada’s most iconic architect as a master of his craft and a man. Although not Canadian and actually intended for green committee members and club managers, many of whom (wrongly) think they are qualified for DIY projects on a multi-million-dollar course, Designs on a Better Golf Course (published by the American Society of Golf Course Architects) is a must-read for armchair architects as well as folks whose hobby is second-guessing their course’s superintendent. For pure “golf porn,” there are few better options than Catalogue 18, a luxurious magazine published in Toronto featuring awesome photography and text from around the world.

WATCH VIDEO TIPS

We were all thankful when the PGA TOUR and LPGA Tour returned to TV in January but if you need more than entertainment and climate envy, there are hundreds of videos on social media, many from PGA of Canada instructors. Derek Ingram, Team Canada’s Men’s Head Coach, posts indoor tips on Instagram. Women’s Head Coach Tristan Mullally offers helpful hints on Twitter. (Just between you and me, Ingram and Mullally are collaborating on an upcoming project that distills their extensive experience into instruction for folks like you and me. Stay tuned.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Derek Ingram (@dingramgolf)

PRACTICE

Once you’ve looked at those videos, you’ll want to practice, so order a putting mat and/or chipping net online. My Golf Spy picked the BirdieBall 4×14 as its best putting mat but the company has a variety of customizable products. Lots of other companies make comparable mats at various price points and in a full range of sizes. A chipping net is a compact and convenient way to hone your short game at a reasonable price. My choice would be the GoSports Chipster. It’s about $60, includes three nets of various sizes and can be used indoors with foam balls or outside with real golf balls.

GoSports Chipster

CONNECT

Find some (virtual) friends with common interests. I’m a member of the Stanley Thompson Society and the Golf Historical Society of Canada. If you’re interested in the history of the game in this country and/or being a collector of anything golf, the GHSC is a fantastic resource.

FANTASY GOLF

Fantasy pools, such as PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, can be a blast if you need some heated competition to warm you up during the winter. Or you can organize your own fantasy league using online resources and invite your friends and colleagues to participate.

VIDEO GAMES

You may not have access to that Golden Tee game down at the local pub but you can order the home edition if you’re addicted. More affordable options are video games such as the highly rated PGA TOUR 2K21. Golf nut Shawn Bell of Kelowna, B.C., has not only played the game since its first release several years ago but has actually designed a course for it. He says he enjoys the experience for many reasons including the fact that “it provides me with an outlet to spend time thinking about and playing the game I enjoy so much. There is also the ability to play with others live which is pretty cool. Played a round with an acquaintance in Ireland the other night. It was fun and a social interaction, playing golf, that would otherwise be impossible.”

PODCASTS

If, like me, you were late to the world of podcasts, a podcast is a conversation or discussion you can download to your personal device and listen to at your leisure. Makes for great company when you’re walking the dog or when you’re just hankering for the sound of someone else’s voice. (Although I do get some odd glances when I bark back at them when they don’t share my own—indisputably correct—opinion.) There are lots of terrific golf podcasts including some with great Canadian content that I subscribe to like Flagstick.com’s TeeTalk, Golf Talk Canada and Swing Thoughts with Tim O’Connor and “Humble” Howard Glassman.

And, remember, in the words of Ernest Hemingway,

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be the happiest.”

That won’t be a problem for us golfers!

Gordon on Golf

What golfers need to know about indoor golf simulators

Golf Simulators

If you watch golf on TV, you’ve no doubt seen players on the range, hitting a shot and then looking down at what appears to be an iPad. No, they’re not checking their email or Facetiming their friends. They are checking their club path, spin rate, clubhead speed, launch angle, carry and total distance, smash factor and much more on what’s called a launch monitor.

And, more than likely, they have a full golf simulator at home.

What’s the difference?

“The best way I can describe it that the launch monitor is the engine and the simulator is the entire car,” says Aaron Hardy of Foresight Sports Canada. Hardy is the exclusive Canadian distributor of Foresight, a product used by more than 170 PGA TOUR pros. TrackMan and SkyTrak are other popular products used by golfers and instructors worldwide, among other reputable brands.

