If you’re going to stage a national championship that doubles as a PGA Tour event, and that falls in the middle of a crowded schedule full of big tournaments, it’s wise to use a top-notch course. Golf Canada – formerly the Royal Canadian Golf Association, and it still feels more proper to call the organization by its historic name – has done that in going to the Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, Ont.
Hamilton, which members refer to as Ancaster after the town in which the club is located, goes back into the mists of Canadian golf history. More recently, it has held the 2003 and 2006 Canadian Opens. This week’s RBC Canadian Open, then, marks the third time in the past 12 years that the championship has been contested at the course.
Only Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont., has held the tournament as often in the past decade. Jack Nicklaus designed the Abbey, which played host to the Canadian Open every year from 1977 through 2000 with the exception of 1997 and 2000. Royal Montreal’s Blue course was the venue then. The Abbey will also be the venue next year, by virtue of contractual agreements with ClubLink, the owner.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that the move to, well, move the tournament to older, classic courses has taken hold. The argument that a national Open should be rotated around to some of a country’s top courses has won the day. The U.S. Open and the Open Championship, which Ernie Els won last Sunday, do rotate in such a way.
That said, the United States Golf Association has also demonstrated that it will use newer courses that its officials feel will challenge players and also provide the space for required infrastructure. The 2015 U.S. Open, for example, will be held at the new, linksy Chambers Bay on the coast in University Place, Wash.
It’s more typical, however, and even brave, for the USGA to choose a course such as Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Penn., which will hold the U.S. Open next year. Merion is confined to a small piece of property, and, like Ancaster, has history on its side. Bobby Jones completed his Grand Slam in 1930 at Merion. The Grand Slam then comprised the U.S. Open and Amateur, and the Open and Amateur Championships, known to most North Americans as the British Open and Amateur.
Speaking of Jones, he played the 1919 Canadian Open at Ancaster. That was the first year the tournament was held at the course. It was also held there in 1930, Jones’s Grand Slam season. In 1919, Jones was not yet the golfer he would become. But he did place second in the Canadian Open – by 16 shots. The course for the Open was 6,350 yards. It will play 6,966 yards this year.
Sixteen shots! That remains the largest difference between first and second place for the Canadian Open, or any PGA Tour event. J. Douglas Edgar, of Atlanta, like Jones, won the tournament (and defended his title in 1920). He died under mysterious circumstances two years later, after he was found bleeding on a street in downtown Atlanta. Steve Eubanks dug into the mystery for his interesting book To Win and Die in Dixie: The Birth of the Modern Golf Swing and the Mysterious Death of its Creator.
It might be fun for spectators following Els and the others this week at Ancaster to know something of Edgar, and, to be sure, of the Hamilton club itself. Edgar invented a simple contraption called The Gate to Golf, which was also the title of an instruction book he wrote. The device came with the book, and promoted an inside-out swing. Most elite golfers swing in to out, because it’s more powerful and efficient. Think of a field-goal kicker or soccer player. They approach the ball from the inside.
As for the course and club, Ancaster’s members have always honoured their rich history. The walls of the clubhouse are full of black-and-white photos from the club’s early days. In 1919, as Eubanks noted, quoting American Golfer magazine: “To the chap who finds himself the least bit off, there are penalties galore from ditches, water hazards, and scraggly traps.”
There’s only one thing to lament on the eve of this year’s Canadian Open: The traps are no longer “scraggly.” More’s the pity. A bunker, after all, should be a proper hazard. Royal Lytham & St Annes showed that last week during the Open; how much more interesting it would be this week at historic Ancaster, were the bunkers scraggly rather than smooth? But that’s modern parkland golf, even at a refined, historic course.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
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 he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). 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