The first tee of Thames Valley’s six hole golf course, 1924. The two level tee is still there in present #16 fairway. Thames River, footbridge and Springbank Park in the background.
850 Sunninghill Ave, London, Ontario
City of London
On June 15, 1924 a six hole course opened at Thames Valley.
In the next 8 years the six holer became 9, then twelve and then two versions of 18. These five early layouts are grouped together in this section. The purchase of more land allowed for a 27 hole layout to officially open on July 29, 1933 and that became Layout #6.
John Innes PGA of Canada
John Innes PGA of Canada
London Free Press Tournament
#2 which is #18 today
Par 5, finishes between the Thames River and the clubhouse
#3 must have been a tough uphill par 4 from beside the present clubhouse to present Hickory #8 green.
Vic Bullock [first club champion 1925]
Five best things about this course
London’s first public golf course
The first tee for the 6 hole golf course that opened on June 15, 1924 still exists. It is easy to see located on current #16 fairway of the Thames Valley Classic. It is a two level tee located against the river bank and about 50 yards to the west of the old dam. Another interesting fact is that the long walk from #1 green to #2 tee was necessitated by the fact that the Ward Hotel was still standing on present #17 fairway until 1926. Once the hotel was razed in 1926, then the hole now played as #17 could be constructed.
Very few golf courses anywhere have experienced the number of major layout changes that Thames Valley has had. The number is nine. Hopefully the number will never hit double digits. The reason that we have grouped the first five layouts together is that they really are part of the same process which was to try to get a Championship length layout together using limited land and limited funds. The story of Thames Valley is quite well known. E.V. Buchanan, general manager of the London Public Utilities Commission made a trip to England and was impressed with the large number of the public golf courses located on public land along rivers.
The PUC owned 100 acres of land along a river. It used that land to tap into spring water which it used as a public drinking water supply. The site of the wells where the water was collected became Thames Valley Golf Course. It took a while to complete the course however because no public funds were ever used to build or operate it.
The six hole course which opened to much fanfare on June 15, 1924 quickly became nine holes because of the large number of people who were willing to pay 25 cents a round to play golf. The nine holes became 12 for a short period of time [layout #3] in 1926 and then there were two separate 18 hole layouts #4 and #5. One when the first tee was still at the west end of the course on today’s 16th fairway and the other once the first tee was moved to its present location because of the construction of a proper clubhouse.
The problem with all five layouts becomes very obvious with a bit of study of the diagrams. There just wasn’t room on this property for a regulation length championship course. John Innes was a golf professional and also the designer and builder of Thames Valley. No matter how solid the club was financially, he was not going to be satisfied until there was a layout of at least 6,000 yards. This situation led to the acquisition of an additional 26 acres, although of course, not without some controversy. The entire north-west corner of the property was the land that was required. Today that land is the site of #3,#4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11 and the tee and first 100 yards of #12 fairway. Thames Valley golfers always had to pay their own way and amazingly the course managed to claw its way out of debt for all construction, land acquisition and operating costs by 1929.
Thames Valley golf course should be recognized as a Heritage Property, not for physically what is there but because of all the important events that happened there and that influenced the history of the City of London. Also it basically bankrolled the expansion of the City Golf Course System which now includes 45 holes at Fanshawe and 18 more at River Road. Interestingly there is only one green that has survived intact through all of the nine layout changes and that is current #8 Hickory green. Originally this green was the target of a dog-leg left that started near today’s first tee. Then it became the destination for a dog-leg right par 5 that started near present #3 Hickory tee. Today it is the green for a straightaway par 4, #8 on the Hickory Nine, and it is the only green that has survived from the June 15, 1924 official opening.
Jared Vining hits the first shot from the first tee at the opening of the six hole course on June 15, 1924. E.V. Buchanan, third face from the left and John Innes, big guy on the right in the light colored pants, look on.
This diagram and map show the first layout of the first six hole golf course at Thames Valley. A couple of awkward walks between holes but so many golfers wanted to play this course that this layout became nine holes before the 1924 season was over. #1 is a short par four played to a green short of the swale that is in front of today’s #16 green. #2 is roughly #18 today. #3 goes from the concrete wellcap beside the putting green to #8 Hickory green. #4 starts from the tee for Hickory #9 but goes down the hill to the right to a green in present #1 fairway. #5 is a par 4 that plays across present #1 green and ends up in the second fairway. After a long walk through the bush, the sixth tee is close to today’s #15 tee and this short par 4 ends up in #15 fairway, about 80 yards short of the present green.
This is the nine hole layout that followed the six hole course. A three hole loop followed the fifth hole and the sixth hole became #9. The three new holes were a short par 3 up the hill then the present day 12th and 13th.
For a short time Thames Valley played as a “Crumlin Creeklike” 12 hole golf course. The course now expanded up into the area that became today’s Hickory Nine. The present first and second holes made their debut on this layout. They are #7 and #8 on this layout. #1 tee is still in the 16th fairway. The Ward Hotel still sits in the middle of today’s 17th fairway necessitating a long walk from #1 green to #2 tee.
