Retiring from the game I love was a difficult decision for many reasons. Curling afforded me many fantastic opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had, and I knew I would be giving up some of those when I tossed my last competitive stone. I’m thankful I was able to leave the game with few regrets, but one had always stuck with me – I never had the chance to play an event in Scotland, the birthplace of our sport. So, when Golf Away Tours presented my TSN colleague Bryan Mudryk, and I with the opportunity to host a golf getaway with a little curling mixed in, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Ten of us set out for an action-packed Scottish adventure. Several group members jokingly pondered how much scotch we would consume before all was said and done. When I inquired whether that was a necessary part of the cultural acclimation process, I received a rather emphatic yes and quickly realized there would be no room for compromise on this issue. A wave of hesitation washed over me when it came time to try the native nectar, but when in Rome…er, Scotland, I suppose.
I will spare you the unpleasant adjectives and just say it has quite the unique flavor. Four doctors were among our crew – one of whom just happened to be a liver doctor. After I took the first sip, I was extremely grateful he was there. Despite my body’s inner protests, I tried several times to acquire a taste. I never quite made it, and that is my one regret from the trip. I tried several different kinds, each featuring a distinctive note that I could not seem to make myself appreciate. Peat, cork, leather, gasoline – for some reason my palate did not take to those supposedly enjoyable flavors.
I absolutely did not want to offend anyone, but I also know my limits. While I decided to temporarily throw in the towel, several of my travel companions were converted.
In the end, I decided to stick to wine (and the odd Rusty Nail) and live vicariously through them for the remainder of the trip.
If this getaway becomes an annual event, I have to give it another shot. The score might be Scotch – 1, Cheryl – 0, but I’ve never been a quitter and I’m not about to start now.
We moved on to something a little more my speed – golfing. Our group split into two teams; match play the first five days and singles match play the sixth and final day. Of course, a little friendly wager was in order. We weren’t quite competing for the Claret Jug, but the losing team would have to buy dinner at the end of the week. That was all it took to stoke my competitive fire. My mouth was already watering at the thought of tasting that victory haggis. Kind of.
If you’ve watched a British Open, you know how stunning the coastal views are…and how difficult the weather conditions can be. Having now experienced for myself the blowing rain in my eyes and devilish crosswinds whipping across my face when trying to hack my way out of the thick, waist-high fescue that seemingly lined every hole, I have a new appreciation for what the players must endure to win the aforementioned Claret Jug trophy.
Never before have I needed to factor in wind when putting. Reading the breaks on the greens wasn’t as important as timing your putt so that a gust wouldn’t come along and completely blow the ball off line. Locals said to expect a score 10 strokes higher than you normally shoot. The longer I played, the more I realized that might be a conservative estimate. At home, you probably wouldn’t tee off on a day with 50 km winds. In Scotland, it was just another day on the majestic fairways of some of the most storied golf courses in history.
The golf was a challenge, and I enjoyed every second. Walking along the historic fairways of St. Andrews, Carnoustie, and Kingsbarns…standing where greats like Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus won championships, gave me more than a few chills, and it wasn’t just the wind. The magnitude of where we were and what we were privileged to be doing was certainly not lost on our group.
I am sad and humbled to report I was not a part of the winning team on our golf adventure. We fought valiantly, but in the end, Mother Nature (and some steady golfers on “Team Rule”) got the best of us. The bitter pill of defeat is a tough one to swallow, but knowing I had the chance to play in the very spots where the sport was born made it go down a bit easier. And since I also happened to be in the birthplace of curling, I felt confident I would fare a bit better when it came time to hit the Scottish ice.
Entering Forfar Curling Centre, we were immediately welcomed with open arms from the minute we arrived and treated as though we were lifelong members. It was like stepping into my home club. The members and staff could not have been more warm and accommodating. I’ve been in curling venues all over the globe and I always come away with the same sense of pride. Language barriers or skill levels don’t matter, there is always an unspoken connection among those of us who love them game.
Excitement quickly turned to apprehension as we learned we would be subjected to what is known as “Curlers Court”, an initiation ceremony officially inducting us into the curling brethren. Having dedicated my life to the sport, I was quite surprised to have never heard of this ritual. Despite all the hard work I put into having a successful curling career, I was not a considered a “made” curler. A bit of an ego bruise, I must say.
Those fortunate enough to be inducted are strictly prohibited from revealing details – it’s all part of the mystique. In other words, if I told you, I’d have to kill you, and since violence is not in my nature, I shall keep the details to myself. Suffice it to say we made it out alive and I can now officially call myself a made curler. What an honour!
No matter if we were curling or golfing, each day on this adventure reinforced to me that the best part about sports is the camaraderie. I know first-hand about the relationships made…the bonds forged through participating in these magnificent games. That’s why I am so passionate about giving back and especially introducing the game to kids. I want them to have the same opportunities I have been so fortunate to experience because I know how life-changing they can be.
Curling has provided opportunities I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams. When I stop and reflect on what our sport has done for me, there is no measure for the amount of gratitude I feel. I have met and become friends with so many wonderful people whose paths I never would have crossed if it weren’t for my involvement in the game. The people make this game. For the rest of my life, I can travel to any country, walk into a curling rink, and feel an instant connection. What a gift that is.
So many people have asked me about the trip since I returned home, and it truly is difficult to articulate. Epic is the word that comes to mind the most. I travelled to a part of the world to which I had never been. I got to experience two of my biggest passions, curling and golf, in surroundings that must be seen to be justly appreciated. And most importantly, I met and made friends with an amazing group of people. For me, it doesn’t get any better.
Plans are underway for the 2nd annual “Swing & Sweep” Trip and true to my word, I have signed on again to host the 2017 trip and look very much forward to meeting those of you who join us!
Learn more about how you can experience your own golf adventure by going to: www.golfawaytours.com
View our trip video, created by our own Kelly Burak Sweep&Swing2016