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Thompson or the Donald: The Debate Over FLA's Hyde Park Golf Club

As a Golf World subscriber, I read with interest Ron Whitten’s “Real Secrets of Golf Course Architects,” partially because I was intrigued at his comments and partially because title was a play on the gawd awful book on golf design put out by the American Society of Golf Course Architects. That reminds me that I must review that horrible tome — that’ll be tomorrow, I think.

Anyway, Whitten has a section of the article about Hyde Park, a golf course in Jacksonville, Florida. Turns out the owners and others claim the course was designed by Donald Ross (Pinehurst No. 2, Oakland Hills, etc.). But Whitten says otherwise — it was in fact built by Stanley Thompson.

Every club wants to believe it has a Rembrandt.

Mayfair CC in Sanford, Fla., insists its course was designed by Donald Ross. It wasn’t. The course was designed in the early 1920s by Cuthbert Butchart, a longtime club pro from Westchester CC in Rye, N.Y.

We think the confusion occurred back in the 1950s, when the course was renamed Seminole and sold to the owner of the New York Giants baseball team. When the Giants left for San Francisco, the course was sold again, and the new owner started advertising that he had a Donald Ross design. Ross did design a Seminole, but it’s farther south in Juno Beach. We’ve played that Seminole. We’ve played Mayfair. Mayfair is no Seminole.

We were all fooled about Hyde Park GC in Jacksonville, figuring it was a Ross creation because PGA Tour pros Chris Blocker and Billy Maxwell said it was when they bought the course in the 1970s. The Donald Ross Society even had an outing there in late 1994 and praised the design.

But if you check the Jacksonville Journal for Dec. 2, 1926, the day the course opened, you’ll find Hyde Park was designed by “famous Canadian architect Stanley Thompson.” The American Golfer magazine of same month confirms that. A 1948 Saturday Evening Post feature on Thompson also lists Hyde Park as among his designs.

Why the confusion? Well, there are blueprints for a Hyde Park among the Ross papers in the Tufts Archives in Pinehurst, N.C., but those plans are for Hyde Park G&CC in Cincinnati. And Ross once advertised Jacksonville Municipal among his designs, and for a time, Hyde Park was one of Jacksonville’s municipal layouts. But Ross’ Jacksonville Municipal was Brentwood GC, which closed in the 1970s.

Okay, so what we’ve got here is a case of mistaken identity, right? Well, that’s what I would have thought until Garry Smits, a Jacksonville golf reporter, chimed in on the subject. He talks to Mark McCumber about it. Why? I’m not sure other than McCumber grew up playing it, so he must be an expert. McCumber had lots to say.

“[Whitten’s article] is ridiculous,” said McCumber, who grew up near Hyde Park’s 14th hole. “If there are issues over who designed it, that’s one thing. But as far back as I can remember, and that goes back to the 1950s, people were under the assumption that Ross designed the course.”

He also spoke with some Canadians — namely James Smith and Jim Barkley. Don’t recognize those names? That’s because his article got both of them wrong. James Smith is John Smith of the Stanley Thompson Society, and an expert on Thompson’s work at Cataraqui in Kingston. Jim Barkley is Jim Barclay, a Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member and author of The Toronto Terror, a biography on Thompson.

Smith actually muddies the waters on this one, though I’m not sure where he got his facts from.

James Smith, vice president of the Thompson society, said he accepts the reference to Hyde Park that appears in a biography about Thompson, “The Toronto Terror,” written by James Barkley in 2000. Barkley wrote that Thompson supervised the final construction of the course based on an original Ross blueprint. Thompson might have made some changes to the design, Smith said, but nobody knows to what extent.

“It could have been just a couple of greens,” Smith said. “The issue is then, how many changes must take place to make it a Thompson design? Since we really don’t know, as far as we’re concerned, Ross should get credit for the original design and Thompson credit for the construction and any renovation.”

Since Smith can not be sure on his facts, I wonder why he is commenting on this. Secondly, I do not subscribe — yet anyway — to the notion that the Stanley Thompson Society is the arbitrator of what is and what is not a Thompson course. Barclay, for the record, makes no comment on whether Thompson designed the course or not, and his references are slight. His book, after all, was not designed to determine what courses Thompson designed.

So where does that leave us? Whitten’s evidence is an article in a local Jacksonville paper about the course opening and a Saturday Evening Post article on the designer that is, frankly, full of lies. That hardly seems definitive. We know Thompson had an office in Jacksonville, but if he only built the course what input did he have on the design? That’s a question without an answer — but one long wondered, especially at courses like Brantford, designed by his brother, Nicol, but built by Stanley.

However, Weir Golf Design partner Ian Andrew thinks he has the answer, located in an advertisement for Thompson that lists his designs. Thompson may have exaggerated some of his legend, but I’ve never encountered an example of where he took credit for another designer’s work.

Stanley Thompson Ad From Canadian Golfer: Hyde Park Referenced At the End of the List

Stanley Thompson Ad From Canadian Golfer: Hyde Park Referenced At the End of the List

However, I’m not even sure this proves whether it is a Thompson course or not. Not that it lists Brantford as a design, though it is well established that Nicol designed the course. So maybe this is a historical question that needs more research. The Thompson Society currently has a capable researcher investigating Thompson’s work, so perhaps an answer will be found there.

Thanks to Geoff Shackelford for picking up on the Garry Smits article.

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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.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • The Thompson advertisement is intertsting, it shows a Toronto course called Humber Valley.

    Is the the same course now called Humber Valley, on Albion Road, or was it another course ?

    Humber Valley was called Summerlea back in the 60’s and 70’s when I played there and I am sure the ad is prior to that time, when it would not have been Humber Valley.

  • Summerlea is not the Humber Valley in the ST advertisement, nor is the present day Bayview the Bayview in his advert.

    I believe Humber Valley was bisected by the contruction of the 401 highway between Yonge St and Bayview Ave????
    You can still see the clubhouse from the 401

    My brother Hugh and I built the new Bayview for Reg Acomb and is located at John and Leslie Street in Thornhill.
    Architect was C.E. Robbie Robinson, a disciple of Stanley.

  • I am the former historian of the Pinehurst CC. I am also the co-author of Great Donald Ross Golf Courses You Can Play. I am currently reexamining the provenance of the Mayfair Course in Sanford, FL, which I have listed as a Donald Ross creation. Some contend it may be a course designed by Cuthbert Butchart, a Scot course designer and champion player from Carnoustie. I invite anyone with knowledge of Mayfair to contact me at: paulandbj@nc.rr.com
    Many thanks and have a good round! paul dunn

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