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Toronto Globe and Mail golf columnist Lorne Rubenstein played golf with Anne Murray at The Loxahatchee Club in Jupiter, Fla. on March 26, 2011. Thomas Cordy/Freelance/For the Globe and Mail (Thomas Cordy/© 2011 The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Globe and Mail golf columnist Lorne Rubenstein played golf with Anne Murray at The Loxahatchee Club in Jupiter, Fla. on March 26, 2011. Thomas Cordy/Freelance/For the Globe and Mail (Thomas Cordy/© 2011 The Globe and Mail)

Lorne Rubenstein

Golf courses are Anne Murray's stage these days Add to ...

Jupiter, Fla. - Anne Murray's voice was clear and strong, but she wasn't giving a concert, having retired last year. Still, Murray, the winner of 24 Juno awards and four Grammys, who has sold 54-million albums, was on stage, in a manner of speaking. She was on the practice range at the Loxahatchee Club here on Saturday, warming up for a game on one of the area's finest courses. The Juno awards would be held Sunday night in Toronto, but that was another world, one she's left.

"Oh yes," Murray said, reacting to a pure 3-wood that she hit. She finished in perfect balance on her left foot. Murray, 65, is a snowbird who rents an apartment nearby during the winter. The apartment has views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other, and she plays golf three or four times a week. Murray was in the middle of a particularly fertile stretch of golf.

She'd played with hockey great Bobby Orr, and had games set up for the first three days of the following week. One would be with Marlene Streit, the only Canadian member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Orr and Streit will play in the annual Anne Murray Charity Golf Classic on May 17 on both courses of the Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, Ont., in support of Colon Cancer Canada. Spots are still available.

"I'd been asked for years to put my name on a tournament, but it had to be the right one," Murray said. Her grandmother was a colon-cancer survivor and her long-time manager, Leonard Rambeau, was just 49 when he died of the disease in 1995. Colon cancer can be cured if caught early, and Murray wants people to know that they should have colonoscopies. She's had four, and emphasizes that the test isn't painful, despite what people fear.

It's no surprise that Murray has associated herself with a golf tournament, because she's passionate about the game. She's a member at the Thornhill Golf and Country Club in Thornhill, Ont., and the Northumberland Links in Pugwash, N.S., where her cottage is one kilometre from the first tee. She rides the golf cart there that EMI Records gave her for being with the company for 25 years.

At Loxahatchee, Bill Swinimer, a fellow Nova Scotian who lives in Orillia, Ont., and Roy Kennedy, who lives in Fredericton, accompanied Murray, as did I. Murray, born in Springhill, N.S., first hit golf balls along the sand flats in Northport, N.S., when the tide was out.

"I chased the ball around with some rusty old irons we had at the cottage," Murray said after nailing her drive on the par-five fourth hole. But she really didn't take up the game until her late 30s.

There's water all along the right side of the fourth hole at Loxahatchee, a course that Jack Nicklaus designed and that Toronto real estate developer Gordon Gray founded with a fellow Canadian, Brian Magee. Murray had hit her drive down the left side, but found the water with her second shot.

"Stay down," Murray advised herself for her next shot. She did, and came up just short of the green. The par-three fifth hole is also over water. Murray checked the yardage with a GPS device. The hole was playing 115 yards, and a breeze was up.

"Oh, dear, I don't like that distance," she said. But she carried the water to the right fringe. "Be still, my pounding heart," Murray said, thumping her chest.

Murray has been a mega-celebrity. She played concerts all over the world for some 40 years, but has said goodbye to all that. Afflicted with scoliosis, she works out regularly at home and with a trainer in a local gym. She told her life story in her best-selling 2009 autobiography All of Me, written with Michael Posner of The Globe and Mail. She could probably write a book about her golf adventures alone. She tweets frequently about the game, and she follows it avidly on television.

"I have to tell you, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have golf," Murray said. "That's why I work so hard keeping my core strong."

Murray has played in Scotland and Spain with friends. She and five women will travel to Ireland in September for golf. Meanwhile, her roots remain deep in Nova Scotia.

"I just love when I'm playing Northumberland and I'm on the back nine and I see the water and the link bridge," Murray said. She spends July through September in Pugwash, and she's on the course most every day.

Murray carries a 13-handicap. Her natural shot is a fade. She has a long line, or good extension, through the ball, with her full shots.

She does get a bit antsy over shorter shots, one of the scourges of the seasoned golfer.

"I used to lick my chops when I was within 100 yards of the green," Murray said after finding a greenside bunker from that distance on the 16th hole. But she hit a beautiful bunker shot from about 60 feet to within six feet of the hole. Her sand play was very good. Alas, she missed the putt.

Murray's interest in other people was apparent during the round; not all celebrities are like that. Murray engaged me in conversation about myself and my work and family throughout the round. Orr and Streit are the same way.

"It's the Canadian way," Murray said.

"She is such a sweet, sweet girl," her friend Kennedy said. "She's genuine, and she's generous to people."

Then, on the 17th green, Murray made a tricky, downhill par putt from eight feet. That brought a big smile.

"That will straighten my head," she said. "I'm not going to eat worms when I get home." She shot 92, and that was only because her short game wasn't sharp. The next morning, she sent an e-mail.

"Thanks for the game," Murray wrote. "That was great fun."

Oh yes, it was.

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