The best place to talk to a professional golfer is in his or her natural habitat: the golf course. I played the Summit Golf and Country Club in Richmond Hill, Ont. the other day with Ian Leggatt, the former PGA Tour player and winner. Leggatt assumed the role of director of golf at the 101-year-old club this year. He has been doing a tremendous job of making it a desirable place to tee it up. No wonder Summit is getting new members regularly.
Leggatt, 47, was working with the Wasserman Media Group in Toronto when the Summit position became available. He would likely have had to move to New York to continue with Wasserman. But, like most tour players, he never saw himself as a director of golf at a club. Yet the idea started to work on him. He visited Summit a few times and realized the club was committed not only to improving its already fine course that roams over some of the best topography for the game anywhere, but to making it a golfers' club with everything that goes with the intention.
And so he decided to accept the position. His commitment to the course and club was evident while we played with club president Steve Ralph and member Doug Carrick . Carrick is a highly regarded course architect, and, I might add, a very solid player. He has a special feeling for Summit, where he's been a member for 35 years. The club has supported the changes he and Leggatt have wanted to make at Summit. The course has been freshened with some new greens, opened up with tree removal, lengthened. It provides a stimulating golf experience from the first tee high above the fairway to the last green, well below the revamped and inviting clubhouse that noted Toronto architect Eden Smith designed a century ago. I could see sitting there for hours while reading and watching golfers finish.
Now, I admit to being partial to Summit. I wrote its 75th anniversary book in 1987. I'd played the Ontario Best-Ball at Summit, effectively its permanent home for years. I wrote that "Summit is above all a golfer's golf course. It is enjoyable, it is stimulating, and it can be difficult." It's all of that still, and more.
One example: I enjoy long views across a course, while at the same time recognizing the value of trees on parkland courses. Views have been opened up at Summit, while it will always be a treed course even with its tree removal program. Standing on the first tee, I could see all the way past the new first green and on to the new second green. Right away there was a feeling of freedom, something I cherish on a course.
Leggatt is the right man for the job. He has to be one of the most personable tour pros I've met; his friends know him as Leggo, by the way. Maybe he developed his comfortable ways of being around people while growing up at the Galt Golf and Country Club in Cambridge, Ont. Leggatt returned there recently for a pro-am. At Summit, he plays at least once a week with members. His assistant pros also play regularly with members. Leggatt will play wherever members want to play. Forward tees? No problem.
Leggatt can still really play. But it was clear that his ego wasn't wrapped up in his golf itself. He was more interested in the course, and chatted with Carrick and Ralph about various matters and further improvements as we meandered around the undulating terrain with its peaks and valleys. He striped shot after shot and told stories all the way around and later as we sat on the terrace. He's a master storyteller. Leggatt and Scott Metcalfe co-host The Golf Show on Sportsnet from 7-8 AM every Saturday during the golf season.
Leggatt related a story about his friend and fellow PGA Tour player Mike Weir. Weir usually went over to play links courses the week before the Open Championship. He went with his friend George Roberts, a well-known American businessman, and Weir's partner in the annual AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. A couple of other friends accompanied them.
Weir and Roberts were partners one day. Roberts had a 10-foot putt on the last hole to win the match for them, and the stakes that went with it. Miss the putt, and they would lose. Weir told Roberts that the putt broke from the right. His Scottish caddie, who hadn't said a word all day, grunted. Weir turned to him. The Scotsman had something to say.
"Mr. Weir, you may have a green jacket, but that putt hasn't broken from the right in 150 years," he said How could Roberts make a smooth stroke now? He missed the putt.
Then there was the time Leggatt was playing with Nick Price. Leggatt started with five straight birdies. On the sixth tee, Price, a three-time major champion with a dry sense of humour, couldn't help himself.
"You know, Ian, you can't birdie them all unless you birdie the first five," Price said.
"That was it," Leggatt said. He made a big number right away. Leggatt was laughing when he related the story. I doubt he was laughing at the moment.
That was then, when he was playing against the best golfers in the world. He won the 2002 Tucson Open, his only PGA Tour win. (But how many people in planet golf can say they won even one PGA Tour event?) Now he's thriving in his work at Summit. I could feel the energy at the historic club.
ScoreGolf ranked Summit 80th on its 2012 Top 100 list . I counted at least 26 courses ahead of Summit in the ranking that in my opinion aren't nearly as good. I'm a Score panelist. I can't imagine that Summit won't be ranked higher–much higher–when the 2014 ranking is published. The improvements will only continue. Leggatt, Carrick, and the club's executive will make sure of that. I'm already looking forward to my next visit.
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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