While a monitor is portable, a simulator is a permanent or semi-permanent installation that may include some or all of the following: a monitor, net or screen, hitting mat, laptop computer, projector and, of course, a suitable indoor space. You have the option of virtually playing some of the world’s most famous courses. Foresight even offers a “Canadian course mega-deal” software package that bundles Glen Abbey Golf Club, Essex Golf and Country Club and Cobble Beach Golf Links.

Do you need a launch monitor and/or a simulator?

Yes, if you’re a serious golfer, according to Harry Nodwell, Senior Director of Product Testing at My Golf Spy, an independent online reviewer and evaluator of all things golf. “It’s a must-have if you want to get feedback and dial in your game all year round.” That last bit is especially important for golfers trapped indoors during a Canadian winter. And even more so during these COVID-19 days.

Do you want one?

The best ones are not cheap. For example, Foresight’s basic GC2 monitor starts at US$6,500 while the top-of-the-line GCQuad (what Nodwell calls the “Holy Grail of launch monitors”) starts at US$11,000. As mentioned, if you want a full in-home simulator setup, that can double that number at least.

Chris Nickel is My Golf Spy’s Director of Business Development. He is a self-diagnosed “golf and equipment junkie.” That may explain why he has a fully decked-out Foresight simulator in his basement. (That, along with the fact he has seven daughters and lives in snowy Colorado.) He says your decision is basically a cost/benefit analysis based on your desired outcome.

“You have to decide what your priorities are based on your desires and your budget,” Nickel says. “What are the deal breakers? Do you just want something to have fun with your family and friends or do you seriously want to understand how to be a better golfer?”

For proof of that closer to home, you need look no further than Tristan Mullally, Head Coach of Golf Canada’s Women’s Amateur and Young Pro Squads. He recently had a Foresight simulator installed in his garage in Dundas, Ont. As an instructor, he has used the best launch monitors available for more than 15 years to provide feedback and help his students improve. He says it’s not only made his students better but it helped him be a better instructor. But his home simulator was more of a personal purchase so he could spend quality time with his two children.

“With the COVID lockdown, every golfer wants a place to practise and we are looking for different ways to do things with our family,” Mullally says. “Why hit blindly into a net when you can actually play golf on a simulator?”

Don’t despair if you’re an avid golfer on a restricted budget. Nodwell points out that product testing at My Golf Spy has shown there are more affordable options — if you are prepared to sacrifice some accuracy and data.

Let’s say you want the whole enchilada right now, a complete home simulator setup. You will need sufficient space for all the components and to have a full swing. Hardy says his basic setup requires an area seven feet wide by seven feet high by 10 feet deep while the traditional simulator needs a space at least 12 feet wide by nine feet high by 15 feet deep. Having said that, the 6-foot-1 Nickel can’t swing his driver in his basement with its nine-foot-high ceiling. “I really needed another foot of clearance,” he says.

Hardy’s company offers Sim-In-A-Box, a “full-size, true-to-life golf simulation in a compact, easy-to-assemble format delivered right to your door.” Hardy says the kits can be put together with an Allen key, a couple of wrenches and a second set of hands. Alternatively, depending on mandated pandemic restrictions in your area, you can have a custom simulator professionally assembled in your home or garage.

For example, Andy McWilliams, a former Scottish golf professional now based near Ottawa, launched Golf Sim Gurus after seeing a demand for simulator sales, service and installation. “Things have really taken off since people haven’t been able to get out like they could before COVID,” he says. “Plus, it’s a long winter, especially if you can’t get away down south this year.” In addition to permanent installations, McWilliams sees potential in renting and installing simulators on a seasonal basis to golf courses, retail outlets and even homeowners.

