Potlatch golf

7 05 2014

A couple of weeks ago the Sandbaggers embarked on the third edition of our Match Play championship. In the early rounds we just throw balls into the air to decide who gets to play whom and today the fickle finger of fate pointed at me and L’il Stevie Ellis. I’ve been on a relatively hot streak of late and my handicap has come down to ten. For Stevie, on the other hand, things have gone from bad to worse and as his confidence level has gone down so his scores have gone up and his handicap has risen from his usual 15 or so to 19. He wouldn’t have been feeling much better after the first hole when he three putted to put me one up. I promptly topped and skulled my way to a double on the relatively easy second hole to even things up, and so it went on: Steve would mess up a shot and then I’d follow suit. Rod Cobham, who was playing with us, would take great delight in announcing loudly to the (imaginary) fans that “the hole is halved in sixes. The match remains all square.” It was truly ugly golf but, as is the way in match play, a hole won is a hole won, whether you birdie it or make double bogey.

After nine holes of this horrible exhibition a thought occurred to me. “Stevie,” I said, “We’re playing Potlatch golf.” Stevie burst out laughing and nodded his head in agreement. For those of you (probably non-Canadians) who don’t get this cultural reference, let me digress for a moment and quote from Wikipedia:

In the Chinook culture, Potlatch refers to “the different ceremonies among the many nations of the Pacific Northwest that include feasting, dancing and giving gifts to all in attendance”. To the indigenous peoples, the Potlatch was a great institution. It encouraged people to give away their earnings and possessions in exchange, the giver would receive a great deal of respect and be seen as honourable to his tribe and others.

However, John A. Macdonald did not see this tradition as valuable or appropriate and, under the guise of unifying the Dominion of Canada, encouraged the government to lay “an iron hand on the shoulders of the native people” by restricting some of their non-essential, inappropriate rituals and leading them towards what he perceived as a more European mindset. In 1885 an amendment to the Indian Act of 1880, on the grounds of “health, morality and economics”, made it illegal for natives to give away all their possessions.

The way Stevie and I were giving holes away to each other could not have been more in keeping with the traditions of Potlatch, and on the back nine we took things to a whole new level. We halved the tenth hole with sevens. Steve shanked his tee shot on #12 but won the hole with a double bogey when I promptly hit mine against a hazard stake from where it rebounded into the pond. I three putted #14 from 15 feet to lose the hole; Steve returned the favour on #15. For Rod, who was having a pretty good round, it must have been painful to watch. Finally, we reached the penultimate hole with me clinging to a one up lead. Steve hit a fine tee shot, only twelve feet or so from the flag but just on the fringe. My tee shot finished on the green, but perhaps sixty feet away from the pin. In complete contrast to everything I’d done over the previous three hours, I drained the putt. Steve’s attempt grazed the hole but didn’t drop and the match – and the Potlatch – was over. As far as our scores are concerned, all I’m prepared to say is that I broke 90 (just) and Stevie broke 100. In match play it just goes down as 2 and 1. It wasn’t pretty but, in the best traditions of match play, it was a close game, played in a friendly spirit, despite how badly we felt about our respective performances. Just as well neither of us was playing Rod, though – he’d have waxed us both!

Bagger Dave (who placed 3rd) and Li'l Stevie Ellis (also 3rd. 3rd from last)

Stevie and me in happier, pre-potlatch, times.

All da best!


Dave B.




4 responses

7 05 2014

Ah Dave…I had a hard time keeping clear the streams of tears running down my face as I visualized your respective back nines. Wonderful story, great entry. Thanks.

7 05 2014
Bagger Dave

I felt like crying too, Martin – but it wasn’t tears of laughter…

7 05 2014

Dave and Steve, during my thirty six plus years of policing many of the native tribes on Canada’s west coast and hearing many stories about how the police would storm the village,shut down the Potlatch, make arrests and seize valuable artifacts. However in all my travels I have never seen such a sorry looking pair. What tribe did you say the two of you are from ???
p.s. Thanks for the laugh !!.

7 05 2014
Bagger Dave

We are from the Fukawi tribe, Mr Doyle. After every bad shot we look at each other and say “What the fukawi doing?”

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