Sing happy birthday to your local golf pro.
This weekend Canada’s golf professional organization — which represents 3,700 pros — hits the century mark. As part of the celebration, the organization created a magazine, which I helped edit and write.
It hits golf shops in coming weeks, but for those interested, here’s my story on how the organization formed:
The eighth playing of the Canadian Open had just ended when a group of golfers sat down for a meeting. The group had just contested the event at Royal Ottawa Golf Club, a tournament won by Charles Murray, the head professional at Royal Montreal, who bettered diminutive Davie Black, the popular Scottish-born pro from nearby Rivermead Golf Club, to take the title by two strokes. Only 24 golfers entered the two-day tournament, which was one of the issues facing the pros when they sat down. Golf was relatively new to the country – Canada’s oldest clubs were then only decades old – and the sport had not yet caught the attention of the public. The discussion in some ways wasn’t that different from the one that is still central to the game in this country: how to better promote the sport so more become involved, and what role professionals should take in moving the game to the next level.
What they didn’t realize at the time was that this meeting would one day be regarded as the very first gathering of the Canadian Professional Golf Association.
As they settled in, some of the game’s biggest names weighed in on the issues at hand. George Cumming, the so-called “dean of Canadian pros” who came to Toronto Golf Club 11 years earlier, spoke about promoting the mutual interests of those running the country’s clubs. It isn’t surprising that Cumming would take a central role in the meeting – to many he’s considered the father of professional golf in Canada, given that many of the country’s leading professionals over the first half of the 20th century worked in his shop at one point or another. “[Cumming] is fast making himself a place like unto that occupied by the late Tom Morris in the old country,” wrote Canadian Open winner Karl Keffer about his former boss. “That is to say the daddy of them all.”
Lambton’s Percy Barrett, an Englishman by birth and protégé of the famed Harry Vardon, also offered his take on the key issues facing golf pros, and it was only natural Canadian Open winner, Charles Murray and his brother Albert also offered their perspectives.
“There has long been the need for a [Canadian PGA] in Canada,” wrote a Toronto newspaper at the time, adding that the organization would work in “advancing the game of golf in Canada.”
While much of the initial meeting is shrouded in mystery – the exact number of founding members is unclear, and no minutes from the Royal Ottawa gathering exist – there is no doubting the effect the Canadian PGA would have over the following 100 years. Today the organization stands as the second-oldest PGA. Not surprisingly, given that many Canadian pros had links to England and Scotland, they mirrored that country’s professional golf organization. Though the Canadian Professional Golfer’s Association (early references often make it possessive) followed its British counterpart by a decade, it is a full five years senior to the American PGA.
The founders of the CPGA were specifically interested in how they could create more tournament golf for Canadian professionals at a time when the Canadian Open might only be contested by a small group, often numbering less than two dozen. Conducting championships was a challenge when, for example, only 19 Canadian pros would participate in the 1912 Canadian Open. However, those professionals with Scottish and English heritage knew firsthand that a vibrant list of tournaments would keep their games sharp and draw interest to the sport.
Despite that, the basis for the organization beyond a few limited accounts by Black and Keffer is vague and elusive. Minutes of the initial meeting – if they ever existed – have long since been lost, and with the exception of a handful of letters from founding members explaining the purpose of the organization and some written accounts in Canadian Golfer magazine, there is little documentation on the CPGA’s earliest days. Royal Ottawa’s club history, for example, makes no reference to the fact the second-oldest PGA was formed on its property.
“I don’t think those golfers had any idea they were creating an organization that would last for one hundred years,” says Jim Barclay, noted golf historian and member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. “It wasn’t as if they decided the organization would get involved in a lot of various activities. It was just a few pros . . . getting together and trying to think of ways to have more tournaments.”
This remark is backed up by comments Charles Murray made while playing the 1913 U.S. Open at Brookline, an event made famous by Francis Ouimet’s unexpected win. “My own opinion is that we Canadian golfers do not have enough tournaments,” he wrote in a newspaper account of his play at the tournament. “We only have two real tourneys a year in Canada, that of our own association and the Canadian Open.”
Despite the lack of opportunities for tournament golf, the golfers who formed the Canadian Professional Golfers Association did have specific goals in mind. In a letter in 1915 to the then newly-launched Canadian Golfer magazine, Keffer cited the organization’s ambitions, including “promoting interest in the game of golf,” as well as assisting other professionals in obtaining employment wherever possible. He added there was also a desire to “protect the mutual interests of our members.”
At that initial meeting, , P.D. Ross, a past president of Royal Ottawa, offered the money to create a trophy for the CPGA Championship.
“We made P.D. Ross our President and he right away wrote out a cheque for $100 to buy a trophy for competition each year,” Black wrote in a 1967 letter to the writer of a book about the first century of sport in Canada. According to Black, a silversmith then offered to create the trophy and added another $100 of silver.
“We had a trophy we were very proud of,” Black added.
Truthfully, Black is suggesting Ross took an honorary role in the organization. Cumming was made the Canadian PGA’s first captain, or the modern-day equivalent of president, though that term wouldn’t be used for another two decades.
Interestingly, after winning the CPGA Championship in three out of four years in the post-war period, Ross presented Black with a replica of the original trophy. At some point the original disappeared.
“When in Toronto for the 50th anniversary [of the CPGA] I made enquiries regarding the original cup, but no one seemed to know anything of it,” Black wrote. “I thought perhaps it might be cleaned up and put up for some junior competition.”
The CPGA began to flourish after the end of the war, with its members returning from overseas and the CPGA Championship once again being held annually. Canadian Golfer commented that by 1924 the organization was on solid footing.
“The affairs of the association have been most ably conducted both from a playing and financial standpoint,” the magazine’s editor Ralph Reville noted. “The result is the CPGA is now in a most flourishing condition, with an enviable past and a future bright with promise.”
Perhaps the only struggle the organization faced in its growth was geographic; Canadian Golfer notes that some pros, especially from Western Canada, could not make the lengthy journey to play the CPGA Championship or the Canadian Open, a challenge the organization was investigating.
Looking back on the formation of the CPGA, Black wrote of his astonishment about how far the organization had come from its humble origins. In the post-script to his letter, Black says, “From 35 in 1911 to the present over 500 – the CPGA has come a long way.”
Indeed – and it still had a long way to go.