The pleasures of golf?

It’s spring in North America and time to commence the annual ritual of the royal and ancient game of Driving Yourself Crazy, aka Golf.

I blame my husband for introducing me to the game when we were dating. Little did I know what I was getting myself into!

To people who don’t play, golf can be a ridiculous-looking game where you attempt to hit a little round ball with a weighted stick, and then chase down the ball wherever it may have landed, only to hit it away from you again.

Robin Williams had an extremely funny (and R-rated, for language) bit about the invention of the game in his Live from Broadway show; my favourite line is about the flag pin at the conclusion of each hole: “They put it there to give you hope”.

Novice golfers are excited about the game until they discover that having a great round on one day doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to even hit the ball the next time you go out.

Veteran golfers have a love-hate relationship that varies in degree. Golf is to a large extent a mental game:

  • being able to concentrate and remain steady through at least 72 swings at the ball over an 18-hole round, on terrain that’s constantly changing
  • trying to curb your frustration when you make a bad shot that should have been an easy one
  • tweaking your swings and strategy in an attempt to achieve consistency (which is pretty much a pipe dream – even the pros can’t manage it)

The game also plays with our heads by, no matter how bad a round we’re having, allowing us at least one great shot that encourages us to come back. It’s quite evil, really.

One of the things I like about the game is the opportunity to enjoy nice weather in beautiful surroundings. (Men will play in any weather, and that’s another story entirely, but women have more sense.) My hubby and I really enjoy playing golf in different locations, and often incorporate a round in our travels if it’s feasible. Every location has its unique fingerprint, and challenges. But that’s half the fun!

For our 15th wedding anniversary we stayed and played at the gorgeous Boulders resort in Arizona. It was so great we could have happily stayed there for a month. The comprehensive service took a little getting used to initially – from the moment we arrived and our car was swarmed by staff, everything was taken care of for us – but the acclimatization took less than 24 hours and then we were soaking it all in.

Our first round took place the afternoon that we arrived, and we completely psyched ourselves out about playing on a championship course – in short, we were terrible. We did enjoy the resort-course layout: frequent yardage markers to help you check your distances, drinking fountains and a washroom building every third hole, a cart with not only both ball and club washers but also a cooler with ice for our beverages and a little nozzle to spray water on our hot faces whenever we needed to refresh. The start times were spaced 10 minutes apart, so we were never crowded by other players.

We returned to the club house, dejected. But this was resort golf, an entirely different animal! The cheerful, laid-back staff told us not to worry about our scores and emphasized that they wanted us to enjoy ourselves. Their attitude was so relaxed that it allowed us to relax, and we thoroughly enjoyed our next round.

We embraced desert golf, where divots disintegrate, made of grass on sand; there’s no retrieving your errant ball out of the rough (full of cacti called ‘Jumping Cholla’ because they hook onto your skin and break off in large chunks!); and the bunkers are really diabolical (some with cacti and even big boulders in the middle, as if trying to hit your ball out of a deep pot bunker isn’t enough punishment for landing in there).

Arizona is gorgeous, though, and our package allowed my hubby to play four rounds while I played two and visited the fabulous spa in between. It was such a hardship, I just can’t tell you.

There’s something for everyone at The Boulders – we even booked a night hike with night-vision goggles that gave us a spectacular view of the Milky Way – so it’s a great all-around vacation spot.

A couple of years ago we golfed the Robert Trent Jones Trail in Alabama, a bucket-list item for a lot of golfers. The Trail was created in the 1980s as a way to bring in revenue to shore up the state’s retirement fund, and it’s worked brilliantly. There are 26 courses in 11 different locales running along a roughly north to south line through the state. Hubby chose the four courses he wanted to play, and as the first one was located in Mobile, just 2 hours from New Orleans, we drove down to that great Louisiana city first for a weekend to enjoy the food, history, ghostly legends and wacky Halloween Parade, then worked our way north along the golf trail.

When we arrived at our hotel in Mobile, the concierge approached me and asked if we’d had any trouble finding the hotel.

“No”, I replied, a little mystified by the question, “we just used our GPS.”

“But did it give you ‘Southern’ directions?”, he asked.

“Well no, I don’t think so,” I said, still at a loss.

“Well you see, this is how we give directions in the South”, he told me. “We say: ‘You go down the road a piece, then when you see the house where Old Blue’s sittin’ on the porch you turn right, then you go down the road another piece…’ ” My hubby and I laughed delightedly, and that exchange has become one of our most treasured memories from the trip.