This layout [#4], was the first time that Thames Valley had a full 18 holes. Note that the first hole is still at the west end of the course although the tee for this hole [today’s #16] has been moved back to today’s location. The Ward Hotel was demolished in 1926 allowing for the construction of hole #2 which, of course, is present #17. Holes #4 to #12 basically make up what is now the Hickory Nine [or to “Oldtimers, the 9 hole course]. The fourth hole was the craziest hole on this layout. It went from a tee close to today’s 18th green to the original 1st green of the Nine Hole Course, approximately where #1 Hickory green is today. The tee shot had to go straight up the hill to a level area and then straight up once more to the green. A “double blind” shot.
Once the new clubhouse was built in 1928 in the same spot as the present clubhouse the deck was reshuffled. Although there were no changes to individual holes at least both nines returned to the clubhouse which was a huge advantage for such a heavily used muni track. The front nine at this point resembles the Hickory Nine more than ever. Fairly obvious what would have to happen from this point onward. If more land was not purchased then Thames Valley would always play at a bit more than 5,000 yards instead of the more than 6,000 yards required for a Championship layout. Lots of vacant land available to the north and west in this photo.
Just another busy day at present #1 tee at Thames Valley during the 1920’s. Check out those plus fours. The line of maple trees on the left and the spruces up on the hill to the right are still there.
This is the original green for what is now #18. Originally the golf course did not own the land behind the fence that is visible behind the square green. Today’s green is located just behind the fence. Of interest is that the two huge spruce trees that frame the right side of the present green are clearly visible also in this photo. They are very small at this point in 1924.
Jared Vining, left, and Sandy Somerville, right playing the hole that became #3 on the first version of the Classic layout. There is a set of stairs on the left that were eventually replaced by a brick “yellow brick road” that scaled the steep hill further to the right.
The story of one of Canada’s best public golf course systems begins here with the story of how Thames Valley progressed from a 6 hole layout constructed in the couple of months in 1924 between “approval to build” in April, 1924 and opening day on June 15, 1924 to a full Championship 18 and Executive Nine Hole Course in 1933. The solid framework established in the years between 1924 and 1933 set the stage for the entire system. Not only is today’s 90 hole system good, which it is, but also it is a virtual gift from London’s golfers to the City of London. Golfer’s fees, not tax money, built, and paid for all of the operating expenses, capital expenditures, land purchases and construction costs from 1924 forward. This continues to the present day and the time frame is quickly gaining on a century. Not bad.
It is also a unique system compared to anywhere else in Canada where some municipalities have quality courses but Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer have always been asked to come up with the $. No evidence of a similar system has ever surfaced in the United States to the best of my knowledge despite plenty of effort to find out.
There is no way that a story like this could ever happen in today’s world. Imagine a public body [the London Public Utilities Commission] being denied public funding from City Council to build a golf course and getting around that roadblock by scavenging private donations and selling future memberships to a course that wasn’t built or even designed yet. The London P.U.C. had no authority to own or operate a golf course but they did anyway……..for seven years until it was so successful that they sought approval from the Provincial Government to do just that. I guess it is the old story about begging forgiveness has validity……at least in this case. The man who designed Thames Valley was a golf professional and wounded World War One veteran but he had never designed a course before and had no credentials to do so. Decent effort for a first try.
The golfers of London paid for land acquisitions required to turn Thames Valley into the layout we know today, the clubhouse constructed in 1928 and even the original suspended footbridge across the Thames River to provide better access to the course. They also paid for the land acquisitions and construction costs of Fanshawe Traditional course. I was slightly surprised in the early 2000’s when the original footbridge was replaced with the present one, at a cost of $1.8 million, that the City didn’t come looking for financing from golf operations. Thames Valley golfers had paid for the original one in 1928 at a slightly more frugal cost of $8,750.00. The principles of golf course operation started at Thames Valley in the early years carried forward to the construction of the entire 90 hole system where surpluses from current operations were used to buy land, construct courses, cover operating expenses and pay for ongoing improvements.
Thames Valley Golf Course is London’s most historic property and should be protected along with the obvious choices like Eldon House and the former Court House and should be a Heritage Property. Typical of some designated Heritage properties in London are those in the “Renaissance Revival Style”. This is what they have to offer. “A revival style [1840-1890] characterized by a studied formalism found in the Renaissance style which was developed in the 15th century in Italy during the rebirth of classical art and learning. It is characterized by the use of Classical orders [eg. Doric], round arches and symmetrical composition”. Other properties exhibit the Bungalow Style, “gently pitched roof extending over the verandah and concealing second story living space”. I am not a student of architectural heritage and have no quarrel with the designation of these buildings but as far as heritage is concerned, here is what we have at Thames Valley. Seems like no contest. “Part of the original Waterworks London Water Supply, site of Ontario’s first Hydroelectric dam, connection to the Victoria Boat Disaster, site of the storied Ward Hotel, connection to Sir Adam Beck and his vision of a publicly owned electrical supply, victim of the 1937 flood, site of World War II military training camp, London’s first public golf course, site of the original suspended footbridge across the Thames, bankroller to the entire 90 hole golf system, close to 3,000,000 recreational rounds played by London’s golfers”. Doesn’t seem like a fair fight but in 30 years of trying I have never even received an acknowledgement from City Hertitage Planners that Thames Valley is even being considered for Heritage designation. I wish there was a “circa 1850” Renaissance Revival cottage with “studied formalism” still on the property and it would make things a lot easier.