Business also increased for Hardy as a result of the pandemic but it was a two-edged sword. “Demand went up but, because of the restrictions, we couldn’t go into residences to do custom installations. We were like the pool guys: People were stranded at home and need something to do to stay active, something to keep themselves and their families entertained.” He equates the price of a home simulator to that of a couple of family vacations and it is a lot more permanent than memories and souvenirs.

“I get a call just about every day from someone who bought one of our simulators,” says Hardy. “They say it’s almost like therapy. One person told me, ‘I never would have gotten through this (COVID) without my golf simulator.’”

Click here for more on Foresight Sports Canada.

Gordon on Golf Inside Golf House

Golf in 2020: Looking back on a year you’ll never forget

TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley
TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley (Chris Fry)

The COVID-19 pandemic has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands around the world. Almost without exception, everyone was affected in some way. Its effects extended beyond the physical toll, causing emotional, psychological and economic impact. We were hard-pressed to find ways to stay positive and active. Many turned to golf as an outlet, even therapy of sorts.

“What an incredibly strange and challenging year,” Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “Golf has been a silver lining, a bright light, call it what you may, in giving people a bit of a break from the pandemic.”

Record rounds were registered across the country consistently throughout the year, played under strict precautionary COVID-19 protocols.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Golf Canada (@thegolfcanada)

While participation grew across the country, most tournaments and social gatherings at golf clubs were cancelled or postponed, including the RBC Canadian Open and the CP Women’s Open. The Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada cancelled its season. All Golf Canada’s national championships and many provincial association tournaments were shelved.

“We’re going to look back on 2020 and say, ‘amongst all the challenges, amongst a lot of really difficult situations for so many people, golf was a bright light that we built from,’” Applebaum said.

For example, the COVID-19 Golf Relief Fund initiated by Golf Canada and the Canadian Golf Foundation raised more than $400,000. The fund subsidizes non-medical personal protective equipment for golf course employees as well as sanitization, hygiene and protective material expenses. It also subsidizes rounds of golf for front-line workers as well as juniors.

What follows are some of the top golf-related stories from 2020, a very different year. These are just some of the headlines. Details on these stories and many others are available under News on the Golf Canada website.

January

The new World Handicap System came into effect with the goal of making the game more enjoyable by providing a consistent means of measuring performance and progress and to enable golfers of differing abilities to compete or play a casual round with anyone else on a fair and equal basis.

Jared du Toit, a member of Golf Canada’s Young Pro Squad, won the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica Qualifying Tournament Mexico.

Grace McCann of Windsor, Ont., a past president of the former Canadian Ladies’ Golf Association, passed away at the age of 85.

The Golf Journalists Association of Canada named Brooke Henderson (female professional), Corey Conners (male professional), Garrett Rank (male amateur) and Brigitte Thibault (female amateur) as players of the year for 2019.

February

Charlie Beaulieu of Lorraine, Que., was elected for a second term at Golf Canada’s annual meeting. Liz Hoffman of Thornhill, Ont., and Dale Jackson of Victoria remain as first and second vice-president respectively. Bill MacMillan of Eastern Passage, N.S., received the Bruce Mitchell Volunteer of the Year Award. Volunteer Richard Smith of Regina and golf journalist Ian Hutchison of Newmarket, Ont., received Golf Canada’s Distinguished Service Award.

Celeste Dao of Notre-Dame-de-L’lle-Perrot, Que., a graduate of Team Canada’s National Junior Squad, won the NCAA’s Gold Rush tournament in California.

Nick Taylor shot a final-round 2-under-par 70 to claim a wire-to-wire four-stroke victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California. Taylor overcame 40 mph gusts of winds and finished at 19-under to become the first Canadian to win the event.

Golf Canada named the 2020 Young Pro Squads: Hugo Bernard, Jared du Toit, Stuart Macdonald, Taylor Pendrith, Chris Crisologo and Joey Savoie for the men and Jaclyn Lee, Brittany Marchand and Maddie Szeryk for the women.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Golf Canada (@thegolfcanada)

March

As the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic enveloped not only Canada but the world, governments ordered the shutdown of non-essential businesses, which in most provinces included golf courses.

