By Joe McLean, FGM Editorial Assistant
Take the oldest (1875) golf course in North America still located on its original site, add in three competitions over three days presented by the Golf Historical Society of Canada (GHSC) and you have the perfect recipe for a look into golf’s past with 56 golf competitors, most outfitted in period garb, dedicated to playing golf with century old hickory-shafted golf clubs.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario played host to the Ninth Annual C. B. (Charles Blair) MacDonald Challenge and Eastern Canadian Hickory Open Championship as well as the final round of the inaugural Gutty Slam on the second weekend of September, 2011.
Charles Blair MacDonald, who was born in Canada near Niagara on the Lake, was one of the founders of the United States Golf Association and its first official champion in 1895. He was also a noted author and golf course architect as well as the organizer of the first US-Canada International Championship Tournament in 1895. The Golf Historical Society of Canada chose to honour Mr. MacDonald by naming their tournament after him.
Competitors from across North America descend on Niagara on the Lake for the annual event but there is a sense that while the golf competition is important, the camaraderie and social interaction between like-minded hickory aficionados is the real reason for the gathering.
While most competitors arrived on the Friday to register and play a practice round, 10 competitors tipped up their limited flight gutty replica balls in the final round of the inaugural Gutty Slam, an event instituted to encourage golfers to play more pre-1900 hickory golf. With scores used from the National Hickory Championship (Oakhurst Golf Links, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia), the All-American Hickory Open (Downer’s Grove, Illinois), the Foxburg Hickory Championship (Foxburg, Pennsylvania) and the C.B. MacDonald Challenge.
Jim Wilhelm received the trophy for winning the inaugural Gutty Slam based primarily on his wins in the Foxburg and All-American Championships followed by Kingston, Ontario resident Bobby Sly who was the winner of the National Hickory and the Eastern Canadian Championships.
During the Friday round, Bobby Sly scored his first hole-in-one on the 4th hole at the Niagara on the Lake golf course. Having played the course, I can only describe the visual from the tee and how remarkable the shot was, The hole is relatively short playing around 125 yards, but your view from the tee is out of bounds down the left side, two massive bunkers guarding a narrow entrance in front of the green and anything long ending up in Lake Ontario. Add to that the fact he was playing in a tournament with a limited flight gutty replica ball and using a smooth faced iron with a hickory shaft dating back to the 1890’s. Only those players who have played the above described equipment can tell you how good that hole in one was. Bobby also received the flag from the 4th hole from Niagara on the Lake professional Billy Simkin. Congratulations Bobby.
Over the weekend, a record number of participants including 8 ladies, 8 super-seniors, 20 seniors and 20 (as described by tournament organizer Paul Dietz) “flat-belly youngsters” played in the C.B. MacDonald Challenge. Over the two days, an overall theme was the Canada-USA competition eventually won by the American Team who now has the bragging rights until next year. It should be noted that this scribe and Kingston resident Bob West counted the maximum three points each for Canada in what turned out to be a losing cause.
As for the competition, the format was a two-person alternate shot for the first nine holes followed by 9 holes of two-person best ball using pre-1900 clubs and replica McIntyre-White line cut gutty balls. On the second day, participants used their post 1900 clubs with replica McIntyre-White mesh balls and counted their 18 holes of medal play.
Bobby Sly was the winner in the over-all championship after he defeated New Jersey’s Brian Schuman in a one hole sudden win playoff. Mr. Sly, who is a bit bashful, commented on his second win this year. “This was my best year for hickory golf competitions and during this event I putted the best that I can remember.” Mr. Sly also gave credit to all of his fellow competitors for their play and also for the support of his wife Amanda and his two children Lydia and Addisyn. He also thanked his father in law Bob West, who got him involved with hickory golf – so much that he plays his infrequent social games only with his “Tom Stewart” branded hickory clubs.
Other winners in the Eastern Canadian Hickory Challenge were London, Ontario’s Alison Spouge (Ladies), Toronto, Ontario’s William Turville (Super-Senior) and Presto, Ohio’s Gary McNutt in the Senior Division.
For further information on hickory golf in Canada, check out the website for the Golf Historical Society of Canada at www.ghsc.ca.