I’ve had the good fortune to interview plenty of amazing people over my career. I’ve interviewed the world’s richest man a couple of times, talked to Prime Ministers and leaders of industry. I’ve interviewed Gretzky, Nicklaus, Woods, and the like. Oh, yeah, and Courtney Love. Her too. All were impressive in their own way.
But Friday I conducted one of those interviews I won’t likely forget any time soon.
As part of the magazine I’m creating for the 100th anniversary of the CPGA, I was scheduled to interview the oldest member of the organization, a fellow named Bill Ogle. I knew Bill would have some stories — after all he joined the CPGA in 1933 and is 97 years old. But even with that in mind, I didn’t expect the insights I’d receive when I sat down with him.
When I asked Ogle where he started playing golf in Canada, I was stunned by the response.
“The old Glen Stewart course,” he replied.
“The course in the Beaches?” I responded.
“That’s the one, on the old Ames estate,” he said, sitting up on the couch. “I used to sneak over an find golf balls and the pro, Len White, asked me if I wanted a job.”
For those interested in such things, Ogle was talking about a golf course — the first public course in Canada — that disappeared before 1930. I’ve written a couple of stories on NLE courses in Toronto, and Glen Stewart is often discussed. I never thought I’d meet anyone who had played it though. Ogle helped fix hickory clubs at Glen Stewart — and White, the pro, was sure that new metal clubs were purely a fad. From there Ogle worked at a series of golf courses that no longer exist — including Rouge Hills overlooking the lake in Scarborough, Cliffside, a course near where I currently live that is now a pharmacy, among other things, and Cliffcrest, a course I’d never heard of until he spoke about it. Along the way he played many courses that have long since disappeared, including Shoreacres, a Stanley Thompson design overlooking the lake that ceased to exist before 1935. He also played Toronto’s Hunt Club when it was 18 holes and crossed Kingston Road, and played Cedar Brook (now Cedar Brae) when it was adjacent to Scarboro G&CC.
In 1941 he enlisted in WWII, flying 32 missions as a navigator on a Lancaster bomber. He returned to Toronto in 1945 and soon afterwards started as pro at Rouge Hills, a position he’d hold until the course closed in 1970. By that time he, along with Wilson Paterson, designed Thunderbird Golf Course (now Royal Ashburn), a pretty solid public track that is popular to this day. Ogle would work at the club until he “retired” in 1985.
Jimmy Johnstone, who designed numerous courses and was the long-time pro at Rosedale, came to see Thunderbird when it first
opened. “He came and said, ‘Just leave it as it is,'” Ogle recalls. The truth, Ogle says, is that the nascent designers didn’t have enough money to do much more than lay out the course — which is probably why it is solid. They didn’t have the money to try to do something beyond their abilities — and Royal Ashburn remains a terrific public course to this day and Ogle still drives up for directors’ meetings.
Ogle is frail, but still sharp, and he and his wife, Evelyn, continue to live in their own house, their home for six decades. He said he owed his career in golf to the pros he met: “All of the pros I came into contact with as a kid — they were all good to me.”
In a career that saw him play alongside Ben Hogan at the General Brock Open at Lookout Point, ran into Canadian Open runner-up Percy Allis at Barton-on-sea golf course while on leave during the war (“I saw you play against Hagen at Mississaugua,” Ogle says he told the old pro), and delayed his wedding by a week when the golf season extended into November in 1947.
“Ours has been a life in golf,” said Ogle’s wife, Evelyn, now 89. “And it has been a good life.”
Indeed. And a remarkable one.