St. Thomas Golf and Country Club. A view from behind #6 green of one of Southwestern Ontario’s toughest holes, #3.
42325 Sparta Line, Union, Ontario
Pinafore Park, St. Thomas (1899-1909) – 9 hole layout
1063 Talbot St. , St. Thomas (1909-1922) – 9 hole layout
Private – Member/Shareholder
The Elgin Golf Club was established in 1899 as a nine hole course in Pinafore Park. In 1909 they moved to a site at 1063 Talbot Street. When this club moved to their current location in 1922 they changed the name of the club from Elgin Golf Club to St. Thomas Golf and Country Club (Union). The nine hole course at 1063 Talbot Street eventually became the St. Thomas Public Golf Course.
Stanley Thompson 
Major redesign, Robbie Robinson 
Tom Pullen Sr 1925 – 1936
Frank Courrier 1937 – 1939
Tom Pullen Jr 1946 – 1981
Derrick Jones 1981 – 1993
Dan Campbell 1994 – 2011
Andrew Pearson 2012 to present
Tom Unsworth Prior to 1981
Rhod Trainor 1982-1989
Ryan Beauchamp 1990-2005
Wade Beaudoin 2006-present
Early Bird – Every year since 1949
1966 – Ontario Senior Men’s Championship – Phil Farley
1978 – Ontario Open – George Knudson
1982 – Ontario Amateur – Bill Swartz
1985 – Ontario Ladies Amateur – Ann Lavis
1989 – Canadian Senior Men’s Championship – Keith Alexander
1992 – Ontario Amateur Championship – Mike Weir
1996 – Ontario Open – Martin Prince
2005 – Ontario Junior Championship – Matt Graham
2010 – Canadian Senior Men’s Championship – Paul Simson
2015 – Ontario Women’s Amateur Championship – Maddie Szeryk
#3 – As tough as they get.
#13 – Difficult par 3 from elevated tee. OB on the right
Jeff Van Vliet
Five Best Features
Challenging [to say the least]
Sloping fast greens
The Elgin Golf Club which eventually became the St. Thomas Golf and Country Club was one of the few Clubs in Ontario that was organized before 1900.
This fall I played the St. Thomas Golf and Country Club for the first time since I played with Ryan Beauchamp so it was several years ago. I always had the utmost respect for the club and knew I was in for a tussle. What I had forgotten about were those greens! If St. Thomas had 18 flat greens it would still be a tough test but on a lot of the holes the trouble really starts when you have a putter in your hand. The third, twelfth, eighteenth and most others are crazy in certain parts of the greens. The members must have a great time in the fall scramble.
The history of the St. Thomas Golf and Country Club began in 1899 when about 30 local men leased a small chunk of land and a farmhouse in Pinafore Park. It was only nine holes but it became the first golf course in St. Thomas and its name was the "Elgin Country Club". Ten years later in 1909 the St. Thomas city council decided to approve a horse racing track in Pinafore Park and its construction interfered with the operation of the golf course and was also built right on top of one of the greens. After some discussion about potential sites, the members of the Elgin Country Club decided to relocate to a site at 1063 Talbot Street, which was close to downtown. Opening day was July 1, 1909.
The limitations of the site on Talbot Street and the possibility of purchasing the large Whaley Farm out on Sparta Line and in the town of Union, Ontario led the members to build a new golf course there starting in 1922. George Cummings, head professional at the Toronto Golf Club had helped advise the club about the potential of various sites. Stanley Thompson was hired to design and construct the new course. Because the Elgin Golf Club was still operating on Talbot Street, the members felt that there was cause for confusion between the two golf operations. Accordingly on November 23, 1922 the members voted to change the name of the new course at Union to the "St. Thomas Golf and Country Club".
I first played the course in 1967 in the Ontario Junior Qualifying. The course at that time kind of reminded me of a course like Thames Valley…..not very long, quirky in spots and it played a lot tougher than it seemed. Then the first hole was a short dog-leg left, drive and a wedge to a green tucked into a clearing behind the ninth tee. You could still play it today. The second hole is not used anymore but it was a cool par 3 from a tee behind the first green. Your shot had to carry a deep gulch and then you ventured across the gulch on a swinging suspension bridge. After that you went over to tee off on present #7 which was #3 then. There were two holes located on the vacant land behind present #8 tee. One was a par three and the other a short par 4. After you played #14 [same hole as today except the roadway near the green swooped in and made for a narrower layup] then you got to play another short 4 but it was straight up a hill so steep that there was a mechanized ski tow rope to help you get to the top. The fifteenth hole at that time teed off 90 degrees to the direction of the present 15th hole. Present 15 goes south and old 15 went due east. Sixteen was another short par four and eighteen was the same hole but a much shorter par 4 than today.
