Myths and reality: waiting to retire to play golf

I spend a lot of time trying to explain to people that they have views that are contrary to facts. In the current world of the US administration, it’s timely, perhaps, to state that facts matter. One area where I bridle is when people say things like ‘I want to be like you when I retire, and can have time to play golf.’ I point out that, if one waits until retirement, it will be far too late. So, let me state this as clearly as I can, and if I’m not clear enough just look at the data for yourself.

Most golfers (based on US data)–nearly 60 percent–are people in the prime of their working lives (i.e. >30 and under 60/65); just under 40 percent are in the category that covers most ages when people are eligible for retirement (>60 years old). The demographics suggest that, if the bulk of golfers continue, many will have played golf through their working lives into the period when they are likely to be no longer working.

Most golfers are men, married, well-educated, likely to be professionals, and higher-income earners and have high net worth. So, golf tends to be for those who are financially better off in society. Earlier in my life it was accepting that notion that kept me away from the sport: I did not fit the profile 🙂

Anecdotally, in Jamaica, most amateur golfers work in the private sector and are in their own businesses. Few are civil servants. A small handful are doctors. Tourists (mainly from North America) whom I have met in Jamaica who are playing golf fit fully into this profile. I’ve not played much in Europe, but my limited exposure to golfers there gave me the same impression.

These sets of attributes cements golf as a sport for those who have more disposable income. 

What’s often clear, to golfers, at least, is that playing a full round of golf may take time (say 3-5 hours), but that is something that those who are in control of their time can manage better. So, when someone reaches retirement, such control over time is more evident, but it’s clear that to have had the chance to play much golf before retirement: golfers needed to be able to play when (and where) they wanted to. More likely, the typical golfer is a business person who can decide when he plays. Classic examples are the executive or business owner who toggles golf with business activities (and networking may be part of that). I have a friend whose boss is a golf fanatic and he tells her to pack her clubs whenever they have to travel for business; he (and her) play golf as soon as as often as he can on the trips and make trips as often as he can. Anecdotally, golf courses in Jamaica have many local golfers playing regularly on a couple of midweek afternoons (after 1pm)  and at weekends. The vast majority of these golfers are not retired, but still at work. 

So, seeing golf as a sport for retired people is a myth. Next time you see me and wish that you could be retired like me to get your golf game on, accept that you keep missing the bus. Get started on your golf game well before you retire!

Just monkeying around: scenes from a round at Apes Hill

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Looking west to the ocean
Sheep grazing
Nice to look at, and better to not hit here 😊👍🏾🏌
View of new clubhouse
Reminders of the past: sugar mill

Swing through, don’t try to hit the ball

This week, I find myself with a group of kids who are attending a golf clinic on the north coast. I had no idea I would be doing that 36 hours ago, but such is life. It’s no great hardship, as few things please me more than seeing youngsters make headway with a sport. Golf is simple in principle, yet so hard in practice, and some people do not have either the patience or concentration to master the simple application of swing to ball, and walk away frustrated that hitting an object that is not moving can be so difficult.

My young daughter got talked into participating, with the tempting prospect of hanging around a nice beach resort while other kids were having lessons. I explained to her that the cost of the lessons were already included in the accommodation, so she may as well join in and see how things go. The kids are having about 6 hours of instruction and playing; a long time for the younger ones (8 year olds), most of whom have not played before or very little. But, golf can be very rewarding when everything about the swing is right and the ball zings off the club towards its intended target. But, as Rory McIlroy has to admit, even the best golfers get rewards from swings that are all wrong. Better to be lucky than good, as the Irish know.

Well, after that little piece of chicanery, I thought it best to let her have at it and see how things went later. I took off to play a round early with some friends who live close to where we are staying. I have never played White Witch before, but had heard it was nice and challenging. Anyway, I was game for a try, whatever the outcome. I don’t usually use a caddy, but they tend to be included in the package on the north coast, along with a cart. White Witch is long and very undulating, and in common with the north coast, wind can be a big factor. My caddy was about 7 months pregnant. Did I need the prospect of a premature birth to complicate my round? I sake her to alert me early if she felt any sudden cramping.

My clinical duties today were to make sure the kids woke at 6:45 to have breakfast as 7:30. I was heading out by 7:25, so I did my deed and skidaddled.

My friend and his wife had played the course before, but some years ago. We were ready for adventure, but could not be anything but awestruck by the view from the driving range. Jamaica really needs to sell its golf courses better.
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We played a decent round, and I invited my friends back for lunch. What lunch? Well, the hungry belly pickney nyam off di food. Hard work in the sun had boosted appetites. Embarrassed, I suggested that my friends come over later or another day. I grabbed a left over hamburger for supper and nuked that for my lunch. I then went to see how the clinic was going.

I could see groups of children and carts. As I got closer, I heard some laughter. That’s always a good sign with kids. They were either having a good time or someone was making them think they were having a good time. I caught up with my daughter’s group and walked along with them. Two younger boys were with her, and they looked wilted. Often, for sports camps, the younger ones just do a half day: their energy and concentration is not usually strong enough. But, they kept going for about another couple of hours. I also saw the group of older or more experienced golfers. All seemed to be trying and succeeding with new techniques and enjoying their little games of golf.

At the end of the session, the director, an English professional, asked how things had gone and if newcomers had enjoyed it. Up went a big brown thumb that was attached to my daughter’s hand. What! “I don’t usually enjoy things I don’t want to do,” chirped she. Knock me down with a feather. If I wasn’t a coach or player, I’d be salivating about how Jamaica had found its new female golf star, given the adulation she was getting. Well, her strong swimmer’s shoulders and legs were giving her a good start.

Every journey begins with a single step, and you never know to what a little exposure will lead.

The kids have no access to electronic devices most of the day. Hide and seek was played at lunch time. I hear yells of “Sardines”. I guess they are coping. Let’s see how they blend as the week goes.

Set up to a tee

In almost everything, Jamaica must be a follower, not a leader; one possible exception is in certain styles of popular music, another is in world athletics, where we are sprint kings and queens. That latter status was tested over the weekend, during the inaugural IAAF World Relays, in Nassau, The Bahamas. Our crowns slipped a little, but the crowds did not see us deposed. But, in other areas, we are very much followers of fashion.

In recent days, the business of US golf has had its future put under scrutiny. That should give us cause for concern, not least because, that country provides a large portion of our tourists, and most of those who visit Jamaica to play golf. My eyes caught a piece posted by Bloomberg that looked at the chronic decline in various aspect of that sport. The headline grabber was that about 400,000 players left the sport last year, according to the National Golf Foundation, the US trade association. Almost 260,000 women took up golf, but some 650,000 men walked off. Harsh winter weather on the East Coast worsened matters this year by delaying the start of the golfing season for many. Slow sales of clubs and other gear dragged down results for Dick’s Sporting Goods this week, sending its stock on the worst tumble since the retail chain went public in 2002. Money talks, and it seemed to be saying “Fore!”

The trends in Europe and Asia are not the same. However, the USA is acknowledged as the major market in golf, with nearly 27 million players out of a world total of 56 million. For context, 5 million players are in Canada, 5.5 million in continental Europe, 14 million in Japan, and about 4 million in the United Kingdom. According to the same source, the leading market in terms of golf as a sport is the United States, estimated to contribute over US$60 billion to the economy. Europe (aside from the UK) is not a mature golf market; it is still mainly pursued by the elite few (worth $20 billion). The UK, Japan, and Australia all have mature golfing markets. Interestingly, the Caribbean does not feature in terms of numbers in the report produced by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. I draw heavily on its information for the sport worldwide.

The mature golfing markets of North America, UK, Japan and Australia have stagnated in terms of the number of dedicated golfers in recent years. Membership seems to have reached saturation level; a major contributor to this seems to be the amount of time the sport consumes (average round of golf is around 4 hours). Increasingly, people would rather participate in activities that take a shorter amount of time. We are also in the era of electronics, where entertainment is possible with no physical movement or travel. I am mindful of how much time golf can consume, and try to use little blocks of time to practice, then play quickly without much time spent socialising before or afterwards. That suits my general lifestyle, and allows for the other obligations that need to be addressed. I know many, however, who lounge around after their play, drinking beers, telling jokes, and letting the good times roll. Power to them.

In these markets, the main potential for growth lies with the aging population, which is growing in size in most developed countries. These consumers are becoming increasingly active–they are likely to be either “empty nesters” (parents whose children have left home) or retired, they tend to have more time than their younger counterparts.

The rapidly growing golf markets in Asia, the Middle East and Mexico will contribute to the growth of the golf sector worldwide. However, it is not expected that these countries/regions will contribute to the growth of golf tourism in the short-term, as there will be a delay between actively taking the sport up and travelling to participate. I know people who rave about the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico as golf playing places, but like Mexico, I imagine they will be more like to attract tourists, rather than supply tourists. In that sense, Jamaica is in region where the competition is fierce. Florida is just ideally placed for most of the region, being a hub for many connections from the Americas and from Europe.

In continental Europe the participation rates in golf are low but are increasing steadily (French participation rates are increasing between 5-8% per year). This is the market that demonstrates the most growth potential in terms of golfing holidays. The proliferation of the low-cost airline sector in Europe has had a significant impact on the growth of golfing holidays in Europe, in particular from the UK, but increasingly from other countries too.

Consumers are predominantly male, with the majority being middle-aged (40-55) or retired (55+). Professional and managerial groups dominate the sector. Golf tourists are likely to be members of golf clubs at home:

• United States: Golf participants are generally affluent, they have a higher than average annual income with two-thirds of American golfers earning over $50,000. 65% of golfers are over 40 years of age and 80% are male.
• United Kingdom: Golfers are predominantly (78%) male. 62% are aged between 35-60 and 42% are from the AB socio-economic grouping.
• Canada: Predominantly male with an average age of 48 years. The Canadian consumer tends to combine golfing with business trips. They are likely to be well-educated with a graduate or undergraduate degree. The Greater Toronto Area is the key generating area.
• France: 65% are male, although 70% of golfing tourists will travel with their partner or spouse.

For the Caribbean, much interest is in the potential of golf as a part of its tourism product. But, the sport has an important domestic component, which is something that has been intriguing me for several months. I have not seen data from the Jamaica Golf Association, so the following is largely impressionistic. That impression is that golf in Jamaica is at best stagnant, male-dominated, predominantly played by middle-aged people, who are affluent (often self-made business people). Young players (under 21) exist, and there is a small, but budding crop of good teenagers. The local sport has two separate markets–that for the visiting tourists, mainly on the north coast, and the local players, who are predominantly in the Kingston metropolitan area (but who play there and travel to play on most of the courses, especially on the north coast).

Sponsors are the life blood of the competitive local scene, which is a main feature, with many weekend tournaments, for both charity fund-raising, and club and team competition. They provide funding, material support such as refreshments, as well as prizes. Many sponsors are organisations with at least a smattering of golfers. Over the past month, culminating this coming weekend, we have had the annual LIME Cup, a six team competition, featuring most of the island’s players in match play format. Matches are squeezed into a single day, with morning and afternoon rounds. That is consistent with the usual time demand on players–one day, often Saturdays, but for LIME Cup, Sundays. We have just had the National Amateur Championships, played at Caymanas Golf Course. But, charity events feature most of the calendar, and the beneficiaries are well-known and often well rewarded; the tournaments are usually well supported.

My thoughts have focused on how the local sport integrates, or not, its activities with other aspects of the economy. My impression, for instance, is that the main hotels do not promote golf either as a tourism product, or for local players. The north coast courses near Montego Bay are the main attraction for tourists. I was recently at Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, which abuts the Hilton hotel. Guests from the hotel sat on parts of the course watching the play going on; some were walking the course, for recreational purposes; some played on the day before the tournament. When I have stayed at that hotel (while my wife was at conferences), I was fed misinformation about golf opportunities. Basically, the hotel is not interested in this feature that stares it in the face. Why? I have not found out, fully, but have heard stories of ‘strained relationships’. Money, maybe, doesn’t talk loudly enough. Another course, Half Moon, is directly associated with the luxury resort of the same name. Other Montego Bay courses have mixed hotel associations: Ironshore (no hotel), White Witch (adjacent to Cinnamon Hill), and Tryall (resort and villas). The visitor should be a willing captive, if he or she is a golfer. I have had the frustration many times of being at a hotel close to a golf course, but being unable to play for a range of personal or logistical reasons. These courses, with their lovely vistas, palm trees, and sandy layouts, often fall into the category of idyllic. Serious golfers would do anything to play them. Are they helped by their hosts? Not that much, is my impression. We have in Jamaica what I think is a unique feature, at least six good quality courses, along the same strip of road, not more than a hour between the first and the last (running from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay). For instance, why do we not see a package that includes a hotel stay with the chance to play all six courses (or some of them) as a major pull? I am not an expert in tourism, but this seems to be more about good business rather than the nature of the business. Maybe, I have misunderstood, but I don’t see a real linkage between the courses. Admitted, they are all under separate management. But, I think back to a municipal area in Maryland, where the many courses were grouped together and a ‘pass’ could be bought that made playing more than one of the courses a tempting option, with reduced rates. Is that sort of idea too much thinking outside the tee box?

The Kingston area courses do not seem to be of any interest to the city’s hotels. I may be mistaken, but at a glance, the option for businessmen to stay in New Kingston, and then play golf is not prominently placed. It would be no more than a 3-40 minute drive to either of the two courses. Lounging by the pool or cozying up to the hotel lobby bar is maybe better for the hotels, but the tourism product should be seen holistically.

I have also looked at what the courses offer locals in return for membership payments. This seems to be a mixed bag:

  • Good courses; some very good (eg Cinnamon Hill), some good and extensively used for championship play (eg Caymanas)
  • Some less good (eg Constant Spring, which is nestled in an urban area, and has suffered much from recent bad weather–hurricanes and then drought, and is trying to restore its landscape). It is very accessible from many directions.
  • Coaching and training are offered, as each course has its professional, and maybe an assistant. Constant Spring also has a solid programme teaching young players
  • No public courses on the island. This limits the opportunities for less-affluent players, but does not deny them completely.

I’ve not looked at the sport’s financial situation, and may pursue that with the JGA in due course. But, my own participation has pointed to the following thoughts.

Are prices reasonable?

  • Rounds cost US$30-60 in green fees, on average (north coast courses are more expensive and geared to tourists’ ability to pay; JGA member discounts apply).
  • Caddies are often obligatory. Why? Employment needs. Risks (bushes can hold treacherous plants, which the unwary may regret touching). Local knowledge (they really know their course layouts and greens). They can add much local colour to a four hour tour. They are reasonably priced, cost US$20 (plus tips), on average.
  • Carts are obligatory on north coast courses. I imagine that should speed up play, but also adds to safety and security, in case of bad weather or other issues; some of the courses are hilly. (I never used a cart before heading to a course in The Bahamas, and was glad when I did and lightning started to strike and I was a good 10 minutes drive back to the safety of the clubhouse. On the other side, I’ve seem people roll carts over, and I was recently stuck in sand in a cart, which was funny at the time, but could have been otherwise.)
  • Cost of upkeep is high (higher than in US?). Why? Imported materials? Water, an essential, may not be as readily available as desired.
  • Do rounds represent clear value for money? That may be a question for the 19th hole. I met a man in The Bahamas over the weekend, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. He’s trying to play as many different courses as he can. When I told him the cost of playing in Montego Bay, he jumped at the prospect of hooking up for a round in the future.

The questions may have answers that are more grey than black and white. Let those stay there and others be added.Tryall

Looking around, I see that clubs also survive through other functions:

  • Constant Spring is used regulary for concerts, social events
  • Caymanas is used for conferences, seminars etc.

That’s not a surprise: golf clubs are often wonderfully attractive locations, with spacious clubhouses, that lend themselves to large gatherings. The club in the US, where I first played golf, had its course used most midweek afternoons by corporate groups (of say 40 or so players), but was also used for weddings, conferences, seminars, etc. It makes good sense. Tiger Woods is famous for, amongst other things, renting out all of Sandy Lane hotel and golf course, for his wedding.

I’m watching the local golf space keenly. Caymanas has a lease that is due for renewal. I am interested in who bids on that and wins. Will they be people who have an interest and vision that changes golf from being a somewhat narrowly marketed sport? Will they seek to have synergies developed that brings golf more to the local communities? We have a country full of athletes. Many could excel at sports other than the staples of football, cricket and athletics. That may need nothing more than some early and regular exposure.

I am not going to tee off on the golf community, but I wonder if the golf community has teed itself up to see that this is a long game that needs a lot of attention to the short game.

One feature that has arisen in looking at how to stem or reverse golf’s decline is to make it more fun. ‘Hack’ golf has come into vogue, with equipment manufacturer, TaylorMade, compiling ideas such as using larger holes, letting players kick footballs to ‘holes’, taking away some of the stiff rules that may be really important in professional play, but act really more as irritants to those who just want to play recreationally. This may be something for Jamaica to look at, and see if indeed what it can help lead with is some of the ideas to bring fun into golf. We have the reputation for cool, not stodgy, so we should think about playing to our strengths. Take a look at a ‘hack’ golf video and see what may inspire

Incentives, incentives…Sport development disconnection

I spent the weekend in Montego Bay with a bunch of golfers, playing in the LIME Cup team competition. My preparation on Saturday was good: I played a round with a man from my club in Kingston, but who’s on another team, and we were team mates last year. We had a close match and enjoyed the way the course tested out meagre abilities–we’re about 21 handicappers. We played some really good shots (mine was a mammoth drive on a par 5), got our share of members’ bounces (mine was off a road, down a track and roll in the middle of the fairway), had our bad breaks (landing in water-filled bunkers), and had the putts that wouldn’t drop. We laughed a lot, and were good hosts for the two American tourists who’d been paired with us. They had arrived the day before and were in Jamaica for a friend’s wedding.

We got down to playing the team matches on Sunday morning. Breakfast was on offer–Jamaican-standard fare of ackee and salt fish. Players warmed up and teams got pairs ready. I was due to drive around with our team captain; I had a very sore knee after standing on pool deck so long on Friday, and aggravated by playing golf on Saturday. I was fine. We watched mainly our ladies team, who were in a tight match–they lost, but not for want of support.

LIME Cup day 2. Cinnamon Hill: ladies match; CEEN Legends versus Buccaneers. All happy, even as rivals
LIME Cup day 2. Cinnamon Hill: ladies match; CEEN Legends versus Buccaneers. All happy, even as rivals

We had a slow day, because the start had been backed up, and the loss of rhythm never helps. But, we got to noon and the break for lunch, just as rain was coming down hard. Everyone took a good long rest, ahead of the second round in the afternoon. The rain lashed down.

Play resumed late, and was over within half an hour and rain came teeming down again. The sponsors took advantage of the players and Appleton let the rum flow, while players started or continued stories of golf games maybe played in reality, but perhaps only in the mind. The noise was high. Many saw that the rain would not let up and started to make tracks to head home; Kingston was the main destination. I managed to hitch a ride with a doctor, who’s also a member of the club where I play.

We got into a set of conversations. First, we talked about the Hilton Hotel and Cinnamon Hill golf course, which do not seem to work together. I understand that the hotel does not own the golf course, but abuts its land. Tourists are always walking around the course, or watching play from hotel windows or perched on one of the mounds by the signature hole, number 5, that runs down to the sea. But, my experience had been that the hotel seemed to know or care little about the golf. Why? This is a perfect tourism marriage. At least, the foreigners should be tapped to throw their money into our economy.

We talked about how golf was not being sold well in Jamaica. At the least the seasoned players could be catered for better. But, the new waves of young people was there, who could benefit from exposure to the sport. True, we do not have the luxury of municipal courses (and our national economic problems would not make this a priority), as in many other countries, but options were there.

Golf carts are among the heavy investment needed in the sport, and needs paying customers
Golf carts are among the heavy investment needed in the sport, and needs paying customers

But, we are letting youth development opportunities slip away–not for the first time. We seemed to not want to build on what ought to be good pairings, of courses and hotels or resorts, especially in the main tourism areas, but also in the Kingston area, where this could be an adjunct to business travel.

Was it a hangover from a socialist-thinking administration? Was it just not seeing that every asset should be made to work for the national good? As we drove along, we talked about the good features of golf and saw some of its sad parts.

  • Braco Resort, in Rio Bueno, had a lovely 9-hole course, that is now overgrown, even though the resort is still up and running. It looked like nicely tended pasture. What would it take to revive that course?
  • The stretch between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay has more golf course on a continuous highway than I imagine anywhere in the world–6 courses: Sandals/Upton, Runaway Bay, Cinnamon Hill, Half Moon, Ironshore, and Tryall. Surely, a package could be put together to exploit that geographic blessing. They are all different, as is the way with golf course, and picturesque in their own ways. Ironshore stands out as being the only one that has no hotel associated with it.

We rolled our thoughts towards the courses elsewhere in the island. I mentioned that I had been struck by the lack of development of golf in Jamaica, and had drafted some thoughts and ideas about how to deal with that. We discussed where  I could perhaps send the paper.

Golf is a sport that needs a lot of money to support it, but we believed that it was there, if it were sought properly.

Our minds went back to the unfinished golf tournament. How would that be resolved? No matches had managed 9 holes, and the competition rules provided for that, if caused by ‘act of nature’, by awarding each team a half in each match. That would be fair and clear. However, it seemed that the great minds that are the captains of the team had met and decided that this rule would not apply. (I may be wrong about this, but let’s go with it as if it’s correct.) They decided to try to play the unfinished matches. The schedule was for the last set of round-robin matches to be played on June 1, in the morning, and the deciding matches for first to sixth place would be played in the afternoon. Now, the plan was to replay the matches washed out today, on May 31, and then go into the final day as scheduled on June 1. However, the newly arranged Satruday matches would be played at a course in Kingston, and players would head to Ocho Rios, as scheduled for the Sunday.

We thought that was not a very good solution. First, the rules took away the need to replay the washed-out matches. However, the sharing of points does not help everybody. Here comes human nature. Funnily, the teams who had been sitting in 1st and 2nd place at the start of Sunday, had been playing each other when the rain came again. A halving of that match would suit them both: the 1st place team, would almost guaranteed a place in the final, and the 2nd place team probably could not have done better than halve the match; so they would get more points than might have been the case. Two of the other four teams, however, stood to gain a lot if they could win their matches, so replaying would be in their interest. For two, it would raise their chances of finishing second; for two, it would perhaps boost them from the basement. Guess what? The voting for the ‘rule change’ reflected that set of calculations: the 1-2 teams voted to stick with the rule; the others voted to replay. Deal done.

My doctor driver was flabbergasted as he talked to another golfer as we drove. I said that the outcome was exactly what we should have expected, once the rule was not being applied. He held his head. We had been talking about how politicians can manipulate, and here we were watching people act like politicians. It would even have been better in our minds, if the round-robin matches were finished on the Saturday, and leave the Sunday for the finals, and more time for socialising, but also an earlier finish, which would suit many, but also allow for another weather delay. But, we had not been at the meeting.

It’s a sad truth, that once you have humans involved, you need to never lose sight of what motivation will do to their decision-making. Economics tells us about ‘rational man’ (who is often self-centred), and how he will try to maximise his benefits. Voila! It’s not just in the political arena that people are prepared to tear up things put in place by ‘our forefathers’ for good reasons, to protect the interests of many, and try to look after the interests of a few.

We reached the Spanish Town bypass, and turned our thoughts to how a new north-south highway would speed up journeys to the north coast. We looked over to the Grace Kennedy factory, with its massive tin of baked beans promoting the wares. We could see the observations tower of Tamarind Farm prison. A driver cut us off the road, as he and his passengers, without seat belts, careened along the highway. Connections. Disconnections.

TGIF?

The Kingston Corporate area has been in a drought; water restrictions were increased this week for areas served by the Mona Reservoir (which is now at 40 percent of capacity), meaning lock off during the nights. For most, that doesn’t mean much. I get up early most mornings, so am accustomed to the hiss of air and not water coming from the taps. (Our area is served by Constant Spring, which is at the dramatically low 21 percent of capacity.) I suggested to the assembled household that they catch some pans of water in the evenings, just in case the lock off is extended any morning, so that they could at least have a bath in a saucepan :-). So far, it’s not been a rough deal. The heat has started to rise and now we have had the first phase of regular afternoon rains, sometimes quite heavy, but not lasting for more than an hour or so.

Rains coming in Kingston
Rains coming in Kingston

My sporting activities are usually early in the mornings, but on Friday afternoons, I’ve been having a ‘date’ with a lady who wants to play a round a little.

Today, we were due to start a little later than usual because she needed to check on an elbow injury from playing too much tennis. As the afternoon approached, so did the rains, and by 1pm we were in a full inundation. “Are we rained out?” came the first message. I replied no. We could not agree on a time because she was stuck in traffic. When heavy rain comes, Kingstonians tend to head home early and roads start to flood creating a nasty admixture of heavy early afternoon traffic congestion.

Heavy rain in Kingston can quickly turn into flooded streets
Heavy rain in Kingston can quickly turn into flooded streets

Anyway, I grabbed some lunch and went to the club to wait for her. The rain had stopped. Small groups of players were headed out for their regular Friday afternoon sessions. I waited and stretched. The rain started again. “Just got home. Really rained out now,” came the message. She had decided that home was the place to be, but was kind enough to offer that I come for a drink. I drove the short distance to her house. Her security guard opened the gates and I parked. Her housekeeper was getting through her afternoon chores. I got a mixture of grapefruit and orange juice, and we sat to watch some tennis on TV. She never watches TV, so had to figure out how to get the system working. We decided to give up on that and went to sit in the garden.

The sky was beginning to clear up. She kept looking in the direction of the hills and the clouds rolling by. She decided to give it a go. We finished our drinks and changed into golfing gear. Her house is adjacent to the course, so we could walk from her garden. What a convenience. Well, not really. Her gate is at the top of a steep hill that is full of bush. We manhandled our golf bags down the hill like a pair of Sherpas on Mount Everest. Eventually, we slid the last few feet onto one of the fairways. No sooner had we put our feet on level ground than the rain started again. I strode manfully to the tee box; she followed. We both hit our first shots, and started off to find the balls. The rain was coming down more heavily. As we were about to continue, another group appeared on the tee. Well, they were not deterred, so we should not be. I had put on a rain jacket and it was already soaked. She did not have rain gear and her hair was sopping wet, and her clothes drenched. “This isn’t working,” she said calmly.

Always have rain gear on the course
Always have rain gear on the course

I laughed and told her that I expected a tougher attitude; we should at least try to get to the green and putt. She rolled her eyes at me. I hit my next shot onto the green.She made her shots. We both walked up to the green and looked to putt out the hole. Done, with no flurry, we headed back to our bags, so that we could somehow clamber back up the hill.

The next group came along. “Why are you climbing up that hill?” one lady asked. I joked that I had to find my ball and see if I had a shot. “Brave!” she said. My partner was already halfway up the hill. I was tugging my bag and the earth was sliding beneath my feet as the muddy surface offered little grip. My bag and pusher were pulling me back down the hill. I had to haul the bag over my shoulder and put the pusher ahead of me. “What a farce!” I thought. We made the last few feet, muddied and sweating now. We pulled ourselves and our equipment back into the garden.

We decided to sit and have some tea to warm us up–Russian chai was on offer. We talked about working in foreign countries, retirement, what would be good charitable ventures, helping homeless people, and more. We were getting cold as damp clothes were still on our backs. A second cup of tea came and went, and it was time to head home to get myself cleaned up. I would have to explain to my wife how and why I had slid down a hill with one of her friends and we were both covered in mud with leaves in our hair. Why were the golf scorecards blank? A-hem.

Russian tea cup filled with chai
Russian tea-cup, filled with chai

Everybody haffi eat a food?

Jamaicans have an expression, “Everybody haffi eat a food”. It means that everyone has to survive. It’s a euphemism to cover various corrupt practices that essentially parcel out work or create work so that friedns and cronies can benefit from necessary activities. But, needing to eat food is real. Humans often forget that they are part of the food chain, and not always at the top. We have few natural predators looking for us, but they are there.

Yesterday, I became food. I was out in the afternoon with a lady at Caymanas Park Golf Course. So, were the mosquitoes. They respectfully greeted us as we arrived and accompanied us quietly and attentively as we progressed around the course. They were a little too attentive, at time, especially when we entered bushes to find balls or for some private moments. I’d been the centre of their attention earlier in the week, around dawn on Monday, and had been shocked by the way they did not seem to take breaks even as the sun came up strongly. I used ‘Off-Deep Woods’ (green), but it seemed to do little to deter and even less to repel. The mosquitoes congregated on my legs and arms, and on my shirt back, and down my neck. It was more than a little irritating. My arms were beginning to show weals: as far as I know, I’m not allergic, but I’m aware of diseases. Jamaica does not have malaria and I’ve lived where that’s present. We do have dengue fever, though.

Off Repellent
Off Repellent

I recalled a recent article about dealing with mosquitoes by having bats around. The article began ‘Plagued by mosquitoes? You might want to consider getting a bat. It might not be practical.’ Well, thanks for nothing. Admittedly, I couldn’t see myself walking around a golf course with a bat around my neck or hanging from my bag, like my water bottle. I don’t know if there’s good habitat for them in the woods around Caymanas, which so happens to be getting lopped as highway and water pipe works are underway.

I battled on. I was being eaten by mosquitoes and beaten by a man walking alongside me. Hard to saw which was worse for my play. It got to the point where I could not take anymore, on the final hole, thankfully, I could not deal with the piercing feeling in my arms as a bevy of mosquitoes took my moment’s stillness to assault me. I swung back my driver and hoped as it came forward to the ball. I made contact and let the club fly. My ball went all of 20 yards (over 200 yards is normal). Let’s say I did not score well on that hole, nor did I score well overall. As we arrived at the green, a fellow golfer, no less than the president of the Jamaica Golf Association, was talking on his cell phone. He had on long pants and they were tucked into his socks. “How’re you enjoying our mosquitoes?”

Mosquito, ready to do battle with your skin
Mosquito, ready to do battle with your skin

he asked. We told him “Not very much.” His attire was one possible solution next time; my shorts were cool but not near the right outfit for these conditions. He looked at us in admiration, though: “I had to stop. I couldn’t play,” he added. We’d played the whole round.

Dress is relevant. A website advises: ‘Camouflage: Wear clothing that helps you blend in with the background. Mosquitoes have vision similar to bees, so they hone in on color contrast and movement. This is especially so in wooded areas. Remember that mosquitoes are a predator, so take a lesson from nature and be hard to see!’. But, the predatory instinct is well-honed. ‘They are unique in the insect world for having excellent eyesight, enabling them to single out a moving mammal target from hundreds of feet away. They are also hyper-sensitive to the carbon dioxide exhaled by all mammals, and can also pick up the scent of a drop of sweat from half a mile away.’ Basically, golfers are sitting targets’. Golf courses tend to have standing water, and mosquitoes love that for breeding–fun in a water-bed, eh. But, overall, we cannot win, whatever we do, it seems. I cannot walk around with one of the electronic zappers.

  • Part of the reason mosquitoes are so hard to eradicate is that the mosquito’s total lifespan is only twenty days on per-species average anyway, and some make their complete cycle in just four days. Their entire bodies are designed to do little else but eat, lay eggs, and die. Their eggs, however, can last a whole year before hatching.
  • The annoying buzz of a mosquito’s wings is said by those who have perfect pitch to be between the musical keys of D and F. La-la-la.
  • In a test of natural plants to see which one repels mosquitoes the best, it was discovered that clove oil is pretty effective. Too bad that it is also toxic to human skin! That’s going green, for you. 😛

The rains are just beginning for this year. We’ve had a very dry past three months. Mosquito eggs are ready to be hatched. Yesterday, was funny. When a heavy downpour came, the mozzies ran for cover, or really, went for a potty break. Once the rain stopped, the little fleet of Luftwaffe-like insects descended on us as if we were London ready to be blitzed.

An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cures? My wife would like me to use organic or natural methods, I’m sure, though I know she has stocked up on repellent sprays that are non-organic. 🙂 It’s about survival, baby. Well, I’d better start drinking my lemongrass tea–that worked really well in Guinea. I could walk with a few stalks of it, too, I guess. Mosquitoes don’t like mint, apparently, and I like mint tea, so maybe that’ll help too.

A luta continua, vitória Ê certa? Well, The struggle continues, but no victory is certain.

A luta continua
A luta continua

 

 

 

Man, you know what I’m worth? ‘Everyone haffi eat a food’

I wonder if Jamaica has something about its economic structure that would repay further study. Is it worth looking more closely at its forms of homo economicus?

Homo economicus
Homo economicus

To the extent that we understand what value means, it is clear that certain bodies of Jamaican economic life understand how to put value on what they do. Everything has a price, I learned in undergraduate economics. One breed of economic man in Jamaica makes sure you know it, as far as services go: the golf caddy. I learnt this a few months ago. Now, I am seeing it in wider context.

The Jamaican caddy usually works as a self-employed person.

Caddy watching attentively. Following the money?
Caddy watching attentively. Following the money?

He or she always works with cash transactions. He or she will do many things for the golfer. He or she will expect (not demand) payment for all the he/she does. Example: bag carrying is offered at a basic fee–let’s call that J$2000. That service covers cleaning clubs, finding balls, offering advice on choice of clubs, offering advice on tendency of ball on putting greens. That’s a good price for many important parts of a golfer’s game. However, the caddy may have to do more.

He or she may need to run or walk back to retrieve club covers for his/her employer of the day. It seems that this is included in the basic price.

The caddy, however, expects additional payment if any of the services are offered and taken by players other than the prime employer. I have learned to avoid all contact with a caddy whom I have not employed. “Boss, you owe me a 10 bills,” does not need to come near my ear.

A friend and I played a round yesterday afternoon; she’d not played in a while-over a year, I think. We had a great time. At some stage, she forgot a club. The group playing behind us came by and indicated that one of the caddies had found her club. It was returned to the lady. She was happy, as she was just in need of the particular club. She went off to play her shot. “Mr. Dennis, is usually a drink fi di caddy fi fin’ a club,” a caddy I knew whispered in my ear. I told him I would mention it to the lady.

Later in our round another caddy came up to me and said “Barssy! A fi yu club dis? Yu kno’ some o’ dem wudda kup tek it an’ keep it,” I took the club. I understood the comment, and let the man have J$100. (I’m not sure what he drinks, but in Jamaica that’s enough for a hefty snifter or a beer.)

We finished our round and I mentioned to my lady friend what I’d been told before. She was visibly taken aback. “In Canada, people would just return a club and that would be it,” she said. I took people to mean other golfers, and that would be my expectation, too. But, amateur golfers are not playing to get paid. She went in search of the caddy, and funnily he was already in search of her. They met. They spoke. She paid. Happy couple.

Jamaica is full of people who know how to extract payment for many things for which no payment is made in other countries, or for which payment is regulated in other ways in other countries. Sometimes, we see that as extortion. Sometimes, we see it as ‘making a living’. Kind words don’t fill hungry bellies.

Out of many, one people? Know your place!

The Caribbean is full of class differences. We can argue about their origins, but undoubtedly they exist. Their proximate bases may be income, schooling, speech, skin colour and tone, gender, geography, or more. How they play out in everyday life is very varied. I’m not going to try to capture much of that, but reflect on a few recent incidents that show, worryingly in my mind, that people in Jamaica are still tied up in class knots.

Yesterday, I was on the verge of meeting one of the pinnacles of a class system–a member of a country’s royal family. Let’s not argue here about whether the British Monarchy is merely symbolic; we have them, still.

Prince Edward greets a Jamaican reception committee
Prince Edward greets a Jamaican reception committee

We did not know what to expect, but I suspect most people were ready to be on their best behaviour.

Cut away, now, to the event to which the British prince was coming. I was out playing golf, and having a good time interacting with my playing partners and the two caddies they were sharing. It was a hot day, and we had all been doing the smart thing of taking in fluids, thanks to one of the sponsors, Wisynco, who had provided ample supplies of Wata (plain and flavoured). Being on a golf course for four hours or so, drains energy, and most players will bring food with them. I have protein bar, trail mix, and often take a carb filler, like bulla. This time, we were treated to the offer of a beef patty about midway through the play. One player asked if there were patties for the caddies. “No! No food for the caddies!” we were told in a very hostile manner.

