As Good as it Gets

The return of Olympic golf could not have had a better outcome, in my humble opinion.  A worthy player won the event, over an equally worthy player… two golfers who I believe embody the ideals and standards of the game of golf, and the Olympics, and who embraced the opportunity to play in the Games, unlike many of their professional colleagues who declined for questionable (IMHO) reasons.

Justin Rose is a fine fellow and a wonderful golfer, who hasn’t yet quite been included in the various variations of the current “Big Four”… but a couple more wins, or another major, might put him in that pack.  Ditto Henrik Stenson.

Their dual in the sun on Sunday was very exciting.   I suspect even the non-golfers who might have watched it, because it was part of the Olympics, might have developed an appreciation of the competitive nature of our game.   While many of us would’ve preferred a more creative format, and perhaps a team competition rather than the usual, week-in/week-out 72-hole individual score tournament, the almost-match-play final round was great to see… almost but not quite as riveting as the Open Championship shootout between Stenson and Phil Mickelson a couple of weeks ago.

One of the announcers on the broadcast speculated that those who did not show up – McIlroy, Spieth, Scott, and others – might have been second-guessing their decisions, especially after getting tweets from Rose, Stenson, Fowler, Kuchar, and others, saying what a great time they were having.  I sincerely hope so.

This golf event showed the world what an international sport golf has truly become.  Look at the leaderboard from Rio: of the top 20 players (including Canada’s Graham DeLaet, who finished 20th, 13 different flags were represented, and only four countries counted twice.  The cream of the crop pretty much rose to the top, with only Danny Willett and Rickie Fowler posting disappointing results versus advance expectations.  For all the gestation problems it suffered, the golf course looked challenging and fair, with exactly half the field shooting under par for the four rounds.

I cannot imagine that 50 years from now, when Justin Rose is answering questions from some young golf journalist about the totality of his career, he won’t mention the gold medal he won in the first modern iteration of golf in the Olympics as one of the great highlights and distinctions of his record, even if he wins another five majors.  It’s a fortunate stroke of serendipity that such a good and popular sportsman, who reveres golf and its history and traditions, will be the flag bearer for Olympic golf for the next four years at least.

In the meantime, let’s all hope for Canadian glory from Brooke Henderson and Alena Sharp, as the Women’s Olympic golf tees off on Wednesday.

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It wasn’t quite the stature of the Olympics, but I must salute the good people who manage the Niagara Parks golf courses for inviting a number of golf and travel writers to a day of golf and fine cuisine last week.  Even though I was involved for months in the opening of the Fallsview Casino over a decade ago, before Wednesday I had only once played golf in the region… at the venerable Whirlpool course back in the 1990s.

Last week’s itinerary included a round on the Ussher’s Creek course, part of a 45-hole complex at Legends on the Niagara.  This course was designed several years ago by renowned course designer Tom McBroom, and the adjacent Battlefield course was created around the same time by equally noted architect Doug Carrick.  Both gentlemen were there for the golf and dinner, and as always, it was a pleasure to chat with them.

Unfortunately, the last eight years or so have not been as flush with new projects for golf course designers as the previous 15 years were, but both Tom and Doug have created reputations for themselves well beyond Canada, and if and when an upturn finally emerges, I’m sure they’ll be on any shortlist for developers who want to add golf to their projects.

The meal that was served was exceptional, as were the local wines that the chefs carefully paired with their presentations.

With our dollar at its low ebb, and travel generally presenting greater challenges, I would commend any readers of this column who live in southern Ontario to seriously consider a four-to-seven day visit to Niagara… for a fine menu of golf, cuisine, good wine, culture, gaming and scenery that can compete with any North American destination.

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