We’re in the midst of a terrific storm here in southern Ontario, along with millions of people spread across the continent. I hope all of you are keeping safe and warm as the weekend approaches!
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.
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.”
Not taking anything for granted
Last week my hubby ended up in the hospital for several days with a heart flutter (hence my week’s hiatus). One of the chambers of his heart was beating too fast and too shallowly, so not enough oxygen was making it to his organs properly. He’d been having the odd issue with some minor shortness of breath, but one day I got one of the calls you never want to get: he was on his way to the hospital. The ECG confirmed what his high pulse rate (128 bpm) already indicated. He was put on some specific medications to regulate his heart rhythm, but they didn’t work, so the treatment was then to give his heart a mild shock to restore its natural rhythm.
That Friday I also found out that the 14-year-old son of a good friend of mine had gone missing for several days. Many people helped spread the alert through Facebook, but my friend was frantic.
Both of these stories had a happy ending — the electric shock on my hubby’s heart worked, so he’s back home and feeling much better, although his medications have been changed and there are some lifestyle changes required, and later in the day that the missing-child alert went out the police found the boy via a phone tip — but they could both easily have turned out much differently.
We all have things in our lives that we tend to take for granted over time, so I’d like this post to serve two purposes:
1) as a friendly reminder to make sure you appreciate the things in your life that you value, especially your health, and
2) to go after some of the things you really want to do instead of frittering away your life on daily clutter.
A lot of people toy with dream-version bucket lists, but not every one makes a point of accomplishing the things they dream about, and with proper planning you’d be surprised what you can manage. We have a relative, for example, whose big dream was to return to England and spend a year there, living in a cottage and roaming through the country, but he never did make it back. In the meantime, in 4-10 day increments, my hubby Mike & I have been to different parts of England about half a dozen times. (Yes, it’s one of our favourite places to visit).
A good bucket list will accomplish goals that really mean something to you, including measures to maintain or improve your health — after all, what’s the point in planning ahead if you’re not healthy enough to enjoy it. Mike and I have watched so many people put off doing anything fun until their retirement, then not surviving long enough to actually enjoy their retirement plans. Here are two things you can do right now:
- read this article on Rodale called 6 Surprising Heart Disease Warning Signs (and What to Do about Them) — I wish I’d seen this sooner
- visit our Love It, Live It pages about ways to plan and live a rich, full life before it’s too late to have anything but regrets
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