For the most part, I enjoyed and appreciated Richard Moss’s 2013 book The Kingdom of Golf in America.
Until the very last paragraph.
After 355 pages, Moss took a double bogey on the (figurative) 18th hole.
“Golf’s problems are rooted in the seismic changes in the economy and the culture of the past 40 years. If the golf community responds to these changes by dramatically changing the game, by making it shorter, easier or by changing the rules, it will be a profound mistake. Golf is not best seen as a consumer product …”
In my opinion, that’s the literary version of a golf swing’s double-cross.
This does not mean the game needs to be reinvented. How about re-engineered? In business terms, that means rethinking your processes to improve your overall product.
Personally, I prefer “reimagine,” a word that noted golf writer Lorne Rubenstein used when we spoke about the challenges facing not only municipal golf courses but many public-access courses as well. Rubenstein, who is a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame among many other honours, said golf needs to spread the word that its image as an activity largely reserved for white wealthy males is a fallacy.
“The vast majority of courses are open to the public but the perception is that it’s elitist,” he said. “That’s just not true.” (About 90 per cent of Canada’s 2,400 courses are open for public play.)
He added that, in order to appeal to a wider audience, the traditional 18-hole configuration must be reimagined to include shorter courses, putting courses and other activities, golf and non-golf.
Municipal courses in particular have a bull’s eye on their back, perhaps because of “budget deficits and cheap populism,” says Brad Klein, a respected author and course architecture consultant based in Connecticut. Politicians try to hit a hot button by advocating the closure of these green spaces and replacing them with housing or other alternative uses.
“Golf benefits many more people than those who play it,” Klein said, citing the enormous environmental benefits of golf courses. “Green space versus hardscape. A thermal sink with grass and trees. Carbon sequestration [capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere]. Habitat for all sorts of creatures and pollinators. Flood and storm water control.
“It’s an asset to the whole community, especially in an urban setting. A municipal golf course is essentially a park with the added benefit of a game anyone can play and with the opportunity to at least break even or maybe show a profit.”
That message may be being heard, if not across the country, then in some progressive municipalities.
The City of Toronto voted this month to implement an improved operating model for its five courses, combining re-engineering and reimagining, to “provide improvements in customer experience, environmental stewardship, financial performance and recreational opportunities,” according to a press release. (More than 195,000 rounds were played on the city’s munis last year.)
“Maintaining City golf facilities in a prudent way that delivers a better experience for golfers, supports affordable access to the game for Torontonians and expands opportunities for how we use these spaces year-round is the right thing to do,” Mayor John Tory said in the release. “Providing public access to these areas, primarily in the off-season, creates more opportunities to be outside and active, including hiking, running, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.”
Another win was scored for publicly accessible golf courses when Winnipeg’s city councilors voted 13-3 in January not to sell one of its municipal facilities, the John Blumberg Golf Course. Cindy Gilroy spoke for her colleagues after the vote.
After serving in senior positions in the parks and recreation departments in Toronto and Vancouver, Malcolm Bromley is well aware of the negative and inaccurate view many—not just politicians—have of golf courses, municipal or otherwise, and the people who play there.
“A municipal course is an integral part of the community and a vital part of the parks and recreation inventory,” said Bromley, who retired a couple of years ago after working in municipal government since 1979. His last post was general manager of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation for a decade.
In his experience, he can’t recall a single parks and recreation department staff member recommending the closure or sale of a golf course. A controversial motion to sell the municipally owned Stone Ridge, the only course in the small Northern Ontario city of Elliot Lake, to a developer was defeated on Feb. 14 after a public and social media outcry, an online petition and representations from Golf Canada and the Northern Golf Association.
It must be noted that the motion was proposed by the city’s economic development manager, not the parks and recreation staff. The staff proposal was introduced in a closed council session a month earlier and recommended the sale proceed without even an appraisal of the value of the facility.
Bromley acknowledged that a golf course is low-hanging fruit for a politician seeking notoriety but suggested these people haven’t hung out in the parking lot or on the first tee of a municipal course to see who shows up. (It’s unlikely the almost 200,000 golfers who played Toronto’s municipal courses in 2021 were all wealthy white men.)
“Then they should ask themselves, ‘If this [course] wasn’t here, where would all these people go?’ They sure wouldn’t head out of the city to play, so what happens to them?”
Like Rubenstein, Klein and most others who care deeply about the game, Bromley understands shifting cultural, economic and demographic realities are impacting everything in our world, including golf.
“That’s why we have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we maximize and optimize this valuable public asset? How can we have golf—and more—on this green space?’”
Perhaps the most important “more”, according not only to Bromley but many others, is creating what he calls an “on ramp” to golf like baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball and others. To get more creative, to evolve the classic experience into putting courses, welcome programs, driving ranges, short courses, courses of fewer than 18 or even nine holes, and junior programs. “Golf-related fun,” in his words.
To that final point, Golf Canada has proposed a partnership with the City of Toronto to become the home of program locations for the First Tee – Canada and the RBC Community Junior Golf Program.
Most of the people quoted in this article made individual representations to the City of Toronto during its review of the future of its courses. Craig Loughry was one of them and his tie was as strong as or stronger than anyone’s.
Loughry, Golf Ontario’s Director of Golf Services, grew up on those layouts. As a younger man, he won the club championship at Tam O’Shanter Golf Course in Scarborough. In those days, the club champion moved on to the City of Toronto championship, a title he won twice.
“Listen. These courses, most courses for that matter, are the farthest thing from elitism. People who think that is the case are just wrong. Have they ever been to one to see for themselves? I highly doubt it.”
It should be noted that, like Rubenstein, Logan and Loughry, many other prominent people in Canadian golf learned to love the game on municipal or public courses. Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum, PGA of Canada CEO Kevin Thistle and Earl Fritz, founder of the Canadian Junior Golf Association, are among them.
Few, if any, in Canada have been more vocal in support of municipal golf than golf writer Rick Young. Young, president of the Golf Journalists Association of Canada, has been relentless and vociferous about the challenge to these recreational oases not just in Canada but in other countries like the U.S. and Australia.
“I understand it’s an easy target but I really wish the critics would do some research, do their homework, before taking the path of least resistance. What I see in most cases are hidden agendas from politicians or developers. We’ve got to rewrite golf’s playbook. We’ve got to go on the offence and get everyone’s voice heard. Now.”
