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FRED BELL, unfortunately we’ve lost another of our heroes

I received an email from Gerry Stevenson in Freeport Bahamas last week, letting us know that Fred Bell had passed away. I spoke to Fred recently, he was planning to visit Scotland and “get a Pro Am going, maybe even call Ron Hewat at CFRB to host it”.

Fred Bell pioneered golf travel. In the 60’s he formed the Canadian Sportsman Club and chartered Super Constellation planes to Freeport to stay and play at the King’s Inn. $139.00 included the flight, the hotel and 5 rounds of golf! Fred had worked with Air Canada before starting his own travel agency. In the old days you had to be a member of a club to go on a charter, and Fred’s club went to the Bahamas, Greece, Spain, Rio, Moscow and other places. Moscow was for the 1972 Canada Russia hockey series, Fred sold two plane loads at a reception in Ports of Call.

When we’d run the events we’d often stay up all night just talking about things – well actually Fred talked and I listened cause at the time I didn’t know about much. One of his biggest disappointments was when a pro, one of his pros, took a trip with 120 players, to Spain without Fred’s help. He said then that he’sd get into the golf business if pros were getting into the travel business, and he ended up leasing Sylvan Lake GC. I dropped in and never saw him so proud as he was, sitting on a mower after cutting all the greens himself.

I first met Fred when I was an assistant pro in Stoufville. Fred knew Al Balding and Al knew the guys starting the Kings Inn in Freeport. Al called Dick Farley, got me winter job and since 1966 I’ve been on the road! I used to meet Fred’s charters when they landed, to give them their starting times on the Emerald and the Ruby. In the late 60’s both courses were pretty full every day in the season, but Fred’s golfers always got times. He also brought the odd casino junket down, usually mixed with the golfers and other Toronto characters.

Fred invented the Pro Am travel business. He would put together a flight with teams of a pro and members from 20 to 30 clubs. The Pro would be subsidized by his amateur partners and Fred’s agency would get their corporate travel business the rest of the year. One trip we even took electric cart batteries and chargers to Spain. When the charter left Marbella for Canada one time Fred and I noticed several trucks with luggage still on the runway. There was no room for the golf bags people had bought so much stuff (furniture, suits of armour, cases of wine, etc). Later we found out the chartered plane had arrived from Viet Nam and it’s cargo was already half full of something they couldn’t tell us about. If anyone has seen American Gangster it might be a clue as to why the palne had no room.

I will really miss Fred – if only I’d spent more time with him last winter while he was in Freeport. Sometimes you think your friends will always be there, well Fred is gone. I’ve had trouble putting words together about Fred, he’s probably had the most influence on me of any person – Bahamas-thanks for the job, London -thanks for the honeymoon, Italy-thanks for the ticket to the Italian Open, Hawaii, Greece- “I can’t remember eating that tree”, Paris, Rome, Rio, Palm Springs, Silvan Lake, Thornberry, Bayview CC – these are just a few of the doors Fred opened for a young pro from Muskoka. In April this year Fred and I were sitting on a golf cart at Lucayan CC watching some of the original members finish their weekly “men’s day” round. He named every pro who had ever gone on one of his trips, and then every amateur who had played with them!

Sorry, can’t finish this……tried ten days in a row

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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