The home course

English golf writer Henry Longhurst once wrote the following: "Every other game [but golf] is played on the same kind of pitch the world over. One football field is like another; one cricket pitch like the next, except that in one case the background may be the village chestnuts and in another the gasometers.

"Yet not only is every golfing pitch different from all others, but it consists of 18 little pitches within itself," Longhurst continues. "Thus an almost inexhaustible supply of golfing problems presents itself."

I refer to Longhurst’s observation because it’s all too easy to become stuck on playing one course — or one type of course. One of the deepest joys that golf affords us is the opportunity to play different courses, and in my experience there’s hardly a course anywhere that doesn’t have at least a few holes that make the pulse quicken. Mind you, sometimes one course and one course only can stir strong feelings.

Just the other day, for instance, I played my first Canadian round of the season at the Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto. This is the course where I first played during the 1960s, and walking its holes again th my bag slung over my shoulder and three boyhood friends as companions made for a glorious morning. The weather was cool, even cold, but the game seemed simple, basic — a matter of hitting the ball from point A to point B. That is the essence of golf.

Don Valley is a owned by the city of Toronto. Dave Richardson is the head professional there and for the other city-owned public courses. A finer golfing gentleman I have not met. He makes everybody welcome at his courses. That’s one reason I always feel so good about going back to Don Valley.

And when I say going back, I mean going back. The green fee for playing the Valley, as we called it during the 1960s, was 45 cents if you were 18 years of age or younger. It wasn’t unusual for me to play 36 holes a day there in the summer, and, on those timeless days, 54 holes. Usually I would be using golf balls I’d found while wading in the Don River in the early spring — Ontario Pro balls, Jets, Tamblyns, a George Knudson or Al Balding golf ball.

Don Valley was a different course then in the sense that it was longer. Wilson Avenue hadn’t been extended to the east, so the 11th green and 12th tees were further back toward the street line than they are now. The first hole played straight out from near the top of the clubhouse on the drive, then at 90 degrees to the green. The second tee was high on a ridge, as was the eighth green. Don Valley was a more difficult course then.

But in other ways it was the same course, and I feel the same whenever I play it today. I’m in my own world down in the valley, away from the Yonge St. and Highway 401 traffic above. There’s shelter here, a collection of still-fine holes and a pleasant walk-up and down in the valley, across the Don River. I’m a big fan of city courses. Kids take buses to Don Valley, parents drop their children off there, do some chores and pick them up later. If it takes a village to make a community, then Don Valley is — to me and to many others — a golfing village.

Every city across Canada has its own Don Valley. Years ago during a trip to Winnipeg, my late father’s hometown, we played the Tuxedo golf course. Tuxedo meant as much to my dad as Don Valley means to me. It was a home course to which he could return.

There’s nothing quite like these home — truly "home" — courses. We can all too easily sentimentalize golf because it means so much to those of us who play it frequently. To us golf is a rite of spring, and the quintessential summer game. It’s where we spend quality time with our friends — both long-time and new.

I have a novel in front of me now called The Foursome, written by John Spooner. The story is about four fellows who grew up together and golfed. The golf course was a special place where they spent special times. Don Valley is like that for me, and when I played there the other day it still provided me with a powerful emotional experience.

Funny, isn’t it? I travel the world writing about golf and playing it. But I live within a mile of where I grew up, and two miles from Don Valley. It’s a talisman to which I return from time to time. I’ve played the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland and Pebble Beach in Monterey, California, Royal Melbourne in Australia, and Ballybunion in Ireland. But for me those are away games.

Don Valley is home, and home, as somebody once wrote, is where we start. It’s sometimes also where we return, for the ground-zero pleasure of golfing with old friends.