Young echoed the common theme that, as Klein said, “municipal golf is doomed if it stays on the defensive.”
“Golf lacks a cohesive voice on the local level,” Bromley said. “If you tried to close an arena or a ball field, the parents, minor sports and other leagues and other user groups would rise up. They’d sign petitions, hold meetings and take to social media.
“We’ve got to stop looking at every instance as a goal-line stand, a face-off between opposing forces. A golf course shouldn’t be like a light switch where it’s either on or off.”
The message should be, as Young poetically puts it: “From green space to dream space.”
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.
If you want golf to help forge and strengthen a romantic bond, you would be well advised to follow these guidelines which I have learned (often the hard way, particularly No. 1) over three decades of golfing with my beloved.
1. Be mindful
If you’re not asked, resist the urge to offer your well-intentioned opinion if your partner is having an off day. You most likely don’t have the instruction credentials to rectify the situation. Second, even though they love you, it is more likely that you will only add to the frustration.. If you are going to follow only one rule, make it this one.
2. Go on vacation
Take a golf vacation together. Sitting on the beach is all fine and good, but getting out on the course and sharing some conversation and laughs is far better.
3. Nine and dine
Whether it’s an organized weekly couples’ league or just an impromptu outing for just the two of you, nine holes followed by a leisurely dinner and drinks is a wonderful way to unwind and catch up.
4. Don’t take it too seriously
Sure, you want to play your best but the object of the exercise is to enjoy each other’s company.
5. Include family
If you have kids or grandkids, invite them to play a few holes with you. Or maybe it’s your brother and sister-in-law or other relatives you love but don’t get to see often enough. Golf is a great excuse to reinforce those family ties.
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.
Thoughtful holiday gifts for the golfer in your life (2021)
This time of year, we are inundated with “gift guides for the golfer in your life.” I’m here to tell you I am that golfer and I don’t want most of that stuff.
Why the greatest game has the cheesiest accessories is beyond me. You’ve seen them: Caddyshack gopher head covers, ugly sweaters and those visors with the fake hair sprouting out the top. Note to my family: Buy me one of those and the next time you see one while walking through the local thrift store and remark, “Hey, that’s just like the one we got Uncle John for Christmas,” rest assured it is the same one.
So here’s the real stuff the golfer in your life (and likely you) want for Christmas.
A book you can’t put down
It’s been said that “the smaller the ball, the more is written about it” and, despite the fact I’ve never seen much literature about marbles, I believe that to be true. There are so many great books about every conceivable facet of golf. I particularly enjoy reading about the people, especially if they are Canadian. Gary Cowan’s new autobiography (written with David McPherson) From Rockway to Augusta chronicles his outstanding career. Cowan, an honoured member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, remains the only man to win the U.S. Amateur twice at stroke play. Hard- and soft-cover versions are available for order here.
A Golf Canada membership
If the recipient doesn’t belong to a Golf Canada member club which includes a Golf Canada membership as part of their benefits, get them one. Priced around $50, it’s a bargain, providing an official handicap index among a plethora of other benefits including access to the full-feature Golf Canada app and incident protection coverage against lost, damaged, or stolen equipment. Learn all about it here.
A club-fitting session
Here’s a vital tip. DO NOT buy golf clubs for the object of your affection. Few things are more personal than a golfer’s choice of tools. Getting fitted for clubs (and balls) is essential. A gift certificate for your local pro shop may seem a touch antiseptic but, trust me, it will be deeply appreciated. While an in-person fitting is preferable, most equipment companies offer sophisticated online fitting apps.
Tickets to Canada’s National Opens
Canada’s national open championships (CP Women’s Open and RBC Canadian Open) make their highly anticipated return after a two-year break. Consider the full experience of world-class golf with tickets for you and yours.
Gift cards to your local pro shop
On the topic of gift certificates, how about patronizing your local courses this holiday season? Most offer gift cards for everything from merchandise, food and beverage, lessons and even a contribution toward annual dues.
Practice and tracking progress
Unless you live in balmy British Columbia, your practice is pretty well restricted to indoors. If you are committed to game improvement in the offseason, consider purchasing a launch monitor or visiting an indoor facility with access. Putting mats like the Wellputt are under 200 bucks and we all know how many strokes poor putting costs us.
This is my opinion only but mid- to high-handicappers don’t need an expensive rangefinder. The free Golf Canada mobile app offers GPS data alongside detailed hole-by-hole scoring.
A new push cart
The recent boom in golf participation has revealed that many golfers prefer to walk and use a push cart which is proven to be easier on the body (and better for your score) than carrying your clubs. Non-motorized carts like Bag Boy’s Nitron have all sorts of options. But if you want to splurge, go for something in the Motocaddy line of electric trolleys.
A donation to golf’s future
Give a donation to the First Tee – Canada. Your gift in any amount will help prepare kids for their future in golf and beyond. Give back to the game that’s given us all so much.
A final caveat: Supply-chain issues being what they are, you should order your golf gifts as soon as possible.
When you hear someone say “golf saved my life,” you pay attention.
From the age of 9 until he turned 14, Sam Gerry had a passion for the game. Suddenly, severe depression hit, to the point where he considered suicide. Then he was fortunate enough to be invited on a surprise trip with his grandfather to the Masters. The experience caused a gradual reawakening of his love for the game and, far more importantly, life.
“I could escape to the golf course and the only thing I was focused on was the game. Because I played regularly, it definitely built up to create a longer-term effect on my recovery. That combination of the game itself and spending time with my friends or my dad or my grandfather—that really helps me get through it. You really could say golf saved my life and that’s not an exaggeration.”
Sam’s story is one of many. There is even a book titled How Golf Saved My Life and, although it deals mainly with golfers with physical disabilities, it demonstrates how the game has indisputable benefits for our overall wellbeing.
Mental health benefits of playing golf
Jenny Roe is an environmental psychologist at the University of Virginia who explores how our interactions with the world shape our health, wellbeing and behaviours. She has been involved in several studies looking at the mental health benefits associated with playing golf.
She elaborated in a study by the R&A on this topic in 2020: “Contact with nature slows down our stress response and induces calm. There is evidence to show this is happening in our biological system. It is promoting stress resilience, it is improving our mood, it is decreasing our risk of depression and increasing our social wellbeing, particularly on a golf course where you are interacting with other members of that community. So there are a host of mental and social wellbeing benefits.”
Never was this more important than now, when the world is trying to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic and its crushing impact on physical and mental health.
The impact of COVID-19 on mental health
A more recent R&A study, “Post COVID Opportunity,” found that 36 per cent of respondents said they experienced some negative impact on their mental health as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 83 per cent identified that playing golf had a positive impact on their mental health. Thirty-one per cent said they had increased feelings of loneliness and isolation as a result of the pandemic. Of these, 79 per cent said playing golf had a positive impact.
Those feelings are not limited to any one demographic.
In May, during Mental Health Week, a survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association and the University of British Columbia found that 77 per cent of adult respondents reported feeling negative emotions as a result of the pandemic.
In a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, during the province’s lockdown of outdoor activities, the Canadian Pediatric Association said: “We cannot overstate the extent of the mental health crisis facing our children and youth. Seventy per cent of Ontario school-aged children reported deterioration in their mental health. Social isolation is by far the biggest predictor of poor mental health for children.”
Is playing golf a panacea for all that ails us, mentally and physically? Of course not but there are undeniable benefits.
Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood is a psychologist who has worked with many athletes, including the Team Canada men’s golf squad. She is also the chair of the Canadian Sport Psychology Association.
“The pandemic turned our lives upside-down. We lost a lot: a sense of control, of normalcy, routine, contact with family and friends, work colleagues. Golf gives us some of that back. We are in control for a change. We get away from the bad news, social media. We get outside, we reconnect with others in a social setting, in nature.
“Another wonderful thing is that golf is a perfect setting for players of any age to golf together, whether that’s mom and dad and the kids and maybe even grandma and grandpa or with someone you meet for the first time on the first tee. It is a game that brings us all together and that is vital for good mental health.”
People need golf now more than ever
In a Toronto Sun column titled “People need golf now more than ever,” golf writer Jon McCarthy talks about sneaking in a quick round before Ford shut things down once again in late April.
“One of the beauties of golf is that it’s full of breezy conversation. There’s lots to talk about but rarely is a serious topic broached. I’ll come home from a round with friends and my wife will ask what we talked about. The honest answer is, well, nothing. And it’s wonderful.
“To partake in this, a golfer doesn’t have to belong to a club or have a regular foursome. Once you get to a course, there will be people to talk to, people to share the day with, even if you show up alone. The golf course is a place where strangers can become friends for a day.
12 tips to finally take your offseason golf practice to the next level
Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in southern British Columbia, most Canadian golfers are looking at a golf season of about six months. That leaves us the other half of the year to … do what?
Watch golf, think about golf, dream about golf, do just about everything except play golf.
But if you’re serious about hitting the first tee next spring in mid-season form, there are many ways to do that: Eating healthier, getting or staying in shape, improving your swing, practicing your putting and short game and more.
No matter where you live across the country, there are experts in all of these areas. Golf Canada reached out to a few to get you started on the right track. Have a look at these along with the many other opportunities offered online and do more than just dream about next season.
Whether you have an indoor facility with nets or a dome or are limited to your basement or garage, you can use the off-season to ensure your game stays sharp or maybe even improve!
1. The Joy of Flex-ibility
Strength training is usually the first thing people think of for exercises to improve their swing. However, improved flexibility allows you the range of motion needed to fully implement any power gains you get from that added strength. Here are some exercises I recommend to improve your flexibility.
Straight Leg Hang with Flat Back
Stand with your feet no more than shoulder-width apart. Keep your back perfectly flat and bend forward as far as possible. The benefit is an increased range of motion through the hamstrings, allowing your hips to tilt forward more easily to help achieve a proper golf stance. I would suggest two repetitions, holding each for 30 to 60 seconds.
Torso Twist Against Wall
Stand up straight facing away from a wall. Turn to the left, placing your right hand on the wall and pushing your torso around. After holding the stretch, repeat, turning to the right. The benefit is an increased range of motion around the torso, allowing more rotation in the wind-up and follow-through of the golf swing. I would suggest holding for 30 to 60 seconds in each direction, twice.
Shoulder Stretch Against Wall
Place your hands on a wall at eye level. Bend over at the hips, pushing your chest and head down toward base of wall. This stretch increases the range of motion in the shoulder joint, resulting in less restriction throughout the swing. I would suggest two repetitions, switching which foot is leading each time, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Standing Chest Stretch Against Wall
Stand perpendicular to a wall. Press your hand closest to wall at shoulder height with your fingers facing back. Use small steps to turn your chest away from the wall until a stretch is felt through the chest and arm. This increases the shoulder joint’s range of motion, improving range of motion through the golf swing. I would suggest repeating twice on each side of the body, maintaining the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Calf Stretch Against Wall
Place the toes of one foot up against the wall. Push the heel of that foot into the floor with the other foot slightly behind. Push yourself forward into the wall until you feel your calf muscle stretch. This exercise gives you more range of motion through the ankle which improves your balance and stance. I would suggest two repetitions on each leg, with at least a 30-second hold.
Kneeling Hip Stretch
Kneel on a mat. Push your hips forward. Drop down towards the mat until you feel a stretch through the front of your legs with your knees on mat. The benefit is increased flexibility in the front of your hips, allowing a more complete follow-through with the golf swing. I would suggest repeating twice on each leg, holding for 30 to 60 seconds.
Bio: Phil Kavanagh ventured into the golf industry in 1983 as a back-shop attendant at Indian Wells Golf Club in Ontario. He moved up to first assistant at Trafalgar Golf and Country Club, followed by four years as first assistant at Burlington Golf and Country Club. Phil’s first Head Professional position was at Dundas Valley Golf and Curling Club from 1997 to 2001. In 2002, he became the seventh Head Professional in the 84-year history of Islington Golf Club. In 2020 and 2024, Islington Golf Club will play co-host to the RBC Canadian Open.
2. Start in the right direction
We all want to shoot lower scores but we sometimes direct our limited practice time towards areas of our game that provide little return. You must have a plan for your practice session so you can make better use of your time and see improvement along the way. A good practice session can be divided into technical work, skill development, a challenge, and then reflection.
Putting is a multiple-piece puzzle so let’s take a look at just two important pieces—alignment and start direction— you can practise at home or at the course.
Start Direction: It is important to get the ball started on or as close to your start line as you can. Combine that with good distance control and more putts will end up in the bottom of the cup. The putter face has the most influence on the golf ball’s initial direction.
Let’s do a personal assessment of the direction you start the ball. Take two coffee cups or water glasses, a length of string and some tape. Tape each end of the string to the top of each cup and spread the cups 10 feet away from each other on a flat smooth carpet. Place one ball between the cups, under the string and about two feet from one cup. (Stick a small piece of masking tape to the floor behind the ball so you know where to place the ball each time.) Then take another ball and place it under the string two feet in front of the first ball. Now take two batteries and stand them up on either side of the second ball with just a little space between each side of the ball and take the ball away. Now you can begin the test!
Move the one cup that is closest to the balls off to the side and hit 10 putts from the masking tape mark on the floor, between the two batteries and toward the far cup. Go through your normal routine for each putt and once you complete the 10 putts, ask yourself how many putts went between the batteries without touching them, how many putts hit the left battery and how many hit the right battery?
Let’s take a closer look at how you align the putter and get set up. A great tool is a metal yardstick. Place the cup with the string back into place and place the yardstick under the string. Using the string be sure that the yardstick is pointing in the direction of the far cup. Remove the string again and place a golf ball in the small hole in the end of the yardstick. Place your putter behind the ball and line up the putter face with the straight edge of the yardstick. Take your grip and stance. Look down at the putter face, then down the yardstick and towards the hole. How does this alignment feel? Repeat this setup process a few times to see if you can get comfortable with how this has you aligned. Now practise hitting putts down the yardstick.
If you can roll the ball down the length of the stick and towards the hole without it falling off the sides you are properly delivering the face of the putter at impact. Repeat this process, aligning the putter face, grip and stance for every attempt. This practice is to help you properly align the face at setup, learning visually how this alignment feels and then rolling a putt in the desired direction.
Challenge: Now that you have had some practice on your alignment and starting the ball on line, take away the yardstick and the string and hit 10 putts going through your full routine and see how many putts you hit between the batteries and that hit the cup. Your goal is to try to beat or tie your record every time you do the challenge before you finish your practice session.
Reflection: Write down some notes, answering the following questions: What did I do well? What could have been better? What will I work on next time?
Bio: Adam Werbicki grew up in Stony Plain, Alta., and has worked at the Derrick Golf & Winter Club in Edmonton since 2007. He has been named to the US Kids Top 50 Instructors and was the 2011 PGA of Canada Junior Leader of the Year and the 2015 PGA of Canada Teacher of the Year.
3. Improve your impact through the ball
Equipment needed: Elastic resistance tubing with handles, alignment stick, something stable to hook the elastic about waist height
Purpose: To understand and feel the transition sequence to and through impact as well as the routing of the club head before impact.
The lower body pulls the upper body. Your weight goes onto your forward foot first, followed by an unwinding body motion from the ground up. Your arms get back in front of your body with a flat front wrist at impact.
Below plane: The alignment stick in yellow represents the golf club and follows under and behind the elastic (picture 1) all the way to impact position (ball position inside front foot).
The upper part of the stick touches the front side (left for right-handed golfer) of the body with the back arm bent, front arm extended and wrist flat (picture 2). If the stick does not touch your side, you will miss the release of the club head through the ball and leave the club face open.
Over Plane: This is a major fault!
The hands and arms start first from the top of backswing. The club head travels over the plane (the elastic) which causes a pull and/or cut shot where the weight of the body falls back.
The is a great exercise to make you feel the proper trajectory of the golf club before the striking zone and through the impact area.
Bio: Denise Lavigne has been teaching and coaching golf for more than 25 years. A member of the Coaching Association of Canada, she is director of instruction at Golf Le Mirage and Pinegrove Country Club in Quebec as well as at Quail Ridge Country Club in Boynton Beach, Fla., in the winter.
4. Want to hit the ball farther?
I have seen very good results with players wanting to increase their distance through more club head speed. Although I’m not generally one to endorse products, I believe using SuperSpeed Golf’s product over the winter is both the easiest and quickest method. www.superspeedgolf.com.
Simply follow the simple workout protocol of three times per week and see the yardage gains. Added bonus: the protocol (workouts) can help improve swing technique without you even being aware!
5. Pitch into a laundry basket
I love this winter drill for players to improve contact, land angle of the ball and visualization. Simply use your sand wedge and from a tight lie (e.g., short carpet), chip balls into a laundry basket from three, five and seven yards away in the air. No windows behind the baskets may be another great tip!
Bio: Derek Ingram is Team Canada’s national coach, He is the head coach for the national amateur and Young Pro teams and is a two-time recipient of the PGA of Canada’s Teacher of the Year award.
6. Throwing Darts 🎯
When I want to emphasize to golfers the need to elevate their ability to focus, I often reference Phil Taylor, world-champion dart player. I’ll have them watch YouTube videos of some of his perfect games and take note of his incredible ability to focus. His laser-like stare at his target is the same every time.
While focus is not really measurable with TrackMan technology or even slow-motion video, it is possible to look at the pupils of an athlete and make a determination as to whether their visual focus is “narrow,”’ which is ideal in a target-oriented game like golf—and darts.
The benefits of learning and improving your play in darts are many and several are certainly transferable to golf.
Self Control/Self Awareness/Proprioception
Proprioception is defined as the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body. Gaining a sense of body control while focusing on the dartboard will heighten your awareness of your body’s position and its movements. While the movement of throwing a dart has much less velocity than swinging a club, there is still a requirement of balance and coordination which is improved upon through a discipline of controlled body movements.
Just like there is an immediate respect factor among golfers if someone mentions they are a single-digit handicap, there is the same level of admiration towards an elite dart player. Getting better at darts requires discipline in developing a physical routine in getting yourself ready physically before each throw. This is complemented by a mental routine which involves making tactical decisions as to what is the next target on the board, focusing on that target and then reacting to that target.
Getting better at darts is not an easy task and it requires the same traits and dedication if you want to get better at golf. With practice, you can gain competence and understand what you are trying to do. With experience, you can grow your confidence and self esteem, knowing that it wasn’t easy and you earned it.