The hospitality was exemplary, the courses were lovely and the Southern food delectable. One of the places we tried, based on a recommendation from the staff at the Hampton Cove course in Huntsville, was the Blue Plate Café. It’s such a faithful replica of a 1950s café that you assume it’s much older than it actually is. Created by two sisters who cook with their grandma’s old recipes, the café serves up wonderful comfort food. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, you must stop there and have the fantastic fried chicken!!

The RTJ Trail has dedicated staff to help you plan your journey. They’ll book your tee times and even book hotels along the way if you want them to.

P1030392
It’s hard to take your game seriously when a family of warthogs is your peanut gallery

A nod to Africa for offering our most unusual round of golf to date. It took place in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls. We rented clubs, and had planned to rent a cart as advertised on the course website but not actually available. The round was most memorable for the wildlife – crocodiles lurking in the water hazards for the unwary, impalas sprinting around the holes, and on one hole I had to wait for an entire family of warthogs to finish staring at me and wander away before I could tee off.

Unfortunately the weather was very hot, we had to walk the course, and there were no refreshments available during the entire round, so I had heat exhaustion as a result and slept for 14 hours. Nevertheless, I don’t know too many people who can say they had to face off against warthogs!

The most important piece of equipment you can have for taking up the sport of golf is a sense of humour. It keeps players sane. As the great Arnold Palmer once said, “I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone’s game: It’s called an eraser.”

Put your hand up if you too loathe summer

I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me, but this is the kind of summer I hate — excessively hot and humid. I live in the Niagara Region, an area where the humidity can really climb in July and August; Lake Erie to the south of us, the Welland Canal to the east, and Lake Ontario to the north. For the past couple of years we’ve had cooler summers that I’ve actually enjoyed, but this summer is the kind that makes me grumpy for 8-10 weeks. This week the temperatures have soared to 45 deg C with the humidex, and the humidity is routinely over 60%, often over 90%. Thoughtless people keep taking their dogs with them to the grocery store in these conditions, and the local humane society is rescuing the poor animals every single day — heartbreakingly, not all of them have survived. Golfing is impossible — I had heat exhaustion three years ago when we golfed in Zimbabwe, and I really don’t want to do that again.

So that’s my partial litany of summertime gripes. I do have a home-grown therapy for it though: I watch the British Open Golf Championship! It’s never hot over there during the tournament, so I spend a week living vicariously through the golfers in sweaters under cool gray skies. I’m spending this week at home, venturing out as little as possible, with the chill from the central A/C simulating the temperatures my hubby and I are watching on the telly. I even cook British food all week to really capture the mood.

Today I gathered together a list of all my errands and braved the stifling heat to get everything done in one giant trip. Exhausted but successful, I returned home, threw anything perishable in the fridge, and treated myself to a Ploughman’s Lunch: ham, a nice mature cheddar, pickles, whole-grain bread with creamery butter, and a stiff cup of Irish Breakfast tea — absolutely heavenly after the earlier ordeal! Finished it all off with a lovely slice of Apple & Spice Tea Loaf, a recipe from the BBC Good Food website, which seems to have erased the link, so I’m including the actual recipe here, in case you’d like to join me in a virtual escape to a cooler place:

photo courtesy of the BBC Good Food website
photo courtesy of the BBC Good Food website

 

Apple & spice tea loaf

By Jane Hornby                           

Perfect with a fresh pot of tea, this looks and tastes just as good as a farmers’ market buy

Cooking time Prep: 10 mins  Cook: 1 hr, 30 mins      Skill level Easy     Servings Serves 10

Ingredients

  • 175g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 175g light muscovado sugar, plus 1 tsp
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 eating apple
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g dried mixed vine fruits (I used golden raisins)
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 175g plain flour (I used gluten-free flour, gave a less-fluffy texture, but still tasted wonderfulP)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg (I used ginger)
  • splash lemon or orange juice
  • 1 tbsp  marmalade or apricot jam

Method

  1. Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter a 900g/2lb loaf tin and line with a strip of baking paper, or use a loaf tin liner (see tip, below). Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then beat in the eggs one by one. Grate half the apple and mix it into the batter with the vanilla, dried fruit and ground almonds. Mix the baking powder, flour and spices together with a pinch of salt, then fold into the mix until even. Spoon into the tin and level the top.
  2. Thinly  slice the remaining apple half, toss with the lemon or orange juice, poke the slices a little way into the batter, then sprinkle with 1 tsp more sugar. Bake for 45 mins, then turn the oven down to 140C/fan 120C/gas 1. Cover the cake with foil, then bake for another 45 mins until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin.
  3. To finish the cake, melt the marmalade or jam in a small pan, sieve to remove any lumps, then brush it over the cake to glaze the top. Serve cut into thick slices, and spread with a little butter, if you like. Will freeze for up to 1 month.

Recipe from Good Food magazine, May 2009