The Royal Ottawa Golf Club – Rich in History and Tradition

The Royal Ottawa Golf Club (Photo: Flagstick.com)

by Joe McLean

The distinctive clubhouse at The Royal Ottawa Golf Club (Photo: Flagstick.com Files)
The distinctive clubhouse at The Royal Ottawa Golf Club (Photo: Flagstick.com Files)

Rich in history and tradition, the Royal Ottawa Golf Club is the oldest golf club in the Canadian National Capital Region and one of the oldest and most prestigious golf clubs in North America. This year they celebrate their 125th anniversary.

As recorded in the Royal Ottawa 100TH Anniversary book – “Royal Ottawa Golf Club 1891 – 1991, by Robert Majoribanks”, a group of Ottawa business and professional men met at the old Russell House Hotel in downtown Ottawa in the spring of 1891 and unanimously agreed to form a golf club “for promotion of this healthy and satisfying game”.

Acting on this agreement a committee was struck to interview prospective members and within a week, a viable membership along with “a fine and suitable stretch of ground” had been secured for The Ottawa Golf Club.

William F. Davis, Canada’s first golf professional, designed the original nine holes of the Ottawa Golf Club. He did so on 50 acres of property loaned to the club in the Sandy Hill area of Ottawa near the old Rideau Rifle Range in the vicinity of the area we now know as Strathcona Park.

The Ottawa Golf Club had the distinction of hosting the formation meeting of the Royal Canadian Golf Association and its first Canadian Amateur Championship during the period of June 4-7, 1895. The Governor-General, the Earl of Aberdeen, donated the Aberdeen Cup which was presented to Thomas M. Harley of the Kingston Golf Club, winner of the inaugural RCGA Amateur Championship.

In 1896, due to a demand for land with the growth of the city, the golf course was relocated to the Brigham property on the Chelsea Road, north of Hull. Twelve holes were fashioned on the 108-acre property, with golfers having to play an extra six holes for a full game. It is reported that while playing the 4th hole, golfers had to loft their golf balls over a barn. When valuable mineral deposits were found on the property, The International Portland Cement Company made the club an offer they couldn’t refuse and they were off to find another site for the course.

Utilizing the tidy profit generated by the sale of their property, in 1903 the Royal Ottawa moved to its current location on the 113 acre McVeity property on the Aylmer road overlooking the Ottawa River. A Club Committee reported that the land “was undulating in character, having a burn running through it, and possessing several sand bunkers.” Another determining factor was the 5 cent ride for members on the Hull and Aylmer Electric Railway from Central Station which dropped Club members at the Golf Club Station located a short walk south of the Club on what is now the Lower Aylmer Road.

Members at the time also purchased an adjoining wheat field for the purpose of adding polo to the list of club activities. While polo did not flourish, the land was perfect for the future construction of the “Royal Nine”.

The Ottawa Golf Club was awarded “Royal” designation in 1912 due to the intervention of Club Member – His Royal Highness, The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, the Governor-General with approval of King George V.

If you eliminated the references to the smoking and bed rooms, the following excerpts from the “Golf in Canada’s Capital” story in the June, 1917 edition of the Canadian Golfer would apply to the Royal Ottawa today.

 “There are very few golf clubs on the continent that have a finer ’home’ than the members of the Royal Ottawa. The smoking, reception, reading and dining rooms are flooded with light, are most artistically furnished, and have a charm and comfort all their own, that leaves nothing to be desired. Upstairs, the many bedrooms are splendidly situated, whilst quite a feature of the club is the excellent locker rooms on the ground floor, where the shower, baths and ventilation are also of the most up-to-date description.

The broad verandah, the beautiful terrace overlooking the links where afternoon tea is a pure delight, and the general ‘atmosphere’ of the whole club and its surroundings makes the Royal Ottawa a social centre worthy in every respect of the Capital of the Dominion, and a social centre it is both summer and winter, its club house and course graced by Governor-Generals, Statesmen and the leaders in the professions and the financial and business life of Canada, whilst the ladies are also very much in evidence, golf being the most popular game in Ottawa with them.

But after all, although a well-appointed club house is a very great consideration the golfer demands more than anything else, a testing course and in this respect the Royal Ottawa is especially equipped.

