Beginning the year with a January golf trip is certainly among the best ways to start as a golfer in Canada. After all, snow covers most, if not all of the country, and for our unfortunate friends in everywhere other than parts of the East Coast, Toronto, Niagara, and pockets of British Columbia, golf season generally ends by Halloween and will not open until sometime in April.
Rather than going south—to Phoenix, Palm Springs, or Florida—like a usual golf traveller, I chose Vancouver Island. In fact, as I am writing this, I am sitting in my hotel room in Nanaimo, listening to an eclectic group of Pretty Girl’s “Sun Phase,” random Kendrick Lamar songs, ROSALÍA, the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Burning”, and more, prepping for a day tomorrow at Campbell River Golf Club, the first of a handful of golf courses on my maiden trip to the Island. At best, the forecast is calling for a high of 9, with only a mild breeze and maybe an hour of sunlight, and most days feature a steady breeze coming from either the Pacific Ocean or the Georgia Strait with a chance of rain for every day but one, but hey, golf in January in Canada is pretty good.
I spent Christmas in Kelowna, where I graduated high school and still have family, so I drove. I have no issues driving: from Toronto to Calusa Pines and back, or Toronto to Vancouver, or even Kelowna to Texas, I have put on a hefty amount of miles on cars over the years for golf; but driving from Kelowna to the Lower Mainland in the winter is like facing the big-bad-boss at the end of one of those old, seemingly impossible-to-beat video games. In this scenario, the big-bad-boss is the Coquihalla Highway and the Okanagan Connector, a mountainous road that has developed the reputation as Canada’s Deadliest Highway. Driving time is usually 4:30 in the winter, but thankfully, only about 2 hours and change is in the belly of the beast. Generally, I let a sigh of relief out as I shift gears following the apex, Hope, BC in sight and the Lower Mainland’s rainy conditions looming in the background like a Marvel Post Credit Scene.
In order to get to Vancouver Island from the Okanagan, one must pass through Vancouver, which is my personal favourite city in the country, and truthfully, it is not even close (though the battle for #2 is a barn burner). I typically go in the shoulder or off-season. To be honest, it has been awhile since I have been to Vancouver in the middle of the summer, but my trips to the city tend to work out yearly, with a couple gap years. After a quick stop at Downlow Chicken (highly reccomend it, by the way), some errands only a big city can provide, and some general sightseeing downtown, I make my way to Horseshoe Bay’s Ferry Terminal in West Vancouver. After emerging through Stanley Park, the Lions Gate Bridge presents itself, and instantly, I think “Capilano.”
There was no prospect of playing Capilano this trip—truthfully, I think it is the only course in Greater Vancouver to close in the winter, at least that I know of—yet my distinct memory of playing Cap in May 2019 came rushing back. Almost four years later, and a wave of nostalgia hit me. Even with the Lions Gate Bridge’s history being tied to the expansion of West Vancouver in the 1930s—including Capilano—the sentimental attachment to a bridge struck me as odd, even more-so considering I was not playing Capilano, nor visiting the area at all.
I imagine the wave of emotional connection to the Lions Gate Bridge, associated to my very fond memory of playing Capilano with my dad, is similar to that of the New York Times advice to play a new album when visiting a new town, and forever have that album associated with that location. For me, it is a song that reminds me of Thunder Bay: Metro Boomin’, 21 Savage, and Drake’s “Mr. Right Now,” which dropped when I was visiting to play Fort William, Kenogamisis and Whitewater. Likewise with the Lions Gate Bridge and Capilano: it triggers the same sort of attachment.
This raised all the alarm bells for me: what else have I been missing; what else would I associate with golf, even if I was doing nothing related to golf? I have never driven the Icefield Parkways and not played Jasper Park Lodge, my personal favourite golf course in the country, and as thoughtful golf writer Jeff Brooke pointed out in a tweet reply, it comes as no surprise my five favourite roads have great golf on either side. If I go to Banff, the drive across the bridge in the middle of town is immediately associated with Banff Springs, another Stanley Thompson masterpiece. Even fast food locations, like stopping at Tim Hortons before a morning round at TPC Toronto on the corner of Highway 8 and Highway 24, have triggered this reaction. I was up in the area for no reason associated with golf and grabbed an ice coffee from that Tim’s, and suddenly, I felt like I was about to go play Heathlands, like I have Pavlov Dogged myself into believing stopping at that particular Tim Hortons meant I got to play golf that day.
I think in further evaluation, these emotional feelings tied to non-golf things that raise golf memories are closely related to the “peculiar things” series Beyond The Contour author Zach started, where we develop emotional attachments to these golf courses off the backs of random, obscure, or seemingly unrelated things or experiences either before, or after. The same way Zach has a love for walking under Islington Avenue at St. George’s or the range at Redtail, we, as golfers, can tie certain experiences to rounds, golf courses, or travel stories.
To a normal person, driving across the Lions Gate Bridge is a simple, every day jesture that means nothing. It would be like getting on Highway 401 in Toronto, or Deerfoot in Calgary. But maybe, golf courses can help us unlock a new way to look at the terrible traffic of Highway 401, or whatever Calgarians think is wrong with Deerfoot. In some way, on a gloomy January day, the Lions Gate Bridge helped illuminate the sky as if the birds were chirping and the sun was shining like it was in May 2019, and all of a sudden, the city suffocating in grey opened itself in colour once more. Whether it be a weird restaurant in Prince Albert, a dumpy hotel in Trois-Riveries where I have to put Google Translate in my phone to check in, or even the Icefield Parkways, these memories are associated with amazing times at local golf courses, and to me, that is part of the reason golf is such a spiritual experience.