Thames Valley circa 1934. Huge 10,000 square foot putting green wraps around #18 green. Flagpole on the putting green surface near the river. “Savior” bunker to keep your shot from rolling into the river on the right of #18 fairway. Tough shot from there. Not many houses but plenty of golfers on the first tee……as usual. Spruce tree just on the left front corner of the 18th green and the house to the east of the clubhouse both washed away in the 1937 flood.
850 Sunninghill Ave, London, Ontario
The City of London
Operated from 1933 until layout change #7 in 1973
John Innes PGA of Canada
John Innes Head Professional
John Moffatt Sr.
Harry Sheppard [1924-1936]
Cec Croft [1937-1940]
1940-1946 [Course not in operation because of WWII training base]
Pat Ward [1946-1983]
Opening Day July 29, 1933 match includes 4 all-time greats of golf
Thames Valley Invitational starts in 1937
Great flood of 1937 affects Thames Valley
Course closed for six years during WWII [1940-1946]
Thames Valley overplayed in 1950’s and 1960’s. Typical 1965 stats, 51,985 rounds on Classic, another 15,682 on Nine Hole Course.
#8 – presently #7 on the Classic. Downhill 544 yards, par 5
#1 – tough start into the prevailing wind and it used to be longer at 400 yards.
Five Best Features
This layout probably would have never changed were it not for the decision to build a large clubhouse, obtain a liquor licence and aim for a “Country Club” golf experience for London’s public golfers.
This is the era that is fondly remembered by many golfers and the time when Thames Valley earned its reputation as one of the finest layouts in Ontario, private courses included. It is also the time that Thames Valley earned its reputation as one of the busiest golf courses anywhere. Fairmont Public golf course operated from 1932 to 1953 which took some of the heat off Thames Valley, at least for east end golfers and Fanshawe came on stream in 1958. Fanshawe took years to mature so for much of this time Thames Valley virtually stood alone as the only option for the public player.
The layout was great but the maintenance headaches for the course were legendary. The fairways weren’t really topsoil underneath they were just various aggregates left over from the last glacial ice age. The greens weren’t very big and many were shaded by huge oak trees. Poa annua was the only grass that seemed to be able to survive here but it was notorious for losing its resiliency in the heat of the summer and would often die off completely during a long cold winter. Thames remains a very seasonal course today. The fine conditions of late May and June are often contrasted with much worse conditions late in a hot summer. In order to construct this layout the London PUC had to purchase 26 extra acres from a couple of local farmers, Dignan and Ward. The land was heavily forested and had to be cleared. No mechanized machinery was available so the trees were cut down using two man cross-cut hand saws and the stumps were blown out with dynamite. We have documented the difficulty of this construction and the results later in this section.
The “official” opening of this layout on July 29, 1933 is a small piece of golf history all by itself. I don’t know much about the opening ceremonies for other area clubs but surely none could hold a candle to having Jack Nash, Sandy Somerville, Joe Kirkwood and Gene Sarazen play a four-ball match on opening day. We have included the photos of this event.
Also during this time period, London experienced one of its most devastating floods in 1937. We have documented its effect on Thames Valley here also.
Just when things were starting to run smoothly at Thames Valley the Second World War broke out and that event had an especially devastating effect on Thames Valley. The Department of National Defense was looking for some centrally located public land to serve as a training camp for soldiers from all over Southwestern Ontario. In wartime saying “no” was not an option. For the next six years Thames Valley was not available for golf and the greens and infrastructure grew over with weeds long grass and shrubs. When the Army returned the Camp to the golfers in 1946, the mess created by the camp had to be dealt with. The cleanup as well as the training camp years are documented with photos and descriptions in this section. After Thames Valley was able to recover after the Second World War, the next quarter century were some of the best years ever experienced by the club. This is by far the longest section on the londonandareagolfhistory.com website. Lots happened at Thames Valley between 1933 and 1972 and not all of it was related directly to golf.
