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Monday, April 15, 2024
Featured: Doug Garrett A sporting warrior turns 92


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Doug Garrett is a warrior.

A proud former army reservist who still turns out for Remembrance Day every year.

A Legion member for 64 years and a Mason for a half-century. A volunteer firefighter for two decades.

A man who was born in the Roaring Twenties, grew up in the Great Depression and was once a local milkman, making daily deliveries by horse-drawn wagon.

A literal legend in the local sporting community where he has set records on the golf course that might never be matched.

A father, grandfather and husband. A cancer survivor turned caregiver for his wife Christine, who at age 82 now faces her own mortal battle with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Garrett turns 92 on May 20, and when you get to be his age, all the numbers in your life are big ones.

Born and bred in Niagara-on-the-Lake, he would be a deserving candidate if there was such a title as “Mr. NOTL.”

At 5 foot 6 and 150 pounds in his prime, he has been a diminutive giant in his community and in sporting endeavours, including playing Senior B level competitive hockey. “I was small, but I was fast,” he recalls.

Growing up in NOTL, “There was very little to do, except get into a bit of trouble sometimes,” he laughs.

Not that they got up to anything really bad. But they all made sure not to be on the wrong side of the L.A.W. “That’s Lew A. Warner. He was the chief of police in town and he kept a tight lid on things.”

Fort Mississauga, the national historic site on the grounds beside the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, was a favourite haunt for kids in the 1930s, he says.

“All through the parapets at the fort, we used to play in the tunnels in the embankment around there. We’d crawl through them and every kid in town played there.”

“It was really silly when you think about it because, if they had collapsed nobody would have known where we were.”

“Our parents didn’t know we were doing this, of course,” he says with a laugh.

Eventually the tunnels were closed off. As for the mythical tunnels under what is now the Charles Inn, he says he never saw any evidence of them.

In 1944, when he was in Grade 11, his father John died and young Garrett dropped out and started working to help support his mom and two brothers.

He had been too young to fight in the Second World War, turning 18 just before it ended, but he did sign up for the reserves. He served five years, 1945-50 with the 44th Field Regiment in St. Catharines.

He worked various jobs over the next 15 or so years, including more than a decade as a meat cutter for area butchers and delivering milk the old-fashioned way for Avondale Dairies when his sons David and Paul were young. Garrett and his sweetheart Dorothy were married in 1956; she died of cancer in the mid-1970s.

He married Christine in 1979 and they’ve been together ever since. She nursed him through his bout with colon cancer and he cared for her at home until Christine’s daughter Kelly and Garrett made the decision to move her to Upper Canada Lodge.

Back in 1962, Garrett settled in to a career with the LCBO, starting at the small store in Old Town. He spent 28 years with the LCBO, eventually as manager of various locations in St. Catharines.

Back in those days, having political connections could help you get hired at the liquor store, and Garrett recalls the last regional supervisor he worked for was someone he and others didn’t get along with.

“He was an appliance salesman from Toronto, a political appointment, and he came in trying to tell us how to run things.” It didn’t end well. Eventually, Garrett and six other managers all retired simultaneously, which caused head office to sit up and take notice, he says.

He’s loved his retirement years, always keeping busy. “Unfortunately, I was a pallbearer at the funerals for all six of those other guys,” he says. They didn’t really have much to do once they stopped working. “That’s essential,” he says.

One of the things Garrett keeps busy at is golf.

Like many young golfers, his first club was given to him by an older player – it was a cut-down, wooden-shafted iron. “For a long time, I only had one club.”

Matters were complicated somewhat by the fact Garrett plays left-handed. Even in the 1970s and ’80s it was tough to find clubs for lefties. In the ’50s and earlier, they were extremely rare.

But it didn’t deter him. He played and practised and competed.

Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major golf tournament wins is something that might never be matched. But consider just some of Garrett’s amateur feats on the links in NOTL. He has won:

Three open championship titles. And was runner-up six times.

Twelve seniors champ crowns.

Eight super senior titles (for those 65 and up).

Five “Legends” titles (for those 80 and up – the only time, so far, anyone else has won it is when Garrett didn’t compete).

One Champion of Champions seniors title for Niagara district. That tournament pits the club champions from around the area against one another. “I was the first lefty, and probably the only lefty, to have won that,” he says.

Also mixed in there were five seniors titles at Queenston Golf Club.

In golf, anyone can get lucky and have a hole in one. Garrett has only done it once, in 1951. However, shooting an 18-hole score that is less than your age is a feat that few accomplish. Garrett can’t recall how many times he’s done it, because it has happened so often. And he’s still doing it.

Likely his most spectacular course accomplishment occurred on Sept. 20, 1995.

Sometimes in sports, the stars are all just rightly aligned: Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater bounces four times on the rim and drops in, Joe Carter steps to the plate and knocks the ball over the fence for a walk-off World Series win.

On that cool, sunny fall Friday in NOTL, almost everything was going Garrett’s way. He shot a remarkable four-under 32 on the front nine – despite a bogey on the 9th hole. On the back nine, he kept it rolling, but somehow bogeyed the 15th, not one of the tougher holes on the course. “Two bogeys that day,” he exclaims.

Heading to the final hole, a tough 225-yard par 3 that is difficult to reach from the tee, he wanted to finish well. “I didn’t hit a good tee shot. It was short of the green.”

So what did Garrett do? He stepped up and chipped in for a birdie two.

And a seniors course record that still stands almost 24 years later.

Garrett shot 66 that day. He was 68 years old.

That’s what a warrior does.

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