Chances are if you can learn how to “double in and double out” with regularity playing darts, you’ll have improved upon some of the skills and traits necessary in avoiding those “doubles” on the course next spring.
Bio: As the director of golf at Rideau View Golf Club in Manotick, Ont., along with assisting golfers of all abilities to improve their game, Matt Robinson says he is most proud of being presented with the Order of the Good Bear by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Foundation for which he has raised more than $500,000 through his fundraising efforts.
7. It’s as easy as 1-2-3
Another off-season is upon us, and you’re probably deciding what you should do differently this winter to produce different results for the summer.
The first two tactics that come to mind are improving your overall strength and conditioning as well as your technique. Get in the gym and grab your PGA pro to get some swing technique work under your belt. If there are technical flaws occurring, this would be the best time to address them and to make the necessary changes.
As we enter into the New Year and create off-season goals targeted towards our golf game, it also creates a great opportunity for us to reflect and reframe our habits that directly impact your game. The reality is that we all have bad habits but here I will highlight three goods habits you can integrate into your off-season program.
Commit now to a higher level of discipline with your mental game for 2020.
Objective post-shot routine We are quick to criticize what we did on a particular golf shot instead of identifying all the things that went well. Make your first two thoughts after a shot solely on objective data; Where did it hit the clubface and where did it land relative to where you planned? This objective analysis habit delays the emotional reaction and gives your mind time to organize everything that’s just happened.
For an athletic motion as complex as a golf swing, we need to incorporate breathing. Start with a simple breath before you swing and a breath in the finish as a basic template. Build on this and gain control over your breathing in your golf game.
Commitment Phrase You’ll never know if you’ve made the right choice or made a great swing until it happens, so practise your commitment phrase. It should be confident but also accepting. “I’ve got this!” or “Let’s goooo!” (thanks, Bianca!), are great examples. Match this phrase to your personality. Make it your own!
Bio: With almost three decades of experience successfully playing and teaching the game, Todd Halpen is the director of instruction at the Golf Canada Calgary Centre.
8. Do the hard work now
The No. 1 request from my students is: “Can you teach me to hit the ball farther?” The answer to that question requires further knowledge of the student: Is the student maintaining or improving core and overall strength? Is the student maintaining or improving mobility?
These discussions with my students during the golf season resulted in the development of an off-season golf-specific program that focuses on strength and mobility training and then skill work. My indoor golf space has four hitting areas with a computer simulator and an area for strength and conditioning work.
As a PGA of Canada golf instructor and a CrossFit and functional movement trainer, I developed multiple strength and conditioning programs suited for each student. Accessing golf skills and instituting drills to improve those skills is the basis of the off-season training offered at my indoor space.
Improvements in a student’s ability to hit the ball farther and make more consistent contact come as a result of adherence to a program that includes work on strength, conditioning, mobility and skill. My motto is to do the hard work at a time of year when there is no access to the golf course so that the student can focus on playing golf, scoring and having fun when the golf season arrives.
I am proud that our indoor facility offers 10-week clinics for junior girls and boys in the winter. Our focus is on skill work, simulated games, mobility and coordination drills. After the winter session, juniors can transition to outdoor lessons, leagues and on-course games.
Bio: Mary-Pat Quilty is the director of golf at Settlers’ Ghost Golf Club in Craighurst, Ont., and a past winner of the PGA of Ontario Championship. After competing on the Symetra, Canadian, Asian and Australian tours, she became a PGA of Canada member and has twice been named the PGA of Ontario’s Teacher of the Year.
9. Keep on pitching
Assuming you’re able to access a sports dome during the off-season, take advantage of the opportunity to hone your short game and improve your scoring when spring arrives.
Setup: Using your sand wedge, place the ball in the middle of your stance with your feet slightly closer together than shoulder width. Then feel your weight shift a little towards the target, making the weight 60-40 on your front side.
Motion: Feeling tension-free in your arms and hands, take the club back with your arms and shoulders until the club is parallel to the ground. The big key for the takeaway is to maintain your 60-40 balance. Don’t allow your weight to shift to your back foot and maintain the width with your arms, not with your wrists. From this position, simply focus on rotating your chest so you finish with your chest on top of your front foot.
Finish Position: You should be completely facing your target (chest and belt), feel that you have moved 90 per cent of your weight to your front foot and your arms and hands are pointing the club at your target. A good key to focus on with the finish is to make sure the club head finished below your hands and the toe of the club is straight up to the sky.
Key thought: You should feel that you are hitting this shot with the movement of your larger muscles (shoulders/chest/hips) and not with your hands. Experiment with distance control by making longer and shorter swings with the same motion, never adding speed with your hands. A longer swing equals longer shot.
Bio: Jamie Moran is the director of golf and head professional of Belvedere Golf Club in Charlottetown. He was the 2019 Atlantic PGA of Canada Teacher of the Year and has received multiple nominations for junior leader of the year, coach of the year and teacher of the year.
10. Taking care of your golf body
The off-season is the time to make changes to your swing, take care of any aches, pains or limitations in your body and work on fitness and strength so that you can crush the upcoming season. Here are a few tips that I have found beneficial over the years for the different age groups of golfers. When in doubt, find a local sport health-care provider and fitness trainer to assess where you can focus your off-season training.
Junior Golfer: Be active in all sorts of sports and activities. Build your athletic abilities that include hand-eye coordination, balance, changing of direction, and rotation. This will help you improve your body awareness and challenge muscle groups and activation patterns that are different from the repetitiveness of golf. Remember to have fun!
Amateur Golfer: Focus on recovery and building your base: your core and mobility. Many of Team Canada athletes play a heavy schedule over the summer months and then head to university to play more events along with regular team workouts. Having the base to control lifting techniques and prevent injury is very important. Recovery includes various types of exercise, mindfulness, consistent sleep and good nutrition and hydration.
Mid-Amateur Golfer: Life gets busy as you get older but make your fitness, flexibility and stability a priority. Taking breaks from poor posture while we sit at work is an easy habit to get into. Another thing to focus on is any injuries or aches that interfered with your previous season that limited quality of play, practice, or adapting to new swing skill.
