I was very sorry to get a note this morning about the death of Bill Ogle, the longest standing member of the PGA of Canada. He was nearly 99 and discussed with me a world of golf courses I’d only read about in musty magazines and books. I sat with him at his home in Scarborough a couple of times last year. He was sharp and interesting, though he tired after an hour discussion. For those who didn’t know Bill, they may know of his work — his only golf design, that I know of, was Thunderbird, now known as Royal Ashburn.
Here’s an edited version of my interview with Bill from last year. It was a pleasure to have spent a short amount of time with the man.
Bill Ogle isn’t your typical Canadian PGA professional. For starters, he’s been part of the organization for longer than most members have been alive – including some retired pros. And he can recall learning the game on one of Canada’s first public golf courses, flying 32 missions over Germany in a Lancaster bomber, playing golf in a tournament alongside Ben Hogan and designing a public golf course that is popular to this day.
It sounds like a lot, but then again Ogle has been a member since 1933.
Now 97, Ogle lives with Evelyn, his wife of 64 years, in Toronto. Though he gave up golf in his eighties, Ogle still has a passion for the game. “Ours has been a life in golf,” said Ogle’s wife, Evelyn, now 89. “And it has been a good life.”
CPGA: You came to Canada from Scotland as a teenager and settled in Toronto. How did you become involved in golf?
Ogle: I grew up next to Glen Stewart Golf Club in what is now Toronto’s Beaches and I was always out looking for golf balls. Len White was the pro and he kept kicking me off the course. I think he got tired of it so finally he offered me a job in the pro shop. In those days all the pros were middle-aged men who were Scottish or English and were clubmakers. Me being Scotch, they took a liking to me. They would always take me to the Canadian Open – and I saw Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour. All the greats of the day. The first Canadian Open I saw was when Hagen beat Percy Alliss in a playoff in 1931 at Mississaugua.
CPGA: What kind of work did you do for White?
Ogle: There was nothing but hickory shafts at the time and they’d get broken. My job was to sand them and wax them and fix them up. I also used to go to the pond and get balls out and repaint them and put them on a rack and sell them again. In those days Toronto was strictly Anglo-Saxon and there were no movies, or stores open on Sundays, and certainly no golf. But the courses outside of Toronto could stay open, so many of the members of my club were also members at Cedar Brook or Scarboro. So they’d have me come in to caddy for them, and that’s how I started my career.
Most courses at the time were private – but there were few public courses. Glen Stewart and Rouge Hills were unusual because they were both public. In those days there weren’t that many young people playing golf. And when I first worked at Glen Stewart I was ashamed to get on the street car if I was carrying golf clubs because everyone thought I was a real ‘sissy.’
CPGA: George Cumming, the longtime Toronto Golf Club pro, was said to have stepped in the clubhouse only twice during his career. In his time, pros were not thought to be on the same social level as the members.
Ogle: That’s right – they were the help. But at a public course we never had any of that. The pro was the head of the whole business at a public course.
CPGA: You became a member of the CPGA in 1933. Was that typical for a golf professional?
Ogle: Most of the pros were members of the PGA. I joined before it was the PGA. It was the Toronto and District Professional Golf Alliance when I joined. It was a group of golfers from Toronto area, but we had members to Kingston and
Waterloo. We had members all over Southern Ontario.
CPGA: How did your career progress from those early days?
Ogle: I was at Cliffside for seven years and then I joined the Air Force and I was a navigator on Lancaster bombers. I flew 32 missions over Germany. When I was overseas on leave I’d go to some of the courses around London. I was always quite welcome there, but rubber was rationed and so all the golf balls were in quite bad shape. So I’d get my mother to send me golf balls from Canada – and I’d give a ball to different members who lent me their clubs. It was like gold to them – they hadn’t seen a new golf ball in three years. When I played in England there were two buckets on every tee. That’s because players were expected to pick up shrapnel on every tee and put it in the bucket so it wouldn’t endanger the mowers. Every golf course had anti-aircraft guns and search lights, manned by women in the army, on them and shrapnel would fall on the course. And we’d chat up the girls on the different stations as we walked by.
I came back to Canada in 1946 and started at Cliffside for a couple of years before going to Rouge Hills. I was at Rouge Hills for 23 years. It closed in 1970 – some developer bought it. A lot of the golf courses I worked at are subdivisions now.
CPGA: Did you play many tournaments?
Ogle: I played in local tournaments like the Ontario Open. I was not a bad player. I usually qualified, but that was about it. There were too many good players around Toronto. Guys like Willie Lamb and Gordie Brydson – really good players. Oh, and Al Balding. I remember seeing him out at Islington when he was an assistant pro. From then on he did pretty well. He was a great player and a great guy. All the pros I came into contact with were true gentlemen. They always looked the part and acted the part. And all the pros I met as a kid were very kind to me – very good to me.
CPGA: In the late 1950s you designed Thunderbird Golf Course with Wilson Paterson. How did that come about?
Ogle: Wilson Paterson was working at the Pickering Golf Course and showed me a piece of property. I told him I liked it but I’d show him a better piece of property. I took him up to the Thunderbird farm that was for sale. I wasn’t too keen at the start because I was used to the old days where people got to the course on public transit. I thought there was no way people were going to come all the way down where there were no buses or street cars. But we bought it together and were equal partners. We designed it and built it together and we were together until I sold out my interests in the 1980s, though I’m still a director. I retired in the mid-1980s, though I still go up to the club for board meetings.