Doing our part for a friend

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 6:44 AM ET

Gord Gregory died last May, another soldier down in the never-ending war on cancer.

He wasn't famous but -- who knows? -- he might have been had he not wrecked his knee just before the Montreal Olympics. Back then, Gord was a Canadian champion judoka who had earned a spot in the 1976 Games.

Later on, he was an excellent salesman, devoted family man, gourmet cook, outrageous practical joker, all-round party animal and a total golf nut, not necessarily in that order.

Then he got sick and fought right to the end with every fiber of his being. He left behind a wife (Pam), a daughter (Kelly) and a son (Chris) by a previous marriage, as well as legions of friends.

And so it was that a couple hundred of us arrived at Royal Ashburn Golf Club on a gorgeous springtime Sunday afternoon to share a few stories, a few laughs and a few tears.

Near the end of that celebration of Gord's life, every family was given a small mesh bag tied with a ribbon.

Inside was a golf ball.

One side of the ball was emblazoned with the name "Gord Gregory." On the other side were the words "Hit Me With Your Best Shot."

We were instructed to take our ball someplace special in the world, then grip it and rip it. The idea, which came from the fertile brain of Pam's sister, Penny Smith, was that when the last ball had been smacked, there would be 175 tiny, white, dimpled Gord Gregory memorials spread all over the globe.

When I headed off to cover the British Open in July, it was tucked in my carry bag. What better place but Scotland to carry out the last wishes of a golf junkie? And the place I had in mind, Carnoustie Golf Links, in my opinion the toughest golf course on the planet, was already on my itinerary.

Upon arrival at Carnoustie with a couple of other newspaper degenerates, I explained my duty to our Scottish host Chris Smith, a past club captain at Carnoustie.

He was immediately enchanted.

Over the years, Chris has struck up a friendship with many Canadians, including some of us in the press. It must have something to do with our shared love of golf, but there is a suspicion that it also has something to do with our mutual appreciation of beer.

In any event, there's no doubt in my mind that Chris and Gord were cut of the same cloth.

As we made our way around the torture-chamber known as Carnoustie, Gord's ball burning a hole in my pocket, I consulted Chris.

"Not yet," he said each time.

Then, on the 14th tee, he nodded his head.

"It's time to break out Gord's ball," he said.

Carnoustie's 14th, known throughout the golf world as "Spectacles," is a nasty bit of business.

For us mere mortals, it plays as a par-5. For the professionals who will compete there in the British Open in 2007, it is a beefy par-4.

Far down the fairway, guarding the green, are two mounds, each with a hellacious bunker carved into it. It appears as a set of eyes staring back down the fairway, daring all comers.

Hence the name Spectacles.

It is protected on the left side by a forest of gorse, that most gnarly of thorny Scottish plant life. These awful bushes feed on golf balls and the human flesh of those who would try to retrieve those golf balls.

"A wee pull-hook will do," Smith said. Fortunately, I have that shot.

The ball sailed to its new resting place like a homing pigeon at dinner time. After consultation, I was awarded a mulligan, given the gravity of my mission.

We saluted Gord and marched on.

All this has been duly reported to Pam Gregory. All summer she has been hearing from folks who have immortalized her husband on courses all over the globe.

Nice stories. Healing stories.

"The balls have been hit in Egypt, Scotland, Texas, California, British Columbia and on Bigwin Island, a course Gord loved," she said.

CLOSE TO HOME

"Our neighbours in Pickering chose to keep Gord close to them, so they dropped the ball in their backyard pond."

Plenty more tales to come, to be sure, as more and more friends find just the right place to hit it with their best shot.

And if you happen to find one in your travels, just follow the directions on the ball. Sadly, it won't cure cancer or bring back Gord to those who miss him most.

It's just a nice way to remember.


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