X – ‘Old’ London Hunt Club 1885-1960

X – ‘Old’ London Hunt Club 1885-1960

The only recognition that there was ever a golf course on the property of the University of Western Ontario is a simple sign attached to a bench on the old first tee. The old first hole was not a very long par 4 but with the Medway Creek flowing all along the left side and out of bounds all along the right side, it was not an easy hole to start on. Most of this hole is virtually untouched and you can walk it today. Someday surely the University will erect a proper plaque on this site delineating its history. Until then we will have to settle for the bench.

"Old" London Hunt Club – Interesting Facts and Figures

Address  

361 Windermere Road, London, ON

Ownership  

Private; membership owned

Year Built

1904 nine holes;
1917 eighteen holes

Architect/Designer

Original nine 1904-unknown

George Cumming from the Toronto Golf Club designed the second nine in 1917 and remodelled the existing nine at the same time.

Golf Professionals

Kearney Marsh
Walter Cunningham

Greens Superintendents

George Darou
Morley Findlay

Assistant Superintendent, Ernie Andrews

Significant Tournaments

Canadian Amateurs:  1930 [ Sandy Somerville, Canada def. J. Wood Platt, 11&10]
1938 [Ted Adams, USA def. Sandy Somerville one up in 37 holes]
1954 [E. Harvey Ward, USA def. Bill Campbell, USA, 5&4]

Ontario Amateurs:  1929 [Sandy Somerville, champion], 1946 [Jack Nash, champion]
1951 [Gerry Kesselring, champion]

America’s Cup: 1954 USA def. Canada and Mexico.

Signature Hole

#11 – The “Stadium Hole”
A wayward tee shot could end up on the playing field of  J. W. Little Stadium

Underrated Hole

#18
This hole required a layup short of the Medway Creek and then an approach shot over it. A slice off the tee could hit the clubhouse.

Best Players

Sandy Somerville
Jack Nash
Emerson Creed
Gil Walker
Tom Woodall

Five Best Features  

Trickiness
Beautiful layout
Tradition
Great tournaments
The river holes

Interesting Fact

At the “Old” Hunt Club the clubhouse was in play on #18 but not out of bounds. During the 1954 America’s Cup a Mexican golfer sliced his tee shot onto the flat roof of the clubhouse, climbed out of a second floor window onto the roof………and played his next shot from there.

About the”Old” London Hunt Club

If you look at the scorecard for the Old London Hunt Club you might wonder how it was a suitable venue for numerous provincial, national and international championships. There were nine par fours on the property that played in the 320-340 yard range for members and the total yardage just barely nosed past the 6,000 yard mark. In its day however the Hunt Club provided a stern test of golf with the Medway Creek and Thames River in play on many holes and the chance of hitting out of bounds on many others. You must remember that for approximately half of the Hunt Club’s life at U.W.O., the steel shaft had not yet been invented, let alone becoming available to the members for regular play. American hickory, first imported to England for axe handles proved to be the “state of the art” material for golf shafts and combined lightness with minimal torque. It proved to be much better than native hardwoods in Britain for golf shafts. The first professional victory with steel shafts did not happen until 1931. The sand wedge was another step forward in golf club design but again Gene Sarazen did not invent it until the second half of the Hunt Club’s tenure at Western. Wooden shafts and deep bunkers without sand wedges insured that the “Old Hunt” would be a challenge for all golfers.

The course had its quirks…..for example the eleventh hole doglegged around the J. W. Little football stadium which wasn’t out of bounds so theoretically you could find your ball on the playing field and hit it again from there. The first tee was located adjacent to the trapshooting range so there was always a possibility of gunfire going off during your backswing for the initial drive of the day. If the wind was from the right direction there was the possibility of being hit by trap fragments on #2 green and the strong smell of gunpowder often filled the air. The horse stables were located just to the right of the first fairway as were the dog kennels and both added their own matrix of sounds and smells. The seventh and eighth holes both ran their entire length tight against Western Road which was, of course, out of bounds. Imagine that situation today given the traffic on that busy thoroughfare. The fifth hole actually doglegged around the Science Building and naturally some golfers would attempt to “cut the corner” and hit the tee shot over the building with varying rates of success. The 17th hole looked like an easy, short par 4 on the card but unfortunately the university didn’t own the land to the right of the fairway so anything that leaked right at all ended up out of bounds. Although 15 of the holes are covered now with massive buildings, there are three holes on the property which remain reasonably intact. They hold the secret of why the Old Hunt was so tough. They are all short par fours but the Medway creek is in play on them all and some menacing boundaries meant that length was a limited advantage. Straightness was a necessity.

The beauty of the old Hunt Club must have been a sight to behold. There were only a few buildings on the campus but they were the elegant and stately original ones constructed of quarried limestone. Only a few thousand students attended classes in those days at the sprawling campus which had enough room for a golf course meandering around the perimeter. The tenth hole in particular must have been fun to play. The tee was close to the beautiful Observatory building and the hole ran along the wooded ridge just to the west of the football stadium. Anything hit to the left would have been severely punished. There was so much room in those days that the golfers and the students could live in harmony.

