(Editor’s Note: Scarboro Golf & Country Club is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year. To help mark the occasion, the Club commissioned Brent Long to write a commemorative book on the first 100 years. Following are some of the author’s favourite stories about Scarboro and its colourful past.)
It may be hard to believe today, but there was a time that Scarboro Golf and Country Club members bled blue and white.
“At one time there was a photo in the golf shop of the four Leaf captains who were all members at Scarboro – Teeder Kennedy, Syl Apps, Jimmy Thomson and me,” says Dave Keon who was a Scarboro member from about 1963 to 1990. “Bobby, Duffy and Nevy were members, so I decided to join them.” Keon is of course referring to teammates Bob Baun and Bob Nevin, as well as Dick Duff. Keon’s three children, David, Kathleen and Timmy, would bike over to play the course all the time too. The boys caddied and Kathleen won the Junior Club championship. In 1974, Keon missed the Men’s Club Championship by one stroke when he lost to Jackie Brown, a five-time champion.
In 1967, Canada celebrated its Centennial, and Toronto Maple Leaf fans will know that the team last won the Stanley Cup on May 2. What you probably don’t know is that former Scarboro member Oscar Walden had two seasons seats at ice level right beside the Leafs bench for years. Brown recounts a wonderful tale where Walden, a Bay Street stockbroker and well-known gambler at the club, laid down $500 on a 1,000 to 1 bet that Toronto would win the Stanley Cup later that year and they did.
“When we won the Stanley Cup, Oscar had all of us out there to celebrate for a day. We had lunch, played golf and had dinner. It was a very good day,” says Keon, who remembers Walden making a large bet on the Leafs. Members of the Leafs played with different club members that day. “Back then, Club members were all big Leaf fans, so they enjoyed a day with all the players.”
Scarboro G&CC was founded in 1912 – the same year the Titanic sank - and is one of eight clubs across Canada celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer. Over the years members have come and gone, but their stories still linger in the history and traditions of one of the country’s premier country clubs.
In the 1950s and 1960s hundred-dollar bills floated as freely as October leaves, when a clan led by stockbroking magnate Bud Knight regularly teed it up after the markets closed at 3 p.m., playing $200 Nassaus before repairing to the pillared “Forum” for multiple libations and matches of gin rummy or poker.
“The big betters at the Club in the late ’50s were Bud, Bobby Sansone, Ernie Midgley, Oscar Walden and Bob Metcalfe,” Brown recalls. If they were playing for $10,000, they had $10,000 in their pockets. No cheques or credit cards in those days. Bud liked to play $1 a yard, so if the hole was 500 yards, they played for $500.”
Scarboro’s opening and closing tournaments became the stuff of legend, with post-round gambling drifting well into the wee hours and several members crashing afterward in rented rooms upstairs or the half-dozen cots downstairs in the “Recovery Room.” The floodlit putting green also regularly saw action past 1 a.m., with Walden and company playing for as much as $100 a hole.
Even guests saw a piece of the action. “There was a guy named David Winchell, who owned a mining company downtown,” Brown recalls. “The only way he’d play at Scarboro was if I caddied for him. He had a $10,000-to-$1,000 bet that he couldn’t break ninety here. We got to the eighteenth hole, and I knew the bet and the score. I handed him a five-iron, and he says, ‘It’s a long par-four; what am I doing with a five-iron?’ I said, ‘You need a six to break ninety. You just have to get it over the fence. He got a six, won $10,000, and gave me $50 for caddying, which was more than I’d make in a week.”
Long-time member Bob Gillespie has that story trumped. “Frank Riley once tried to take Walter Davidson’s keys away after a particularly late night,” Gillespie recalls. “Walter said, ‘I’m fine—I could drive home in reverse!’ So Riley bet him $500 he couldn’t, then followed him all the way home—about 10 kilometres—as Walter drove down Kingston Road all the way to the Beaches—backwards. Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic at that time of night back then.”
“Those were the good old days. Scarboro was the greatest country club in the world back then,” sighs 93-year-old John Greco, waxing nostalgic about the stockbroking crew and many of Scarboro’s departed members. “They were part of a group of guys here that had a winning attitude,” he says, “and it permeated the entire Club. There was a sense of community that can’t be taught or legislated.”
Head Professional Terry Kirkup recounts his favourite Scarboro tale in the club’s Tillinghast Lounge. “Robert Trail (Bob) Gray Sr. arrived in Canada from Scotland on the Pretorian on April 29th, 1913 and first settled in St. Thomas. His wife Jeannie and their three children Janet, Bob Gray Jr. and Anne followed on the steamship Letita arriving on July 15th, 1913, but the family almost didn’t make it to Canada. They had purchased tickets a year earlier to cross the Atlantic Ocean together, but Jeannie took ill and they postponed the voyage.” It’s a good thing. The ocean liner they were booked on hit an ice berg and sank on April, 15th, 1912 – it was the Titanic. Robert Gray Jr. went on to become Scarboro’s head pro from 1938 to 1966 before dying of an untimely heart attack.
Centennial chairperson Ross Duggan goes back to 1924 when the club hired noted American golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast to redesign the golf course. “As I have been told the story, Tillinghast would come up to Scarboro to supervise course construction and under his coat on one side he would have a flask to wet his whistle while out in the field. On the other side he had a pistol just in case he came across something that didn’t agree with him in the wilds of Scarboro,” Duggan says.
For a brief moment in the mid-1950s Scarboro considered a land swap with the owner of Box Grove GC – Nelson Davis. The ultra-private and challenging layout designed by Rosedale golf pro Jimmy Johnstone was established in the early 1950s and known for rarely having more than a group or two playing at any time. As Greco recalls, Box Grove was offered to Scarboro for $1.6 million. Legend has it that Davis once invited Arnold Palmer to play the 7,435-yard, par-72 course when he was here for the Canadian Open. When asked what he thought Palmer said, “I don’t think anybody is going to watch Arnold Palmer shoot 76.” It was that difficult! Scarboro members deemed that the Markham property was too far out in the country. Davis sold Box Grove to IBM in 1966 for $3 million and it operated as the private IMB G&CC for 25 years. In 1992, the majority of the property was re-zoned for development and nine holes operate today as Markham Green Golf Club.
In October 1959 Scarboro’s property committee submitted a report on the feasibility of selling the golf course and purchasing Tyrell Orchards between Sheppard and Finch Avenues, east of Little’s Road. The property contained 425 acres and would have accommodated 36 holes of golf, practice fairway, putting green, clubhouse, curling rink and about 75 lots for residential development. Scarboro superintendent Mac McArthur even laid out two holes on the property and said the soil was perfect for a golf course. After much debate the proposal was defeated. The site is now the Toronto Zoo!
There are also great stories about Jack Nicklaus playing in the 1958 Canadian Amateur and Moe Norman at the 1963 Canadian Open, but you’ll have to buy the book if you want to read those.
More articles by Brent Long