My phone rang at 6:45 on Dec. 12th, Monday evening. Richard Zokol was calling from Vancouver, and his voice was shaking. He’d just gotten a call to inform him that Gordon Stollery had died. Had I heard this staggering news? Did I know anything?
Like everybody who knew Stollery, the most affable and generous person you could meet, I was stunned. I contacted Nigel Hollidge, Gordon's associate at the Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, Ont., which Stollery owns. Hollidge confirmed Gordon's death while on vacation.
It’s now Tuesday morning, and I still can’t assimilate the news of Gordon’s passing. I knew him more as a golfer than the businessman who brought professional tournaments, including the Canadian Open, an LPGA event, and the TELUS Skins Game, to Angus Glen’s two courses. You couldn’t have a more congenial golfing companion.
Gordon loved pure golf, which is why he conceived of and developed the Goodwood Golf Club, as it’s known, a few minutes east of Angus Glen.
The course has been playable—immaculately so—for a few years, although it’s never officially opened. Gordon was considering and tweaking the business model. As far as the course goes, it stemmed from that singular vision: golf modeled on the British game.
I first walked the property seven or eight years ago with Gordon and Donald Steel, the accomplished English writer and architect who designed Redtail Golf Course in St. Thomas, Ont. We walked the raw ground, and Gordon and Donald saw immense possibilities in its heaving terrain. To Gordon, the ground evoked feelings of golf akin to that played at links such as the Old Course, North Berwick, Royal Dornoch and Royal St. George’s.
Steel came up with an imaginative and stirring routing for the course, and, eventually, after he slowed down in his work, his then-associates Martin Ebert and Tom Mackenzie took over the project. I walked the property again in October 2006. Tom said, “It’s a lovely property and it will always be tranquil.”
A meeting took place in which all aspects of the course and overall project were discussed. This happened at Angus Glen. Images of British courses were shown, the better to indicate what Gordon and his team wanted to achieve. Firmness rather than length was the key. The ground game was meant to be a major part of the experience of playing Goodwood, without ignoring the aerial game.
I was fortunate enough to play Goodwood a few times after it was ready. My first game this year there was on June 13th. This was a reunion of sorts. Gordon had reconnected with his old friend Jim Short, a fellow with whom I’d also been trying to reconnect for years.
We’d all played junior golf together. Phil Seon, also a boyhood friend, joined us.
We met in the parking area after the meandering, pleasant drive on a new road—more a path for now—that Gordon had had built into the property. A spacious range spread in front of us. We hit a few balls and went out for our round—four friends cavorting on Gordon’s dream of a course, except that it was real.
Here’s what I remember in particular about that round, which lasted only nine holes because a fierce storm rolled in. The seventh hole is a longish par-four that turns left after a downhill tee shot, and finishes at a well-elevated green. I hit a decent drive and had about 170 yards to the green. It was playing about 190 because of the elevation. Gordon, who finished second in the 1965 Canadian Junior and who had maintained a smooth swing and touch around the greens, watched closely as I played my second shot. I’d elected a 3-wood, and planned to hit a high slice, a very high slice.
The shot came off and finished 35’ behind the hole. Gordon really wanted me to make the birdie putt, and I did. He smiled his wide smile. He was happy for a friend. A few weeks later I returned to Goodwood, and Gordon related the story of the way I played the hole, and my birdie. He was beaming. He was as happy for me as he would have been for himself, happier, I think.
Now Gordon is gone. Going through my notes, I see that Martin Ebert, speaking of the Goodwood property, said, “It’s a nine out of 10 site, and you never give a ten.”
Gordon Stollery was a wonderful human being. He was a ten.
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 11 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider’s Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); and his latest, This Round’s on Me (2009). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein