Every so often I encounter a situation that informs me why golf seems to be appealing to fewer youngsters. In this case, a caddy program at Toronto's Weston Golf and Country Club reminded me how few such programs exist; a traditional way of getting into golf has been disappearing.
Dave Armstrong, an assistant pro at Weston – one of the Greater Toronto Area's best clubs and courses – started the program earlier this year in conjunction with the Golf Association of Ontario's Junior Golf Week last June. Dave e-mailed me to inform me about the program and invited me to have a game with him. We played Weston earlier this week at 8 AM and finished in three and half-hours.
Ciaron Sheahan caddied for Dave. Simon Palanici caddied for me. They're each 14 years old and are participants in the program. The greens were running at 12.7; superintendent Rob Ackermann had them in first-rate shape, and Simon helped me read them. I wonder how the players from the NHL's alumni association handled the greens when they played in their event that afternoon.
Here's the e-mail that Dave sent me on July 10th. It speaks to his vision and resolve.
I'd like to provide you with an update on a new initiative I have started here at Weston.
We held GAO/Weston Junior Golf Week from June 1st-9th with a goal of raising money to support grassroots junior golf across the province and the Junior Section at Weston. Half of all funds raised went directly to the GAO and the remaining half benefit Weston Junior Golf.
The major fundraising initiative was a new program I organized, executed and am continuing to manage – The Weston Junior Caddy Program. I held a number of caddy training sessions for junior members and was thrilled with the level of participation and enthusiasm from all participants! During Weston Junior Golf Week the caddy fee was a $50 donation charged to members' accounts. Many members also tipped their caddies. Weston Junior Caddies completed 48 18-hole loops and raised a total of $2400.
I also ran a 50/50 draw for Junior Golf Week and a couple "Big Break Challenges" on Demo Day. All told, Junior Golf Week at Weston raised a total of $3187.50!! The Junior Caddies and I decided to donate half of our portion to the Make A Wish Foundation of Canada ($796). The other half of our portion ($797.75) was used to cover the cost of caddy bibs and act as the initial prize fund for the Weston Junior Caddy Tournament to be held in August.
Based on the success of the Junior Caddy Program during Junior Golf Week, interest from the membership and the enthusiasm displayed by the juniors, we have decided to keep the program running. We currently have 30 Junior Caddies on the roster ranging in age from 11 to 18.
I don't know whether other Ontario clubs ran similar programs, and I'm aware of only a few that have ongoing caddy programs. Those that exist depend on member support. Weston's members are supporting the program in numbers at least sufficient for Armstrong to keep it going. It helps that Weston is an ideal walking course.
My caddie, Simon, talked golf history all the way around. He's read the late Jim Barclay's outstanding book Golf in Canada: A History . He showed a deep knowledge of and appreciation for Weston's history. Arnold Palmer, as many people know, won the 1955 Canadian Open there. It was Palmer's first win as a professional. Simon's knowledge went well beyond Palmer's win. He could differentiate between Willie Park Jr., and Willie Park Sr. Not many people can. Father and son each won Open Championships, while Park Jr. designed Weston.
Speaking of father and son, Simon's dad Parrish owns the Golf Gallery shop on the western portion of Bloor St. in Toronto. As I write, I'm sitting in a nearby café. I just visited Parrish and left him some golf stuff – old clubs and golf gizmos that I neither use nor have room for anymore. He's proud of his son. Clearly, father and son are steeped in the game. Like father, like son, I guess. Simon, incidentally, visited and played the Old Course recently. It was his first trip to Scotland. I suspect he'll visit again. And again.
My trip around Weston with Simon on the bag – "looping," as the term goes – put me in mind of my own start in the game. I caddied at the York Downs Golf and Country Club when it was at Bathurst St. and Sheppard Ave. in Toronto. As I recall, I and the other caddies waited in what was known as the caddie pen. We were glad to escape the holding area when it was our turn to caddie. I got $1.75 for a full round. This was back in the 1960s. I was the same age when I started as Simon and Ciaran are now.
A few years later, in 1970, I signed up to caddy in the 1970 Canadian Open at the London Hunt and Country Club. I drew Bob Murphy, one of the better players of the era; he'd won twice on the PGA Tour. A player then had to inform the host club in advance as to whether or not he was bringing his own caddie. Murphy wasn't bringing his own caddie, and I felt lucky to have drawn him.
But then I learned that Murphy had indeed brought his own caddie. I scrambled over to the nearby Sunningdale Golf and Country Club, where tour players were trying to Monday qualify for the Canadian Open. I noticed a car in the parking lot with Oklahoma plates and the word "Birdie" on the rear plate. I guessed that the car had to belong to Bob Dickson, an Oklahoman who had been one of only three players to win the U.S. and British Amateurs; he'd done so in 1967. Now he was a tour pro.
I found Bob and introduced myself to him. He didn't have a caddie, and agreed to my working for him. He qualified, and I continued to caddie for him three or four tournaments a year while I was in university. Bob invited me to dinners with players. I got inside the game because he took me inside it. In that way I met Dave Stockton and many other golfers. Soon I started to write.
Maybe I wouldn't have become a golf writer had it not been for York Downs' caddy program. Caddying was an ideal way to get into the game. I was hooked. Still am. Maybe that's why I was so pleased to learn more about Dave Armstrong's initiative. Maybe he's helped 30 young golfers really get into the game, and maybe they'll stay there. I bet they will.
And it's all because of a caddy program. Good for Dave and good for Weston. And good for Simon and Ciaran. Thanks, guys. You made our round that much more enjoyable.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein