Playing a round in Yukon’s quirky golf tourney

I almost felt bad getting a spot in the One Club Wonder Invitational. Almost. It doesn't have invitational in its name to sound prestigious.

I almost felt bad getting a spot in the One Club Wonder Invitational. Almost.

It doesn’t have invitational in its name to sound prestigious. An invitation is the only way in.

The tournament reaches its cap each year, and with me in it, someone else was stuck at home mowing the lawn.

It features a who’s who of Yukon golf. Past and present Yukon champions are guaranteed a spot and they rarely miss it. There are executives of the Yukon Golf Association and long-time members of the hosting Mountain View Golf Course in Whitehorse. Even the club pros play it.

Before tee off many of them looked at me, the local sports reporter, with a baffled look on their face, as if trying to figure out why I had a golf club in my hand instead of a camera or notepad. I cover events; I don’t take part. I snap photos from the bushes at golf tournaments.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I landed an invite. But why not? The whole event is a little kooky.

In the One Club Wonder each golfer selects a single club from their bag and uses it for the entire round. It acts as driver, iron, wedge and putter.

It started 19 years ago with a group of friends playing a back nine in October, teeing off in one of the first snowfalls of the season.

“We went out, thought it was a good idea, and it just grew over time,” said inaugural player Patrick Michael, who continues to organize the tournament each year. “I think we’re relatively rare. I wouldn’t want to say for a moment we’re unique.

I’ve heard of others where they go with three-club tournaments.”

It is not a completely original idea. There have been one-club world championships. Using a six-iron, American Thad Daber won the championship in 1987 with a two-under-par 70, a record that stands today, according to the Guinness World Record Book.

“I look forward to it every year for both the challenge of playing with one club and the social aspect,” said Mountain View club pro Jeff Wiggins, who selected a seven-iron for the invitational on Sept. 12.

“I have received international emails with questions with how we run it, what the rules are. It seems to be one of the few events that actually uses just one club. Many of the other events held internationally use one club and a putter. We don’t.”

There is one element to Whitehorse’s one-clubber that seems to make it unique. Booze.

In the early years the tournament was held in October, about the time most Yukoners store their clubs and start waxing their skis. To battle the chill, Michael and his friends would set off with small 200-millitre bottles of St-Remy Brandy.

Though the event is now held in slightly warmer September, the hooch has remained a part. It’s in the rules, in fact. Each golfer is assigned a small bottle of the sauce before hole one and must consume it before stepping off 18. The menu has changed over time with the addition of whiskey, vodka and rum. There’s also the option of Baileys Irish Cream, but that comes with teasing from fellow golfers and occasionally the nickname Nancy.

“It’s kind of rotgut, so we’ve given in to people who couldn’t really handle brandy,” said Michael. “We have a single malt we give out – the Glenlivet. It’s a nice single malt scotch. We treat others to Crown Royal.” Those caught mixing the fine Glenlivet scotch with anything other than water will be issued a five-stroke penalty, warned Michael before the tourney.

I went with the Crown Royal. As a print journalist, I consider 200 ml of rye whiskey more of a snack: something had after eggs, before bacon, at breakfast. I finished my little bottle on the front nine and switched to beer on the back.

Like most in the tournament, I went to the middle of the bag, selecting a seven-iron. Walking the course with just one club felt like having a caddie.

Without the option of a driver, I stayed on the fairway and finished with the same ball I started with.

If not for chipping and putting, I’d be convinced the 14-club bag was a marketing scheme perpetrated by the equipment industry.

My seven-iron would send my chip shots scurrying across the green like a rock skipping on a pond.

Putting with an iron is no picnic either.

Still, I managed to card a respectable 98 to tie for 20th out of 36 golfers. The average for the tournament was 96 – the lowest in tournament history – with eight birdies, 143 pars and oodles of bogeys on the day.

My 98 was a far cry from the winning score, though. Whitehorse’s Blaine Tessier used his eight-iron to tie the tournament record of 77 for his sixth title in 10 years.

“It’s the most fun. I enjoy this tournament more than any other tournament put on all year,” said Tessier, a multiple-time Yukon champ. “Always knowing what club you have to hit … You have to take a club that you can keep in play, you can use putting and around the greens, and keep it out of the water on (holes) two and 10.”

There is one final quirk: the Golden Cardigan, the tournament’s answer to the Green Jacket of the Masters. The winner each year gets the privilege of wearing a time-honoured yellow cardigan, the colour hotdog mustard takes after years in the fridge.

It is quite a horrid thing. I’d wear it all the time.

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com

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