Best 18 Things About London, Area Golf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Reed On The Greens March 21, 2017

Best 18 Things About London, Area Golf
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioGolf.com

In 2014, I gave London the handle, Golf Capital of Canada. That year, we hosted the CP Women’s Open, PGA of Canada Women’s Championship and Mackenzie Tour PGA TOUR Canada’s season-ending championship, now known as the Freedom 55 Financial Championship.

There were other big golf events in the area that year, too. But the best thing about local golf is its lasting presence. And with a deep history and vibrant member community, the future looks bright, too.

With 55 golf courses in London and Middlesex-Elgin-Oxford Counties, and more than 100 in Southwestern Ontario, it’s no secret that the golf industry is a big contributor to the local economy. But golf is much more than dollars and cents: it’s the heart of soul of so many local residents who golf seven months of the year, and dream about golfing during the other five months – unless they’re amongst the lucky snowbird crowd.

Just like you, the game of golf gets all of my blood, sweat and tears. It’s our passion, and it’s our way of life. And here in London, we are fortunate enough to live in a community which embraces the game like few other cities in Canada.

In fact, we don’t grip golf clubs: the game of golf grips us, and never lets us go.

Here, then, is my list of, the Best 18 Things about London and Area Golf.

 No. 18 RiverBend Golf Community.  When Sifton Properties’ RiverBend Golf Community opened its 18-hole, Doug Carrick-designed golf course for play in 2002, it did so with much fanfare. In fact, today with its twinning of community luxury homes and championship golf course, beautiful Kains Woods, plus a myriad of first-rate course and clubhouse amenities, RiverBend remains unique to this part of Canada. Part of the lifestyle includes a 28,000-square-foot clubhouse – the social hub of the RiverBend community. Here residents enjoy fitness classes, an indoor pool, casual and fine dining and a number of social activities designed to bring neighbours together. RiverBend rests in the shadows of London Hunt and Country Club, but it deserves the spotlight alone for its unique offerings. And with multiple tee blocks to accommodate every level of golfer, it’s an all-inclusive oasis within the city limits.

Bob Martin and family accept the 2016 LondonOntarioGolf.com Heart Award.

No. 17 LondonOntarioGolf.com Heart Award. Est. in 2011, the Heart Award has, in its seven years, done much more than just recognize those who give back to the game. It has, in fact, helped the local golf community grow closer. A trophy is just a trophy, but in the case of the Heart Award, it stands for all that is good about local golf: growing the game while benefiting the community. The winners, in order: Mike Olizarevitch; Fred Kern; Patty Howard; Mike Weir; East Park; Bob Martin; and this year, Mike Silver.

No. 16 Early Bird Tournament. One glance at the Early Bird Invitational champions board at St. Thomas Golf and Country Club is all you need in order to recognize the prestige of this annual event. Legendary ball striker Moe Norman captured the title during the Early Bird’s charter and sophomore seasons in 1949 and ’50, and again in 1954 before trading in his amateur status for the professional ranks. There are many notable names on that board, including Gary Cowan, like Norman a Kitchener golfer and Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member. He captured the Early Bird in 1960, ’61 and 1964-65. Most recently, Elmira’s Garrett Rank became the only three-peat winner in 2011-13. This year’s event – the 69th – is slated for May 20-21. Last year, Amherstburg, Ontario’s Quinn Vilneff shot 67-73 (-4) for a six-stroke victory. The Early Bird tournament was cancelled only once – in 2003 – when severe spring weather resulted in some unplayable greens. The club’s board had decided in 2000 to change the traditional Victoria Day weekend date to the first week of May in 2001 and ’02. Allowing members better access to the course during the season’s first holiday weekend was thinking behind the change. It returned to its traditional weekend in 2004 – a better date for attracting the best possible golfers, and for playing in better weather. Burlington, Ontario’s Nick Weslock captured the Early Bird in 1972, ’75 and ’77. Other notable winners include Warren Sye – a four–time winner (1982, ’85, 1987-88); the Foran brothers – Len in 1984 and ’94, and Ken in 1990; Windsor’s Bill Seagris with the most wins (five) in 2001-02, ’04, ’07 and ’09; and Jim Waite in 1966 and ’71.

No. 15 Sue Hilton. Without a doubt, Sue Hilton’s 1962 season was the best ever from a local junior golfer. At age 18, Hilton, a 2004 inductee into the London Sports Hall of Fame, won the Ontario Women’s Amateur and Canadian Women’s Close championships, plus the Ontario junior and senior titles. The London Hunt and Country Club member also reached the second round of the U.S. Women’s Amateur that year, and was runner-up as Canada’s female athlete of the year. Hilton died in 2012 after battling cancer. She was inducted into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.

The Oaks GC, a Rene Muylaert Design.

