You get a peak at the King as soon as you make the turn past Weston Golf & Country Club’s handsome, brown stone pillars. It’s a life sized statue of Arnold Palmer, the most beloved figure in the golfing kingdom, who even now in his 70’s makes women swoon and men weak in the knees. He’s cradling the Seagram trophy, like it’s a first born child and his smile is as bright as the noon day sun. The statue is a recreation of the famous photo of Arnie, taken after he captured the Canadian Open at Weston in August of 1955, his first win on the PGA Tour. Palmer returned to the club in 2005 to unveil the statue, kick off a celebratory golf day that raised funds for charity and to revisit Weston’s charms.
Weston is a low key club - not a lot of drama or fuss, just a friendly membership that is proud of its rich history and a golf course that has always ranked in the top tier in the country. The club’s origins date all the way back to 1909 when four pals from the village of Weston in Toronto’s west end staked out a four hole loop on the eastern banks of the Humber River.
In 1920, the club vaulted to the top of Canadian golf when it hired Willie Park Jr. to design a full blooded 18 hole course. Born in Musselburgh on Scotland’s east coast, Park was the winner of two British Open titles, was an author, club and ball maker and the architect of more than 100 courses sprinkled across Britain, Europe and North America. Park only designed a couple of courses in Canada and it’s a shame. His work ranks with the best of the early 20th century designers. You can particularly see his genius at the 5th and 6th where he runs the holes across the ridges and at the greens at the 9th and 18th that slide away from the shot, requiring expertly judged bump and runners to get close to the pin.
In 1955, the entire country got a look at Park’s design and at Arnold Palmer when the Canadian Open was televised nationally for the first time. It was Arnie’s first year on the Tour and he and wife Winnie crisscrossed the continent by car like a couple of golfing gypsies. In the weeks leading up to the Open, Palmer zigzagged from his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to the US Open in San Francisco, up the west coast to Portland and Vancouver, then back across to Minnesota, Milwaukee, Toledo, Chicago and finally to Weston where they camped out in a field behind the superintendent’s shed. While Palmer had made some money on his 3,000 mile loop of North America, he admitted that if he didn’t earn some bigger cheques soon, he’d have to consider returning to Pennsylvania to find a job as a club pro.
But Palmer was never short on money again. He posted rounds of 64, 67, 64 and 70 for a total of 265 to win the tournament in a blowout. It turned out to be the lowest 72 hole score of his entire career. At the presentation, Canadians from coast to coast saw the baby-faced Palmer engulfing Winnie in a joyous hug. Neither had an inkling of how many their lives would soon change.
Always looking to improve, in 2005, Weston called in Doug Carrick’s company to renovate the bunkers. They were deepened and sharpened with a ragged edge added to the exteriors to give the course a classic look from the 1920’s. Carrick is a fan of the course. “It’s a terrific parkland layout on a really beautiful piece of property – lots of uphill, downhill and sidehill shots. It’s a great member’s course but obviously can be set up to hold important tournaments.,” says Carrick.
Although it’s hosted big time championships ( besides the Open, George Knudson won the Ontario Open here in 1971 )and has plenty of high profile members (proud Weston golfers include, two time Canadian Amateur champ Warren Sye and CBC’s Peter Mansbridge) Weston hasn’t changed all that much since its early beginnings in 1909. It’s still very much a community club, with close ties to its neighbourhood. Weston has opened up its junior ranks to kids in the area who want a place to play and is also a strong supporter of the Special Olympics program on both its golf course and its curling rink. “Becoming involved with the Special Olympics has been a privilege for us. It’s exciting and rewarding” says Weston’s General Manager Peter Holt.
The King would be proud.
More articles by Ian Cruickshank