19th Hole

Celebrating Stanley

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Cape Breton Highlands Links (highlandslinksgolf.com)

For my money, it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Mike Weir and Lorie Kane being named to the Order of Canada and right alongside Marlene Streit’s induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Unique about the honour amid the aforementioned group is Thompson’s resume: the Canadian design legend crafted courses, he didn’t play them.

For this ‘builder’ —whose landmark career favourably compares to Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, Harry Colt, A.W. Tillinghast, C.B. MacDonald, Seth Raynor or even his former partner Robert Trent Jones Sr.  —having the spotlight shine his esteemed body of work is an occasion to celebrate.  It also impacts the sport on multiple levels.

Any time golf crosses over from its often tucked away corner of the sporting mainstream the game wins.  Those moments happen all too infrequently within the riveted confines of a hockey-centric, baseball and basketball infused nation so expect the Toronto native’s posthumous entrance into the national sporting shrine in Calgary to hopefully garner meaningful attention for the game and on Thompson’s illustrious golf architecture career.

What a career it was.  From 1921 up to his untimely passing in 1953 Thompson put his signature on 117 Canadian courses. They traverse the nation from Capilano, Banff and Jasper Park in the west to St. George’s, Westmount, St. Thomas and Cataraqui in Ontario; then they make their way east to Quebec’s Beaconsfield and on to his crowned jewel – in my opinion – Cape Breton, Nova Scotia’s Highlands Links. One mustn’t overlook what Thompson accomplished outside Canadian borders either.  He fashioned 20 courses in the United States and eight more in Central and South America.

For all the polish he put on this golfing nation Thompson was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1980.  In 2005 he was named, ‘a person of national historic significance’ by the federal government.

Today, his legacy for this and future generations is being preserved by the Stanley Thompson Society which formed in 1998.  I’m happy to say I’m a proud new member of that society.

What one can also hope for with the grand master’s national sports hall of fame induction is a measure of heightened awareness to trickle-down to the talented, esteemed design group that has followed in his footsteps.

Canadian golf is truly blessed with great architects.  From Thompson understudies Robbie Robinson, Howard Watson, Geoffrey Cornish and Bob Moote the baton was passed to a present day visionary group of Doug Carrick, Tom McBroom, Graham Cooke, Les Furber, Ian Andrew, Daryl Huxum, Rod Whitman and now, by extension, is moving along to the likes of Jeff Mingay, Riley Johns, Gary Browning, Wade Horrocks and even 2003 Masters champion, Mike Weir, the next generation of aspiring Thompson’s.  Wonderful it would be to see all of them recognized more for the work they’ve done.

In Jim Barclay’s book The Toronto Terror, this Cornish excerpt nicely frames the kind of influence Thompson had, not only on his stable of associates, but on the game across Canada and beyond.

“(Thompson) made an exceptional contribution to golf, what with his handsome memorials coast-to-coast, his yearning for beauty that manifests itself even in his most modest creations, his international reputation, his dedication to educating those who worked for him, and his goal of creating an energetic society of golf course architects,” Cornish wrote.

Stanley Thompson changed the paradigm of golf course architecture in this country.  His concept of risk-reward playability continues to be a bedrock principle of modern course architecture. It’s a concept that has made the game more thoughtful, engaging and has helped put our inventory of courses across the country on a pedestal with the best anywhere.

Of his forthcoming induction into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary Thompson aficionados everywhere will agree: it merely adds another exclamation point to a storied, celebrated career that has had so many.

Celebrating Stanley

This article was originally published in the June 2015 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.