Golf Historical Society of Canada

George S. Lyon (1858-1938)

Olympic Golf and George S. Lyon

(by Doug Marshall)

The First Olympic Golf
The First Modern Olympics took place in 1896 in Athens, Greece, thanks to the efforts of a Frenchman, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. They were a great success using the historic events of the Ancient Games. The second and third Olympics were held in Paris in 1900 and St. Louis in 1904. They were both attached to World Fairs: in 1900 to the Exposition Universelle of Paris and in 1904 to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. This was done to give the athletic events maximum exposure.

In Paris, golf had been added and was played on Oct. 2nd and 3rd at Compiegne Club thirty miles north of Paris. Twelve men teed it up for 36 holes resulting in Charles Sands an American from St. Andrews in Yonkers winning with a score of 82-85. He won by a shot over Walter Rutherford of Jedburgh, Scotland. Charles was also a noted tennis player who was to win the 1905 US court tennis championship and as a beginner in golf in 1895 had lost to Charles Blair Macdonald 12 and 11 in the first USGA Amateur. He also competed in Tennis at the 1900 Olympics.

The Ladies played next day on Oct. 3rd and Margaret Abbot of Chicago Golf Club shot 47 for the required nine holes. She is represented here in a sketch by artist Charles Dana Gibson a family friend. All of these competitors were well heeled socialites using the gutty ball now on the verge of becoming obsolete.
A third handicap event was held which was won by 10-handicapper Albert Bond Lambert, a millionaire from St. Louis. I mention this because Lambert was instrumental in helping bring Olympic golf to St. Louis in 1904. His father had founded Lambert Pharmacol Co. later to be called Warner Lambert, the makers of Listerine. He had played in this event while on a business trip and once back in St. Louis was part of the group that organized the Glen Echo event in 1904. Later Lambert, who was a early flight advocate, helped sponsor Charles Lindbergh in his 1927 flight over the Atlantic.

George S. Lyon –The Last Olympic Champion (1904)

His name was George S. Lyon. He was 46 years old, had been playing golf for only eight years and in a 36-hole final defeated the reigning US Amateur Champion, 20 year old Chandler Egan, 3-up with 2 holes to go. How could this happen? This was the question golf fans asked as he was an unknown Canadian when he arrived at Glen Echo Golf Club just outside St. Louis. He was one of 80 some contestants who had to first qualify for 32 match play spots and then play five days of 36 hole matches to win the Gold Medal.

Glen Echo was a 6,100 yard layout, very undulating with trees, ravines and some water in the form of creeks. It was new with only one year old greens which were somewhat tricky as a result. The length was very acceptable at the time, though by this time the golf ball was now the wound rubber Haskell nicknamed the “Bounding Billy”. This ball was to make golf courses at that time lengthen their yardage to protect their par.

Lyon had qualified tied for ninth while his eventual finalist opponent Mr. Egan had led the qualifying with one of his rounds scoring 78. On opposite sides of the draw they each had to win 4 matches to meet in the final. This they each accomplished and on Sept 24, 1904 they played 34 holes in a steady tropical rain till George sank a 9 foot putt on the 16th hole to end the match.

This exhausting format sent the 20 yr. old Chandler Egan to bed while George Lyon celebrated in the Clubhouse by walking the length of the room on his hands to accept his gold medal and huge Trophy. This is the only documented example of such celebratory behavior outside of a zoo!

So who was this 46-year old champion and where did he get all that energy?

It turned out George S. Lyon was a renowned sporting champion in his native Canada. Outstanding in several sports as a youth as a young man he had settled on Cricket. An excellent batsman he had been capped eleven times in International matches with the US and Britain. In one match he had scored 238 runs not out, considered a record at the time.

Above: George S. Lyon

One day while waiting for practice at the Rosedale Cricket ground he was challenged by a friend to come out and try golf on the Rosedale course. He accepted and with his batsman eye found it quite easy to hit the golf ball superbly right from the start. He confessed later that he had always had contempt for the game. But now, George at age 37 was hooked.

He spent the next two years, 1896 and 1897, playing cricket in the summer and golf in the spring and fall. Then in 1898 he won his first Canadian Amateur Championship. Golf now became his priority. By 1904 he had won three Canadian Championships and would go on to win five more.

In 1902, he helped create the Lambton Golf Club in Toronto and from this base, he spent the rest of his life making this Golf Club famous. Besides the Olympics, George played in the British Amateur twice reaching the Quarter finals on one occasion, but only twice playing in the US Amateur.

In 1906, while playing in the US Amateur George reached the final against Eban Byers. In a great match, George lost one down on the last hole. So great was his effort that the crowd surrounded him and applauded and asked him to make a speech. He obliged and after escaping, commented “Well I guess I gave them a good show.”

Above: George S. Lyon

George’s style of play was most aggressive. He played quickly and was very long off the tee. Add to that a very good short game and superb putting and you have a formidable opponent. He also had a generous and outgoing disposition and was admired and liked by all who knew him. Renowned for his after golf celebrations he was noted for leading the grill room with renditions of ‘Mother Machree’ and ‘My Wild Irish Rose’.

Beyond his prime golfing years, he served as a Charter Member of the Canadian Seniors Golf Association and in many roles within his second home, Lambton Golf and Country Club. He also made time to win 10 Canadian Seniors Golf Association titles as well as 4 U.S./Canada Senior individual titles. Up until 1930, he was a guiding presence in all of Canadian Amateur golf.

In 1937, George suffered a stroke and he died on May 11, 1938. In 1955 he was voted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1971 he was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.

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