Now, perhaps I have become too sensitive because of my years living in Europe and the USA, but there are ways of denying something to one group of people that is being offered to another group, especially when both groups are present. The caddies seemed to understand how things operated and got back to handling clubs, wiping balls, finding balls, helping read greens and generally keeping the players on an even keel. The players in my group had a discussion about this incident. We were agreed that it was both distasteful and unnecessary. Sorry, if there are 80 players and they each get a patty, then the caddies numbering no more than half that figure could be offered that basic and relatively cheap food (about US$1.10 each; call that US$90). If someone felt that the caddies needed to be ‘kept in their place’, they could even have each been offered half a patty (call that between US$20-45).

Golf has had a long history of making it very clear that caddies and players are not equals.tiger caddy In the US, that had the overlay of racism, with black caddies having a different and worse form of discrimination to deal with. One of the sweet ironies of all that is, two of the greatest ever golf players, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, were products of caddy shacks. One of the other sweet ironies is that the best player in the modern area is a black player–one of very few golf professionals who are not white.

Caddies in Jamaica have their work on the course as their main source of income. Don’t work, don’t get paid. Do something extra, you may make a little extra. Treat your players right and the world will be a better place. Many players have regular caddies, whom they trust and work with closely. Despite that close relationship, both sides know that most club houses are off-limits for caddies; settlement of fees has to take place before the player ‘goes into the club house’. It gets interesting when you have a caddy playing in a tournament, but of course the new and old roles are not confused.

Some people love to have the opportunity to make sure that they put people in the category that they need them to hold. “Know your place!”

While the prince was presented to the players and organizers of the event, from what I had heard, he was never presented to the caddies.

There is a deeper set of issues at play, so to speak, as far as Jamaica is concerned.

Solid as “Concrete”

When a man tells you his name is “Concrete” what should you think? When the man looks to be in his 60s, you’d imagine that this name was earned by something quite significant. I’m not accustomed to playing golf with a caddy, in the same way that I’m not used to playing golf from a motorized golf cart. But, Jamaica is forcing me to reconsider how I do many things. My caddy today was named “Concrete”; he had been caddying since 1959 and was in his mid-60s. I told him that I wanted to walk and he told me that he did not use a pull cart, but would carry my bag. I should have put the bag on my back. I put pull cart back in the car. I explained that I wanted him to guide me around the course, as I practised ahead of a tournament this coming weekend. “Trust me! Trust the club I give you!” he told me.

I quickly bowed to his wisdom as we started with a birdie score on the first hole. I followed that up with a series of scores I’ve only ever seen on a professional’s card, when I was scoring at two over par through 7 holes. I was trying to put into practice advice given to me by a caddy in Montego Bay last week, and my mantra to myself was simple: “Head still. Put fire ‘pon de grass!” It was working. The other caddy working with my partner asked me what was my handicap and I told him that it was 20. “Do you think you’re playing like that?” he asked. I said, “No”: I was playing like a scratch golfer. It felt strange, but decidedly pleasant.

Golf can reward you well for the simple things mastered. In the same way, it penalizes when those lessons are not followed. I could not sustain the good play through 18 holes, but I still put up a much better-than-average score for my handicap. I admire the way that the pros and good amateurs sustain their level of play and concentration.

Golf in Jamaica has always had black caddies and we are not in the position of seeing them as racially restricted in terms of what they can do. “Concrete” told me that he can play on the course two days a week.march31_carl_299x218_0.jpg I asked him to show me a few shots of his own. His body, smaller than mine, and wiry, coiled like a snake and the ball effortlessly left his club and sailed towards a green 100 yards away.

Caddying is not high-paying work in an absolute sense, but it’s a source of regular income. With tips, being a caddy can be more than a meagre living. Players may buy caddies drinks or food, so they do alright. After our round, our caddies were champing at the bit to leave us as ‘their bosses’ were just showing up for some afternoon golf. We’d taken a little extra time because we practised, so one of the caddies pointed out that our tip needed to compensate for his losing the chance to work with the afternoon group. We considered that, but didn’t bend for it. In an economy and society starved of jobs, when you have work and can turn that into a money earner by doing more than specified or getting more than agreed, then it’s going to happen. Caddies don’t need to beg. They often earn their fees in finding balls in some deep bush that would otherwise be lost and need to be replaced, thus saving the player a few dollars each round. They can often ‘encourage’ payments by giving really solid advice, which when well followed gives the player the desired results. “Pay up!” I was all ready to quit golf and hug my caddy after my start, and we were all smiles.

I’ll be honest, I’ve seen only a few caddies work up close, but some of them are little better than piranhas. Legend_of_Bagger_VanceImages of Caddy Shack come to mind. But, so too, do images of people swimming in a sea full of sharks. People have talked to me about things ‘missing’ from their bags after a round of golf. I’m not going to go beyond what I’ve experienced, but just mention that the relationship need not be good. Players are a sources of funds and when it’s possible to get that in underhand ways, motive and opportunity may be too close. A lady player, with whom I played last week, was really angry when the caddy she’d agreed would work with her had not showed up but another caddy–for whom she did not have a good feeling–came up to say he had been told by her bagger to replace him. Not really his call, and he made things worse by wanting to put his clothes in the lady’s car, then taking her umbrella to go sit with her golf bag.

“Concrete” wont have his name tainted by any story of wrong doing or just bad etiquette. If I get the chance to do so, I’ll ask for his help this weekend. I told him that his help and advice given to me from last week were helping me hit drives about 30 yards longer, and I was getting about 20 yards more from each club.

Can I do that on a regular basis? Time will tell. “Concrete” has a vested interest in my improving. I represent a potentially good meal ticket 🙂