With the hoopla of the Parapan Am Games coming to Canada, a personal tribute to a less heralded sporting activity
By Stephen Trumper
Every sport has its evocative sounds: the resounding thwack! of baseball bat hitting a monster homer; the sharp plink! of puck bouncing off a goalpost; the mighty whomp! of tennis racquet sending a sizzling ball across court.
But Kerplunk!? Thud!?
They’re the sounds I associate with mini-golf, a favorite sport during the earlier, limp-lurching part of my life: Kerplunk!, you probably guessed, is the pleasing sound of dimpled, brightly coloured ball rolling into a white plastic cup. As for Thud!: That’s the unmistakable sound of me crashing to the ground after, yet again, tripping over a wooden border.
During high school and afterward my friend Hans was my putting buddy. He has cerebral palsy. He doesn’t limp. But he does lurch. And go Thud! We were a sight. Despite mini-landscapes filled with eye-catching windmills, hanging logs, split-tire loop-de-loops, gnomes and more gnomes, Hans and I got most of the attention.
My Dad’s friend Vic predicted that our high profile wherever we went would translate into loads of rides when we decided to hitchhike out east. “Just imagine the two of them by the highway,” he exclaimed. “People will screech to a halt, get out of their cars and run toward Steve and Hans, asking, ‘Where’s the accident?’”
Vic was wrong. Drivers, with a few exceptions, sped up on spotting us, zipping by with a disheartening Whoosh! after Whoosh!
I soon discovered I had no enthusiasm for hitchhiking (Hans did, going on to have many adventures). I preferred to be behind the wheel of my own car, driving to bookstores, newsstands and mini-golf courses.
I practised a lot, especially at my local: a tired but cozy course near my home. It was fun, despite the occasional Thud!
In time I developed a knack for and knowledge of the game. I could make some tricky carom shots. I could talk at length about the sport’s history – that it was a mega-hit during the Depression years and that there was once over 100 rooftop courses in New York City. My growing enthusiasm led to an interview on CBC Radio. A few years later I pitched an article on the city’s most challenging mini-golf holes to my editor at Toronto Life.
We quickly hatched a plan. I would return to my favorite courses, re-play them, take notes and snap photos of my top picks. Next, I would track down George Knudson, one of Canada’s greatest golf pros, to see if he would help produce the article. He agreed and invited me to the bar at his club.
I hadn’t told him about my disability on the phone so, when we met a few days later, he seemed a little taken aback when I limped-lurched up to him. But George took it in stride, and started looking through my Polaroids. The idea, I reminded him, was to tell our readers, in a light-hearted way, how he would approach these holes.
He studied the photos carefully, took a few swigs of his beer, held up a shot of a growling fake tiger, smiled and suggested that the golfer should be particularly cautious with such a big kitty.
Over the next hour George really got into the swing of the project, giving me great quotes for an article we titled, “Six Tough Putts.”
It remains a fond mini-golf memory, topped only by the times when Hans and I would go to our 19th hole, Baskin-Robbins, to discuss our play but also to talk about life, school, dating (more dreaming than doing), parents (how to make them understand how difficult it could be to grow up with significant impairments) and more.
Our conversations were laced with laughter, sighs of frustration, the low murmurs of emotional revelations. No Kerplunks!, Thuds!, Thwacks!, Plinks!, Whomps! nor Whooshes! – just the heartening sounds of two friends with disabilities bonding.
Stephen Trumper serves on the board of the Canadian Abilities Foundation. He is an independent writer and editor. He is also a journalism instructor at Ryerson University.