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Getting their golf fix

For some players, a hobby becomes an obsession

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Many Manitobans like to play golf while others really, really like to play golf.

Players in the second category could be described kindly as enthusiasts, or harshly as fanatics.

Fitting somewhere between the two extremes are Winnipeg golfers Charlie Rogers and Dennis Wiebe who played all 125 Manitoba golf courses over an eight-year span ending in 2003.

Rogers, an air force man, and Wiebe, a teacher, met as high school students in Rivers, Man., and conceived plans for their golf odyssey years later when they again crossed paths in Winnipeg.

"We set the criteria that we would play every course in the province with grass greens and at least one par four," Rogers recalls, adding the pair were a bit above average golfers. "We sometimes played several courses a day and once completed 45 holes at five nine-hole courses in a single day. We had a heck of a good time."

Their province-wide swing took them from Clear Lake and Falcon Lake to elite Winnipeg clubs such as Pine Ridge, Elmhurst and Niakwa.

Because they liked to play different courses, they weren’t members of any of them, but they either knew members or friends of members who got them on courses and helped them achieve their goal.

"Niakwa was our 125th course and our feat was recognized at a fall banquet at the Selkirk golf club," Roger said. "It was quite an adventure."

These days Wiebe winters in British Columbia and Rogers plays less than his usual 80 games a year, although he still keeps up to date on Manitoba courses.

"Granite Hills in the Lac du Bonnet area is a good course that has come along recently," Rogers says. "There have also been improvements and expansions at Neepawa, Minnedosa and Gilbert Plains."

Another super golf enthusiast is Ab McDonald, the Winnipegger best known for his pro hockey exploits with the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Black Hawks, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets.

He has played as many as 100 games a summer at 50 different courses throughout the province.

"Manitoba has a lot of beautiful and unique courses," McDonald says, citing Granite Hills, Hecla, Gimli’s Links at the Lake, Steinbach, St. Charles and Niakwa as being among the most memorable.

He has also golfed widely in the United States, playing rounds at such U.S. Open sites as Oakland Hills in the Detroit area and the Medinah Country Club in Chicago.

"I still go to Chicago every year for the Black Hawk alumni tournament," he says.

Cam Marsland, meanwhile, has put on hold his ambition to emulate Rogers and Wiebe by playing every course in the province.

He and his golfing buddies had crossed off 48 from their list two years ago when Marsland became extremely busy with his new duties as CEO of Selkirk’s Betel personal care home.

"Since then, I’ve only added one or two more courses," says the avid golfer who shoots in the high 80s or low 90s. "I think Granite Hills is really spectacular and I also like Minnewasta at Morden. But further discoveries are pretty much in waiting as an item on my bucket list."

While some golfers try to play every course, others are fixated on playing every day.

Three golfers personifying this near obsession are course superintendent Rick Trottier and members Ruth White and Karen Bishop of the Netley Golf and Country Club in Petersfield.

Trottier’s daily routine is to look after his maintenance duties, then give golf lessons and play nine holes in the twilight. He has little travel to get to work because he lives all summer in a converted school bus trailer parked behind one of the holes.

"I love golf so much that I’m past being a fanatic," says Trottier who works at a variety of jobs in the winter. "After Christmas, I get out a calendar and start marking off the days until next season."

He started working at Quebec courses, arrived at Netley in 2005 and was appointed this year as superintendent of the maintenance crew. A scratch golfer who has played since childhood, he shot a one-over-par 74 in his first round this spring.

"I like teaching the basics of golf," Trottier says, estimating he will get in 125 rounds this summer. "I guarantee people their money back if they don’t learn something."

Trottier's passion for the game is matched by Ruth White who is not only president of the Netley Women’s League, but also plays in leagues at Windsor and Shooters in Winnipeg.

She averages nine holes a day and 200 rounds a year, not only in her leagues but also in casual play at other favourite courses such as Clear Lake, Granite Hills, Teulon and Kingswood.

"I hated golf until 15 years ago when a good teacher turned me into a fanatic," says White, a planning manager for the Rickis Ladies Wear chain.

"I start my season in early spring and have played as late as November 19, two years ago at Lorette. Much of it is twilight golf, but I also have a flexible work schedule."
White said several motivations have driven her to become a frequent flyer to the golf course.

"I strive to improve my game because I like to be the best," she says. "I also like the social aspect and find it relaxing after sitting at work."

She is often joined at Netley by Karen Bishop who plays almost daily at this club and Selkirk.

"Ruth phones me and we are out on the course in an hour," says Bishop.

"I started golf as a teen, dropped out for a while and then took it up again in my early 40s. Now it’s a real passion and you can’t keep me away. I’m 62 and I’ll play until I can’t walk."

Bishop likes the challenges of golf, saying it is a humbling game that tests the limits of players and gives them great satisfaction when they hit good shots.

"It’s a game for all ages and you meet wonderful people when you play it," she says.

There is also an opportunity to meet crazy people like the organizers of the annual Thanksgiving Day Saturday ‘Sniff and Snort’ tournament at Gimli Golf Club.

They have been drawing several generations of golfers to a 53-year-old annual tournament that began in 1956 at Winnipeg’s Southwood Golf Club.

It migrated to Sandy Hook and then to Gimli after most course owners decreed it was insane to hold a tournament so late in the fall.

The current principal organizer is Leonard Bye, a 40-year participant who took over from his brother and tournament founder Robert Bye.

"The tournament is held to both celebrate and mourn the end of another golf season," Leonard Bye says. "There are no trophies or prizes, but the winner earns bragging rights for a year."

Bye and his group have made up their own rules for the tournament. Participants play each hole en masse and are awarded points and either a sniff or a snort for good shots.

They take a pause that refreshes on each hole and to honour the first three shots on the green, the next three closest to the pin and the two best putts.

Last Thanksgiving, the players had to wade through a few centimetres of snow left by a storm a day earlier.

"We had played in worse weather than that," Bye snorts. "It’s often been colder and we’ve been deluged with rain, but this was the first time we had ever encountered snow. The players, however, were well fortified and we’ll be back next year."

 

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