The Summer Olympics, scheduled to begin in July in Tokyo, are postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic. They will still be called the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, however.

April

Canadian Scott Pritchard, previously vice-president of the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada, is promoted to executive director.

May

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most golf courses across Canada did not open on schedule this spring. Although those in British Columbia were never ordered to close, those in other provinces were shuttered until they were allowed to open when stringent anti-COVID safeguards were in place. New Brunswick courses opened April 24 with the balance of the provinces following suit throughout the month of May.

Golf Canada announced the formation of the Golf Industry Advisory Council, a volunteer group of experienced professionals to support Golf Canada’s Board of Directors and management team. The council will include course owners, operators, general managers, superintendents and professionals as well as executives from the golf equipment, apparel and footwear industry.

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame announced Lorie Kane of Charlottetown was among six athletes and five builders who will receive the Order of Sports award, Canada’s highest sporting honour.

The Prince Edward Island Golf Association named Alison Griffin as its new executive director.

The PGA TOUR announced that it would resume without spectators in June. The Tour had suspended play since The Players Championship was cancelled in March.

June

Despite months of planning, the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of Golf Canada on June 6, 1895, also fell victim to the pandemic. Nevertheless, the historic occasion was commemorated virtually with pivotal moments in Canadian golf being recalled on social media platforms using the hashtag #GolfCanada125.

Golf Canada announces that St. George’s Golf and Country Club will play host to the 2021 RBC Canadian Open. The 2020 championship, scheduled for St. George’s, was cancelled due to the pandemic.

July

Team Canada’s Brigitte Thibault of Rosemere, Que., won the Women’s Western Amateur in Illinois.

The LPGA Tour announced it would resume July 31 without spectators after having suspended play in February.

August

Golf Canada and Canadian Pacific announced that Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club will play host to the 2022 CP Women’s Open.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by CP Women’s Open (@cpwomensopen)

The Golf Canada Women in Coaching Program, a partnership between Golf Canada and the PGA of Canada with the goal of putting the sport on the path to further balance between the sexes at a high level, was announced.

The new and free Golf Canada app was launched, allowing golfers nationwide to record and track their scores, trace where they have played and provide detailed game statistics as a game improvement tool.

The PGA TOUR announced that the 2024 Presidents Cup will return to The Royal Montreal Golf Club. The event, which pits the top male pros from the U.S. against the best from the rest of the world (except Britain and Europe), was held there in 2007.

Golf Canada and U.S.-based First Tee announced the launch of First Tee-Canada. The partnership will bring First Tee’s youth development emphasis to strengthen Golf Canada’s junior golf activities —previously conducted under the Future Links brand — that reach kids in schools and at golf facilities. The innovative First Tee curriculum will focus on empowering young people to build strength of character through the game of golf.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Golf Canada (@thegolfcanada)

September

The third annual CP Women’s Leadership Summit, held virtually due to the pandemic, provided inspiring stories and a networking opportunity along with accepting donations for the B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation. Hosted by TSN anchor Lindsay Hamilton, speakers included golfers Lorie Kane and Brooke Henderson, Olympians Marnie McBean and Perdita Felicien and other prominent women in leadership positions. “It was a success story for us,” said Mary Beth McKenna, assistant RBC Canadian Open tournament director who has co-led the event since it began.

The Golf Journalists Association of Canada announced that Kim Locke of Toronto, founder and president of SCOREGolf, was the 2020 recipient of the Dick Grimm Award. The association’s highest honour is awarded in memory of the late Richard Grimm whose legendary service to the RBC Canadian Open and the Canadian golf industry remains unparalleled.

Laurent Desmarchais of Bromont, Que., a member of Team Canada’s junior squad, went wire-to-wire to win the season-ending Canada Life Series Championship at TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley.

October

PGA TOUR Champions rookie Mike Weir of Bright’s Grove, Ont., had victory in sight leading by three strokes heading into the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in Virginia but fellow rookie Phil Mickelson denied him the win. It was Weir’s third top-10 finish in eight starts on the tour.

