X – Thames Valley 18 Classic and Nine Hole Course (Layout #6) 1933-1972

X – Thames Valley 18 Classic and Nine Hole Course (Layout #6) 1933-1972

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.

Thames Valley #6 – Facts and Figures


850 Sunninghill Ave, London, Ontario


The City of London

Year Built/Opened/Closed

Operated from 1933 until layout change #7 in 1973


John Innes   PGA of Canada

Golf Professionals

 John Innes     Head Professional
John Moffatt  Sr.
Fred Kern


Harry Sheppard [1924-1936]
Cec Croft [1937-1940]
1940-1946 [Course not in operation because of WWII training base]
Pat Ward [1946-1983]

Important Tournaments/Events

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.

Signature hole

#8 –  presently #7 on the Classic. Downhill 544 yards, par 5

Underrated hole

#1 – tough start into the prevailing wind and it used to be longer at 400 yards.

Best players

Larry Bissell
Bob Gooding
Bob Bryant
Mabel Austen
Shirley Darnell
Heather Hueston
Carol McGahan

Five Best Features


Interesting Fact

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.

About Thames Valley #6, 1932-1972

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.

T.V. #6 Photos

This is how Thames Valley looked on a busy spring day in 1961. The old footbridge, the big poplar in the parking lot and the clubhouse that was opened in 1930.

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.

T.V. #6, Aerial View of Land Purchased to Build the TV Classic Layout

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.

T.V. #6 Blueprint

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.

Published Material, T.V. #6, “From Rough to Fairway”

Excerpt from “From Rough to Fairway” (John Cowie 2010)

T.V. #6 Documents

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.

T.V. #6, Documents, Construction Stories, London Free Press

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.

Published Material, T.V. #6 – The Difficult Construction of the Final Nine at Thames Valley.

Excerpt from “From Rough to Fairway” (John Cowie 2010)

The plan was great but the implementation of it became problematic. Large sections of the Dignan and Ward properties were solid oak forest. Ominously the part of the new holes that the London P.U.C. owned hadn’t been turned into a golf course yet for exactly the same reason. The challenge of clearing large acreages was compounded by the fact that the builders had no motorized equipment. The trees were no mere shrubs either. Early in the previous century many of the particularly massive white oaks in the bush had been sold to the British Navy for warship construction. The only way to fell the trees involved the use of two-man cross cut saws; man killers of the first order. Once the trees were down, the stumps had to be blown out with blasting powder. John Innes was in charge of design and construction so he was able to use his accounting skills, honed in the bank prior to the First World War, to record some truly astounding numbers. During construction, a total of 7,400 trees stumps were exploded out of the ground requiring 4,800 pounds of blasting powder, and stones pulled from the rocky ground totalled 16,000 cubic feet. Those three numbers are amazing. The difficult manual labour must have been back breaking. The majority of the workers on the project were family of the local farmers in the area, some of whom were working on land either bought or expropriated from their ancestors. After most of the difficult work had been completed these workers were terminated. In the depths of the depression in 1932 City Council decided that city jobs could only be held by city residents. The western edge of the city stopped at Woodward avenue in those days so Thames Valley was outside the limits and the workers who had built the course and who all lived close by, were out of a job.

   The absence of bulldozers or tractors meant that horse teams had to carry the bulk of the work. Joe Ward was a teamster who had two horse teams available to help with the construction. When he wore out “Jesse” and “Belle” he brought out “Beauty” and “Jim”. A horse drawn scraper was the only levelling device available for the fairways after the stump blasting and the humps and bumps which can still be seen on #3, #7, #9, #10 and #12 are evidence that the horses and scraper were no match for the pock-marked landscape. Incredibly by mid-1932 the new holes were ready for play. However, the official opening would have to wait until 1933.

Official Opening Day Match, Thames Valley Classic Layout, July 29, 1933

Opening Day Match – July 29th, 1933

Excerpt from “From Rough to Fairway” (John Cowie 2010)

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.

Published Material, Flood of 1937

TV entrance roadway, flood of 1937

The same view on February 21, 2018 during a flood. Water is coming over the roadway and note that the spruce tree is still there.

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.

Published Material, The Thames Valley Military Camp, 1940 - 1945.

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.

Clubhouse Photos, T.V. Layout #6

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.

From left to right, the back of the Fire Chief, Alex Kelman [CFPL sports reporter], John Moffat Sr [Golf Professional and Bill Farquarson [P.U.C. Recreation director].


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.

Fall 1967


Here is the fire from #18 fairway.

From #18 fairway.


Here is how it looked from #1 tee.

From #1 tee.


The present clubhouse was constructed during the winter of 1967 - 1968.

Building the new clubhouse.



T.V. Layout #6, 1964 Invitational Poster

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.

“The 19th Hole” – Thames Valley Layout #6

Really the only reason that there was a Layout #6 at Thames Valley all came down to one simple fact that there just wasn’t enough land available to build a “Championship” 18 hole golf course of more than 6000 yards without the acquisition of more property. On December 4, 1878 the City had negotiated and purchased the land for the lower part of the golf course along the river from local farmers for “water rights” and had built the well system that is still in evidence today. The early layouts at Thames were built on this land close to the river. When it came time to go calling on a couple of these same farmers again in 1930 for more land, they were justifiably upset. Philip Dignan readily sold 16 acres to the City but Joe Ward balked mainly because he was still upset by the loss of his land the previous century. Eventually Ward sold his 10 plus acres also but was bitter about it for the rest of his life. His two sons Patrick and Hubert ended up working on the Thames Valley Golf Course but after a couple of beverages, it was plain that they were bitter also. Whether a rumored “job for life” for his two sons was part of the deal between Old Joe Ward and the City, will probably never be known for certain.

The acquisition of these 26 heavily wooded acres plus about 15 acres to the south, which the City already owned, were used to construct nine new holes, #3 to #11 of today’s Classic course. Construction methods were primitive and dangerous as manual two-man cross-cut saws were used to fell the large oak trees and 1,500 pounds of blasting powder was used to blow the stumps out of the ground. The stump blasters would start their work at 5:00am but had to stop at 8:00am because rocks were landing on Riverside Drive during the morning rush hour. The main “stump blasters” were Gord Decker and Ben Irwin, two local farmers. They did not have any formal training in explosives. The undulating fairways in this part of the course are a result of the dynamite blasts and the fact that there was no motorized land leveling equipment available. A couple of horse teams pulling a primitive scraper meant that the fairways never really were “levelled” following the stump blasting explosions and the uneven fairways at Thames Valley are unique in the world of golf. John Innes did all the design work and he did a fantastic job on a difficult site. When the full Classic 18 opened for play in 1933 it was apparent that Innes’ design was top notch and we continue to enjoy these holes when we play Thames Valley today. Some of the best holes on the Classic course were built during this time period in the early 1930’s and include #3, #4, #7, #9 and #12.

The Classic course at Thames Valley has a few features that I really like. The front nine is much more difficult, partly due to the 125 foot elevation difference from the river to the halfway house. On the front nine you have to climb to the highest level twice, once after #5 and again to #9 green. It feels like you are always going uphill on the front nine. The back nine is easier, more scenic, downhill and immeasurably easier to walk.

I have always liked the little echo of the supershort, easy eleventh hole followed by the best and toughest hole on the course, #12. The fact that Thames Valley ends with the three holes along the river has always been a plus for the course and the fact that the final hole is the ultimate “par four-and-a-half” adds excitement and is enough to make you want to return to try again. The view of the entire final hole from the clubhouse or patio is unsurpassed in the City.