Senior Golfer: Focus on flexibility and strength. Regular exercise that is variable just like the junior golfer is very important. Balance, hand-eye coordination, stop-starts and changing direction can improve your body’s ability to create the swing you want and maintain the power to crush it.
Bio: Andrea Kosa has been the physiotherapist for Golf Canada’s women’s teams since 2013. She is a competitive golfer who competed in the Canadian Mid-Amateur and was a quarter-finalist in the 2019 USGA Mid-Amateur. She is accredited by the Titleist Performance Institute at the Medical Professional Level 3.
11. Get hip!
The two main physical areas to focus on over the winter are thoracic mobility and hip stability.
Thoracic Mobility We need the thoracic/trunk area of your body to be able to rotate ideally at least 60 to 70 degrees in comparison to your pelvis and be symmetrical, i.e., be able to rotate the same both right (backswing for right-handed players) and left (downswing). If there is stiffness here, a common swing fault is to be steep in your backswing or, even worse, to have a very inconsistent swing plane.
A great way to improve this mobility is to get a foam roller. Place it on the ground and lay on it perpendicular to your spine with your knees bent and your hands supporting your head and neck. In this position, first roll gently back and forth from your shoulder blades to the middle of your trunk for a minute. Follow this by keeping the roller still between your shoulder blades and pivot over the roller five times.
Hip Stability The most important area of the body to be stable during the golf swing is the hips and pelvis. If we are physically weak here it often leads to swing faults such as swaying and sliding.
To strengthen this area, grab an exercise band and sit on a table. Loop the band around your feet and place your hands either side of the leg you want to strengthen. Keeping the other leg still, rotate the leg you are strengthening as far away from the stationary leg until you can’t go any further, hopefully at least 45 degrees. Hold this position before slowly returning the rotating leg to the start position. Complete three sets of as many repetitions as you can with 30 seconds rest between each set.
Bio: Greg Redman is Team Canada’s head physiotherapist and strength coach who has had success with several Olympic champions and medalists. He competed nationally in canoe/kayak and has completed eight marathons and Ironman Canada.
12. Take it to the mat
Unfortunately, if you’re stuck in Canada for the winter, most of your practice is going to be hitting shots from a mat with less than a full flight. Under these circumstances, there are two things I think are super important to keep in mind.
Careful when using mats Mats are super forgiving on “heavy” shots or shots where you connect with the ground first. When you hit this shot from grass, you get immediate feedback and can react appropriately on the next shot. However, off a mat, the club will bounce off the mat and the ball will react pretty much like it would for a shot that is cleanly contacted. I like products like the one in the accompanying photo from Eyeline Golf that you can place behind the golf ball to provide feedback on the low point of your swing.
The low point of your swing should be at or ahead of the golf ball for all of your iron shots and this product gives you immediate feedback. Hitting shots heavy all winter off mats is a recipe for disaster. You can also place a piece of masking tape behind the golf ball to give you feedback on the low point of your swing as an alternative. Your shorter irons are going to have steeper angles of attack on the golf course. So when you are hitting off mats, you are causing more wear and tear on your wrists and elbows. So try to limit the amount of full shots you hit off a mat to your 8-iron and higher. (Pitches are great, though, as it helps promote a shallower swing path)
Practice your max When hitting shots indoors, we tend to be focusing on our mechanics and our contact. That’s great but most of the time, you are not swinging at “game speed.” So try to end your session with at least 10 shots that are at or very near your maximum output.
Bio: Ralph Bauer has coached competitors at all four men’s majors, the Olympics, the World Cup, every PGA TOUR event, and has worked with multiple major champions. His amateur players have won 25 Ontario provincial championships and in 19 of the last 20 years, he has had a student make Team Canada.
If my foursome gets the first time on Sunday mornings, we usually play 18 in about three hours. When I tell most people this, they say, “Wow! You play fast.” (At least in North America.)
My response is, “No, we play efficiently.” There’s lots of advice available online on how to play more quickly (efficiently) so I leave that to you to check out. Lord knows, I’ve written about myself ad infinitum.
To me, “efficient golf” means taking most, if not all, of that advice and combining it with some other vital components to make the complete “responsible golfer.”
What makes a responsible golfer? In the interest of gaining the widest possible perspective, I threw that question out on Twitter.
The responses didn’t surprise me for the most part but, like the advice on playing more efficiently, they are well worth taking to heart in the interests of the game and those of us who love the game. Some came from folks who make their living in the golf industry but most were from the same people you meet on the first tee.
Before I share those responses, I refer you to Rule 1 of the Rules of Golf.
In summary, they define what makes a responsible golfer.
Act with integrity.
Show consideration for others.
Take good care of the course.
I guess I could end this column right here but I think we all can benefit from the reactions of our fellow golfers on social media.
Many harked back to what I define as efficient golf, elements that improve pace of play: playing the correct tees for your ability, ready golf, continuous putting, marking your score at the next tee, and so on.
@MarchbankAndrew summed it up pretty well, I thought, with one word: Respect.
Many of you may be new golfers and the second-last point above will resonate with you if you’re finding the game challenging. Don’t despair. All golfers were beginners at some point and the “responsible golfer” will recognize that and make allowances. But this street runs both ways. As a beginner, it is incumbent on you to keep an acceptable pace of play as well as knowing and abiding by the basic Rules and etiquette. Don’t be reticent to ask more experienced golfers for their advice on how to be an efficient and responsible golfer.
Often, this advice will include taking a couple of lessons and hitting the driving range. As someone pointed out, when you decide to take up the piano, you don’t just sit down and expect to play Brahms’ Lullaby. You take at least a lesson a week and practise frequently. Take it from someone who has mastered neither.
Once on the course, leave your ego in the parking lot and hit from the forward tees. If you hit double par, pick up your ball and watch your more experienced friends finish up and head to the next tee. Remember, the object of the game is to have fun.
Several respondents were current or former turf employees who, obviously focused on some pet peeves. You can guess the usual suspects: Replacing divots, fixing ball marks on greens and raking bunkers (post-COVID restrictions).
There were some comments about technology, starting with the distractions of ringing cell phones and portable speakers.
While some abhorred any music at all on the course, most were happy if the volume level was kept at a reasonable level. (Although one fellow vowed to leave the course if he heard country music. As a country music guy, I immediately blocked him. I’m kidding.)
