by Brent Long
There is so much that could be written about Stu Hamilton’s golf career that it’s hard to know where to start. After scribbling in a notebook for 90-minutes during a telephone interview with the 76-year-old, my hand ached. That doesn’t happen too often these days, but Stu’s story is a fascinating look at life, competitive golf, family, and the choices he faced each step of the way. It’s easy to write a story about the wins and losses, but what they meant back then and how he reflects on them today are the intriguing part of the story that rarely gets delved into in today’s quick-hit Social Media world. Stu and I have been back and forth many times exchanging questions and answers since the initial interview. I could write an entire chapter in a book about his provincial, national, and international golfing exploits, but we are going to stick to the highlights and his insights about the journey for this issue of Past and Present. It has been a real treat to write this one – sit back with a cup of coffee and I hope you enjoy the read. As they say – live and learn!
Love In The First Degree
Stu Hamilton Shares His Passion For The Game and His Family
There are numerous places where this story could begin. Perhaps in Coventry, England where he was born on January 11, 1945, just after the end of WWII. We could start in the late 1950s when his parents Angus and Peggy Hamilton joined the original nine-hole Brampton Golf Club, after immigrating to Canada in 1952 with Stu and his younger brother Roger. Maybe it was the summer day in 1963 at Aurora Highlands GC (the club no longer exists) when he enjoyed his first significant victory as the Ontario Junior Boys Champion at the age of 18, oh what a feeling! Or we could begin with the absolute best decision of his life – marrying JoAnn Mellway on June 28, 1969, at St. Georges On the Hill Anglican Church in Etobicoke. Then, there was the evening in 1994 that Stu and JoAnn had a wonderful conversation with an 18-year-old named Tiger Woods at the World Amateur Team Championship in Versailles, France, where they were competing for their respective countries – every golfer should have a Tiger Woods story!
“Looking back on nearly 60 years of golf it is interesting to reflect on how many crossroads appeared before me and some of the difficult decisions I had to make at the time,” says Stu, who became one of the first Honorary Members at Brampton GC in 1980 and moved from Streetsville to the Georgian Bay area with JoAnn in 2010. One of those crossroads occurred in 1963 shortly after he won the Ontario Junior.
“My dad learned to played golf in Scotland and he introduced my mother, my brother and myself to the game at the old Brampton Golf Club, where I learned to play the game,” Stu notes. “Shortly after winning the Junior, I was offered golf scholarships at two American universities. I declined for two reasons. I felt that the quality of education was better in Canada, but the real reason was that I would miss and most likely lose my girlfriend JoAnn Mellway. We had just started dating in 1962 and it didn’t take long before we were both madly in love with each other. I was almost certain that if I went to school in the US for three to four years that she would find someone else. Who knows what history would have written had I not made that very important decision? Looking back, it was definitely the right decision. This year we celebrated our 52nd anniversary.”
JoAnn & Stu met at Brampton GC. Both sets of parents were members.
“My mother was the Ladies Section Club Captain in the early 1960’s. She organized a dance for the Junior Section. The Junior Section at that time consisted of approximately 12 juniors who paid an annual membership fee of $10. I asked JoAnn if she would like to attend the dance with me. Thankfully she accepted, but little did she know that I was a very bad dancer,” says Stu, who dated a couple of other girls at the club before falling for JoAnn.
“I remember date night at the club with JoAnn. We would go down to the practice area in the valley near the creek. I would bring my shag bag. The biggest club you could hit was a 7-iron. She would stand at the far end of the range, and I would hit balls at her. Later she would say, ‘I didn’t have to move around very much. They all dropped in front of me. He never hit me once.’ That’s dedication and love in my books,” says Stu, who played his first competitive tournament in the Toronto District Golf Tournament in Grade 10 or 11 and borrowed his dad’s full set of clubs for that one. That was the moment he first caught the golfing bug.
Stu would practice endlessly as a teenager on the small green adjacent to the pro shop at the old course. There he made thousands of putts to win the Canadian Open, the British Open, the Masters, and the US Open until dark and he would do it again the following day. He learned to play with a half set of clubs, 3-5-7-9 irons, a fairway wood, driver, and putter.
“After we made the move to the new club, I have a memory of being in the parking lot in the summer of 1965,” he adds. “I recall JoAnn and I sitting in my parents massive 1962 Chrysler New Yorker, the one with the huge fins, where I asked her to elope with me. Our parents thought that we were too serious and should breakup. When I asked, she replied – ‘How are you going to keep me?’ We did not elope. We separated for a short period to please our parents, but it wasn’t long before we were back together.”
Stu’s next crossroad came in the mid 1970’s when a Brampton GC member, Ed Flaxman, offered to sponsor him if he wanted to turn professional. Stu had just finished T2 in the 1970 Canadian Amateur at Ottawa Hunt Club scoring 284 (-8) along with Billy Kratzert (USA), Dick Siderowf (USA) & Jim Simons (USA). The winner was Alan Miller (USA). Three of them turned pro shortly after and were very successful on the PGA Tour. The top Ontario amateurs in the early years of his career just happened to be Gary Cowan and Nick Weslock, who went on to become members of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. More often than not, Stu was happy to finish third or fourth in many of those championships.
“My father was putting a lot of pressure on me to turn pro,” Stu says, noting dad was Men’s Captain in 1959 and Club President in 1962. As a structural engineer, Angus also played a significant role in the design and construction of the club’s new clubhouse at the time. “Other than winning the Ontario Junior Championship I had not won any major tournaments. I had set a goal of winning the Ontario Amateur and Canadian Amateur before turning professional. If I couldn’t win here in Canada, how was I ever going to win on the PGA Tour? I came second in both tournaments during the 1970’s.” Stu won the Brampton Men’s Club Championship a total of 14 times between 1961 and 1989 with fond memories of battles over the years against the likes of Bob Ptashnik, Ray Coole and Bill Swartz.
The other major factor in Stu’s decision process was the fact that there was not an “all exempt” tour in those days. Other than the Top-60 money winners, the rest of the field had to Monday qualify for each tournament. The qualifiers were called “rabbits” and they lived out of their cars, slept in low-cost motels & ate fast food. Few could afford to have their families travel with them, as sponsorships and endorsements were very limited at the time.
“JoAnn and I talked about the decision a lot. We wanted to have a family and felt that a nomadic life as a golf professional was no way to raise a family. So, the decision was made to remain amateur. Our first son, Robert was born in 1973 and our second son, Kevin was born in 1976.”
Thereafter, Stu’s priorities were family, career and then golf, in that order.
Stu would go on to play in 23 Canadian Men’s Amateur Championships between 1965 and 2001. He finished among the Top-10 13 times including finishing second six times. He finished T2 in 1970 at Ottawa Hunt, T2 in 1980 at Halifax GC losing in a playoff to Greg Olson, T2 in 1982 losing in a playoff to Doug Roxburgh at The Kanawaki GC in Quebec, alone in second in 1985 losing in another playoff to Brent Franklin at Riverside CC in Saskatoon, alone in second in 1993 at Victoria GC in BC losing to Gary Simpson of Australia by a single stroke, losing to Garrett Willis of the United States in match play 3&2 at The Toronto GC in 1995.
Stu won four Canadian Mid-Amateur Championships in the span of five years – all the finals were match play – 1990 1UP over Pierre Archambault at Saskatoon GC, 1991 1UP over Bruce Berdock at The Toronto GC, 1993 3&1 over Stephen Bannatyne at Elmhurst G&CC in Winnipeg and 1994 4&2 over Steve Berry at Elm Ridge CC in Montreal.
Stu also played in six Canadian Opens. First in 1963 as a junior at Scarboro G&CC and then in 1981, 1983, 1986, 1994 and 1995 at Glen Abbey GC in Oakville. He came close once, but never made the cut.
He has four hole-in-ones at Brampton over the years – one on the old course and three at the club’s current location.
It is interesting to note that whenever Stu competed locally, he hired a junior member from BGC to caddy for him. Two of which are the current Club President, Bryan McMahon, and long-time member Alan Kerr.
Other career highlights include
- 2001 & 2002 Canadian Senior Association Champion
- 2001 & 2006 Ontario Senior Champion
- 2001 Ontario Senior Better Ball Champion
- 1998 & 1993 Ontario Mid-Amateur Champion
- 1992 Ontario Champion of Champions
- 1989 Ontario Open Low Amateur
- 1986 Ontario Men’s Amateur Champion at Midland G&CC
- 1964 & 1973 Ontario Family Classic Champion first with his dad and then with his mom
- 1963 Ontario Junior Champion & Ontario Junior Better Ball Champion
- 1963 Runner-up at the Canadian Junior to earn exemption into the Canadian Open
- Played on 18 Ontario Provincial teams, three World Amateur teams (1970, 1980, 1994), and nine International teams
- Golf Ontario Hall of Fame Class of 2005 with Mary-Jane Hall, Bob Panasik, Mac Frost
- Mississauga Sports Hall of Fame 2005
- Voted Male Amateur Golfer of the Year by SCORE Golf Magazine in 1993 & 1995
- Mississaugua Male Athlete of the Year 1986
- Brampton Sports Hall of Fame – 1985
“There are two major reasons for my success,” Stu says. “First and foremost was the support of my family and JoAnn in particular. She allowed me to play high level international, national & provincial golf while she looked after the family.”
A typical day in our lives was for me to go to work in downtown Toronto for 8 am, come home about 6 pm., change into my golf attire, have a snack & then practice for two hours at Brampton GC. JoAnn would have dinner on the table for me at 9 pm, after feeding & bathing the boys. That routine went on for years. I honestly don’t know why she tolerated that. Not many other women would, so I am eternally grateful for her support and sacrifice.”
After graduating from Brampton High School and Ryerson College with a Business Diploma, Stu started working at Metropolitan Trust, which eventually merged with The Bank of Nova Scotia. After 43 years with the organization, he retired in 2006 as a Vice-President of Commercial Real Estate Lending. They invited Stu back for another two and a half years as a consultant in Global Risk Management before he officially slid into retirement.
The other reason for his on-course success was hard work. He practised for hours for many years. But again, that would not have been possible without JoAnn’s support. The family enjoyed many cross-country trips to watch dad play golf and JoAnn travelled with Stu to many international events.
“My fondest memories are of them being there when I was successful. Each of them, including JoAnn, caddied for me multiple times in the Canadian Open and national amateur events. Those were special times,” he says.
“Looking back on my career, I often wonder why I finished second in the Canadian Amateur so many times. Losing in two sudden-death playoffs and also losing by one stroke in 1993, was heartbreaking at the time. Over time and looking back, I determined that it had nothing to do with my ability or talent. I think there may have been a bit of bad luck, but mostly it was a lack of confidence on my part,” Stu says. “I grew up in a strict Scottish household. I couldn’t do anything right to please my father, so it was easy to develop an inferiority attitude. It was only after JoAnn helped me to believe in myself that I was able to free myself. She boosted my confidence saying time and again that I could win. She also helped me to relax on the golf course under pressure with special breathing techniques.
Having said that, Stu remains very grateful for all the support his parents gave him and for introducing him to golf. Particularly, his Mother Peggy, who along with JoAnn, were his biggest fans. Often you could find JoAnn and Peggy following Stu in a tournament hiding behind a tree fearful to watch him putt, all the time with their fingers crossed.
In the 1990’s, thanks to JoAnn, Stu finally learned to believe in himself and won four Canadian Men’s Mid Amateur Championship titles and finished second in two Canadian Men’s Amateur Championships. Unfortunately, his competitive career was cut short in 2006. Due to chronic back pain Stu decided to retire from competition. When asked if he had any regrets, or if he would do it all over again, Stu paused and then said, “Yes and No.”
“I regret not spending time with my family. Golf is a very selfish sport demanding many hours of time. I often wonder if I could have been a better father had I not played so much competitive golf? But here again, JoAnn stepped in, and thanks to her, we have a beautiful family including five grandchildren. Our two boys, Robert & Kevin, are tremendous dads. They are the dads that I wish I could have been, so I guess we did a good job raising them,” he says.
“I don’t regret not turning professional for one second. It was the right decision. There are crossroads in everyone’s life. I am so happy that when they appeared before me, I was fortunate to have chosen the right path.
As we wrap up the interview Stu says, “The accomplishments I am most proud of are: being the only player to have won each of the Ontario Junior, Amateur, Mid Amateur, Senior & Super Senior Championships, representing Canada in three World Amateurs (Madrid Spain, Pinehurst, NC and Versailles, France) and being piped into the ceremony with the Canadian National anthem with tears of national pride streaming down my face, playing in the Canadian Open six times, being honoured by the Brampton Golf Club with a lifetime membership in 1980, being ranked the No. 1 amateur in Canada on two occasions, being inducted into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame in 2005, but what I am most proud of was that I was able to do all this with my family by my side.”