For some, it's a dream to descend from a pristine white golf cart onto a dewy, emerald green. To strut around wearing only the finest cashmere argyle. To tee off in stuffy silence as powerful gentlefolk look on. But often, an empty pocketbook, some unapologetically bad manners and that pilly acrylic sweater stand between the dream and the reality.
But that's a thing of the past.
The Lesser Golfers of Greater Halifax are calling non-golfers, bad golfers and impoverished golfers to play out their fantasies right here in the concrete jungle. By inviting people to play, no matter their socio-economic background, urban golf is effectively democratizing a sport that has long been synonymous with ostentatious displays of riches. This may just be the great equalizer, like blue jeans and tambourines.
It began three months ago when Jason Pelley, inspired in part by an article in Good magazine, began chipping away at tennis balls in his backyard. It was a way to burn off steam, get outdoors and see his neighbourhood in a new way. But when the backyard got too small, Pelley moved his hobby to the pavement. The streets became a fresh canvas for his vision of a new city---one in which everyone played together. This would be the first recorded game of urban golf in Halifax.
Pelley quickly began soliciting his friends to join him as he whacked balls around moving obstacles---speeding cars, ball-seeking dogs, even unsuspecting passersby, who were clobbered by a ball or two. It took three weeks before Pelley's good friend Beau Cleeton joined. That was November. "I've played every week since then," says Cleeton. The crew now boasts 40 regular players.
To play the game, much like real golf, players hit a ball at a target or into a hole with a club. But it's the context in which urban golf is played that lends to its unique flavour---and it varies from one urban golf mecca to another. With groups playing the world over---Paris, Seattle, Sydney---the rules tend to vary markedly to accommodate special stops at local pubs, as well as diverse landscapes and climates.
Locally, the Lesser Golfers have three rules: Have respect. Everyone sucks. And don't be a control freak. "We don't own the game," says Pelley, pointing to these Halifax-specific rules. "We just kinda started playing it."
For Pelley and Cleeton, urban golf is about a lot more than cracking balls through middleclass neighbourhoods. It's about community building. It's about reinterpreting public space. "At night, if you're using your city, it's a playground," explains Cleeton. "I've walked in neighbourhoods I've never been before and I've been living here for 12 years, for crying out loud."
Urban golf is flexible in every sense of the word---rules, equipment and context---making it utterly inclusive. This is about "giving [golf] back to the people," says Cleeton, who admits to never having played real golf. "The best thing for me that's come out of this is the community, social involvement thing."
Despite urban golf's recent debut in Halifax, the sport has been traced back to 18th century Scotland. More recently the sport has piqued mainstream interest. In 2004, London hosted the first-ever urban golf tournament, which has spawned a copycat effect:Halifax has plans for a post-snow-season tournament. And yet another testament to its burgeoning popularity: World Urban Golf Day kicked off in Portland, Oregon in 2004.
But back here at home, the Lesser Golfers are always trying to expand the urban golf following---either by encouraging folk to join their established crew or making to space for new ones. Equipment donations are welcomed, so long as they're second-hand.
Find out more about these new school athletes on Twitter at hfxurbangolf or on their blog at hfxurbangolf.wordpress.com.