SPORTS/ESSAY

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE

Golfers drive long distances or spend big money to savor tee time

HAL QUINN May 24 1993
SPORTS/ESSAY

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE

Golfers drive long distances or spend big money to savor tee time

HAL QUINN May 24 1993

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE

Golfers drive long distances or spend big money to savor tee time

The lineup forms as the first light gathers over the Fraser River. Golfers sip coffees from Styrofoam cups, talk about the Stanley Cup playoffs and wait outside the pro shop at the Fraserview Golf Course

in the southeast corner of Vancouver. “If you want to play, say, Tuesday, you’d have to be here by 6:30 on Monday morning,” explains Fraserview’s pro Earl Francis. ‘You come in and get a number, wait until 7 a.m., and then

we start booking times—alternating between a person here in line with a number, and a person on the phone.”

Golfers not willing to line up at dawn sit home punching the re-dial button, hoping to get through on the line to one of the busiest public courses in Canada. Vancouver-born musician Billy Barclay, 39, who has been playing golf for 26 years—first from his bike, then from the bus, and now out of his car’s tmnk—has given up on playing Vancouver’s public courses. “I’ve already written them off,” Barclay explained. Instead, he prefers to drive east out of town to courses in the Fraser River Valley. “I’d rather play somewhere that I can enjoy the course, and it’s not crowded.”

But the crowds are gathering at public, municipal—and private—courses across this golf-mad country. In British Columbia alone there are 182 courses (out of 1,859 nationwide), and in the province’s heavily populated southwest another 12 are under construction or set to open this summer, while eight more have been approved for development. For now, there are just 15 totally private courses in the province, 44 semiprivate—and 123 public courses.

And just as in the rest of Canada, on the West Coast more than 80 per cent of all golfers play on public courses.

The problem in British Columbia is

that the majority of the public players live in and around Vancouver, where this summer one of three municipal courses, Langara, is under reconstruction. Over the next six years, Langara, Fraserview and McCleery will be rebuilt in a $25 million rotation that will see each course close for 16-month stretches as greens are replaced and new clubhouses built.

For John Kalil, 41, a Vancouver marketing executive, the solution came in 1987, when he joined the exclusive Marine Drive Golf Club. For Barclay, who plays piano evenings at a hotel lounge, the solution is to throw the bag in the trunk and head up the Valley.

With light morning traffic moving east out of the city—the inbound cars and trucks on the Trans-Canada Highway gridlocked to the horizon—the 72 km from Barclay’s Vancouver home to the town of Mission on the Fraser roll smoothly through the communities of Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and Haney. Barclay is enjoying every minute of the 80-minute trip to deceptively named 18 Pastures Golf Course, originally—and more

aptly—called Iron Mountain for the unforgiving fortress into which it is carved. ‘You can go out to Fraserview and have an outstanding day,” says the musician. “But getting tee times takes such effort, it’s lost its spontaneity. It becomes a production to play golf. By heading up the Fraser Valley, you get some of that freedom back, pretending you’re 20years-old again.”

Barclay fondly remembers playing his home town’s public courses in the late 1970s,

when Vancouver was an out-of-thetrunk players’ paradise. “We used to show up at the University of British Columbia course, plop down our five bucks, and if it was busy we might have to wait 20 minutes,” he says. The university club now charges $39 and takes hard-to-come-by bookings a week in advance. Twenty years ago, the courses were so untrammelled, says Barclay, “that we’d play our favorite holes over and over again. What I’ve lost is that public golf used to be like a rich man’s vacation for me and my friends.”

At the Pastures course, which charges $14 a round on weekdays, Barclay looks out towards the eighth fairway’s tortuous ascent of Iron Mountain—the snow-capped Coast range peaks beyond—and reclaims part of what he’s lost. “When you’re standing out here on the tee, and there’s not that production line of golfers in front and standing behind you, it’s like, ‘We’re millionaires’. At moments like these, a guy with 10 million bucks, if he’s playing golf on his course, wouldn’t be getting any more satisfaction than we're getting. As far as I can hit it, it's all mine. That's one of the feelings I love about golf."

It is a feeling that John Kalil savors, too. And he does so after just a 15-

minute drive from his Vancouver home or ot fice to the private Marine Drive club—membership has its privileges.

Since 1922, golfers have abandoned the cacophony of Vancouver for this refuge on the banks of the Fraser, with its rich green, treelined fairways. At Marine Drive, the flags of Canada, British Columbia, and the club snap in the wind above the manicured flower bed beside the first tee. The names of the club’s past and present greats—among them, Stan Leonard, Doug Roxburgh and Richard Zokol—are spoken with reverence. An attendant

cleans the clubs of the

four members whose names have just been called on the loudspeaker—with the deferential prefix Mr. or Mrs.—informing them that they have eight minutes before their play begins. Kalil, a native of Cornwall, Ont., is up next. He had no trouble getting a tee time.

The night before, 95 per cent of the club’s members—who number 825 in all—voted to build a new

clubhouse. The $5 million cost will be defrayed with a monthly surcharge on top of the $140 monthly members’ dues, along with fees from new members. The initiation is now $35,000 and the waiting list about 5k years long. Looking out to the dogleg on the first fairway, Kalil thinks back to just six years earlier when he arrived in Vancouver from Toronto. “Being an avid golfer,” he says, “I

wanted to be able to just call up and play. And Marine proved to be the best from all aspects. There is a real spirit here. It’s not a social club, from a social climbers’ standpoint. I hate to say that, because it sounds snobbish, but everyone here is a golfer and they are members to play golf.”

As president of his own marketing firm,

Kalil utilizes the club to entertain clients and business associates. “I like to play twice during the week related to business,” he says, “and once on the weekend to just get away. I can always get on the course and it’s a 3 khour round—not your standard five-hour public course round.” And from the perspective of

a new father (he and his wife, Jenine, have two children, 21 months and nine months old), Kalil admits: “I lucked in at becoming a member here in 1987 at $10,000. Now it’s $35,000 and I just can’t see how people can become members of private courses around town—unless it’s a corporate membership. We couldn’t afford this place now, especially with two kids.”

While Kalil appreciates his luck at being a member of a club—“the last bastion of the gentry,” says Barclay, not unkindly—and Barclay plays his rounds in the Valley, the private and public players share a love of the game. They each revel in those moments of tranquillity and natural splendor as they stand alone on the tee. And they have come to accept Barclay’s suc-

cinct analysis of a humbling game: “You eventually come to the realization that golf is the recreation that you were always told it was, and not another sport that you were going to master.” Which is one reason why golfers continue to line up at dawn, pay enormous initiation fees, or head up the Valley.

HAL QUINN in Vancouver