In 1982 the St. Thomas G&CC was looking for a new Greens Superintendent to replace the retiring Tom Unsworth. I knew that the Club was especially looking for a golf oriented greenskeeper who could add some final touches to what obviously was a great course. I was just a young assistant greenskeeper at a public golf course [Thames Valley] but I loved the course so much that I applied for the job and got an interview! I was so nervous going to the interview and of course right across the table from me in the interview room was Jim Waite. I can't recall any details of the interview except that I didn't get the job. The interview committee obviously did a great job and hired Rhod Trainor.....one of the best in the business. He did a great job at St. Thomas.
A major redesign by Robbie Robinson in 1970, put the course on a much grander scale and as good of a layout as I have ever played in Ontario. Robbie built six completely new holes and these toughies replaced many of the previous “soft touches”. Every hole now can give you fits. As long as golf is played on this layout on this prime property the second hole will always be controversial. One of the things I like about this course is the majestic opening tee shot from a vista perched high above the fairway and under the shade of a massive maple that looks like it has always been there. It always looks like at least a par five to me. Great track.
Stanley Thompson’s original design for St. Thomas Golf & Country Club (Union). In Stanley’s original design the nines were reversed, today’s tenth hole was designed as the first hole. Holes that remain virtually unchanged are present day #5, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #17 and #18 (although it can play a lot longer currently). In 1930 the club purchased 6.3 acres of land and the two holes constructed there eliminated the congestion at the lower part of this diagram as well as the need for the par 3 identified as #14 located on the upper left hand corner. This hole would have been spectacular and similar to today’s #4 except it may have played downhill instead of uphill. The proposed green site may have been in a similar location to today’s #4.
Scorecard from when the nines were reversed but before the 11th hole became a much longer par 3. Halfway up the scorecard on the extreme right is a “stymie gauge” the 6″ that you were allowed to avoid a stymie.
This is the layout for the St. Thomas G&CC after the purchase of the 6.3 acres to build the #7 hole but before #2 is extended from a 90 yard par 3 to a longer hole. At this point the nines have been reversed and the starting hole is no longer a par 3. The 6.3 acres are no longer used for golf but provide great overflow parking for major events.
At this point, most likely in the 1940’s the nines are similar to today but #2 is still a super short par 3. #3 which is the 7th hole today is long enough to be called a par 5. The 14th hole is being played as a par 4 to the top of the hill at 375 yards and the 15th hole at only 275 yards is being played also from the top of the hill. Only 5,800 yards……not the St. Thomas G&CC of today. Actually, all of these holes could be played today. Perhaps some year it would make for a cool late fall “Heritage Scramble”. Another “6” Stymie Gauge on the right of this scorecard.
This was one of the options presented to the members by Clinton “Robbie” Robinson for the eventual golf course expansion in 1970. Notable features include a 90 degree dogleg left par 5 from #13 tee to some spot at the top of the hill on #14. The proposed hole is located at the extreme upper right corner of this diagram. From there Robbie wanted to play a spectacular par 3 to #14 green. The members fortunately rejected the plan because it was felt that the current #13 and #14 were great already. I always wanted to ask Robbie how he was going to keep golfers from taking a more direct, and dangerous, route to the green on his right angle dog-leg par 5. The center of the 11th fairway looks like a very attractive, not to mention, shorter, route to the green. The other noticeable feature of this diagram, and every other proposal Robinson had, was that the second green clearly was to be situated on the other side of the creek where it could be seen from the fairway. Eventually the creek was rerouted behind the green and the second hole remains the fodder for second guessers in the lounge today.
This is the greensite for old #1 green, tucked away behind #9 tee. The staff keep the area mowed and it looks just as it did in 1967 when I first played the course.
This is a cool photograph taken this fall of the two green sites for old #2 hole. The first site was only 90 yards over the gully and it was straight on line for that broken tree. Lots of holes-in-one on this short hole where some of them came from using the steep hill behind as a backstop. The other green site was on top of the hill and it was a magnificent par 3. There was a suspended bridge over the gulch to add to the excitement.
Here is a photo of the short 90 yard second hole in 1927. Neither the short hole or the longer hole built further up the hill are in use today.
Here is a classic photo of the 14th hole the way I remember it in 1967. The roadway was out of bounds and pushed into the fairway to make the layup shot between the road and the giant sycamore a very narrow proposition. I see a hose dragged out to water the green in daylight hours. A common sight in the 1960’s and one member of the group would often hold the hose up so that fellow competitors could putt under it. Can’t see that being acceptable today.
This 1956 photo shows the ninth hole but perhaps more of interest it shows how the old first hole swooped around the ninth tee and the green was tucked into the trees behind it. Also the present site of #1 green is very much in evidence. No trees at this point between #1 and #9.
If you are one of the golfers who never played the old 15th hole at Union, then it is difficult to explain what it was like. It teed off almost exactly 90 degrees to the direction that the hole goes now and, as you can see, it headed straight for the clubhouse. Of course there was no way to see the clubhouse from far below the hill. There is a reason that eventually an old rope ski lift was later installed to help pull you up the hill. The hill was steep enough and long enough to warrant it. In this picture I see a set of stairs over to the left and I’m not sure what is going on to the right. During World War II this part of the course was not used. #14 became a par 4 that ended on top of the hill and this hole, #15 started at the crest of the hill. My personal memories of this hole are not good. In the 1967 Ontario Junior qualifying round I hit a smothered hook into the face of the hill and the left trees. Made a 10.