@andypdmd offered a pretty complete check list: “Throws trash away. Mindful of golfer(s) behind them. Not loud. Rakes bunkers. Keeps cart away from green. Replaces pin. Doesn’t practice swing while others are hitting. Doesn’t offer unsolicited swing advice.”
There was also a unanimous call for the death penalty for those who spit sunflower shells on the green, drop cigar and cigarette butts randomly and toss beverage cans and other trash indiscriminately around the course.
Without dislocating my shoulder patting myself on the back, I leave it to @Wallajay to sum this up: “I looked through all these responses and can’t think of anything that hasn’t been mentioned already. Great job, folks. Proud of Twitter golf.”
Let me know @gordongolf if you have more advice on how to be an efficient and responsible golfer.
Did you enjoy watching our Canadian men compete at The Open in England? Will you watch Brooke Henderson , Alena Sharp, Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes at the Tokyo Olympics? Do you look forward to the post-pandemic return of the RBC Canadian Open and CP Women’s Open?
When you do, does Golf Canada ever cross your mind? It should. Because Golf Canada is the association that promotes and supports the game of golf in this country. Most of our best players, pro and amateur, might not be where they are today without programs instituted by Golf Canada, like Future Links, Team Canada, and more. The affiliated Golf Canada Foundation raises and grants funds for the advancement of the game including scholarships. Do you (more or less) play by the Rules of Golf?
So it bugs me when the topic of Golf Canada is raised, usually during a post-round gathering, and someone inevitably utters that hoary old line about a Golf Canada membership being akin to paying taxes. (In the interest of full disclosure, I once worked for Golf Canada, then known as the Royal Canadian Golf Association. So while I may be empathetic about their mission, I also have more than a working knowledge of the association’s mandate and programs.)
The “taxes” line is usually followed by something like this: “I don’t need to be a member. I don’t need a handicap.”
Well, yes, you do, if you are remotely serious about your game. Even if you don’t intend to play in a pro-am or a provincial or national event, who in their right mind wants to play a competitive round for even the smallest of stakes with someone who says on the first tee, “I usually shoot about xx”? And then goes out and shoots xx minus 10.
In addition, there is no better way to track your improvement (or lack thereof) than by maintaining an accurate handicap. Posting your scores and stats hole-by-hole helps you understand where the flaws are in your game.
OK, so now that you understand why you need a handicap index, why else would you want to be a Golf Canada member? Here are a couple of more reasons.
Incident protection: Up to $2,500 reimbursement for damaged, lost or stolen equipment; up to $1,000 towards the cost of repairing or replacing a window; up to $2,500 for golf cart-related accidents; up to $1,000 for travel-related accidents.
Plus significant discounts on goods and services: 15 per cent off tickets to the RBC Canadian Open and CP Women’s Open; up to 25 per cent off Avis car rentals; 10 per cent off Hilton Hotel room bookings with complimentary upgrades at participating properties; 10 per cent off Golf Canada merchandise; golf benefits with RBC Insurance for home and auto.
All this for $49.95? Less than the cost of a dozen name-brand golf balls!
“It’s a no-brainer,” says an admittedly biased Ryan Logan. “If people knew about all the buckets the membership dollars go into … but the challenge is to get that message out there.”
Logan is Golf Canada’s Director of Membership and he is justifiably pumped about the benefits included in a Golf Canada membership. He is equally enthused about the impressive trend in scores being posted this year.
Logan acknowledges golf participation boomed during the pandemic and sees a commensurate increase in record-setting score posting in 2021. The data backs him up. In March, approximately 160,000 scores were posted nationwide, an increase of 64 percent over 2020. In April, when the weather improved and COVID-related lockdowns relented in some regions, there were about 500,000 posted, an astounding increase of more than 800 per cent. May saw 1.2 million scores posted, a bump of 53 per cent, and June postings were up 15 per cent year over year to 1.7 million.
The pandemic impacted the way scores were posted as well. With the club kiosks removed because of the fear of spreading the virus through contact points, many golfers availed themselves of the new Golf Canada app.
The app is free to use. (Although if you want an official handicap index, you must be a Golf Canada member.) But anyone can use it to track their scores, find courses, play various on-course games (stroke or match play, skins), use the on-course GPS function to determine distances to a selected target, and more.
Take it from me. The app is intuitive and easy to use. I’ve started posting my scores hole by hole and so have many others, says Logan. The new World Handicap System encourages golfers to do so and Canadians have responded. According to Logan, about 20 per cent of scores were hole by hole pre-WHS. That doubled in 2020 and he estimates that up to 70 per cent of all scores will be itemized in that manner this year.
Having said all this, some of you still won’t be persuaded to shell out $49.95. So be it.
Seventy-five years ago this month, Bruce Williamson and E. Roy Jarman cobbled together the first Bag Boy pull cart from aluminum tubing, a few springs and a couple of lawnmower wheels. Three-quarters of a century later, not only is the company still around but it has spawned an ever-growing segment of the golf business now typified by high-tech and innovation.
Part of the reason for the surge in the popularity of what now are called “push carts” (“trolleys” on the other side of the Atlantic) is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More people took up the game or returned to it and enjoyed the socially distanced physical exercise associated with a round of golf. Other factors included the cost of renting an electric or gas power cart or even the availability of carts at some courses.
Another reason just makes sense. The average stand bag with 14 clubs and a few balls weighs about 10 kilograms. No water bottle, no rain suit, etc. Slugging that around during an eight-kilometre hike just doesn’t make sense.
The experts agree, starting with Golfdom Magazine’s opinion published just one year after Williamson and Jarman started making Bag Boys: “… a player will timidly try one and may feel a little self-conscious … but then he finds himself fresher and feeling better. His shoulder does not ache and his scorecard shows better results.”
That opinion resonated with golfers in most of the world with the notable exception of the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Canada. One global survey showed that use of either a power trolley (more on those later) or a push cart averaged almost 90 per cent in the United Kingdom compared with about 60 per cent in Canada and 22 per cent south of the border. (Some of that discrepancy can be attributed to course designs that make walking near impossible and heat and humidity in the southern U.S.)
Nevertheless, you can’t dispute the science. In 2016, writing on the website www.mytpi.com, Dr. Josh Nelson reported that a study by Dr. Neil Wolkodoff, medical director of the Colorado Center for Health and Sports Science, found that golfers who walked and carried their bag for nine holes burned just three more calories than those who used a push cart. The study also determined that golfers who carry their bag increase their risk of back, shoulder and ankle injuries.
“No matter how good your [golf bag] carrying system, you still have to use core muscles to hold the bag,” Wolkodoff told Golf Digest. “When you’re pushing a cart, you don’t have the stress on your core musculature and shoulders.”
As it has since 1946, Bag Boy continues as an industry leader in innovation, with their Nitron cart which opens by simply hitting a button that activates a nitrogen-filled strut (like those on an SUV’s tailgate) and Top-Lok, a patented bag-to-cart attachment system that prevents twisting and turning while in use.
Don Heazel co-founded Golf Trends Inc., the Canadian distributor for Bag Boy, in 1987. He says demand is unprecedented.
Clicgear is a relative newcomer to the game but arrived with a bang. Jim Annesley is president of Goliath Golf, Clicgear’s Canadian distributor. Like Heazel, Annesley has been in the golf business for decades and sees much wider acceptance of push carts than in the past.
“There are more women buying them and they are increasingly popular with younger golfers.” Part of the attraction may be the eWheels option that transforms the manual Clicgear push cart into an electric one.
“There are lots of new golfers buying them and that’s great news for the longevity of the game,” says Annesley.
As mentioned, the electric push cart is making inroads into the game and at a record pace, according to Joseph McLuckie, founder and president of JPSM Golf. His company is the Canadian distributor for industry leader Motocaddy as well as Stewart Golf, PowerBug and Cart-Tek. His product line covers everything from manual push carts to remote-controlled units and even models that, thanks to Bluetooth technology, follow you around the course at a respectful but convenient distance.
“So far this year, we are up 383 per cent over this time last year,” he says. “We will sell close to 3,500 units this year, I would estimate.”
There are multiple reasons for the buying frenzy, not just for push carts but for all things golf, McLuckie surmises.
“I see many new golfers who want exercise, who because of COVID are working from home, have more free time and disposable income, and want to start off playing the game the right way, with the right equipment. And then there are the golfers who drifted away from the game but are coming back and want to enjoy the walk without slugging their clubs around the course.”
You don’t see many mothers toting a 10-kilogram toddler on their shoulders, do you? Nope. For centuries, moms have been pushing their hefty offspring in strollers.
Now just where do you think Williamson and Jarman got their initial concept? Moms are smart.
The ultimate 10 step checklist before your first round of the golf season
As Canadians, we have a spring checklist: clean up the garden, switch over to summer tires, clean the barbecue, get out the patio furniture … Who am I kidding? All that stuff is a distant second to our top priority: Getting back on the course after an interminable winter.
So here are my top 10 items for that real spring checklist.
1. Are my clubs clean?
The answer is obvious. If you cleaned them at the end of last season and stored them inside, yes. If you tucked them away after the last muddy round, no. Fill the laundry sink with warm, soapy water and, using a stiff brush, thoroughly clean the grooves. Scrub the grips, too. That segues nicely into Item 2.
2. Do I need new grips?
Maybe. If you play a lot, you might need to replace them annually. If you clean them as mentioned above and they still feel slick, time for a change. Most golf retail stores and even some pro shops have spring specials. There are many varieties so, if possible, try a few options to make sure you get the right one. If you’re a DIY person, you can change them yourself but it’s hardly worth the effort.
3. Should I get the lofts and lies on my irons checked? 🚀
I had to hand this one over to Tony Covey, Managing Editor of MyGolfSpy, the online encyclopedia of golf equipment. “If you’re serious about your game, loft and lie angles should be checked annually (though I have friends who have me check their irons after a couple of bad shots). If you play a softer forging, checking loft and lie is essential (they’re going to move on their own). Some of the harder casting materials don’t move much and at all, which is why many now have a notch for easier adjustment.”
4. Am I playing the right clubs?
Unless you’ve recently been professional fitted, that’s almost impossible to answer. Are you still playing the blade irons and persimmon woods you inherited from your grandpa? Are you hitting hand-me-downs? Are you a senior whose swing speed and strength have decreased over the years? The basic answer is: Do you think your clubs are preventing you from reaching your potential? If you don’t want to go through an in-person fitting, all major club manufacturers have excellent free online fitting apps. (My wife ordered her new sticks using an online fitting app. We were impressed.)
5. Can I get a tee time? ⛳️
Yes, but with demand for golf going through the roof, you have to be smart and persistent. Check the tee-time reservation requirements at the course you want to play and get online or on the phone at the earliest opportunity. Golf Canada’s course lookup tool is a great place to start.
6. What will the course conditions be like? 🌞
Look at your front yard. Early in the season, there’s no new turf growth, the underlying soil is saturated … you get what you get. Keep in mind the course is fragile in the spring so divots and ball marks must be repaired immediately. Temporary greens are commonplace. The course isn’t in mid-season form but neither is your swing. Which brings us to the next item.
7. What if I forget how to swing?
Don’t laugh. There are few things worse for a golfer than stepping onto the tee for the first round of the season and looking at your driver like it’s a writhing reptile. If a local range has opened, hit it. If not, there’s lots of online instruction. I spent hours over the winter working on my short game using the videos on Gareth Rafleski’s website. Some golf-related stretching and strength-building exercises wouldn’t hurt. If you’re keen on tracking your progress, consider checking out Golf Canada’s free mobile app to go digital with your game and enhance the course experience.
8. What should I wear?
Whatever you wore at the end of last season should be appropriate. Waterproof footwear, rain pants and layers up top. Temperatures can vary wildly this time of year. Better to err on the side of too much than too little. That extra sweater, jacket, towel … all can be packed away in your bag. As my dear old mom used to say, “Better to have it and not need it than …”
9. What kind of balls should I use?
As long as they’re round and findable, any ball will do this time of year. In summary: Use the kind of balls you can afford to lose and then break out the Pro V1s.
10. What about COVID-19?
Without doubt, we in Canada will have to endure a season very similar to 2020. Adhere to all health protocols on and off the course and we will get through this. Respect your course’s regulations and its employees. You can keep up to date on the latest using Golf Canada’s resource guide.
How to make your lawn perfect like a golf superintendent
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!
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).
“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.
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.”
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.
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.