After a hiatus of more than half a decade, we’re lucky to have golf back near my home in Canton, Connecticut. No, it’s not on the iconic rolling meadows along U. S. Route 44 that had been the Canton Public Golf Course. That once bucolic site is now the Shoppes at Farmington Valley, a retail Mecca peppered with upscale stores. Rather, golf has gone inside and high tech at Canton Indoor Golf Center. The new venue features a delightfully playful and glowing black light, pirate-themed miniature golf course. It also has eight high-definition golf simulators and an undulating putting green, as well as a bar and restaurant.
While the outside of the building still suggests its original utilitarian purpose, the Center’s Chris Maher has magically transformed the interior of a run-down, 22,000 square foot supermarket for many years known as Canton IGA. Where once you could buy a can of corn or loaf of bread, now you can indulge childhood fantasies at the Glow Cove mini course or, through the simulators, travel from the rugged Pacific shoreline at Pebble Beach, California to the towering Canadian Rockies at Banff Springs, Alberta, Canada. But as you swing one of your irons, you might also feel a sense of irony.
Irony is an abstract concept that Webster defines as “light sarcasm that adopts a mode of speech the intended implication of which is the opposite of the literal sense of the words.” But while generally a function of language, sometimes irony seems as tangible as iron, and is embedded in the places we encounter daily. Golf in Canton presents one of those ironies, providing those who give it more than a moment’s thought an opportunity to both chuckle and wonder about changes in our landscape.
Filled as they are with the happy endorphins of memory and one’s personal sense of place, change in long familiar spots is often difficult to accept. There are many people, me included, who still miss the grassy hills of the nine hole links that for decades had been one of the first things people would see upon entering Canton from the east. It was a place where generations of locals learned to golf, and where parents brought their kids for winter sledding.
Rich in historical associations, it was in this area that a headless horseman, the ghost of a mysteriously murdered French paymaster from Revolutionary War days, was said to be sighted on foggy nights. His satchel of funds to pay George Washington’s troops was never found. But as sure as James E. B. Lowell turned his dairy farm into a golf course during the 1930s, at the outset of the 21st century the fairways and greens were transformed into stores, restaurants and parking lots at The Shoppes, a self styled “life style center.” The development has been praised by some for its contribution to the tax base and charities, and for a variety of shopping and dining possibilities. It’s reviled by others for the loss of a signature landscape and recreational opportunities.
Among the changes brought by The Shoppes was the addition of a roughly 65,000 square foot supermarket that is now a Shop Rite. This spacious, gleaming new store with its wide aisles, broad array of groceries and mountains of colorful produce was no doubt the principal reason for the closure of the much smaller and somewhat bedraggled Canton IGA. Thus, the new supermarket, which also contributed to the end of the golf course, provided the empty space where Chris Maher could fulfill his dream of indoor golf. There’s an odd symmetry to this accidental trade of a golf course for a new supermarket and an old supermarket for indoor golf, and it places Webster’s abstract definition of irony in a real, three dimensional world. Whether the community got the better end of this bargain with change can be hotly debated, but the swap certainly says something about our consumer culture and growing passion for virtual worlds.
Meanwhile, at the northeast corner of the Shoppes complex, at the junction of Route 44 and Secret Lake Road, the developers left a neatly landscaped area of handsome plantings and grass. Carved into the lawn is a small “dish” of sand reminiscent of a classic golf course hazard. It sits there like a tombstone, a final ironic reminder of what this plot of land once was.
from The Hartford Courant, April 26, 2012