A typically busy day at Thames Valley in the 1950’s. Plenty of cars spilling over into the practice fairway although it is early spring…..no leaves on any of the trees including the willows along #18 fairway.
The design and years played for this layout are a continuation of the earlier layouts identified as Layouts #1 to #5 posted in the list of “layouts” page. Understanding that section will go a long way toward making sense of this section. The square above delineates the final purchase of land required to turn Thames Valley into a 6,000 yard+ Championship course with the short front nine becoming the “Nine Hole Course” forerunner to the “Hickory Nine”. The land used to construct current #3 and #8 of the Thames Valley Classic already belonged to the City but hadn’t been used for prior golf course construction because it was covered with a dense oak forest. The nine new holes built after this purchase included the black rectangle plus the holes just to the south. All of these new holes required massive tree removals and plenty of dynamite to get rid of the stumps. The new holes included present #3 to #11 and allowed for the tee for #12 to be extended 150 yards back into the bush. The old tee for #12 still sits in the 12th fairway and is easy to see.
Here is the original survey [dated March 4, 1930] of the land purchased by the London Public Utilities Commission, through the City of London, which allowed Thames Valley to be transformed into a Championship golf course. Financing provided for the purchase was by the surpluses generated by the golfers of Thames Valley.
Excerpt from “From Rough to Fairway” (John Cowie 2010)
This is a photocopy from the Land Registry Office of the documents related to the purchase of the final 26 acres at Thames Valley. It is a bit difficult to read but the two key transactions are number 39843 and 39862. Regarding 39843 it was a Grant dated September 24, 1930 from Joseph Randolf Ward representing his family to the Corporation of the City of London [the London Public Utilities Commission could not buy property on its own without approval of City Council]. The size of the property was 10 acres and the total purchase price was $4,000, $400.00/acre. 39862 was an option purchased for $25.00 on April 14, 1931 to purchase 16 acres from Edward Philip Dignan also by the Corporation of the City of London on behalf of the London Public Utilities Commission. The City exercised this option and the 16 acres became City property at the same price per acre of $400.00. Final purchase price $6,784. Total cost to the Thames Valley golfers for the 26+ acres: $10,784.
You will have to use your zoom feature on this one. This document is a classic of a bygone era. Basically the Public Utilities Commission was operating a public golf course for seven years without any authority to do so. It was suggested that they seek that authority from the Province of Ontario through the Ontario Legislature. The P.U.C. did ask and permission was granted. Of course City Council added the words “subject to the control of City Council” and all was well. It was almost a hidden item that the real reason for asking for the authority to operate a golf course was to buy the extra 26 acres needed to expand the course.
Once the administrative details were taken care of it was time to get down to the serious business of building a golf course with little money and primitive tools except for dynamite. Very descriptive article and it is interesting how the writer seems to invoke images of World War I into his story. The numbers presented near the bottom of the article are astounding. London Free Press article, 1930.
The London Free Press was almost always on side about reporting efforts to improve Thames Valley and to praise the business model.
From left to right, Joe Kirkwood, Sandy Sommerville, Gene Sarazen and Jack Nash pose for a photo on the First tee Of Thames Valley prior to their opening day match. July 29, 1933.
Putting out on #3 green, #7 fairway clearly visible back left.
Sarazen plays uphill to number 5 green and stirs up a cloud of dust in doing so.
The gallery walks down the 7th fairway with Sarazen visible middle right.
Kirkwood on #7 green with the massive red oak almost directly behind him.
Kirkwood tries to coax in a long putt on #8, #3 fairway in the background.
Sarazen launches his tee shot on #18, Springbank Park across the river.
Two of the games greats, Gene Sarazen and Sandy Sommerville shook hands on the 18th green when the match was over. Original suspension bridge in the background.
Excerpt from “From Rough to Fairway” (John Cowie 2010)
Photograph taken by Jarv Taylor from somewhere near the 15th fairway. The water is almost up to the windows of the pump house.
The lower level of the clubhouse is totally underwater and the water level is very close to the height of the suspension bridge.
Excerpt from “From Rough to Fairway” (John Cowie 2010)
Aerial view of Thames Valley Military Camp in 1942. Although an effort was made to keep the camp as much as possible within the confines of the Hickory Nine, this photo shows how it crept out onto Classic #4, Classic #5 and Classic #1.
National Hockey League stars in front of their tent at Thames Valley Camp including Milt Schmidt, center back.
First task for every soldier, filling your sleeping bag with straw.
Machine gun practice on Hickory #8 fairway.
Practice at the rifle range with gas masks included.
An artillery piece in #8 Hickory fairway.
Great view down Hickory #5 fairway with a sea of tents and Springbank Hill in the background.
Soldiers in the treeline between #5 and #7 Classic read about the Canadian invasion of Sicily.
Parading down #7. The big red oak that guards the right side of the green is easily visible further down the fairway.
Training for gas warfare with bayonets drawn coming up from #9 Classic tee toward the green.
Tracked vehicles practicing on the tobogganing hill.
The view standing on the back of Hickory #5 green. Large maple is still there.
A soldier reading something on Hickory #8 fairway while resting on his Harley Davidson.
A soldier catches a quick nap on Hickory #8 fairway. Tree in the background is still there and the back of Hickory #5 green can be seen.
Closing down the Camp. Large dead spots where each tent stood.
Soldiers push their Harley Davidson up the tobogganing hill. Riverside Drive in the background.
Soldiers marching across in front of Hickory #3 green. They had to march all the way from Hyde Park Rail station.
Rifle target practice in front of #8 Hickory green.
Splitting wood at the cook house beside the present maintenance building.
Testing for poison gas by opening a paper gas detector with a bayonet.
Training on Hickory #7 fairway. That small distinctive mound on the left edge of the photo is still a feature of the fairway today.
Thames Valley Clubhouses for Layout #6
It was big news when Thames Valley opened their new clubhouse in 1930. Finally the public golfer had all the amenities of the private course member although perhaps not quite as fancy.
Here is a good view of the frame clubhouse constructed in 1930. Photo taken in 1961.
In the mid-1960's the London Public Utilities Commission, who was the body responsible for the operation of Thames Valley Golf Course, had a decision to make. The frame clubhouse opened in 1930 required major upgrades and was not large enough to handle the growing number of corporate tournaments that provided big time revenue for the club. The decision was made to replace the old wood structure with a more modern, larger one that would showcase Thames Valley as a model for Municipal golf operations across the country. The decision to intentionally burn the old building was the most cost effective option by far but many of the senior managers within the P.U.C. Commission were uncomfortable with this decision even in 1967. Obviously this option would be unheard of today. The fire department was there in force in late 1967 and the Fire Chief himself walked the halls of the frame clubhouse emptying a five gallon canister of gasoline supplied by greenskeeper Pat Ward. Head Golf Professional John Moffat Sr and Recreation Director Bill Farquarson were given the honors to set the structure ablaze.
Here is the result. The intense heat eventually forced those watching and filming from this location to move further away to #1 fairway. The 5 gallon gas can that was used to ignite the blaze sits on the ground just on the lower right edge of the building.
Here is the fire from #18 fairway.
Here is how it looked from #1 tee.
The present clubhouse was constructed during the winter of 1967 - 1968.
A Classic 1964 poster for the Thames Valley Invitational. Some of the best local golfers won this tournament. Note some of the names and notice that they are playing for the “Dr. Hadley Williams Trophy”. Moe Norman won the tournament in 1956 with a then course record of 64, and just before turning professional. See the layout of the golf course at the Elsie Perrin Williams Estate for more information about Hadley Williams, his trophy and his connection to Thames Valley.