It’s Spring! As we enter the 2022 golf season, Review correspondent Léonard Lafleur has written a short series of articles on his experiences with the game locally. Here is the first of those articles.
By Léonard Lafleur
Before walking down this fairway together, let me make something perfectly clear about golf: golfers love the sport, or hate it. With varying degrees of passion depending on their level of addiction. Personally, as a child, I showed mild dislike. Then, in my adolescence, I loved it.
Early adulthood saw me addicted to the game until lack of resources (poor ability, undisciplined approach to the game, but mostly no money to pay off ridiculous bets!) had me set my clubs aside for a decade. Perhaps being married played a role in reining in my inner child…
I was 10 or 11, and had been drawn to the mysteries of Golf. Dad loved golf but rarely got to play a round without interruption. His medical practice extended to being picked up on the course by the cops for an emergency, or for a baby who couldn’t wait the extra nine.
In those days, a family membership at the Lachute Golf course cost $225. The club had not figured that ‘Doc’ Lafleur had 10 kids! Eight of us got the bug, big time. We played on Junior Day – a weekly window when kids could learn on the driving range and the putting green, then play nine holes. Our first set of clubs was an old Wright and Ditson retread dad had bought for us. Our old pro Louis had cut down the shafts to our size and we shared the set.
I played with my little brother George. Often, very often in fact, one of us would quit by the fifth hole, following childish arguments over illegal mulligans, 10-foot gimme putts, or some such minor quibbles. George, the cad, still plays a better game, all these decades later.
Over the ensuing years, I played every local course I could reach. Lachute was my home course, but I loved St André, Hawkesbury, Ile Perrot. Then I grew up.
Or so I thought.
The Lachute Golf Club was a going proposition in the early 1970s. Hundreds of members, a beautiful layout, experienced staff, both indoor and outdoor. The Pro Shop cash register rang constantly, the assistant pros were popular figures, while their boss, Louis, contributed decades of experience.
I was on my fourth summer as starter at the club, wasting valuable growing up time having fun, working hard and getting paid a few farthings. But I got to play golf, for free!
Golf, you see, my all-time favourite game, must be played outdoors, on a mixture of short: short grass (greens), short grass I didn’t visit too often (better known as the cut part of the fairway); long grass, my favourite (situated on both sides of the short grass) rough, my second most visited place (the bush, dense woods, wasp nests, cow turds, rocks, mosquito infested labyrinths off the fairway). I also occasionally visited sand, lots of sand in traps, and lastly, water holes gobbling up brand new three-dollar balls I had hit only once.
Now, don’t start thinking my passion for the game was all consuming. No, sirreee, it wasn’t. The top of the list back then was…girls! Until my bride of 48 years, now, roped me in, good and proper.
The old pro and the orphans
I’d felt compelled to drive out to the expropriation zone of the soon-to-be new International Airport, already known as Mirabel. I had discovered a document prepared long ago by my uncle, now deceased, charting our family’s ancestry back to the original settler, 12 generations ago, in the late 1600s.
Five generations past, one of my ancestors had toiled nearby, farming in the zone. He had bequeathed no great works, no footnotes in local history. Unknown, leaving nothing behind but a few scraps of paper guarded by Mother Church: Birth, Marriage, Death certificates, a final home in a forgotten cemetery plot behind an abandoned church.
I stood over the tiny gravestone, feeling empty.
Driving back, the mournful spectacle of dozens of abandoned farms dotted the dusty country road, reminders of times past… settlers, farmers, faint voices with Québécois accents, others with a Scottish brogue whispered in the wind. I could imagine the shades of laughing children playing in the fields, while ghostly ancients sat on their porch rocking chairs contemplating the sunset after a hard day’s work.
All gone, all in their graves.
As I approached another ruin, I felt a cold chill. Something wanted my attention. I stopped the car, stepped out, walked through the crunching gravel to a pile of debris. Someone had dumped the dregs of belongings with no future by the roadside. That’s when I saw them -t heir last home a rusty garbage can. There were five. Forlorn, lost. Five beautiful old, nay, really old, nay, truly ancient golf clubs!