The routing of the holes at the Old London Hunt Club underwent one major change. The layout used for the 1930 Canadian Amateur Championship was par 70, but it had only one par 5 [hole #6] and eleven of the last 12 holes were par 4’s. A bit boring. In the 1950’s, perhaps in preparation for the 1954 Canadian Amateur and America’s Cup matches, a few changes were made. The “Stadium Hole” was extended to become a par 5 and the old 15th and 16th holes were combined in order to make a “super” par 5 along the river which played to 560 yards, a true monster back in the day. Looking at that hole I cannot help but think of the similarities that it has to the present #10 hole at the “New” Hunt Club on Oxford street. It was a long par 5 for its day with a gentle turn to the left with the Thames River menacing all along the right side for the entire length of the hole. I always wondered if Robert Trent Jones was made aware of this hole or perhaps even visited the Old Hunt Club site before designing the most iconic golf hole in London, #10 at the New London Hunt Club. A short par three was added to make up for the deficit caused by turning two holes into one. These changes added length to the course and added more variety and excitement, especially near the end of the round.

The original clubhouse was called “Glenmore” and it had entrances off both Richmond Street and Windermere Road. After the Hunt Club vacated the campus for its new digs at the end of Oxford Street, Glenmore was used as a nurse’s residence for many years. A few years ago it was torn down. As the University grew, the fate of the Old Hunt Club was sealed as many of the holes had to be shortened because buildings were getting in the way. By 1959 the course was down to little more than 5,000 yards. The only recognition now that there was ever a golf course on campus, is a simple plaque on a bench on the old first tee. It is a beautiful tranquil spot. The first hole however was no easy starter. The Medway creek ran all the way along the left side and the out of bounds on the right side that is Windermere Road was totally in play. Often golfers would tee off on the tight 320 yard hole with a five or six iron and take their chances with another five or six iron to the green. When you are sitting on that bench it is hard to not think of some of the greats that played there, Billy Joe Patton, Bill Campbell, Harvie Ward, Jack Nicklaus’ great amateur rival Charlie Coe and of course our hometown legends Sandy Somerville and Jack Nash.

“Old” London Hunt Club – Famous Moe Norman Story and Scorecard

 Excerpt from the book “Moe & Me”

 

There are many versions of what Moe Norman famously said when he awoke from surgery at London’s University Hospital. This is one account; an excerpt from Lorne Rubenstein’s excellent book “Moe and Me” published in 2012. One thing is for certain. Moe was most familiar with the Hunt Club layout that he played in the 1954 Canadian Amateur and the 1954 America’s Cup in which he represented Canada as an amateur before turning professional in 1957. You can hang your hat on the fact that he said the third hole because if you look at the diagram….that is exactly where he was. Our version goes like this: “Moe was asked by Dr. Bill Wall when Moe awoke from bypass surgery ‘Where are you’. Moe immediately responded ‘third hole, 490 yards, London Hunt Club’. ” We like our version the best.

 

Scorecard

 

 

Sandy Somerville’s scorecard from one of the rounds in the 1930 Canadian Amateur. He shot 67 on the way to winning the title and played with Mr. Savage who shot 78.

“Old” London Hunt Club – Diagrams

 

This is the layout of the Old London Hunt Club that was in play during the 1930’s and 1940’s. This rotation of holes matches the scorecard of Sandy Somerville when he was victorious in the 1930 Canadian Amateur.

 

 

 

 

Here is a simple diagram but it coincides with the diagram above and is accurate regarding the layout of the Old London Hunt Club during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

 

 

 

This is the layout of the course as it was played in the 1950’s and specifically for the 1954 Canadian Amateur and America’s Cup matches. At this point both #11 and #13 have become par 5’s. Note that short par 3, #4. Doesn’t look like much but the construction of that hole allowed for the 13th hole, directly below it to become a monster par 5. Holes #7 and #8 play adjacent to Western Road. The three holes that can still be walked today [#1, #17 and #18] are also the three that never changed their number or design during the lifespan of the course at the university. Note the position of the third hole. Moe Norman represented Canada in the 1954 America’s Cup and played in the 1954 Canadian Amateur, both contested at the Old London Hunt Club.

 

 

 

Here is how the course as it was played in the 1950’s would look today…..could be one of the most difficult courses ever. Note the arrow for the third hole splitting the two words “University” and “Hospital”. I call #3 the “Moe Norman hole”.

“Old” London Hunt Club – Photos

 

This photograph taken during renovations to the Old Hunt Club clubhouse show how it was possible for the Mexican golfer to play his second shot on #18 from the roof of the clubhouse during the 1954 America’s cup. The 18th hole runs close along the left side of this photo and very close to the clubhouse. A sliced drive for a righthander could easily end up on that flat roof and apparently the contestant did just that. He ascended the inside stairway, got up to the second floor and climbed out of one of those windows to not only retrieve his ball but play it from there!

