It’s a funny old time of the year. Spring is teasingly close. Hockey is all but over – mercifully so for Oilers fans as the team seems bent on becoming a western version of the perennially hapless Maple Leafs. For the roaring game of curling, on the other hand, this was a winter for the ages where we won Olympic gold and silver medals and just won the world men’s championship.
And now our snowbirds are trickling back. Our kids have finished winter break and the serious part of the school year begins. The music festival has been launched. Dance competitions are starting. The chamber of commerce is signalling spring with its annual trade show. Parliament has been re-rogued not a minute too soon for a news story deprived national press corps. The Wildrose Alliance has arrived in northern Alberta starting in Premier Ed Stelmach’s riding. And folks on my street have brought out their rakes.
But the most evident sign of the coming of warmer climes is the Masters golf tournament. This year, in particular, we have witnessed a most remarkable sports marketing event. For Americans, this comes close to matching the miraculous comeback of President Harry Truman when he beat Senator Thomas E. Dewey in 1948 — the most spectacular political comeback event in United States’ history.
I refer, of course, to the triumphant return of Tiger Woods to the professional golf tournament world. I don’t mean to reference his personal life. In this, he is already a shoo-in for the Prince Charles Jerk Of The Year (JOY) award. No, we watched a repackaging of his image by his fellow golfers. He is now comfortably back with the moniker of the best golfer of his era. It is a perfect solution. It leaves old duffers like Tom Watson and I free to continue to rank Jack Nicklaus as the best golfer ever, without apology or reservation.
Now some might think that this is the only time in history when the royal and ancient game of golf has fallen into difficult times because of scandal or controversy. Not so. To begin with, the Scots claim ownership as inventors of the game. In reality, it was probably imported from Rome by legionnaires when Big Julie veni, vidi and vici’d the British Isles. They brought a game called paganica (a.k.a. countryman), which was played with a feather stuffed leather ball and a bent stick for a club. Then in 1457 the Scottish parliament became alarmed that their countrymen were abandoning archery for golf. Fearing a formidable loss of military preparedness to defend the country against the English (who were intermittently distracted by football), the Scots’ politicians banned golf on Sundays. Golf continued to be plagued by difficulties when 50 years later James IV of Scotland was found charging his golf ball purchases to the accounts of his lord high treasurer. Controversy continued for the next two generations when Mary Stuart, James’ granddaughter, was seen playing golf at Seton within days of her husband’s murder (investigative journalism was alive and well even back then). Money scandals also followed this aristocrat’s game as it moved into England. In 1681 James II, then Duke of York, was challenged by two of his buddies to choose a Scot of his choice to play a wagered match. He chose a shoemaker named Johne Patersone. They won and Patersone built a house with his winnings. He called it Canongate (Golfer’s Land).
So as we warm up to spring 2010, let us do so in the comfort that the foibles of the world, as well as the tricky putts of life will continue. Let us therefore approach the coming days of summer with the outlook that a high golf score isn’t bad news. Rather, it gives one a low cost per stroke ratio.
Dr. Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.