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first person

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Illustration by Chelsea O'Byrne

“It’s just under 100 yards, Dad, so use your driver again. I’ll tee it up for you.”

“Driver? Don’t you think that’s too much?”

“No, Dad, you’re not in your 80s anymore.”

Much has been written about fathers and sons and golf, about the bonding and learning and playing and laughing that goes on. He started playing in his late teens, so he’s had more than 70 years to cement the habit, and introduced me to the game when I was about 7. He patiently showed me how to hit the ball and passed on his own calm approach. We have played every year since, often several times a year.

This past summer, Dad (now 92) and I added a new chapter to our golfing story.

In the spring my mother and I wondered whether he would be able to keep playing. Dad moves more slowly these days, and his balance is not great. Would he be able to swing a club without falling? Could he play nine holes twice a week and not slow down his playing partners?

I took him to a driving range where he swung the club well enough without seeming to hurt himself. A guy hitting near us was impressed and suggested that Dad use a tee for every shot to make it easier. This is not a new idea, as Dad has told me many times this summer.

The problem is the time and effort it takes an older person to place, and later retrieve, a golf tee. A few years ago, I tried to invent a device to enable seniors to tee up the ball more easily. With the ageing population I figured I’d be a millionaire if I could crack that problem. I devised a doorstop-like object with a depression on top and a string attaching it to a belt loop. The idea was to drop the device, roll a ball up it with your golf club until it sat in the depression, hit the ball, and then pick up the device with the string. Sadly, it worked better in theory than in practice, so I abandoned the idea and remain poor.

Dad and I figured out a simpler solution. This summer, we asked the club pro if I could ride around with Dad in his cart. I would not play since I am not a member and didn’t want to take advantage. My job would be to drive Dad right up to his ball, tee it up, retrieve the tee and generally keep things moving along. Before I had a chance to fully explain this, the pro eagerly agreed.

It worked beautifully, and we always finished the nine holes in less than two hours. In fact, many members at Dad’s club expressed their delight at what we were doing. I threw his (and sometimes his partners’) golf balls out of bunkers onto greens and learned which sides of the tees had the shallowest slope for him to walk up and down. He held my arm when walking onto and off the steeper ones. I told him when he was aiming too far to the left and he shuffled ever so slightly just to satisfy me; I was right about 51 per cent of the time.

I miraculously ensured that Dad’s “fairways in regulation” statistic was a remarkable 100 per cent. Even when it appeared that his shots had ended up in the long grass, they magically appeared on the fairway.

He loved being able to play nine holes twice a week and interact with his friends. For me, the joy of spending quality time with him was immeasurable. Our focus was on golf, but there was always an easy companionship that has always been its greatest when we are on the golf course. He shared many jokes and quips, one or two of which I had not heard before. We looked forward to every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Fathers teaching sons to play golf has always been important in many families because of the lessons in composure, independence, judgment and perseverance that this beautiful game teaches. But this summer, the roles were somewhat reversed. At times I was responsible for good judgment, such as the many times I had to convince him that he now needs a driver, not a wedge, to hit the ball 100 yards. On the, ahem, contentious alignment issue, I tried to advise rather than dictate. Still, he was the one to show composure, perseverance and most importantly independence, particularly when overcoming a bad hole, reading his putts and choosing whether to chip or “bump and run.”

We have played golf together hundreds of times and have shared some special moments. We have had the joy of playing with three generations in our foursome; my son is a keen golfer, and my daughter has played the odd time. My mother is also a golfer and has participated in many of these rounds, too.

My dad and I were playing years ago when he received a message at the half-way house to call home, whereupon he learned that my sister had given birth and he was now a grandfather. He proceeded to nail his next drive long and straight, exclaiming, “How’s that for a grandfather?”

My son was with me when I scored my hole-in-one, and we were both with my dad when he hit the flag - the closest he has come. I’m proud of my dad and look forward to next season when I know he’ll hit a stunning, long drive into the cup. He still has the range, if he hits it just right and as long as I do not jinx it by trying to record his shot to share online.

Dad just turned 93. I can’t wait for spring when attempting to shoot his age should be a tiny bit easier.

Geoff Park lives in St. Catharines, Ont.

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