A short history of golf as the Staal Open Begins

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Staal Foundation Open presented by TBaytel a PGA TOUR Canada Event
Staal Foundation Open presented by TBaytel a PGA TOUR Canada Event

Staal Foundation Open presented by TBaytel a PGA TOUR Canada Event
Staal Foundation Open presented by TBaytel a PGA TOUR Canada Event
THUNDER BAY – It is said a shepherd in Scotland eventually picked up a wooden stick and tapped stones into rabbit holes while tempering his time long ago. And travelling Scotland you’ll likely meet as many stories about where, when, the original sport began as I did. Complete with their lofty preponderance in telling where, in their own wee kingdoms, the first drivers and duffers became legends in Gaelic sagas forging the sport’s first storylines.

Just like Canadians continually debating where hockey was originally spawned on frozen ponds of the Maritimes? Montreal? Or, Kingston? Former local journalist Pentti Lund would told me he believed it was Nova Scotia fostered our National Game.

Meanwhile the rolling links, and landscapes bordered by seascapes, in Scotland became their best venue annually hosting Scotland’s summertime sport. And, with that a method in scoring while recording how golfers were fairing, along those early fairways, was devised.

Then came, their notion of what made for an even ‘mark’ on a given hole. It was the Scottish equivalent of term of ‘par’ as used by Banks. So a player using three strokes completing a performance on a hole designed as Par 3 would record “par.”

When players watched one another hit shots that resulted in something under a normal par especially when that fellow had something of a bird-like quality in his approach. The Scots scored it as a birdie.

However once the athletic antics, and cajoling, of golf were transported across the Atlantic what the Americans pronounced as a gawlfer playing rather smoothly and making a final tap-in measuring two under par was said to see have the eyes of America’s iconic symbol: an eagle. So eagle was added to the Rule Books of Golf.

Well, Scotland would certainly not have been part of the United Kingdom without the English having a voice charting a new sport. Now when one looks at a scorecard these days and sees a bogey it has nothing to do with actor Humphrey Bogart and a scene in say: The African Queen with Kate Hepburn. Bogey, in golf, derives from an Englishman who invented Colonel Bogey. A fictitious character who represents one playing against oneself, and, ultimately being bogeyed. Playing one over par.

Reflections abound with golfers playing, talking about the sport, not to mention its impassioned viewers on TV who have become educated with the formation of golf’s nuances. Where ‘’a bunker” comes from the below level station of North Sea Scottish ships hauling coal in bunkers.

While the pin planted on putting greens hails from ancient brooch pins used by tailors to create a focus in plaid dress designs. Where it was worn, pinned, over the shoulder of those who marched in kilts.

Lately the fascination, and study of golf, is reflected in what Jack Falla, of Sports Illustrated, said to me as we had supper one night in Thunder Bay. Falla as a writer would note, ‘’it seems to me the smaller the object in sport the more that is written about it. With the obvious other examples being baseball and English cricket.” True to Falla’s viewpoint, if one wanders the stacks of sports stories in a good library—or book shop—a reckoning of books published about the sport of golf will usually dwarf those on so many others like football or basketball.

During this past weekend former Champion Tom Watson was at St. Andrews for the commencement of the 2015 British Open. Watson has forever been passionate about the sport he adores, ’’surely, golf is the most beautiful sport invented. Mankind playing against one another while competing against Mother Nature and natural elements outdoors. It casts a vision through summer. Its beauty is overcoming obstacles. Like life itself. Lifting your spirit.”

Though the brilliance in a tiny, dimpled golf ball in one’s hand is measured as follows. It’s diameter is merely 1.67 inches (42.67 mm) with a tiny weight of only 1.62 ounces (45.93 gm) and this can certainly become such a flustering object being driven, belted, chipped, and lastly, putted in a Tournament. Interesting to note a major maker Titleist once manufactured 75 million in a benchmark year.

Yet it was a 19th Century writer in Dublin, who observed golf’s daunting ways that so easily inveigle one into playing with friends or colleagues. Oscar Wilde wrote, “it may also be observed, at the end of your round, as being a good walk gone sour.” Wilde was always witty. A true cutting edge to his persona.

Well to bring this sport “home” to our town what a phenomenal stage has been set by Tom McBroom the Architect of Whitewater’s Golf Course. It really began in 2002. Where some 550 acres were surveyed, carved, seeded– and artistically plotted–into something that gradually evolved from a memorable vision, over time, designed by Silvio di Gregorio local owner of the course. It certainly is remarkable walking the entire course while grasping its breathtaking dimensions, woven so methodically through Silvio’s vision and personal investment.

As well the entire Henry Staal entourage. One recalls his sons were some of the first labourers in digging and sodding the sight back in 2003. This past year the Staals have been thoroughly inspired with their invitations sent out—like Christmas cards—to Canada’s PGA athletes with a superlative cast of Featured Ambassadors who will travel to our city experiencing this slice of paradise carved from our boreal landscape. With anticipated good showings of fans making the trek to the outskirts of town, and, experiencing the Tourney’s mantra of ‘’the roar starts here.”

As Silvio once said to me, “It’s remarkable pulling all this together. Especially remembering that autumn when McBroom and I walked everywhere. Mellow leaves of autumn were first felling. As we paused to designate signature trees to remain within McBroom’s drawings. While we checked and re-checked every step of our planning stages. Everything evolved from those days in two chaps hiking about our Northern woods.”

Silvio was particularly keen to include, “Yet for all the designing, building, and, other features that are Whitewater the Staal Open has two more partners that need to mentioned. That would be the incredible grounds keeping by Jeff Parker and his crew who have given it a wonderful pristine touch. And, lastly the deluge of local and regional Volunteers who will be contributing their time and energies. That began well before his upcoming week. We all know how behind the scenes stuff is pivotal, and, graciously rewarding in the end.”

When our mother was anticipating her 80th Birthday it was her wish to have Breakfast at Whitewater. Following her arrival and walkabout along the course, she stopped and inquired, “Where did they get the name Whitewater?”

“That comes from the tumbling current near one of the tee-offs. It was likely at the River on Number 4,” I said.

“Good to know local history,” she smiled. Then bent down touching the greenery on the 18th. She held a few gentle blades of grass between her thumb and forefinger. In doing so, not forgetting this was over a decade ago, she glanced around. Then said, “Someday…the real Pros should also play this course.”

So be it. Bring on the competition. And, all that encompasses history and our eternal enjoyment with this ancient sports.

Ronn Harkviksen