Introducing Jim Barclay…

[photopress:barclay.jpg,full,alignleft]Last night at St. George’s G&CC, I was given the distinct honour and pleasure of introducing historian Jim Barclay as the latest member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. I was thrilled to do it as I have long been a fan — and regular user — of Jim’s Golf in Canada: A History. It isn’t easy to find now — and has been long out of print — but it is an essential component of any golf writer’s library. I have two copies — as does Lorne Rubenstein.

Anyway, I thought I’d post my introduction as it might give some insight into Jim and his importance to the game of golf in Canada. It was a real thrill for me to give a short talk on Jim’s place in the history of the sport in Canada — and I am a big supporter of him receiving entry to the hall.

Interestingly, there were some opposed. One notable female player, who I won’t name, told me outright that Jim shouldn’t be in. She was wrong, thankfully.

Jim Barclay Introductory Remarks

Perhaps it is only when looking back at ones life that you understand the happenstance that affects your time on this planet. Im referring to the subtle nuances that present options. The roads taken and not taken. Decisions large that may turn out to be insignificant, and the decisions, however small, that turn out to change everything. Our lives are full of these.

And so it is with Jim Barclay. Scotsman. Engineer. Oil man. Executive. Golfer. Historian. Writer.

And now a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.

I dont want this to sound like a memoriam “ because Jim is very much with us today, still debating the little nuances of the games history in this country. And, as a writer, I will say this emphatically: The game is a better for it.

Rarely does a man have two successful careers. Jims life has had two major occupations. But if it hadnt been for a chance discussion in 1983 in regards to the need of the RCGA for a curator to help with their historical material, theres a good chance we would not here looking back at the remarkable accomplishments of a quiet, strong and humble man who so deserves to be celebrated for his selfless dedication to the game we love and hold dear.

This room is full of friends and family here to celebrate Mr. Barclays induction into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.

Im certain many will know Jims story well, though others may not be as familiar with it.

Im going to ignore his embarrassment and provide some context on his life “ as any good historian would appreciate. Now like many historians, in gathering the information for this speech Ive relied heavily on primary sources “ personal interviews with those close to Jim, those who have known him for many years, and those who have come to revere him as one of the best sources on historical golf information in all of North America.

Ill add a disclaimer here that Jim will appreciate “ primary sources can get it wrong, so if Ive muffed something here, please see me afterwards so we can get the second edition of this speech corrected.

Jim Barclay was born in 1923, in Glasgow Scotland. The son of George and Elsie, he became an engineer, eventually commencing work with the British Petroleum Company in 1946. That job allowed him to see the world, leading to his arrival in Canada in 1965

He was good at his job, but eventually BPs operations here were acquired by Petro Canada in 1983. At the time PetroCan was a crown corporation and Jim wanted no part of it.

At my age, I wasnt going to work for the government, he says.

But he was still young at 60 and still in search of a use for his boundless energy.

At the request of an associate who knew of his interest in golf “ he found a second calling as curator of the RCGAs Hall of Fame and Museum.

Call it ambition, service, dedication or madness “ but in 1986, Jim decided to embark on writing a book that told the entirety of the history of the game of golf in Canada.

Past attempts to write a history of golf north of the 49th parallel was, by Jims admission, sloppy and full or errors.

Besides, he says, it appeared the author of a previous history had never heard of Canadian Golfer, the periodical that served as Jims bible for his history of the game.

It offended my sensibilities, he says.

To me, writing such a book sounds like such an imposing task that any further discussion of the undertaking would have been shelved. Not so with Jim. By his own admission he started flying all over the country, digging through dusty minute books, logging countless hours scanning Canadian Golfer magazine. Nose down in micro fiche.

Time meant nothing to me, he says in his matter of fact tone. My wife was only too happy to have me out of the house and flying to Victoria to dig through Oak Bays archives.

Jim now refers to the period as the finest thing that ever happened to me.

His desire was to set the record straight.

