Where it All Began

 

The history of Summerlea, as is the case with so many older golf clubs in Canada, began in a location other than where it presently is situated. It was at its original site in Lachine that the club first gained the distinction as one of the finest in the country.

 

In 1920, the remnants of the First World War were all but forgotten. The recovery years brought prosperity as the revitalization of Montreal was just taking hold. At the same time, the game of golf was reaching a feverish pitch forcing the Montreal Golf Association to rename its banner as of The Province of Quebec Golf Association.

 

A group of golfers playing regularly at a nine-hole course in Lachine got together to create a club of their own. In 1921, when Canada slipped into a temporary economic depression, the club acquired 215 arpents of property nearby at a cost of $93,000. The land was some nine miles from Montreal and north of the railway tracks near the CPR's Dixie station, once the site of a town called "Summerlea".

 

parkThe club, bearing this former town's name, hired Willie Park Jr. of Scotland to design the course. Park was a two-time British Open champion, whose reputation was renowned in the Montreal area, having designed some ten courses within close proximity of the city.

Construction of the course began in 1921 and was two full years in the making. No expense was spared with over $350,000 being spent on the property, of which nearly $40,000 went directly on seed for the fairways and greens.

 

Summerlea was incorporated in the spring of 1922. On August 1st, the Secretary-Treasurer, Mr R.J. Ward, reported that the club had recruited more than 400 shareholder members and more than 200 lady members. Although somewhat speculative in nature, it is rumoured that some of the first members had come from Outremont Golf Club, which was in the midst of closing. A temporary nine-hole course and clubhouse were set-up for the first season. Although somewhat overcrowded, everyone was satisfied with the progress that had been made. It was expected that the full 27-holes would be ready for June 1st, 1923.

 

club

The revolutionary 27-hole course was designed to provide nine holes (par 36) specifically for the lady and junior members. The other 18 holes (par 70)
measured a total of 6,500 yards – each nine a par 35 measuring 3,315 and 3,185 yardsrespectively.

 

The official opening ceremonies were held on June 30th, 1923. To mark the occasion, the Honorary President, Mr. Robert Bickerdike, presented a gold medal to be played for - the competition to be determined by the Directors. Mrs. R. E. Guy Smith, president of the ladies' section, officially christened the course by breaking a bottle of champagne.

 

Bickerdike and Smith, having received new drivers from club pro Jock Brown, officially opened their respective courses using their ceremonial clubs, followed by the men's and ladies' competitions.

 

Later that day, the first official contest was played with a golf match between groups of players representing the President's team of E. N. Todd and Vice-President's team of Dr. Tatley. The competition ended in favour of Dr. Tatley's team by a score of 34 to 36. No results of the ladies' competition have been discovered.

 

Throughout the first season other events were planned. This is evident by the discovery of a trophy retrieved from an antique dealer In 1994, a trophy was found bearing the inscription: "Summerlea Golf Club, President's Cup 1923, won by H.F. Mills". Harold F. Mill's name also appears on a 1927 trophy for the

Two Ball Foursome tournament in which he played with U. D. Woodward.

On the surface, one might not have seen any difference between Summerlea and other clubs of that era. However, it was first and foremost renowned to be a family-oriented club. A tradition that was carried out through history.

 
Preparing for Success

 

The founders of the club left little to chance. They realized early that if Summerlea were to succeed in promoting the game to future generations, they would require the services of a good instructor. This they found in professional Jock R. Brown, who had emigrated from Scotland.

 

jock
Brown proved to be both a good teacher and a fine player. Victorious in the 1925 Quebec Open Championship, Brown also had fine showings in the Canadian Open and the Canadian Professional Golf Association Championships. This prompted the CPGA to select him as one of the top ten representatives on the 1927 Canadian team that opposed the British Ryder Cup team in exhibition matches in Montreal and Toronto. When the British Ryder Cup returned to compete in North America four years later, Brown was asked to be part of the team again.

 

Brown's tremendous devotion to the membership through good times and bad contributed greatly to the club's reputation as one of the finest in the country. He died in 1943, after serving the members for some twenty years.


May of 1924 saw the completion of the clubhouse which stood at two and a half stories with verandas on three sides providing a panoramic view of the course. The building was divided into three sections, with the men's quarter being located in the west side, while the ladies' occupied the east side. In the middle was a large dining facility with a capacity of 125 persons that also served as the club's partying and dancing room.

 
 
To the Brink and Back

 

The opulence of the "Roaring Twenties" would eventually come to almost a complete halt with the market crash of 1929, marking the onset of the "Great Depression".

 

The survival of Summerlea through these trying times speaks volumes of the dedication and determination of the people who were members of the club. During the decade of the "Dirty Thirties", over 600 golf clubs across North America closed their doors forever. By 1939, the financial situation at Summerlea was in serious difficulty. Five years later, in the midst of World War II, Summerlea was forced into bankruptcy.

