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Author: Neil White
Ambassador

Golf is great therapy during cancer treatment

05 January 2023
6 min. read
Neil White
Two years ago, I had set out to be the first golfer to play the top 100 listed courses in England, GB & Ireland, Europe and The World but my plans were put on hold by a doctor's diagnosis.
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“If you can, try to keep the golf going. Maybe nine holes now and again,” came the sage advice from Mrs W’s breast cancer consultant. 

Just three weeks previously, she had retired and the first trip of our brave new world was a tour of Nova Scotia, including golf at the wonderful Cabot Links and Cliffs. 

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Extreme golf tourist

In 2020, at the end of the Covid lockdown in the UK, I had set out with the crazy notion to be the first person to play the top 100 courses in England, GB & Ireland, Europe and The World. 

I had read books and blogs by other extreme golf tourists and they suggested writing a blog (mine is www.thegolfpilgrim.com) and supporting it with social media posts. Having been a journalist for more than 35 years and an avid golfer for more than a decade, this was to be a labour of love. The fact that my wife also plays made the challenge a perfect retirement target. 

“You have clinical breast cancer.”

Indeed, on our return from Canada, I had begun planning an excursion to Australia, having been invited to play Royal Adelaide by a member. Our plans and our lives were put on complete hold when the doctor said to her: “You have clinical breast cancer.” We were stunned. Mrs W’s sister died of this dreadful disease a decade ago, so her mind was on overdrive. 

The first thing I did was cancel golf. An immediate weekend to Saunton and North Devon was canned as was our participation in a competition at Castletown on the Isle of Man the following week. Friends withdrew us from opens at Enville and Penn in the West Midlands too. 

But we decided to go ahead with a pre-arranged game at Dunstable Downs to honour a long-standing invitation from a member and the chair of the club’s board. It turned out to be one of the best and most cathartic rounds we have ever played and has set the tone for golf during her treatment. Put simply, it gave us something else to think about.  

Neither of our hosts spoke about cancer at all and we suddenly realised that, instead of being uptight about errors in our game, we could simply enjoy it. In a strange way, the diagnosis has given us perspective when it comes to the sport and it also offers us a release. 

Playing some of the best

Soon after that wonderful day at Dunstable Downs, Mrs W’s situation became clearer and it was decreed she would be having eight sessions of chemotherapy before surgery. This takes place every three weeks. Thereafter, her immune system is suppressed for ten days and is then able to defend her body for ten. 

Before chemo began, I admit I called in a few invitations so we could play some damned good courses. A pal came up trumps in hosting us at Royal Liverpool on a superb July day, giving us the rundown of its magnificent history and introducing us to the club’s secretary and captain. Hoylake was a joy even if I would still be trying to extricate my ball from the bunker at the side of the new 16th if I hadn’t given up. 

The day after we were treated to a game at Formby by one of the club’s artisans. This is another fabulous venue and we were even given special dispensation to have a meal in the clubhouse after our round (artisans are not usually allowed to). 

The week before chemo we enjoyed a special weekend away – starting at Silloth which we loved so much that Mrs W. became a member there and then and I went on to the waiting list. 

We then moved on to Close House where we missed out on celebrity spotting but stayed in their terrific accommodation and played both the Filly and Colt courses. However, the real test was still to come – how would she manage to play after chemo? 

The answer came with an easy-going nine holes at our club, Chilwell Manor in Notts, the day after her first session. Two days later, we went to Ramsdale and made the wise decision for her to use a buggy, given the steep hills of its second nine. That is the only time she has needed assistance during four months of chemo and golf. 

Mixed competition success

Three days following her next chemo session, we entered a mixed competition at our club and won! Then we did exactly the same after the next session!! Because those events were during the ten-day period where she doesn’t mix inside, we simply had our meals and non-alcoholic drinks (chemo and booze don’t mix) outside. 

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Mr. and Mrs. White raising their trophies at one of the mixed events. (Photo: Neil White)

Meanwhile, Mrs W has received agreement from our club to wear a hat inside to avoid embarrassment over hair loss and we always make sure that we receive the same from our hosts when we play away. 

Since our games at Close House, we have gone on to play together at Ipswich (Purdis Heath), Royal Worlington & Newmarket, Littlestone, Prince’s, Piltdown, Crowborough Beacon, Pennard, Hunstanton as well as a couple more days at Silloth.

Naturally, she must manage her expectations because she can get tired due to the progressive effects of chemotherapy. Thus, more recently, she might either pick up a ball when struggling or even miss a couple of holes out. 

Greater appreciation

Nowadays, golf is about much more than our score although we always have a fun game between us to maintain a competitive edge, we have had all of our lives. It has given us a greater appreciation for the superb views and the delightful company we have enjoyed playing golf across the country. 

We are aware that many people undergoing chemotherapy have a more heightened reaction and are confined to homes or beds. Thus, we appreciate that she is lucky to be fit enough to go on these trips even if, for now, we are confined to the UK. And we are told by her medics that this fitness has been crucial to promising early signs in her battle with breast cancer. Indeed, in her very latest meeting, they insisted she should carry on playing golf.  

Who are we to argue? 

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