Oh yes, I was surprised at all the lies that had been told and that people had been telling for years, hed say.

He followed his nose “ as any good historian would.

The information from 1915 was vastly different from what it is today, he told me as we sat in this very building.

That meant challenging long held opinions. That meant saying when a club had listed their origins as being three or four years earlier than the documents proved. It meant raising the profile of little-known pros and putting their place in the development of the game in perspective. It meant celebrating George S. Lyon and George Knudson.

The book appeared, after countless trips across the country, in 1992.

Jim told me he was stunned by it when he first saw it, and that his wife Helen said he just stood and stared at it for a long time. Even to this day hes particularly fond of the cover photo, that of a solitary golfer playing at The National.

It cost me $400, Jim says. But it was worth it.

Golf in Canada would sell well for such a large book “ more than 5,000 copies in fact. Today it is necessary reading and reference for anyone like me who writes about the game, and, in fact, for anyone who wants to understand the game.

Others might have done it, but I doubt anyone would have done it as well as Jim, says Karen Hewson, the current director of the RCGAs archival operations. Shes known Jim for more than 20 years.

Lorne Rubenstein, my mentor at the Globe and Mail, and an inductee into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame himself last year, said the book is vital. He bought a second copy for his winter home in Florida, just so hed have it ready to reference.

World Golf Hall of Fame member Marlene Stewart Streit, who could unfortunately not be here tonight because of a prior commitment, said that Jims accomplishment in crafting Golf in Canada rivals that of any professional golfer in the countrys history. He may not have won the Masters, as Mike Weir did in 2003, or taken the Canadian Open, as Pat Fletcher did in 1954. But by writing the definitive history of the game in this country, his accomplishment is, in many ways, very comparable, says Marlene.

You guys are the ones that tell the story of the game, she says. Without a book like Jims, who would know about all of these achievements?

Jims second career as a historian and writer started with Golf in Canada. It wasnt his last book. Others followed “ books on the countrys founding golf professionals; an important work on legendary golf designer Stanley Thompson; and finally a fine history on this very club “ St. Georges.

But it is still Golf in Canada that started it all.

It is the weight of the thing “ I cant read it now without propping it up, he says.

Which is probably a good point to end this introduction. Jim thinks Golf in Canada is a heavy book. I agree “ it is a weighty accomplishment. It has heft and created an impact “ a lasting one.

Golf is a private game, Jim writes in his introduction to Golf in Canada. It brings the joys of experiment and discovery, the intellectual challenge of finding out things for yourself.

All that is equally true of the writing of golf history, for the history of no other sport has been woven into such an intricate and colourful fabric of legend, myth and fact.

Jim Barclay celebrated the history of the game in a way no one had previously and in which no one has since. And now were here to celebrate his induction among the games greats “ which is perfectly fitting to me.

Let me introduce Jim Barclay, a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in the builder category.


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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.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert;

    A very nice tribute to James Barclay who is well deserving of his induction into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. His writing of Golf in Canada was a monumental task and The Toronto Terror is a great recollection and tribute to Stanley Thompson’s life and career.

    Congratulations to Jim on his induction into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. All of us who are involved in the game in Canada should be very proud that Jim has been recognised for his tremendous contributions to the game.

    Very well done!

    Doug Carrick

  • Thank you Rob for such a well written and concise article.

    Doug has said eyerything that I would like to say so I will just say “repeat”

    Congratulations to Jim on his well deserved induction into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.

    Dick Kirkpatrick

  • It’s truly a well-deserved honour for Jim. I wish I could’ve been there for the induction. Jim’s always encouraged my research, and he even paid for my first year’s membership in the GHSC. Golf in Canada is definitely richer for his contributions to the game.

  • I was so pleased to read about Jim Barclay’s Induction to “The Canadian Golf Hall Of Fame.” I knew him as a boss and as a friend in the 1960’s working at BP’s Belfast refinery. I have often thought of him and his lovely wife Helen. He is a true gentleman in every respect.

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