 

 

 

To people nowadays, having the Duke of Windsor play your golf course would be news but really no big deal. In 1919 just after the carnage of World War I was over, to have the Duke of Windsor out playing was a very big deal; front page news in fact. The significance of the Duke would increase when he ascended to the throne as King Edward the VIII in 1936 but within a year abdicated in order to marry the woman he loved, Wallace Warfield Simpson, an American divorcee. Individuals in the photo include the Hunt Club Professional, Kearney Marsh, Lieutenant Colonel Trotter from the armed forces and the Duke of Windsor.

“Old” London Hunt Club, Photo and History of #!, #17 and #18.

 

This is a beautiful photo of the 12th green [previously the 14th green] with University College in the background up on the hill. The hill was a popular tobogganing destination in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Doesn’t look like a putter would be a good option out of that trap. The tee is to the left. Long looks bad and two more unseen traps guarded the other side. Difficult green complexes at the Old London Hunt Club.

 

Although there were two major routings of the holes at the Old London Hunt Club, three holes always stayed the same and with the same numbers. They are the holes that, even now, remain largely untouched by Western University expansion.They were #1, #17 and #18. If you look at this diagram and the following series of photos, you can understand why the Old Hunt Club could defend itself even though length was not one of its weapons.

 

 

 

#1 was a 320 yard par 4 but the Medway creek ran along the entire left side and tight on the right was Windermere road……. OB. The fairway sloped naturally and severely toward the creek. You can stand on the greensite today and get claustrophobia just thinking of how little room there was between the creek and the road. If the University owned the land to the right of #17, then the hole would have been easier but, alas, that was not the case and OB again tight to the right. Length was of no value on the short par 4 eighteenth either as the Medway creek ran in front of the green.  All three holes could have easily survived today’s technology and you can still walk them all yourself today and make up your own mind.

 

 

A tree now grows on the back tee of what was #1. Medway creek runs all the way along the left and the perfect tee shot would land on the sidewalk.

 

 

This is the old first fairway. Photo is taken from the site of the plaque on the old first tee. Pretty much the same today if you ignore those fast growing weeping willows, the landscape rocks, and the building. The camera tends to flatten things out but you can still get an idea of the strong slope toward the Medway creek.

 

 

The view of the old first fairway from the bridge to University Hospital looking back east toward the tee which was located on the mound just in front of the building. Arrow is centered on the elevated first tee.

 

 

The greensite for #1. Not much room between the creek on the left and Windermere Road on the right. The green was about pin high to the white truck on the right and, of course the truck is out of bounds.

 

 

The approach to #17 green. The stately tower of Mount St. Joseph’s is pretty much centered on the green. Uphill second shot with OB tight to the right.

 

 

The view from #18 tee. Heading straight toward University Hospital over a baseball diamond. Unfortunately a long drive was of little value on this short par 4 because the Medway creek runs in front of the green. Clubhouse was close on the right so a drive hit anywhere to the right of the first base light standard would likely land on the patio or roof.

 

 

 

Photograph taken from the 18th green looking back toward the fairway and tee. You can just see the fairway as a swath of green in the center of the photo. Note how substantial the Medway creek is in this location as it is just about to empty into the Thames river. Tough finish for a 316 yard par 4.

“Old” London Hunt Club – Published Material

Reprinted from an article by Paul Mayne about events and
individuals from the time that the London Hunt Club shared
property with the University of Western Ontario

 

 

 

“Old” London Hunt Club – The 19th Hole

 

By far the most romantic story of a golf course on our website belongs to the Old London Hunt Club. Many thousands of people every day work, study, heal, recreate, park, teach, philosophize, research, socialize, theoreticize and create great ideas to benefit mankind at Western University but very few have a clue about the origins of this property. When Western University was built in 1922 the site was criticized as being too far away from downtown and out in the country. Hence it got the “Country Club” moniker. The fact that a golf course shared the acreage didn’t help that cause. Some of the parts of the course are so built up now that it is impossible to recognize any natural feature that would identify that a golf course ever existed on this site.

When you walk today on the few parts of the course where grass and trees still grow rather than asphalt and concrete it is hard not to reminisce about simpler times and how the beauty of the scene then would contrast with the hustle, bustle and landscape changes that exist now. The golf history of the site is amazing. The Old London Hunt Club was so well respected as a golf course that it was easy to choose as a venue for some of the most important amateur golf events staged in North America. It wasn’t a long course but it was a tough course that featured deep bunkers [in an era before the invention of the sand wedge], close OB boundaries, plenty of water hazards and difficult green complexes that yielded few pars from poorly hit approach shots. The Old Hunt was much more than a member’s course and perhaps it is fitting that it will always be associated with an institution of higher learning. It was a thinking man’s golf course.