No. 14 Golf Course Architect Rene Muylaert. He was a quiet, unassuming golf course architect, but Strathroy, Ontario’s Rene Muylaert let his golf course designs and renovations speak for themselves. Muylaert died in 2005; his twin brother, Charlie, who assisted him in many of his projects, died a decade later. Rene designed more than 50 Ontario golf courses, including local links The Oaks, Greenhills and Westhaven golf clubs. He redesigned Echo Valley, assisted in shaping the City of London muni tracks, and worked his magic across the province on a shoestring budget. With a passion for golf and the land, Muylaert perhaps made his best imprint working with course owners on smaller budgets and on smaller pieces of land, to eventually craft high-end, golfer-friendly layouts. Once boasting a single-digit handicap, he put down his putter for his pencil, and carved a name for himself amongst Canadian golf giants.

No. 13 Patty Howard. A member of the PGA of Canada since 1975, Howard is widely considered one of Canada’s most knowledgeable and personable golf professionals. A member of the London Sports Hall of Fame (2009), Howard was Canada’s first female head professional at a private mixed club (London’s West Haven Golf & Country Club 1990), and she was the first female member of the Ontario PGA Board of Directors (1985-86). Howard’s accolades include Club Professional of the Year (PGA of Canada, PGA of Ontario 2007), Women of Distinction Award – Sport, Fitness & Recreation (2001), London Sportsperson of the Year (2008), and London Ontario Golf Heart Award winner (2013). A Class A golf professional since 1981, Howard has worn every golf hat under the sun. She has worked as a groundskeeper, and played professionally on the U.S. Futures Tour – she won twice with three second-place finishes. In fact, Howard is the only female to have won on the Southwestern Ontario Professional Golfers’ Association (now PGA of Ontario) mini tour, shooting a 65 to beat the area’s top male pros. She once held the women’s course record (70) at The Oaks Golf Club in Delaware, and posted a women’s course-record 73 at The National Golf Club of Canada to claim victory at the 1988 Ontario Ladies Professional Championship. She retired from her director of golf post at Sunningdale in January 2014, and this year is chairing the women’s-only pro-am at the Freedom 55 Financial Championship at Highland Country Club.

No. 12 Tarandowah Golfers Club. When renowned golf course architect Martin Hawtree made one of his initial visits to Avon, Ontario countryside, I walked the land with him and instantly recognized there was a genius at work. Tarandowah is a true links golf course, minus the ocean, of course. But it’s the nearest thing to Scotland in this part of the world, and it is without a doubt the most talked about golf course in Southwestern Ontario. Local golfers are knowledgeable about the game, and appreciate Tarandowah’s beauty and muscle. It can play as the most difficult area course, but it never draws criticism for this fact. Even the club’s website, puregolf.net, is a nod to the golf gods. The area’s only true inland-links golf course celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2016.

Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

No. 11 Golf Gives Back. From family-and-friend fundraisers to big-money not-for-profit events, charity golf dollars flow like the Thames River each summer in the Forest City. In fact, in London alone there are an estimated 300-plus such charitable events each year, ranging from intimate gatherings to remember loved ones, to long-running revenue generators including the Lexus Of London Golf Classic, and Make-A-Wish Golf Classic. The National Allied Golf Associations (NAGA), which includes Golf Canada, National Golf Course Owners Association of Canada, Canadian Society of Club Managers, PGA of Canada, Canadian Golf Industry Association and Canadian Golf Superintendents Association, recognizes the economic value of charity golf events. In its latest study, NAGA estimates that in 2013 there were nearly 37,000 charitable events hosted at Canadian golf courses (25,000 were reported in 2009). Using conservative estimates, NAGA said those events raised more than $533 million for charitable causes across Canada ($473 million in 2009 dollars). In a 2016 online survey conducted by LondonOntarioGolf.com, almost 74 per cent of respondents said they play in charity golf tournaments each year, with about half of all respondents stating they pay to play in more than one event each summer. Millions of dollars are raised for local charities each year via golf tournaments – no other sport comes close.

Ed Ervasti (centre) with Ben Hogan (far right).

No. 10 Ed Ervasti. Why this man is not in the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, I’ll never know. A legendary striker of the ball whose short game was impeccable, Ervasti is best known for shooting his age or better more than 3,000 times since age 65. Incredibly, he accomplished that feat 239 times over 240 rounds during a stretch in 1998 and ’99. Ervasti died in 2015 at age 101. His list of playing partners reads like a Who’s Who of golf. For close to 20 years, he had a regular Wednesday golf date with 1932 U.S. Amateur champ Sandy Somerville, and fellow London Hunt members, Jack Nash, and Don Anderson who also golfed out of St. Thomas Golf and Country Club. Ervasti was the last surviving member of that fabulous foursome. His playing partners included giants of the game like Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer, just to name a few. Ervasti played with Hogan in Salt Lake City, Utah in the mid-1940s, and beat the winner of nine major championships. “Hogan was a great golfer, but not a natural golfer,” remembered Ervasti. Palmer mailed a letter of congratulations to Ervasti when he learned of his induction into the London Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. In the early 1950s, the duo played together as amateurs at Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, where Palmer captured five Western Pennsylvania amateur titles, 1947 and 1949-52. Jack Nicklaus defeated Palmer at Oakmont to win the 1962 U.S. Open. Ervasti also shared something with the Golden Bear. It was London surgeon, Dr. Robert Bourne, who handled hip replacements for both golfers. From 1975-1985, Ervasti was ranked among the top 10 senior amateur golfers in the world, reaching as high as fourth in 1977. He was Michigan Amateur Champion (1949), Ontario Senior Amateur Champion (1971, 1985, 1987), Ontario Senior Champion of Champions Winner (1971), Canadian Senior Amateur Champion (1976), Canadian Seniors Golf Association Champion (1971, 1976-80), North and South Senior Amateur Champion (1978, 1983), International Senior Tournament Champion (1979), American Seniors Golf Association Champion (1975, 1980, 1983, 1985), and World Super Senior Champion (1994). This year marks the 21st playing of the Ed Ervasti Cup, an annual tournament honouring Canada’s most accomplished senior golfer with a 54-hole event which brings together six-player teams from London’s private clubs.

Thames Valley Golf Club

No. 9 Municipal Golf System. It’s a system admired across the country for its history and its offerings. Quite simply, the triple threat of Thames Valley (est. 1924), Fanshawe (est. 1958) and River Road (est. 1992) golf clubs, plus the Hickory 9 and Parkside 9 layouts, make up the best municipal golf collection in Canada. When I spoke with notable golf instructor Hank Haney during his visit to Thames Valley in May 2013, he was fascinated with the muni system’s history and spoked admirably about its aesthetics. Thames Valley opened as one of Eastern Canada’s first public courses, and thus played a big part in bringing the game to the masses during one of the game’s biggest decades of growth. Including Fanshawe’s Traditional and Quarry 18-hole layouts, there are 72 holes of affordable public golf that boast some of the best fairways and greens in the area. The Hickory 9 is a great place for youngsters to learn the game. The Parkside Nine opened in 1998 as North America’s first golf course specifically designed for special needs golfers. The physically challenged, seniors and children ages 3 to 9 are all welcomed.

Junior Girls competitors spot a Rickie Fowler fan amongst the Bantam Boys competitors during the final round of the Les Thomas Memorial Tournament. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

No. 8 Junior Tyson Tour. Celebrating its 50th year, the Junior Tyson Tour is the longest-running tour for junior golfers in Canada, and counts amongst its graduates 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir. The story of the Tour’s formation is well known. Former London Free Press sports writer, Bev Tyrrell, established the tour which borrows its name from the Ty in Tyrrell, and the son part from his twin boys, Tim and Tom. When Tyrrell left for Winnipeg in 1978, he handed the Tyson Tour reigns to retired, long-time Thames Valley Golf Club head professional Fred Kern. The 2012 LondonOntarioGolf.com Heart Award winner operated the tour until 2009. Andy Shaw was convenor before Steve Bennett took over last season. Contested since 1981, the Les Thomas tournament carries the name of the former Golf Ontario director, and commissioner of London’s Public Utilities Commission in the 1970s. Like Bennett, Thomas was a huge supporter of junior golf. Weir captured back-to-back Les Thomas tourneys in 1986-87. A half-century strong, the Junior Tyson Tour is an important part of Canadian golf history, thanks for its grassroots development offerings.

The Five. Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

No. 7 Freedom 55 Financial Championship. Enjoying a fifth year in London, the Mackenzie Tour PGA TOUR Canada season-ending event has once again helped put London back on the golf map. Following two seasons at Sunningdale in 2013-14, Highland Country Club has hosted the event in 2015-16, and in a big way. The members have embraced it wholeheartedly. The community has embraced the tournament, too, and Londoners have truly begun to understand where these touring pros fit in the grand scheme of things. With the Order of Merit awarding ‘The Five’ with Web.com Tour cards, and more than $260,000 raised for local charity groups (including Thames Valley Children’s Centre during the Highland stops), the Freedom 55 Financial Championship has quickly become a staple of the local golf calendar. In fact, it’s one of the cornerstones of the local sports calendar, now drawing not just avid golfers but casual fans, too. From volunteer marshals to those hoisting trophies on Sunday, this event deserves to be a permanent part of London sports.