The grips were original, leather over linen, a bit threadbare, the shafts hickory, the blades, hammered steel. Someone, three or four generations of someones, had loved these beauties, until time and indifference had caused their downfall. I pulled them from oblivion, one by one, staring at the orphans, and deposited them gently in the car. I stood over them, reminiscing…
Over the previous fall, I had taken my first overseas trip. To Scotland, then England. I had the unique opportunity to meet my mother’s sister, May, a cloistered nun, at her convent in Elie, County Fife. May had left Canada in 1928 for a convent in…France… where she remained through the war. I was the first to see her in over 40 years!
Although my visit was a short one, (she had to be accompanied by another nun to meet me in the cafeteria!) she was the living image of my mom, Ruth. Before I left, she asked me one question: ‘’Leonard, how are things in the world?’’. I had no answer.
While in Elie, I played a round of golf at the local club, a beautifully groomed course, with a unique touch: On a hole where you could not see the landing area of your drive, they had a periscope installed. From a captured German submarine!
My next stop was at the Stonehenge of Golf Courses, the Holy Grail for all golfers world-wide: Saint Andrews! I crossed the street bordering the course, picked up my clubs and met my caddy, and off we went on the ‘’Old Course’’ (versus the New Course built by Old Tom Morris in… 1895… like, yesterday!), the old course itself offered 600 years of agony and ecstasy. I was a 10 handicap at the time. I shot 111, and happy with my score!
After my round, I tipped my laughing local jester-caddy, walked through the hallowed halls of the Club. The walls were covered in memorabilia, but I spent most of my time observing, touching the ancient clubs on display.
I drove home along the North River, excited by my ancient guests. They shared my bedroom that night. Dreams of windswept fairways, mortally deep sand traps and endless greens comforted my sleep. Next morning, I drove to work at the Club.
The old golf clubs were crowded on the back seat of my ’62 Chevy Biscayne, all five of them. Theirs had been a very long trip, over land, sea and time. I picked them up and headed for the bag shop, anxious to see Louis.
He was in the club repair area, working on a new-fangled aluminum-shafted driver – a short-lived fad of the day. Louis was in the late autumn of his years, but could still shoot 80 when his putter was hot. He also knew more about golf clubs, their history, their care than anyone.
“Louis, I have something to show you.”
He turned and gasped at the sight of the clubs. Louis’ long bony hands slowly reached out, wrapped around the clubs, drew them near.
“Leonard, Leonard, what do we have here?!”
He gently deposited the four irons on the work bench, kept the hickory shafted driver in hand, examining every inch of the ancient club, from the frayed leather grip to the strange piece of whale bone under the wooden head.
“This is not just an old wood; this is a unique example of a hand-crafted 19th century driver!”
He gazed down on the others.
“These old beauties never hit a golf ball!”
I was stunned. “What do you mean, Louis? That can’t be, they must be real clubs!”
He laughed. “Yes, they most definitely are, but they never saw a golf ball in this century. Back then, the golf ball was made of gutta percha.”
He gently deposited the driver on the table and picked up another – a peculiar club with a short metal face.
“I’ve heard of these, but never thought I would ever hold one! A rutter! An old Scottish term for the ancestor of the wedge.’’
Every other club was examined minutely.
Louis looked like he had died and gone to heaven. He turned to me, he had learned his trade in the thirties, he said. He would “do some work on them” and I should leave the clubs with him for a few days.
My orphans had found a temporary haven, I thought, as I headed out to the starter shack.
Two days later, he called me into his office. The orphans were on his desk, resplendent. Original grips lovingly restored, shafts were gleaming, club heads gorgeous.
“Leonard, I am returning these beauties to you. You must promise me you will take care of them!”
I promised, took the clubs, stashed them in a dark corner and quickly forgot about them over the ensuing years, reneging on my word.
Time caught up to me. Marriage, a loving wife, two children, a career, retirement, health issues, here I am on the Fairway of Life, wiser. With a promise to fulfill.
The five orphans now rest on green baize, secure in their new home.
Oscar Wilde was wrong. Golf is a long walk through the sand traps and the rough of Life, Oscar, but it makes a better person of you!