He worked in the shadow of a Canadian golf legend. He toiled building and designing hundreds of courses around the country, creating a vast cannon of work. But despite his prolific nature, few golfers know his name.
Now, 30 years after Clifford “Robbie” Robinson’s death, he may finally be getting his due. This year’s RBC Canadian Open is being held at the Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto that has 18 holes designed by Robinson’s one-time boss Stanley Thompson in 1926 and nine holes that were added in 1957 by Robinson. Robinson’s nine holes, and a composite nine from Thompson’s work will make up the RBC Canadian Open course this year.
“This is the first time a Canadian Open has been played on a Robbie Robinson course and I think that will be very interesting for those who are interested in golf course design and history. We think that’s pretty exciting,” said Mark Sadowski, Oakdale’s immediate past president.
Robinson apprenticed under Thompson for 10 years beginning in 1929 before leaving to take the superintendent’s position at Sunningdale in London, Ontario. He served as a pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War.
After the war he worked for a time with American golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, but eventually set up his own golf course design firm and is credited with designing or working on as many as 300 courses in Canada, the United States and in South America.
“I think Robbie would be very proud to have a Canadian Open on one of his golf courses,” says Doug Carrick, himself one of Canada’s top golf course architects, who work for Robinson on and off from 1980 until the designer’s death in 1989. “Robbie did the most significant changes at St. George’s for the Canadian Open there in 1989. He really improved that course, and he probably didn’t get as much credit as he deserved.”
Robinson isn’t the only figure in Canadian golf course architecture who has a link to this year’s RBC Canadian Open.
The building of the Robinson nine at Oakdale was the first job in the golf business that Dick Kirkpatrick worked on.
“My father owned a bulldozer and was looking for work when he saw two guys hammering stakes into the ground and he approached them,” Kirkpatrick explains. “They told him they were building the new nine at Oakdale. He told them he owned a bulldozer, and he ended up getting a job on the project.
It was Kirkpatrick’s introduction to golf course construction.
“I was 19 and just out of the army and I ended up working on the project as well,” he said. “I basically just worked on shaping the bunkers and helping put in the irrigation.”
Kirkpatrick went on to become probably Canada’s most prolific golf course shaper, working on as many as 200 golf courses. He worked quite a bit with Robinson on his designs and eventually crafting three courses of his own in Ontario, including Otter Creek in Otterville and Copetown Woods in Hamilton.
To learn more about Robbie Robinson and Stanley Thompson you can go to the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame website at: https://heritage.golfcanada.ca.
This year’s RBC Canadian Open will be played from June 8-11. To find out more information on the tournament you can go to: www.rbccanadianopen.com.