I was born to a long line of golfers. My father, Ted, was an excellent player whose harrowing World War II experiences were somewhat alleviated by golf. A flight lieutenant in the RCAF during World War II, my father piloted a Halifax bomber that was shot down in 1942 over Dusseldorf, Germany. He spent five months shackled in a Stalag near Lansdorf before being transferred to the lower Silesian prison camp of Sagan. It was there that he manufactured balls and clubs and gave instruction at a 9-hole course made by the prisoners. He escaped just before VE Day. Upon his return, he was rewarded with an exhibition match partnering the great Bobby Locke.
After returning to Canada, Ted West launched what was Canada’s first sporting goods store. When it did not succeed as he had hoped, he was persuaded to rejoin the RCAF and was killed flying a helicopter rescue mission in the interior of British Columbia, in 1955. His good friend and golfing colleague was Stan Leonard, Canada’s best professional golfer at the time. When Gary Player went on an exhibition tour with Mr. Leonard in the early ’60s, their stop in Edmonton included dinner with my mom and one of her friends. I was a teenager at the time and still remember that thrill of these two coming by the house to take my mom to dinner.
I would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alberta, an M.D. from the University of Calgary, and a master’s in community health from Queen’s University. I was an associate professor in family medicine at Queen’s and have a private practice in Kingston. I’ve golfed all my life, but there was a 10-year hiatus when the sport took a back seat to my travel adventures and medical school.
In 1968, I had just finished an English degree and was rudderless. I travelled to San Francisco to visit friends and Haight Ashbury and then boarded a ship to Australia to see what else there was in the world. My future wife, Avril, was also on that ship. A singer, she had grown weary of the nightly routine of singing gigs and, like me, was traveling to Australia for a change of pace. The two of us met on board just outside Hawaii. Avril patiently stood with me while I taught high school in Sydney, worked in a large corporation in Johannesburg, made candles in the hills of northern Idaho, and endured years of medical academia. These did not prepare her, however, for my first foray into competitive hickory golf 17 years ago at the NHC (National Hickory Championship) at Oakhurst Links.
My interest in hickory came serendipitously. While browsing the web searching for a copy of Darwin’s biography of James Braid, I landed on the antiquegolfscotland.com website and became entranced by the clubs for sale and their attached histories. I bought some, surfed more and discovered that there were actually players who used those clubs in modern events. That was a dozen years ago. I had earlier played well enough to compete in the Canadian amateur. Though Avril did not follow those rounds, she joined me at that first Oakhurst event. In my initial practice round, just the two of us in 100 degree heat, I lost all my Oakhurst balls by the 5th hole and, if I hadn’t met up with Rob Ahlschwede and Randy Jensen, she and I might have been in the car for the long ride home. Avril spent the rest of the week observing from the patio and I went on to become addicted to the joy of being part of such a wonderful, knowledgeable, and happy group of players who truly appreciate the history of the Old Game.
In 2013, I was presented with the Lynah Sherrill Award, at the National Hickory Championship (NHC), for “displaying exemplary efforts in the area of advancing hickory golf.” This was a great honour for me.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I generally tried to play 2-3 hickory tournaments a year, travel and time permitting. Since the pandemic, most tournaments have been cancelled.
Family matters also take up a lot of my spare time. Avril and I have three children. One son, Tony, is an artist, and Jordan owns a night club. Daughter, Amanda, is a golf professional and chef. Amanda has two daughters of her own, Lydia and Addisyn. Jordan also has a daughter named Anastasia. As for Avril, blessed with a lovely voice, she sang in a rock band on the American base in Goose Bay, Labrador, and she pursued jazz in Montreal and folk in Winnipeg. Her father was a bomb disposal expert in England during the war and her pregnant mother went there to be with him. Avril was born in Slough, England, while her father disposed of a bomb in the hospital basement. After years of Sweet Adeline singing in Kingston, she connected with a very talented singer songwriter and, together with the songwriter’s guitar-playing husband, they formed the band We’re From Earth. Strictly a local band, they play original music, and practice and work toward more studio time. They have one eponymous CD.
Thanks for allowing me to tell you about myself, my family and my love for the Old Game.
I enjoy the life stories of the players from a century ago. Most came from humble backgrounds and it was their love of golf and not its riches that carried them through. Most of them respected their origins.
I also like collecting, researching the history of golf clubs and trying to feel what it must have been like to hold the club when it was new.
I play Stewart irons and I have both smoothies and post-1900 hickory sets.
My favourite club is my spade mashie. It’s great for hitting out of the rough, chipping, and approach shots from 150 yards out.
My favourite historical course is Brora in northern Scotland. It’s the home of the James Braid Society and one of his masterpieces hardly changed from the original.
I enjoy promoting historical/hickory golf for GHSC, both as a Director and as a hickory player one might meet at the local golf course.
My philosophy about this is: