The golf course will likely be the star of the show when the RBC Canadian Open tees off on Thursday at Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, Ont.
The Harry Colt masterpiece recently retained its No. 3 position on the Top 100 list commissioned every two years by SCOREGolf magazine (full disclosure, I'm a contributing editor but not involved in the ranking of the courses or the day-to-day operations of the magazine). According to the ranking, Hamilton trails only two Toronto clubs, The National and St. George's, though these three courses could have been listed in any order and it wouldn't be an injustice.
Though it's undeniably one of the top courses in this country and one of the top 20 or so in North America, there is another quality about Hamilton that no club in Canada can claim: longevity.
Both St. George's and Royal Montreal come close, but Hamilton has been on the same site since 1914. Hamilton was established in 1892 and then moved to its current location. It has been the host of the Canadian Open five times during those years.
The first winner in the new location was Englishman Douglas Edgar. He won in 1919 by an astounding 16 shots over a field that included Bobby Jones and a number of the world's top players of that era. Edgar's margin of victory is still recognized as a PGA Tour record, though it is a bit of a stretch to compare the fledging concept of touring golf almost 100 years ago with today's version. Still, Edgar's win that year was significant because it was the start of a little more than a season when he was considered the top player in the game.
Edgar's achievements during that time period and specifically at Hamilton were recently chronicled in an excellent book, To Win and Die in Dixie, by U.S. golf writer Steve Eubanks.
The crux of Eubanks's work details Edgar's rise and his death that the writer makes a compelling case was likely murder and not by a hit-and-run driver as concluded at the time. In the extensive narrative, Eubanks also details Edgar's time at Hamilton and around Ancaster. Reading it would put a smile to members' faces, as well as residents of the then-village, now town, that has grown-up around the course.
"I got up to Canada and I could get myself a pint of beer - or something a bit stronger," Edgar is quoted as saying in Eubanks's book, presumably referring to the difficulty at getting the same near his adopted home of Atlanta . "It made me feel right, you know."
Bobby Jones came to Canada before the tournament for a team event and then played the Open, which was the only time he played here. Eventually he evolved into the game's first true global star. Just 17 at the time, Jones too was taken by Edgar's play on the course and his general showmanship.
A good pint always helps
"There was a particular hole with the fairway bordered on the right by a fence," Jones is quoted in To Win and Die, almost certainly referring to Hamilton's second hole. "Over the fence was out of bounds. Edgar would play his tee shot out over the fence with a draw that brought it back into the fairway. The crowds just loved it."
After Edgar's dominating victory the tournament returned to Hamilton 11 years later, with Tommy Armour winning it in a playoff over Leo Diegel and holding off the rest of the field that included Walter Hagen, who finished sixth.
Despite a 73-year gap, Hamilton matured and, if anything, became a better course during the intervening years until the Open was held there in 2003. Various tournaments ranging from the Canadian Amateur to the Canadian Seniors were held at various times during the long gap.
As the PGA Tour evolved into the Tiger Woods era, the Canadian Open had a sustained drop in importance with the introduction of the World Golf Championships and the Players Championship. Debate continues among the Canadian golf community where the tournament belongs amongst the tour pecking order but in an effort to raise its profile, the Canadian Open was moved from its semi-permanent home at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ont.
Though St. George's, Royal Montreal and Shaughnessy in Vancouver have been well-received, Hamilton's return as a tournament host has been the most successful. It's tough to attract the world's best one week after the Open, but this course is still a draw. Just look at the field for this week's tournament.
Bob Tway's playoff victory over Brad Faxon in 2003 and Jim Furyk's clinical display in winning three years later took place on a course that was widely embraced by PGA Tour players. That lofty praise will likely take on a new level this year because CBS will broadcast the weekend rounds.
A week and four competitive rounds are an eternity in the world of golf - four holes is enough for the world to change, ask Adam Scott - but no one is expecting anything less than Hamilton to sparkle again this week.
Little wonder then that the course is expected to next host the event in 2019, though an official announcement is a long way off.
Somewhere, you have to think Douglas Edgar, even Bobby Jones, are smiling.
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