John Wedge: how I spent my summer vacation
If you had just retired from a lengthy career as Chief of Surgery at an internationally-renowned hospital, no one would raise an eyebrow if you quietly spent the summer sitting on the dock at the cottage reading a book, or perhaps taking a leisurely cruise of the Mediterranean with the missus.
But then, you aren’t John Wedge. And if you’re a member of the legion of friends of John Wedge (whose ranks I have recently joined), then you weren’t particularly surprised to learn that this internationally-renowned pediatric-orthopedic surgeon and teacher spent more than five weeks this summer caddying at Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, in Inverness, Nova Scotia.
That’s right, caddying. As in, “good morning, sir, I’m John and I’ll be carrying your bag today, sir.”
John’s retirement – after more than a decade as head surgeon and a total of 29 years at Toronto’s famed and respected Hospital for Sick Children (“Sick Kids”) – officially occurred on June 30. It was brought to a rousing crescendo by a retirement party attended by dozens of friends, admirers and former patients – and dozens of past and current colleagues, representing a crème de la crème of Canada’s medical community. John Wedge was not only considered a pre-eminent, innovative, committed, and exquisitely skilled children’s surgeon, and an inspiring and dedicated leader and mentor, but also one of the nicest guys ever to populate an operating room. The tributes at that Retirement Party could have flowed for a day and a half, I’m told.
But after a few weeks of honing his own golf game here at his home course, Rosedale Golf Club in Toronto (walking the course, carrying his bag, and playing to an 8-handicap, as always), John was then eager to hop in the car and pursue not only his love of golf, but a never-ending love of knowledge. During his time in Nova Scotia, when he wasn’t looping, he immersed himself in local history, and will now fascinate you with a crash course on coal mining, and stories of German subs looming off the Cape Breton coast.
The caddy experience, though, is what thoroughly impressed me. None of his “clients” knew who he was when he picked up their bags. To them he was just another of the cheery local chaps… of whom there were retired teachers and accountants, a principal, a dentist, college kids, and quite a few refugees from the collapse of the western oilfields. Somewhere on the back nine, many of John’s clients would casually ask where he was from, what he did for a living, and so on. John is modest, but not falsely so, so it might take five or six questions until the Chief-of-Surgery at Sick Kids detail came out. Almost all clients’ jaws dropped… some were pretty skeptical, but most were in awe of whose company they were in. It must’ve felt like Candid Camera.
For John, it was a fascinating experience in human observation. Very few clients were snooty or rude or condescending, which is refreshing to hear. Way too many players took way too much time looking for free balls in the rough… despite the fact that they could afford the roughly $1,000 a day it costs to make the trip to Cabot. Many players were far worse practitioners of the game than they stated at the outset of the round… people who professed to carry single-digit handicaps routinely shot 100 or more. John also, generally, found the women players better than the men, also a refreshing revelation.
And by amusing coincidence, he also ended up caddying on two or three occasions for fellow members of Rosedale, whom he didn’t know. Needless to say, they were dumbfounded to learn their “boy” was a colleague!
Aside from getting to play the Cabots for $10 a round when he wasn’t caddying, vs. the off-the-rack fee of $250 for the rest of us hackers, John was blown away by the scenery, the local culture, and by the overwhelmingly positive effect on the community, and Cape Breton, that the whole Cabot golf development has brought. He is full of praise for the co-authors of the project, Ben Cowan-Dewar from Toronto, and American Mike Kaiser, who was the force behind Bandon Dunes, the model for Cabot, in Oregon.
During his adventure, the Doc sent a few email dispatches home to his pals. Here are some of his more interesting anecdotes:
Caddied today for a chain smoking guy from Tampa with severe spinal stenosis and spinal claudication. He had to lay down on his back and grasp his knees to his chest to flex his lumbar spine to relieve his pain prior to each tee shot. He walked bent over and reminded me of [a friend] a year ago. I had to practically carry him and his bag to get him through the final 3 holes, all for a lousy $20 tip! According to my Apple Watch I took 15,000 steps and walked 12 Km in the round.
The locals are friendly, straightforward and resourceful. Cabot Links has transformed the town for the better, there is a job of one type or another for anyone that wants one and there is overwhelming support for continued development and expansion. They don’t have much patience for interlopers such as recently arrived property purchasers from California and Ontario, who (couldn’t you predict this?) find ways to agitate to protest, obstruct and delay approvals for related projects such as expansion of a local airstrip in Margaree 20 minutes to the North to accommodate the demand for flights from major Northeastern cities like Toronto, Montreal, Boston and New York. They have little time for pretentious behavior and are bemused by the habits of some of the golfers.
A couple of players instructed me on the first tee not to provide advice like shot placement, club selection or reading of greens for his opponents. When one player realized his caddy hadn’t played the game very much and was not able to read greens he started asking me for reads, I found myself in a difficult situation. Solidarity among caddies is the first principle of the culture and “showing up” a colleague spreads rapidly among the community with the risk of being shunned. To avoid this and to obey my player I would just repeat his caddie’s advice. On one occasion when I did this and the read was incorrect, resulting in a missed putt, my player gave me a subtle thumbs-up and wink. This was undoubtedly partly responsible for my large tip as my player won.
This has been such a marvelous experience that I am tempted to repeat it again. Cape Breton is one of the most beautiful places in the world, the beaches pristine and the water the warmest north of the Carolinas (68 degrees one day last week when I swam after my loop) and plentiful, challenging hiking trails. I believe I will gather fabulous material to perhaps eventually write an article with a title something like “Looping – Then and Now” or “Looping in adolescence and in early senility”.
Finally, for those of you who have commented on my seeming preoccupation with tipping it has been for a good cause because I have donated them to a local Inverness children’s charity.
Note that last point. Giving well-earned gratuities back to the community is so consistent for a guy who truly appreciates the opportunities that life has offered him, including a lifetime of healing the sick, and the young.
“And what did you do over the summer months, little Johnny?”
Well, teacher, lemme tell ya…