No. 6 Parkside Nine. In 1998, Fanshawe Golf Club opened the Parkside Nine after then head pro Mike Olizarevitch envisioned turning a small parcel of land into a golf course for those who couldn’t golf at a traditional course. He said, “The physically challenged play basketball and ski, so why not golf?” Olizarevitch volunteered at London’s Parkwood Hospital where a 3,000-yard putting green had been developed for rehabilitation and therapy for spinal cord and wheelchair-bound patients. Olizarevitch had struck up a friendship with Lise Thibault, former Lieutenant Governor of Quebec who had been in a wheelchair for four decades. She visited Olizarevitch for a lesson in 1998 and called the Parkside Nine “a model for other municipalities.” In 2002, the Ontario PGA named Olizarevitch its first Humanitarian Award winner for his efforts in designing the Parkside Nine. Oli won the LondonOntarioGolf.com Heart Award in 2011. North America’s first golf course specifically designed for special needs golfers, and welcoming the physically challenged, seniors and children ages 3 to 9, the Parkside Nine is unique to the golfing world, and an important part of our golf community.

 No. 5 Sunningdale Hosts First Canadian Women’s Opens. In 1966 and ’67, Jim Thompson, who was then club president, started the Supertest Ladies Open at Sunningdale Golf and Country Club. This marked the first time the LPGA Tour played in Canada. First- and second-year purses of $15,000 and $20,000 gave way to two Toronto-based tournaments before Supertest ended their title sponsorship. It took until 2007 for Golf Canada to recognize the Supertest tournaments as official Canadian Women’s Open championships. London, then, is the birthplace of our national women’s championship.

Bobby Jones (left) visits with Sandy Somerville at Augusta National Golf Club. Photo: London H&CC Archives.

No. 4 Silent Sandy. Not only did London boast Canada’s Baseball Player of the Half Century 1900-1950, but it also claimed Canada’s Golfer of the Half Century in Charles Ross (Sandy) Somerville. Winner of the 1932 U.S. Amateur championship, “Silent Sandy” earned his nickname for his quiet, business-like approach to the game at the 1933 British Amateur. He was an all-around athletic superstar with a smooth, efficient golf swing, and dominated the Canadian Amateur golf ranks in the 1920s and ‘30s with six national titles (1926, ’28, ’30-’31, ’35, ’37), and four runner-up finishes (1924-25, ’34 and ’38). Somerville recorded the first hole-in-one at the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934. His close friend, the great Bobby Jones, said, “If there is anything connected with golf which he cannot do well, I do not know what it is.” Somerville was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1971, and the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. He died in 1991 at age 88. A member of London Hunt for more than 70 years, Somerville is also a member of the Canadian Amateur Athletic Hall of Fame, the University of Toronto Hall of Fame and the London Sports Hall of Fame. Eight-five years after that U.S. Amateur win, Somerville’s victory is still revered by Londoners.

No. 3 London Hunt and Country Club. It has hosted the 1970 Canadian Open, 1993 du Maurier Ltd. Classic, 2006 CN Canadian Women’s Open and 2014 CP Women’s Open, just to name a few big tournaments in recent years, and it has helped showcase our city to a world-wide audience. Quite simply, London Hunt is one of the world’s best clubs. In 1968, the original Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf series visited London Hunt, with Arnold Palmer and Jimmy Demaret as television narrators. The 1970 Canadian Open saw American Kermit Zarley beat the likes of Sam Snead. Est. in 1885, and today resting on 267 acres of paradise, London Hunt is a local treasure.

No. 2 Our Golf Courses. Per capita, there are more golf courses in London and surrounding area than anywhere else in Canada – and they’re quality courses, too. In fact, green fees and membership are highly affordable compare to the GTA. And, most rest just minutes from our front doors. There are 26 semi-private and public courses in London and Middlesex County. Our private clubs, including London Hunt and Country Club, rank amongst the best in North America. Quantity and quality: we have the best of both worlds in London.

No. 1 You – the Golfer. Whether you tee off as a single before the starter even takes his post, finish with your foursome as the sun sets, or beat balls for hours when your buddies are sitting around the 19th hole, you are what makes local golf great. Studies show that more than two thirds of us are avid golfers – in most other communities, most golfers are simply weekend warriors. We golf in the spring and fall when most Londoners are inside at curling and hockey rinks, and we can’t get enough of the game during the dog days of August. We’re tuned into The Golf Channel when we’re not on the links, and we’re constantly tuned into the latest equipment, apparel and accessories. Our vacations evolve around golf, and our hallway carpet is our own practice putting green. We are Londoners, and we are golfers.

Wish to share your thoughts on what makes London a special golf community? Leave your comment below.

-30-

Jeffrey Reed is a long-time nationally-published golf writer, and is a three-time writing award winner from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Reed is a two-time author, and is currently writing the history of the Canadian Seniors’ Golf Association, and a biography of Sandy Somerville.
Write him at jeff@londonontariogolf.com.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989.