“I was on the football field in September of 1960 watching my father play his last round of golf at the club,” says John Nash (BA’63). “And what am I doing? I’m doing calisthenics, playing football at Western. I literally watched him as he went by, wishing I could be golfing with him.”
Few today remember that between 1924 and 1960 The University of Western Ontario shared its property with The London Hunt and Country Club, an 18-hole golf course that wended its way between the buildings and along both sides of the Thames River.
But for Nash, it was where he spent a good deal of his teenage years. He began caddying for his father, Jack, at age 10 and would soon find himself swinging the clubs as part of junior golf program.
“I played that course for a solid 10 years,” recalls Nash, until its re-location to its current home off Oxford Street. “It was a beautiful course and university; so in those days that’s where Western got its reputation, and was the envy of all the other universities.”
The London Hunt and Country Club traces its origins back to London’s ‘garrison days’ when the Rebellion of 1837 brought British regiments here in 1838. Their officers associated with members of London social elite to organize competitive riding events and foxhunts. Not until 1885, 16 years after the British military left London, did a group of London equestrians formally organize the London Hunt Club.
The club first established on six acres of property designated ‘Glenmore’ and situated on the east side of Western Road surrounding the site of the federal Agricultural Research Institute. The clubhouse was located in an old farmhouse. In 1896, the clubhouse relocated farther east to larger quarters at the southwest corner of Richmond Street and Windermere Road. The name ‘Glenmore’ was retained and the club became The London Hunt and Country Club.
In 1900, a further 30 acres were leased and later purchased and a nine-hole golf course was laid out. In 1916, Western acquired a 165-acre farm from the Kingsmill family for its future campus. On a portion of this property an 18-hole golf course was created. In addition to the usual natural hazards – sand traps, trees, rough, Medway Creek – golfers had to maneuver around the new university buildings. The university had moved to its new campus in 1924 occupying the Arts Building (later University College) and the Natural Science Building (today’s Physics and Astronomy Building).
So were there some memorable holes for Nash? How about right from the get-go?
“On the first hole there would be trap shooting right beside you, so there’d be a guy shooting a gun, literally. So you’d have to play between trap shots,” Nash says. “On your right were the stables, so you could hear the horses neighing. And down 50 yards were the hounds. So the hounds were baying, the horses neighing and the trap shooters are shooting.”
So once you got past that hole, you’d be off to the races? Think again.
“On the second hole you were coming back toward the trap shooting, and if the wind was in the wrong direction, you would actually get hit with the trap on the second green,” Nash laughs.
Among the many golfers associated with the club was C. Ross (Sandy) Somerville who in 1932 won the U.S. Amateur Championship. The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII and afterwards the Duke of Windsor, played a round of golf at the club in 1919. Many important tournaments were held at the club, including several Canadian Opens, America’s Cups and the Ontario Amateur Championships.
Howard Cameron (MEDS ’50) shared a few of the legendary stories of the club, including one involving Canadian Hall of Fame golfer Moe Norman, who played the course many times. Late in life, Norman was operated on at University Hospital and would surprise the doctors.
“Moe was someone who repeated everything he said, so when he came out of the anesthetic they all thought he was nuts because he kept saying ‘13th hole, 13th hole, 13th hole,’” says Cameron, who also played the course a few times as a student. “They later found out the 13th green was where the operating room was.”
Cameron also recalls during one of the America’s Cup tournaments hosted buy the club, when a tee shot from a member of the Mexican team landed in an odd location. “The 18th hole, which came from Richmond Street back towards the clubhouse, had the green that was on the other side of the creek,” Cameron says. “One the guys from Mexico sliced his ball and it went up onto the roof of the clubhouse. And I remember that he proceeded to climb out of the window of the clubhouse and played his shot from there onto the green.”
Aware that Western’s expansion during the 1950s would eventually jeopardize its course, the club purchased 275 acres at the west end of Oxford Street. Finally, the move in 1960 was necessitated by Western’s dramatic expansion and the many new buildings that began encroaching on the fairways and greens.
At its peak, the par 70 course stretched more than 6,400 yards. By the time it came to move, it was down to 5,100 with the growth of the university.
For Nash, he’ll remember how the course gave him his introduction to the game. Whether it be seeing caddies hop the fence into J.W. Little Stadium to retrieve a golf ball during a football game, his brother lighting off a cherry bomb underneath the Western Bridge during a friend’s tee shot or simply walking 18-holes with his dad, the old club holds a lot of memories.