Golf: Never too late to learn

At 70, Sheila Martin of Toronto is doing something quite courageous: she is learning to play golf. At a time when many are slowing down, she is doing what many of us should be doing – taking up a new activity.

It’s not easy. Some of us are just too shy to take a flyer into the unknown. Or we fall back on old excuses for not having a go at some activity we may always have secretly yearned to try: “These old bones are not up to it;” “I would make a fool of myself;” “The pool is too cold;” “The gym is too far;” “It’s too expensive;” “I don’t want to undress in the changing room;” “I’m too old to learn.” Poppycock!

Whether it’s swimming, hiking, lifting weights, line dancing, scuba diving or playing tennis or golf, there are thousands of mature Canadians who don’t buy that nonsense and keep proving you’re never too old to learn.

The first tee
I always thought I was too inept to play golf until recently when, staying at Nemacolin Resort in Western Pennsylvania with its two championship courses, I was offered a free golf lesson. To my surprise, I didn’t do too badly, and the instructoruggested I try a round of golf with two friends.

Big mistake. It was exactly the wrong way to start, as I found out talking to Sheila and her instructor, Terry Woods.

Sheila had a special reason for learning golf. Two years ago, her husband, Bob, had a stroke. He has difficulty with speech. “I thought how wonderful it would be if I went out and played golf with him,” she said. Sheila felt golf could be “something we can do together.” Still, she was anxious for Bob’s sake not to make a hash of it when they played.

Sheila was a widow when she met Bob 10 years ago at an RCAF reunion in her native Scotland. She had always walked the Scottish golf links though she never played the game.

According to Terry, though, she has the one essential attribute for learning: patience. Sheila had had six lessons at the Waterside Sports Club in Toronto, where he is general manager – and she had yet to practise with a ball. Because she had no idea how the ball would behave, it was important for her to learn first how to swing a club.

Next page: The challenges

The long drive
More often than not, those who take up golf in their 40s or 50s want to see how far they can hit the ball and are often not interested in practising. In that sense, older players, with less power and more patience, often have the advantage.

“At 70, my arms don’t stretch as they might,” says Sheila, “and I have had a bout of arthritis.” Terry has the patience to find a solution that will work for her. He has the same attitude about golf, cross-country skiing, rock-climbing or any new challenge: “It’s not just about golf. You need to prepare yourself for anything. You need to be in reasonably good condition, and nutrition enters into it.” He’s talking, of course, about being fit and staying healthy.

Golf continues to be a sport that attracts many mature Canadians. Apart from the pleasure of the game, you enjoy fresh air and the benefits of a three- or four-mile workout. And travel, whether to Ireland or Nova Scotia, is often geared to golf, with resorts offering packages and low fees.

The cost of the game
Learning need not be expensive: group lessons may cost $129 for five sessions, and some park and recreation departments offer instruction. A modest set of seven clubs costs as little as $179, or  find a used set at your local club.

Running shoes will do, or get a deal on outdated steel-spiked shoes, then replace the spikes with soft ones. Balls are cheaper at discount warehouses, many clubs have senior rates and course fees are cheaper in off-periods when retired players are often free to play.

Apart from group lessons, you could try a few sessions at a golf range and then start on a short and less difficult course of 5,100 to 5,200 yards. That was my mistake: I headed out without any practice at all on a very challenging championship course fraught with obstacles. I finally called it a day after nine holes when I found myself trying to hit the ball across a yawning gulch in the direction of a rock-encircled green that seemed the size of a handkerchief. There wasn’t a chance.

Next time, I’ll start out more modestly after a decent amount of practice. It could be worth the payoff: “I have seen people achieve what they never thought they were capable of,” says Terry. “I think that’s where patience comes in.”