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Spa day for the golfing guy? Golfer's massage craze demands research

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,

WHISTLER, British Columbia - Walking through the front doors of the spa can produce a natural flight instinct. After all, you're a tough golfing guy, a hacker not a sitter, a birdie man not a bird-watching man. You're rugged enough to walk 18 holes (if the course isn't too hilly - who do they think you are, Patton?)

And here you are in this shiny, happy temple to ... what exactly? Pampering? Indulgence? Beauty? The words barely trickle off your lips before the disgust follows.

What kind of self-respecting golfer ever purred over pampering? Pampering? Golf is a game where you willingly - no, enthusiastically - engage in ritual self-torture. (What else do you call soldiering on through a quintuple bogey?) And now, less than an hour removed from battle against some six-figure celebrity designer's warped view of Mother Nature, they expect you to embrace pampering?

That's like asking Paris Hilton to a pass a nuclear physicists' exam post video.

Still you're here, in this tastefully lit open space with gleaming, polished hardwood floors and beauty products everywhere. Who knew there were more varieties of massage oil than Heinz? (Come to think of it, has anyone ever seen about 54 of Heinz's reported 57 varieties?) But that's beside the point. There's no time for Jerry Seinfeld ruminations when you're surrounded by personal pampering products.

Suddenly the horrible realization hits that in your effort to look nonchalant over this spa experience, you've gone from fingering the Saudi Arabian prince thick robes to fingering the sheer camisoles that look an awful lot like they belong in Victoria's Secret. Where's a $35 sleeve of balls when you need it?

A voice breaks through the lavender scented haze. "Can I help you?"

You turn and see a sweet-smiling blonde behind the counter, who you're certain recognizes you as a complete spa nincompoop.

But no snide, humiliating "First time?" follows. Just a waiver form pushed across the counter. As you go through the checklist of questions - Any allergies? Heart conditions? Emphysema? Loose bones? Fears of oils, rocks, jagged sea shells or anything else we may rack over your back? - you realize getting a massage is a lot more dangerous than you've been led to believe. Who do they think you are, Patton!

Still you press on. The PR lady at the Four Seasons insisted that you "experience" their specially designed Golfer's Massage. Sure it sounds like just another creative way to shake down the average hacker for some extra bucks. But if you could try that porcupine swing aid offered in Mesquite, Nev., why not this?

So after signing the release essentially stating if your spine gets snapped in the soothing room, well no hard feelings, you're handed a key to your own locker. Here you find one of those plush white prince robes and a pair of aqua clogs.

At the aqua you start to have second thoughts again. What good has ever come out of out-there colors? Aqua, chartreuse, magenta … pure trouble, the whole lot of them. When you start obsessing over the difference between kelly green and shamrock green, you're either at Loews futilely trying to match the paint to the lampshade for your wife or you've dropped into an episode of "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy."

Aqua! You've just never thought of yourself as a massage guy. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's not that you equate being a massage guy with some Neanderthal Pat Robertson view.

It's just you always thought there was a divider. You're either the kind of guy who goes for massages, pedicures and bubble baths or you're the type of guy who won't buy shampoo unless it includes the conditioner in the same bottle. And you weren't even sure what conditioner was until well into college!

Only now, you've slammed the locker door and you're heading into the treatment room, crossing the 48th Parallel of pampering ...

On the table

The lights are low and the music's weird, the kind of song/hum you'd expect Madonna to have on while she's practicing Kabbalah. When you're told to lie on your stomach and stick your face through that oh-so-convenient hole, your massage stereotypes come rushing back.

The masseuse is a pleasant-enough woman named Nola, but when she starts twisting your leg, seemingly trying to pull the knee out of its socket, you're sure you must have misheard and it's really Olga.

If this is the Golfer's Massage, you wonder what's the Golfer's Gulag?

As a little time goes by though, your body adjusts to the pressure and stops rebelling. Against every instinct in your tough golfing guy's core, you fall into an almost vegetative, at-ease state.

When Nola starts rubbing warmed golf balls over your lower back (no joke, actual warmed golf balls - Maxflis to be precise), you don't even realize it. It just seems like an extension of another soothing touch.

You're not asleep. You're not this relaxed when you're snoozing. But you're not quite with it either.

Going into the room, the thought of making it through an hour loomed like time in a dentist's chair.

You were sure you'd be like Jay Leno who let loose in a "Tonight Show" rant, "I'm not a massage guy, it's annoying to me. It's like, ‘Get your hands off me! This is annoying!'" (Leno's anti-masseuse stance is discussed in massage message boards - yes, sadly I now know this). Like Leno, you expected every second to drag on in tedium.

Only now Nola's signaling that your hour's up and it all seemed as quick as a New York City cab ride.

Dazed, you stumble into the cooling off room.

The aftermath

You're given water and grapes, left to lounge in a room with chairs you sink into and a flat-screen TV on the wall playing nature scenes. The three tenants of the Golfer's Massage are explained:

(1). PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) Stretching.

(2). Hot Golf Ball Massage.

(3). Common Injury Site Focus.

According to the brochure, PNF Stretching consists of stretching a muscle group passively, contracting the muscle group isometrically while in a stretched position (7-15 seconds), relaxing the muscle group (two to three seconds) and finally increasing the stretch passively (at least 20 seconds). And you thought following David Leadbetter lesson was difficult?

The description of the hot golf ball massage is a little simpler, but even more pretentious. "This is great for relaxing the muscles at a deeper level, increasing the circulation and has a general "feel-good" quality to it. Maybe, it's just me, but I thought any massage was supposed to have a general "feel-good" quality to it.

Whatever. The descriptions don't matter. The only question is: Does it work?

Afterwards, you feel good, a little weird, like your muscles aren't the muscles you recognize, but good. Dinner goes down great, sleep comes easy. The true test is the next morning though. You're a golfer after all.

As you work your way around the course, that crick in your neck that usually rears his head by the turn never shows and your shoulders feel a little looser. Maybe it's just perception. You expect something to be different, you think it is.

But perception works wonders for your game this day. It's your best round of the trip by far.

Who needs golf lessons? Just hit the spa and swing!

"We offer golf and spa packages for couples where it's three rounds of golf and three spa treatments and they can be split up any way you want," said Denise Chapman, the marketing director at the famed La Costa, another of the golf resorts prompting it's special Golfer's Massage. "We figured the wives would usually be using more of the spa trips and the husbands playing more of the golf.

"But we've had some guys who've been using all the spa treatments while their wives golf."

OK, you'll never be there. But playing several rounds of golf without a Golfer's Massage? A little uncivilized, no?

Who do they think you are, Patton?

Need more grapes here. More grapes! And heat up some Maxflis!

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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