The details of the inaugural Canadian Open are sparse, given the original minutes of the Royal Canadian Golf Association meeting are missing. Held at the Royal Montreal Golf Club's Dixie course, it was the third national championship held anywhere, following the British Open (established in 1860) and U.S. Open (established 1895). By the standards of today it was a fairly modest event: Thirty-six holes of stroke play on a single day with just 17 entrants - 10 professional, seven amateur - playing for a total purse of $170. Frank Oke, a recently-arrived professional from England shot 76 in the morning in a drizzle to lead by five strokes and followed with an 80 in the afternoon for a two-shot win over Percy Barrett, another English-born pro. Legendary Canadian amateur George Lyon was third.
The tournament was suspended during the First World War and resumed at the elegant Harry S. Colt-designed Hamilton Golf and Country club in Ancaster, Ont. The first championship after a four-year pause attracted a field that included young amateur Bobby Jones and Jim Barnes, a long-driving Englishman from St. Louis. But the event belonged to another English golfer, J. Douglas Edgar, who fought in the war before becoming a club pro in Atlanta. Edgar dominated, building a nine-shot lead after two rounds and pushing the lead to 16 after 72 holes, a tournament record not likely to be broken. "Douglas was simply playing tricks with the ball," Jones said in a radio interview years later. Edgar defended his title in 1920, didn't return in 1921, and died mysteriously in front of his Atlanta home that summer.
There may have been a depression on, but the Canadian Open was able to attract some strong fields during the 1930s. Held at Mississauga Golf and Country Club, the 1931 tournament was bolstered by the presence of the British Ryder Cup team, which arrived in advance of its match with the U.S. side. None made an impact. Instead, it was Walter Hagen who took the crown, outlasting Percy Alliss in a 36-hole playoff. Alliss qualified for the playoff by shooting 32 over the final nine holes in a driving rainstorm. Alliss's son, Peter, went on to become a well-known British golf commentator.
Few great things have been accomplished without a goal in mind. Byron Nelson's goals were perhaps not typical for a championship golfer, but they prodded him to great things. The smooth-swinging Texan had set his mind on a ranch - and was determined to use golf to get it. He arrived at Thornhill Golf & Country Club north of Toronto having won an amazing 17 events and 10 in a row on the PGA Tour. The fear was Nelson would run roughshod over the layout, so it was lengthened by 500 yards and par dropped to 70. Not that it mattered. Nelson shot rounds of 68, 72, 72 and 68 to win by four. "It kept me going," he later said of his cattle ranch dream. "Each win meant another cow, another 10 acres, a bigger down payment."
He won it style. Pat Fletcher was a 38-year-old teaching pro playing out of the Saskatoon Golf & Country Club when he caught fire on the back nine of the 1954 Canadian Open at Vancouver's Point Grey. He shot 32 on the inward nine and made three birdies, overcoming a two-shot disadvantage to win by four over Gordie Brydson of Toronto and American Bill Welch. Having emigrated from England as a four-year-old, Fletcher became the first Canadian citizen since Karl Keffer in 1914 to win the Open, and remains the last to win the national championship. His family listened to a shot-by-shot account of the final round on CBC radio in the pro shop in Saskatoon. The win made headlines coast to coast and earned Fletcher a trip to the Masters in 1955.
Arnold Palmer wasn't the King when he arrived at Weston Golf and Country Club on the northwest edge of Toronto that summer, just a near-broke tour pro travelling with his new bride, Winnie, in a trailer. A successful golfer at Wake Forest University and winner of the 1954 U.S. Amateur, Palmer was still looking for his first win on tour. "I was getting a little frustrated because I hadn't won up to that point," he later said. "It started happening and it was a very special week. My game seemed to come to me." He opened with a career-low tying 64 and never looked back, heading into the final round with a six-shot lead over a deep field that included the likes of Jimmy Demaret and Sam Snead. Palmer shot 70 in the final found to win by four. He called it the kicking-off point for his career and the 61 PGA Tour wins that followed.
Then-Canadian Open sponsor Imperial Tobacco commissioned a trophy to recognize the golfer who won the U.S. Open, British Open and Canadian Open in a single year. Lee Trevino did it in a single month, as he fit in a playoff victory at Richelieu Valley outside Montreal between his win at the U.S. Open and at the British, a week later at Royal Birkdale. The wind was blowing and that suited Trevino's low-ball, Texas style. He opened with a 73, not bad given the distractions - "All those French girls in those hot pants are driving me crazy," he said - but recovered with rounds of 68, 67 and 67. He birdied the first playoff hole against Art Wall and when he later won at Royal Birkdale, earned a $25,000 bonus from Imperial Tobacco and a unique niche in golf lore that he so far has only had to share with Tiger Woods.
It didn't matter who won the 1977 Open, a star had already been born: Glen Abbey Golf Club held its first Canadian championship, forever linking the tournament with one of golf's greatest names, as the Abbey was Jack Nicklaus's first solo design project. The challenge was to create a course that could test the best in the world, remain enjoyable for everyday golf while incorporating facilities that could enhance the spectator experience as well. This week, the Abbey is hosting its 25th Canadian Open and is viewed as a success on all fronts. It got a deserving inaugural champion too in the form of Trevino, who won his second of three Canadian titles by four shots over Peter Oosterhuis.
It was the perfect shot to end the perfect summer. There were a record 50,000 people at Glen Abbey to watch Tiger Woods stalk his prey in September of 2000, going for his ninth win of the season. There were 1.5-million Canadians watching on television at home. The Tiger effect? That was a 315-per-cent ratings increase over the previous year, for those keeping count. Tied with Woods heading into the Sunday, New Zealand's Grant Waite pushed the legend to the limit. With Woods leading by a shot, Waite landed an iron pin-high on the par-five 18th to give himself a makeable eagle chance, forcing Woods's hand. Woods responded by famously ripping a 6-iron 218 yards out of the bunker, over water, dead at the flag and into the memories of everyone who saw it.
A Canadian hasn't won their national championship since Fletcher in 1954. But no Canadian came as close as Mike Weir did 50 years later. It was a remarkable tournament at Glen Abbey. Vijay Singh was in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in modern golf history. Weir was a season removed from his Masters win. It was the 50th anniversary of Fletcher's victory and the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Open. Flags were flying at half-mast to honour Canadian golf great Moe Norman, who died the week the 2004 event began. On the final day, Weir of Bright's Grove, Ont., stumbled after leading by three with eight holes to play, but had putts to win on the 72nd hole of regulation and a five-footer on the second playoff hole, failing to make either, leaving Singh the sheepish champion and Weir the devastated loser.