Originally laid out by the well known golf architect, Tom Bendelow of Chicago, the links have of recent years been stiffened up a great deal, although in this respect they can still be further improved, by the placing in of additional traps and bunkers. The soil is sandy and dries rapidly after rain, whilst a particularly valuable asset is a brook which traverses the course and which is an admirable natural hazard.

Both fair green and green from the first hole to the last leave little to be desired. The course is a diversified one and possesses many “character” holes of great merit and altogether provides a capital test of high class golf and at the same time is not so strenuous but that the ordinary player can thoroughly enjoy his round.

Well offered, well managed, with an ideal club house and course, the Royal Ottawa runs true to name. One of the premier clubs of Canada, it well deserves its premier position in Canadian Golfdom. The Royal and Ancient and its traditions have no more worthy representative today in the Dominion.”

Highly praised back in 1917, the Royal Ottawa has maintained its stature world-wide and is considered a premier golf course treasured by players and golf organizations. One just has to look at the pedigree of events held on their grounds since its inception and the numerous reciprocals offered world-wide.

The Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA) and the Canadian Professional Golfers’ Association (CPGA) were both formed at the Royal Ottawa and the Club has hosted Canadian Amateur, Canadian Ladies Amateur, Canadian Open, CPGA, du Maurier Seniors and Ladies LPGA, Canadian Junior and Golf Canada Mid-Am Championships as well as Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf.

The Royal Ottawa has always contributed to the fabric of the game and was a founding member of both the Province of Quebec Golf Association (1920) and Ladies Ottawa City and District Golf Association (1922). The Club, along with the Ottawa Hunt and Rivermead golf clubs, was instrumental in the formation of the Ottawa District Golf Association in 1948 and until 1974 all of the Association’s events were held exclusively on these three courses. In addition, the Alexander of Tunis Quebec Provincial Tournament has been held on a rotation basis at these three clubs since its inception in 1950.

Walk through the Royal Ottawa clubhouse today and you are greeted by a membership comfortable with and proud of their history and tradition and their standing in the history of golf. Walls are adorned with portraits of past Club Presidents and pictures of the Royal Ottawa and its members and activities from the past. The history of the Royal Ottawa is also evident with the wealth of treasures found in display cases throughout the grand old clubhouse. Twice devastated by fire, the present clubhouse reflects the grace and charm of its predecessors.

Over the past ten years dynamic improvements have been made throughout the Royal Ottawa clubhouse while maintaining fiscal responsibility and exceptional service to the membership.

The Royal Ottawa golf course offers members and their guests a superbly conditioned layout measuring between 5748 and 6511 yards compared to the 6270 yard course featured in the “Golf in Canada’s Capital” story run in 1917. The golf course was originally designed by Tom Bendelow of Chicago and amended by Willie Park Jr., twice a winner of the British Open, in the early 1920’s.

A variety of challenges await golfers including lush, undulating fairways lined by a varied assortment of mature trees and bushes, numerous elevation changes, a creek meandering through the layout and purposely designed small but very fast greens. Perfect for new golfers, juniors and even experienced golfers looking to hone their skills, the “Royal Nine” measuring just over 2500 yards complements an otherwise exceptional traditional layout. A state-of-the-art watering system on both courses along with a superb short-game practice area and driving range complete the comprehensive package that is the “Royal Ottawa”.

Bob Goalby, winner of the 1968 Masters and numerous PGA events, when asked by the Ottawa Citizen for his opinion on playing the Royal Ottawa Golf Course at the du Maurier tournament of champions in 1984 had this to say. “It’s the way courses ought to be. It requires more accuracy, more club control and more skill than the big courses they are building today.”

During an interview, former Royal Ottawa Golf Club President and frequent Ladies Club Champion Kathy Keely summed up the feelings of many of the members of the Royal Ottawa Golf Club. “The Royal Ottawa is bigger than any one of us. We’re all interested in being a part of it, being a part of the history and the tradition and leaving it as good as we found it.”

Devoted golfers and community leaders appreciate the celebrated and elegant venue that is the Royal Ottawa Golf Club that has prospered through time with its history and traditions and is constantly improving and looking to the future.