St. Thomas G&CC Showcases Beauty, Brawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Reed on the Greens May 12, 2018

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioGolf.com

None of the beauty and history of St. Thomas Golf and Country Club needs an introduction. But when the much-loved links in Union hosts both the Early Bird Tournament May 19-20, and the Investors Group Ontario Men’s Amateur Golf Championship July 10-13, it will showcase a little extra brawn.

Charles Fitzsimmons has been visiting the private St. Thomas G&CC over the past few weeks, getting in some practice rounds before he defends his title. The Torontonian-turned-Londoner, multiple winner with the Western Mustangs and head doc to Team Ontario claimed a one-stroke victory in 2017, shooting 72-69 to beat Gajan Sivabalasingham of Meadowbrook G&CC.

Meanwhile, the 96th running of the Ontario Men’s Amateur sees the tourney return to Union for the first time since Mike Weir won there in 1992. At Windsor’s Ambassador Golf Club in 2017, 16-year-old Sudarshan Yellamaraju of Mississauga won by a stroke over Sivabalasingham.

When both tourneys tee it up in Union, the St. Thomas club (est. 1899) will show more teeth than in previous years, according to Ontario Amateur committee chair Jim Waite.

The removal of a few thousand trees in recent years is well documented. Several greens at the Stanley Thompson parkland layout were in danger of damage or destruction because of a lack of sunlight and airflow. Guided by United States Golf Association tree/agronomy specialist Dave Oatis, and architect Ian Andrew, one of North America’s leading course renovation specialists, the tree removal project now opens greens to beneficial morning sun and air flow, while opening up spectacular views.

“Now, we’ve made more changes than taking down trees,” said Waite, head coach of the Mustangs men’s golf squad. “We’ve added four new tees, so we can stretch the course to over 7,000 yards.” With member’s gold tees measuring 6,848 yards, Union has stretched holes No. 6, 8 (pushed back 50 yards), 15 and 18 (back 30 yards).

Jim Waite

“No. 8 (members’ 510-yard dogleg right) is an easy par 5 for (elite amateurs) who can get home in two with an iron on their second shot,” Waite explained. “Now, it will be a real par 5. Same with 15 (a members’ 556-yard par 5 where Beaver Creek comes into play on every shot into the green). It’s now a real risk-reward hole. And 18 (a members’ 434-yard par 4 playing up to a small, demanding green) will be a great finishing hole.”

In addition, the 484-yard par 5 12th hole will play as a par 4 during the Ontario Amateur.

“The course wintered beautifully,” Waite said. “We didn’t remove the tarps off of our greens too soon, and it has paid off in spades. I can’t believe how well they are rolling already this season. We can’t wait to show off our course.”

The St. Thomas G&CC website includes a thorough club history here. The club began in 1899 when about 30 local men leased land and an old farmhouse at Pinafore Park on Elm Street and started the first St. Thomas Golf Course. The 9-hole layout was built that year, and the old farmhouse was used as a clubhouse. By 1908 the members decided to move to a new location just east of St. Thomas, where a new course opened in July 1909. Desiring an 18-hole layout concurrent with golf’s growing popularity, members purchased the Whaley farm in Union in 1922. Thompson designed a new 18-hole course – nine holes opened in June 1923, with all 18 holes open in 1927.

By 1970, the club needed to expand in order to accommodate more golfers. It purchased the Russ property consisting of 78 acres to the west of the existing course and hired Robbie Robinson to design an expansion which would bring the course to 6,779 yards with a par 72 (36-36). Under the direction of Doug Carrick of Carrick Design Inc., a number of improvements to the course were implemented between 1995 and 2000.

London’s Maddie Szeryk captured the 100th Ontario Women’s Amateur Championship at Union in 2015. Other notable tournaments have included the 2010 Canadian Senior Men’s Championship; 2005 Ontario Junior Championship; 1996 Ontario Open; 1992 Ontario Men’s Amateur Championship, captured by Weir; 1989 Canadian Senior Men’s Championship;
1985 Ontario Women’s Amateur; 1982 Ontario Men’s Amateur; 1978 Ontario Open, won by Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member George Knudson; and 1966 Ontario Senior Men’s Championship, won by another hall of famer, Phil Farley.

The Early Bird Tournament, too, is a big part of the club’s history. 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 the winners’ 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.

Hole No. 1 tee at Union.

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 Waite, who won in 1966 and ’71.

The Early Bird 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.

Charles Fitzsimmons. Photo: Golf Ontario.

Fitzsimmons’ final-round 69 was the only sub-70 round of the 2017 tournament. Three St. Thomas G&CC golfers finished atop the B Flight leaderboard, with Mike Broadhead winning by a stroke over Yvan Lacroix. In the C Flight, Angelo Valente, a Golf Ontario public player, won by a stroke over Brampton’s Larry Littlefield.

St. Thomas head golf professional Mike Long said this year’s A flight will include notables Drew Symons of Woodstock, Delaware’s Chase Komaromi, winner of the 2017 Ontario Men’s Match Play Championship, and Mississauga’s Simon McInnis, who yesterday teamed with  Matthew Ion Young of Hamilton G&CC to win the 2018 Ontario Men’s Better-Ball Championship.

Like Waite, Long said the club “can’t wait to showcase the course. We have another strong field for the Early Bird and look forward to another great tournament.”

Later this season, the Ontario Men’s Amateur will celebrate by bringing back some big names like Cowan, and Weir’s former caddie and St. Thomas native Brennan Little, a former notable amateur who is now on the bag for Gary Woodland.

Waite said Weir would have liked to attend, but said he’ll be in the field that week at the Web.com Tour’s Utah Championship, hosted by Oakridge Country Club in Farmington, Utah. Weir makes his home in nearby Sandy, Utah.

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Reed on the Greens is a three-time writing award winner, presented by the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. LondonOntarioGolf.com publisher and editor Jeffrey Reed is a long-time member of the London sports media. His third book, History of the Canadian Seniors’ Golf Association, will be published later this month. Reach Jeffrey at jeff@londonontariogolf.com.

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About jeffreyreed

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

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