History Walk – Golf Before 1900 In Ottawa Valley/Outaouais/Kingston

An early image of the Ottawa Golf Club
An early image of the Ottawa Golf Club
An early image of the Ottawa Golf Club

In 2000 Flagstick published a 8500 word article by Editor Scott MacLeod about golf in the magazine’s coverage region, noting highlights from just over a century of golf in the region of Ottawa, the Ottawa Valley, Outaouais, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and Kingston/Quinte.

Meticulously scouring newspapers and journals from the area for months we compiled notable information to share.

For the next little while in our weekly History Walk posts we will share decade segments from the original story.

We’ll begin, well, at the start.

Before the Turn

While the time period of 1900-2000 is a very important one, the history of golf for us has its roots in the time just prior to the turn of the century. This period must be reflected on to truly appreciate the important events that would follow after time had passed into the 20th century.

The Montreal area claims the right of having the first formal golf club in Canada but our region was soon to follow. Before the first recognized golf club in the Unites States was formed, St. Andrews in Yonkers, New York, there were already six clubs formed in Canada.

The Kingston Golf Club came to be in 1886.  It was an interesting course laid out close to the military garrison at Fort Henry.  Eight of the holes surrounded Navy Bay, near the Royal Military College and five were situated on the Barriefield hill.  Players completed two loops of the hill holes for an eighteen hole round.  The principal prize for the club was the H.J.Hewat Trophy first competed for in 1893. Unfortunately the club would fail to prosper for too long and would eventually disappear from the landscape.

The Perth Golf Club, Links O’Tay was founded in 1890 and has the right to claim being the oldest golf course continually occupying the same land. This was a difficult thing for many early courses, especially in larger cities where the land became too valuable to support a golf club and courses were forced to move. This would happen repeatedly for clubs like Royal Ottawa and Royal Montreal. The original Perth Course had just three holes.

In 1891 the original Ottawa Golf Club at Sandy Hill began. It was laid out by William F. Davis, North America’s first golf professional. He would also give lessons and make clubs for the Ottawa members despite having full-time duties at his own professional job at Royal Montreal. The entrance fee at the new club was $10 for ordinary members with an annual subscription rate of $15.

Although there were limited numbers of course in the nation at this point, the members of said clubs felt that they should have a more formal organization in the tradition of the Royal & Ancient of St. Andrews, Scotland. A meeting was held that saw the forming of the Canadian Golf Association, later the Royal Canadian Golf Association that exists today. Many early Ottawa Golf Club members were heavily involved with the organization.

A year after the formation of the Canadian Golf Association the first Canadian Amateur was contested at the Ottawa Golf Club. A silver challenge cup was donated by Governor General Lord Aberdeen, former Captain of R&A, as a prize for the champion. This would be the first of many Governor Generals to be associated with the game in Canada. The champion was Tom Harley of Kingston who defeated Alex Simpson of Ottawa 7&5. Mr. Simpson was the president of the Ontario Bank and would serve as the president of the Ottawa Golf Club in 1897.

By 1896 the people of Cornwall had a need to play the game and formed the Cornwall Golf & Country Club. The original course was on the James Dingwall property north of the armouries. Rail service would bring you out to the course for a 5-cent fare. This site was abandoned soon after as it was too small for future expansion and lacked sufficient supplies of water.

1899 saw the return of the Canadian Amateur to Ottawa Golf Club. Vere Brown of Toronto defeated Stewart Gillespie of Quebec City 5&3.

Next week, highlights from 1900-1910.