PGA of Canada member Jennifer Greggain of Chilliwack, B.C., was named coach of the National Junior Squads by Golf Canada, working with head coach Robert Ratliffe.

Findlay Young of Prince George, B.C., a former Golf Canada president and honourary life governor, passed away at the age of 92.

November

Twenty-nine athletes, male and female, were named by Golf Canada to represent Team Canada as part of the 2021 national Amateur and Junior Squads. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all athletes from the 2020 squad were able to return in 2021, provided they met team eligibility criteria.

Aaron Cockerill of Stone Mountain, Man., finished T4 at the JoBurg Open in South Africa, his best career finish on the European Tour.

The Economic Impact of Golf in Canada (2019) report, conducted on behalf of the national Allied Golf Associations (We Are Golf), was released. Among its findings were that the Canadian golf industry generated $18.2 billion in economic benefits, employs the equivalent of nearly 249,000 people through direct and spin-off effects and contributed to $10.6 billion in household income.

Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., finished in a tie for 10th at the Masters, which was postponed from its traditional April date due to the pandemic. That finish guaranteed him a spot in the 2021 Masters.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Golf Canada (@thegolfcanada)


Golf Genius Software, the leading worldwide provider of tournament management solutions, announced that Golf Canada and the provincial golf associations will begin using Golf Genius Tournament Management for their competitions in 2021.


So while what lies ahead for 2021 remains unclear, we can only hope that when we compile next year’s “Year in Review,” life as we know it will have returned to a semblance of normality, on the course and off.

Gordon on Golf

Thoughtful holiday gifts for the golfer in your life

Golf gifts for the holidays

Anyone who knows me knows I love Christmas. Heck, I even own a Santa suit and still think my grandson believes I’m the real thing when I show up at his house on Christmas morning.

So, as you read on, please don’t label me the Golfing Grinch.

With that disclaimer, and I am sure I speak on behalf of avid golfers everywhere, spare us the trinkets and trash when buying a gift for us this year.

I don’t want another plastic clicker to count my strokes or a gopher headcover or a tee shaped like a martini glass or … You get the picture.

Actually, I didn’t know what I wanted until I read a tweet from Listowel Golf Club. “Merry Golfmas!” I shouted.

“Golf clubs have the answer to the eternal question of what to buy the golfer,” says the tweet’s author, Brenden Parsons. Parsons, the club’s director of operations, says your local golf facility most likely offers a variety of gift options that will make for a very special Christmas for the golfer on your list — or yourself.

Here are a few examples. Check with your local golf facility to see what they offer.

Online Shopping

Listowel GC offers an online store featuring gift cards of various denominations, golf clubs, footwear and apparel. One unique option is the Christmas Date Night Box which, depending on which level you select, offers a variety of appetizers and even wine. Share it with your partner or even arrange a Zoom party where everyone enjoys their own “Date Night” selection at home. Call it a virtual office Christmas party. “Our food and beverage team came up with the concept,” says Parsons. “It somewhat offsets the fact that there will be no Christmas or New Year’s parties this year.”

Visit the Golf Canada online shop to select logoed gear ranging from apparel, footwear, bags and balls to mementoes of the association’s 125th Many items are discounted for holiday shopping.

There’s a selection of top-level golf garb in FootJoy’s online Holiday Gift Guide and a dozen personalized Titleist balls is a perfect stocking stuffer.

Check out your provincial association’s website for golfy gifts. For example, a couple offer 2-for-1 cards for green fees and Golf Ontario hosts a “12 Days of Christmas” auction. Worth a look!

Gift Cards

The ubiquitous gift card is put to good use by many golf clubs. The options range from cash value redeemable at the course to paying part or all of a membership and/or a cart package, packs of green fees, lessons, club fittings and other services. “This reinforces the value of the club professional,” says Adam Frederick, communications manager for the PGA of Canada. “They are great retailers and experts in instruction and club fitting. This is especially important if you are looking for a gift for a new or junior golfer. Get them started on the right track.”

Donations

Make a donation to the Golf Canada Foundation in the name of the gift’s recipient. The Foundation, a registered Canadian Amateur Athletic Association, raises and grants funds for the advancement of golf in Canada in five main areas: junior golf, collegiate golf, women’s golf, high-performance golf and heritage.

Members at Cataraqui Golf and Country Club in Kingston, Ont., get a chance at an additional 20 per cent off their holiday purchase if they drop off a non-perishable food item at the pro shop.

Lessons

If you live in the Greater Toronto Region, how about a gift certificate for a one- or two-hour fitting session at the Titleist National Fitting Centre located at Eagle’s Nest Golf Club? (Call 905-553-8555 for details.) Specialty shops like Modern Golf, TXG, GolfTEC and others offer winter specials for club fittings, lessons and more.

Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto offers a variety of services including a holiday cooking class and their own label honey and chutney. Glencoe Golf and Country Club in Calgary has an online holiday marketplace.

Aside from providing great value, patronizing your golf club helps support the industry which, like us all, has suffered due to the economic downturn caused by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Another aspect of giving a gift certificate for future golf-related activities or purchases is that it provides a much-needed sense of optimism for a 2021 golf season full of promise, good health and lots of time outside on the course.

Merry Golfmas!

Amateur Gordon on Golf PGA of Canada

Our golf journey at the RBC PGA Scramble

RBC PGA Scramble

My wife and I have played together in many events over the years but this summer we tried a new one: the RBC PGA Scramble presented by The Lincoln Motor Company.

Now in its fifth year, the national series survived myriad challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, it experienced its most successful year to date.

“There was so much uncertainty at the start of the season,” says Adam LeBrun, managing director of championships and foundation for the PGA of Canada. “The pandemic affected everything and we were reacting to new developments every day it seemed. At one point early on, we thought we would be happy if we had 3,000 participants.”

As it turned out, my wife and I were two of about 11,000 participants who signed up to play in one of the team scramble’s 140 local qualifiers. We might not have won to advance to the regional final (OK, so we finished second last) but we had a great day and were impressed by the meticulous organizational framework.

“Unexpectedly, golf as a whole boomed this season,” LeBrun says. “As a result, our participation increased by about 40 per cent over 2019 and we had more venues sign up, many for the first time.”

That’s not to say it was all good news. For the past three years, the national final has taken place at renowned Cabot Links on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. In August, due to travel restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19, that was cancelled. (A return to Cabot is in the plans for 2021, COVID-dependent, of course.)

To compensate, the regional events were enhanced with more than $150,000 worth of gifting and prizing. The second- and third-place teams won a pro shop gift certificate at their regional venue.

2020 RBC PGA Scramble national winners

The overall winning team was announced Sept. 21. Cole Bryant, Lee Bryant, Mike Hughston, Joe Saunders and PGA of Canada professional Nathan Grieve from Talking Rock Golf Course in Chase, B.C., edged Team Crimson Ridge from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., by a mere 0.91 score differential.*

In recognition of their accomplishment, the Talking Rock team was awarded a VIP experience at next year’s RBC Canadian Open at St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Etobicoke, Ont., including airfare, accommodations and tickets.

As well, a charitable donation option resulted in $4,350 being contributed to The Frontline Fund which supports Canadian healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19.

The RBC PGA Scramble is nothing if not inclusive. Female participation grew 73 per cent year-over-year thanks to the creation of an all-female spot at each regional final. LeBrun says the age of participants ranged from 20 to 80 and the handicaps varied from the plus side to the mid-30s. “We even had one new golfer with the maximum Handicap Index of 54.”

But one demographic is not welcome. Sandbaggers need not apply and, if they do, they get booted out. With prejudice.

Again due to the pandemic, the usual format of eightsomes was not practicable so foursomes were the norm this time around, thus potentially opening the door for unscrupulous, unethical players.