This photo is a bit dark so I added the flag with a pen. This is what you faced on #14 in 1967 trying to lay up your second shot to the base of the hill in order to get a clear third shot. OB was very tight on the right, the giant Sycamore was interfering on the left and at this point the steep hill itself had not been graded. The 14th before the road was straightened was very daunting.
One of my favorite places to be……teeing off at #1 under the giant maple at St. Thomas Golf and Country Club.
Tree clearing at St. Thomas G&CC has improved the turf quality and allowed for some spectacular views like this one from near the back of #6 green. There is no tougher hole in southwestern Ontario than the third hole, shown here.
The new, longer layout of St. Thomas G&CC opened in 1971. Stanley Thompson had designed the original layout in 1922 and the new design was by Robbie Robinson. The Club had purchased more land [the Ross farm] and Robinson added new holes [#2, #3, #4, #15 and #16] and also changed several other holes adding more length and challenge.
The amateur golfers got a chance to take on the new layout each spring in the Early Bird Tournament and had found it tough. The scheduling of the Ontario Open at St. Thomas G&CC from June 16-18 in 1978 would go a long way to determine how professionals would do on the relatively new layout.
The bottom line is that George Knudsen won the 54 hole event with a score of 212, four under par. He played a fantastic final round  and some of the great shots that he hit left St. Thomas Assistant Professioal, Gil Parkinson, speechless. In particular George birdied #16 off a downhill hanging lie with a brilliant five iron that never left the flag and ended up near the pin.
One of the benefits to winning the Ontario Open in 1978 was that the winner was to recieve an exemption to play in the Canadian Open that same year. That exemption went to the winner, George Knudsen, although it is hard to believe that the organizers of the Canadian Open wouldn't have extended a sponsor's exemption to Canada's greatest golfer if that was what was required to get him into the field. The opportunity to get a ticket to play in the Canadian Open was however a sufficient carrot to dangle in front of young American Pros and many of them showed up to play in the Ontario Open for just that reason.
Here is a classic photo of George Knudsen hitting balls on the practice tee at St. Thomas during the 1978 Ontario Open. George's swing was one of the best and he was one of the greatest ball strikers ever. His putting ability unfortunately did not match his ball striking ability.
George Knudsen was one of the first professional touring golfers to recognize the importance of fitness for success in the sport of golf. He spent a lot of time with Lloyd Percival, a fitness guru, in Toronto working on both his strength and flexibility. His athletic swing is timeless.
I was at the tournament to watch a young assistant pro from Fanshawe, Doug White, play the course. Doug had been struggling with his game beforehand but he shot steady rounds of 77-78-77 on the difficult course......an excellent showing. Plenty of other local pros did not get a chance to play the final round but Doug did.
One of the finest pieces of property to construct a golf course that I have ever seen or played on belongs to the St. Thomas G&CC on Sparta Line. The original 18 designed by Stanley Thompson in the early 1920’s was a fairly short course but it had charm, character and played a lot more difficult than a quick look at the scorecard would indicate. Suddenly in 1970 the course was transformed into a beast. The acquisition of additional land and the redesign by Clinton “Robbie” Robinson changed St. Thomas into a course that could host any championship and in hindsight, added the length and challenge that will stand the club in good stead for years and decades to come. Length, elevation changes, beautiful vistas, intimidating holes, a couple of quirky holes and greens that were built with slopes when green speeds were not as quick as demanded today, will always mean that St. Thomas G&CC commands respect from golfers of any ability.
One of my favorite “golf carnage” stories comes from St. Thomas G&CC and it happened at the first Early Bird tournament played in 1971 at the new layout. Many golfers had not even seen the new holes and had no idea of the challenge that awaited them. Some of the new holes like #3, #15 and #16 still had underbrush adjacent to the fairways and those areas were ripe for lost balls, unplayable lies and multiple penalty strokes. The weather was windy and cold. #3 was so penal that many rulings were required and there were so many groups backed up on the third tee that they could have used a ball rack to keep everyone in order. The sloped greens were fast and hard. My friend, Bill Laughlin, had scored a fine victory in the Ontario Junior the year before and was an up and coming ranked amateur player. He shot 87 in his first try at the new course! Doug White was a member at Fanshawe and a contestant in the “B” Flight, which still had mostly single digit handicappers. Doug was a decent, steady golfer. He shot 99 – 101 for an even 200 and more amazingly was low player in his group both days! The new layout at St. Thomas G&CC got the attention of all participants that year.
The clubhouse at St. Thomas is a treasure built in 1924 and reeks of history, class and the traditions of the game. Hopefully the resources of the club will be used to adequately maintain this clubhouse facility and to use the rest of the available funds to improve the “raison d’etre” of this fine course which is to continue to provide one of the best golf experiences in Ontario.