“We had some instances,” says LeBrun, “but we reached out to Golf Canada in order to check scoring record details and it’s pretty easy to determine if something is fishy.

“In order to maintain the integrity and credibility of the program, we handed out a few suspensions and, as a committee, decided to make them pretty substantial.” That means a five-year ban from the event plus the miscreant’s home club and provincial association are notified.

“We designed the program with the intention of creating a fun, professional-like competition accessible to golfers of all skill levels,” the PGA of Canada emphasizes.

If the experience my wife and I had is any indication of what occurred nationally, they achieved that goal. We’ll try again next year. Who knows? Maybe third-last is possible…

For more information on the RBC PGA Scramble, visit www.rbcpgascramble.com

*Score differentials were used to compare results across 11 regional finals and calculated using the following formula: (113/course Slope) x (net score – course rating).
Gordon on Golf

What golfers ought to know about the World Handicap System

World Handicap System

Like many of you, I’ve always been diligent about maintaining an accurate handicap. The reasons are ridiculously obvious: I want to know if my game is improving (or not) and I want to ensure that when I compete in net events, I’m being honest and equitable with my fellow competitors.

I never really thought about the mechanics of the system, perhaps because I was too lazy or disinterested to read through the ponderous Handicap Manual (now called the Rules of Handicapping). I gave full credit to the boffins who came up with the convoluted doorstop but never cared to interview the geniuses behind the curtain.

And then, this year, along came the World Handicap System.

Perhaps because of the restrictions due to COVID-19, golfers had more time on their hands. In any case, I’ve never been asked more handicap-related questions at the course or on social media. So, taking a cue from the manuals that accompany your new car or fridge or TV, here’s my version of a “Quick Start Guide” for the World Handicap System.

Why a new handicap system?

Why not? Golf now has both a globally recognized set of Rules as well as a worldwide handicap system. Even if you never travel outside Canada, you can be assured you are playing the same game as every other golfer around the world. The new system may require some tweaking after it’s been in effect for a while but it’s doubtful there will be another significant revision in the near future.

Highlights of the World Handicap System

How does the new World Handicap System work?

At one of the meetings of the 23-member committee tasked with creating the new system, a USGA delegate compared understanding the intricacies of the handicapping system with air travel.

“I have no idea how an airplane works. I don’t understand jet propulsion, aeronautics and so on, but I trust that when I get on that plane, it will get me safely to the destination I intended.”*

Likewise, the process of coming up with the World Handicap System would make your head spin, so just concern yourself with the final outcome.

But if you’re in quarantine or a masochist or one of those aforementioned boffins, you can review the Rules of Handicapping here.

Has the Course Handicap calculation changed?

Yes. To your benefit. Under the old system, there might have been just a two- or three-shot difference in your Course Handicap from the front to back set of tees, despite the fact that those tee decks might be separated by 1,500 yards.

Under the new system, that difference now might be 10 to 12 shots because the par of the course has been integrated into the calculation.

Why doesn’t my Handicap Index go up when I post a high score?

Under the old system, the low 10 of your most recent 20 scores were used to calculate your Handicap Index. Under the new system, the low eight are used. So that bad score may not enter into the calculation. Similarly, using the most recent eight scores instead of 10 may have lowered your Index.

What the heck is Net Double Bogey?

“Net Double Bogey” has replaced the old Equitable Stroke Control system (ESC).

Now everyone’s maximum score for handicap purposes is net double bogey. Simply put, this is the par of the hole PLUS two strokes (double bogey) PLUS any handicap strokes you may be allowed on that hole.

If you don’t want to have to figure that out when you’re posting your score, let the Golf Canada Score Center do it for you. When you enter your score hole by hole, the Score Center automatically adjusts for net double bogey.

And for those of you complaining about posting scores hole by hole: You play the game hole by hole so why not post your score that way? It takes only a couple of minutes and provides some interesting data.

Here’s my Super Easy Quick Start Guide:

Post all your scores hole by hole immediately after your round. Let the Golf Canada Score Centre take care of the rest. And check out the new app which makes the process even easier.

(*Thanks to Craig Loughry, Director of Golf Services at Golf Ontario, for this anecdote and other invaluable assistance with this article. Loughry was the Canadian representative on the World Handicap Operations Committee.)

Amateur Gordon on Golf

9 tips for your first time golfing

Chafing about the restrictions on your activities during the coronavirus pandemic?

One option that thousands of Canadians are taking advantage of in these difficult times is golf. Some are taking up the game for the first time while others are rediscovering its pleasures. Families who can’t go on vacation are enjoying golf outings together. Kids whose other sports are unavailable are loving the opportunity to learn the game. “Nine and dine” at the course is a great date night. Seniors can reconnect with their friends at the course.

Although there are necessary protocols that must be followed (these are outlined on just about every course’s web site), you still have the opportunity to enjoy beautiful scenery, socialize (while observing physical distancing) and get some exercise.

Here are nine tips to help you enjoy the game. On that note, nine holes is just the right number for beginners.

1. Go online

There are lots of sites that offer helpful tips for beginners on every topic from the basic rules and etiquette to the fundamentals of the swing and basic golf attire.

2. Go to a course

Even before you head to the tee for the very first time, do a little online research about the courses in your area. You will want to find a public or “semi-private” course (one that has members but also welcomes the public golfer). Drop into the golf shop, introduce yourself as a new golfer and have a look around. Ask if they have a program to introduce new golfers to the game. If they do, sign up!

3. Go to a pro

Just about every course has a PGA of Canada professional. They’re helpful and knowledgeable. Even a half-hour lesson with a pro will get you started on the right path. Many courses offer lesson packages and some include playing a few holes as well. Taking a lesson is the best investment you can make if you want to enjoy the game and improve your skills.

4. Go get some clubs

Although most courses have clubs you can rent, you may want to have your own set. Most golf course pro shops carry equipment and gear to get you started. Chain stores and other major sporting goods retailers also have inexpensive sets that include irons, woods, putter and a carry bag. They also sell inexpensive balls and tees. As long as you follow the course’s dress code (often published on their web site), you don’t even need golf shoes at this point. Running shoes will suffice.

5. Go to the driving range

If you’re taking lessons at a course, you no doubt have taken advantage of the practice facility, also called the driving range. If not, head for a local public driving range with a friend and hit some balls. Many facilities also have a practice putting green. As you will find out, putting is a very important part of the game!

6. Go to the first tee

You’ve hooked up with some friends or new acquaintances from your introductory program. You’ve asked the folks in the golf shop from which tees you should play as a beginner (generally, the most forward set of tees is appropriate).

7. Go hit the ball

Assuming you’ve followed these first few tips, you should be hitting the ball in the right general direction. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not as proficient as your more experienced companions. Just relax, swing, and don’t forget to breathe! From a safety perspective, make sure you are aware of where your friends are and when they are hitting. From a “pace of play” viewpoint, always be ready to hit your next shot when it’s your turn. Most importantly, don’t get frustrated if you’re not proficient immediately. You will improve the more you play and practise. Remember, the object of the game is to have fun.

8. Go to the clubhouse

Much of the appeal of golf is the social aspect following a round. Reliving the game, good shots and not-so-good, with friends and family is an integral part of the game.

9. Go back

Golf has been called “the game for a lifetime.” You can play this game at whatever level you wish, from recreational to competitive, for years and years. It’s healthy, fun and a great way to meet new friends.


So there you go.

Nine tips, just like the nine holes you will likely play the first few times you’re at the course.

But there is so much more!

Although you can learn the fundamentals of the swing, course etiquette and rules online, GolfCanada.ca is the best resource for anyone who enjoys the game at any level.

As you play more golf, you’ll want an official handicap index and the other benefits that come with a Golf Canada membership.

But you have to start somewhere. So, like so many of your fellow Canadians are doing these days, start now!