 

While the members were unable to keep the club afloat, they had to find the support of someone who could. That was when Senator Donat Raymond came into the picture, and became the greatest benefactor of the club's history.

 donat

Raymond, a leader of the Canadian industry, was recognized as a skilful politician, successful financier, industrialist and a popular sportsman. He had an interest in the world famous Montreal Forum - home of the Montreal Canadiens - as a co-founder of the Canadian Arena Company. As a gentleman farmer, he operated a stable of thoroughbreds that won the King's Plates and many more honours.

 

Unselfishly, Raymond purchased the property from the liquidators and leased the club back to the members. One year later, the members again resumed ownership, while Raymond held the mortgage and sat on the Board of Directors.

 

Disaster struck the club on September 13th, 1949, when a fire destroyed the clubhouse and all its contents. Once again, Raymond came to the rescue as he worked out a suitable arrangement for the club to rebuild. Senator Donat Raymond died on June 6th 1963, a few months after Summerlea relocated to its present site.

 
Major Welcoming at Lachine

 

It might have been to emphasize the club's family character that the first major provincial golf event held at the club was the 1924 Quebec Junior Championship. This would be the first of many major provincial and national championship tournaments, both professional and amateur, played at the club.

 

Some other events held at the old site include:

 

Two Labatt Opens, including the inaugural tournament in 1953 with a $25,000 purse, double the amount of what the Canadian Open was offering. In 1955, the Open was recognized as a PGA Tour sanctioned event.

 

littler

The Canadian Open (1935)

Two CPGA Championships (1926, 1950)

The Canadian Amateur (1928)

Four Quebec Amateurs (1931, 1939, 1951, 1962)

Two Quebec Junior Championships (1924, 1938)

Four Quebec Opens (1931, 1943, 1954, 1960)

Four Quebec Spring Opens (1942, 1947, 1952, 1956)

Seven Quebec Senior Championships (1936, 1944, 1947, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1959)

The Quebec Ladies' Amateur (1955)

 

The number of championships vied for, served as testament to the distinguished position the club held within the golfing community. As one of the last clubs designed by Park, who died in 1925, Summerlea served as a monument to his memory.

 
Members bid Adieu

 

In the fall of 1962 the members bid adieu to Lachine, bringing closure to the first era of the club's history. The sorrow was even greater the following year, when Sen. Raymond died and another life-long friend, Walter Lilly, retired.

 

Born in Lachine, Lilly began his association with Summerlea at a very young age. He rose through the caddie ranks to become assistant to Professional Jock Brown. His golf career was temporarily interrupted by the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

 

In 1946, Lilly re-established his association with Summerlea, replacing Roland Huot as the head professional. Well liked by the members, he was regarded as both a good teacher and player. He won the Quebec Golf Association's Spring Open Championship in 1947.

 

One of Lilly's great contributions during his 17 years stay was his devotion to the development of junior golfers. His creation of junior golf clinics produced many fine young players. In ill health, Walter Lilly retired in 1963 and died in 1966.

 
A New Chapter is Written

 

cornishThe end of the 50s brought major concerns to the club. With ever increasing taxes and urban expansion encroaching on the club, the club had to seek a new location. Just as the original founders had given a great deal of effort and thought to the construction of the Lachine courses, the Directors planned the relocation down to a tee in 1960 .

The Board commissioned Geoffrey Cornish in 1961 to design two 18-hole courses- the 6,845 yard par-72 Dorion and the 7,005 yard par-72 Cascades. This would be the first major undertaking of the Canadian born architect's career.

 

Cornish, who apprenticed under Stanley Thompson, used the natural contours of the terrain to create a strategic design of the course. He shaped the courses to encompass small lakes, streams, well-placed bunkers and four tee-boxes to add variety and complexity while respecting the course's configuration.

 

The Cascades course was the first to be ready and it quickly earned a reputation one of being the toughest course to play in the country. While Dorion was somewhat slower in its maturity, it was every bit as challenging. The design won Cornish both praise as well as scorn, but never failed to challenge any level of golfers.

 house

While Cornish was busy shaping the land, the architects firm of Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulas, Lebensold, Michaud & Sise was selected to design the clubhouse.

 

The proposal of a bright and airy contemporary style is well-received. Positioned at the highest point of a cliff, the clubhouse offered spectacular views from the balconies, which are now enclosed. This design has proven to be timeless.
 

 
The Pros Make Their Mark

 ao

With the completion of the clubhouse in 1964, the members welcomed the arrival of a new professional, Alan Ogilvy.

 

From Ashburn Golf & CC in Halifax, Ogilvy helped out the members for twelve years. Under his supervision, the junior program thrived and his pro shop was kept busy by the increase in demand of lessons.

 

fryIn 1976, Ogilvy leaves for the Lambton Golf Club in Toronto. He was replaced by Bruce Fry, who came from the Hermitage Golf Club in Magog, Quebec, where he worked as an assistant for his father.

 

 

 

Duke Doucet first arrived at the Club as an assistant to Fry in 1976. Three years later, he replaced Fry, becoming the sixth head professional at Summerlea.

 duke

Doucet first learned to play golf by caddying for his father in Windsor Mills, Quebec. After a successful amateur career, Doucet jumped to the professional ranks in 1968, playing on tours in Florida, Europe, South Africa and Canada through the 1970s.

 

His most successful year came in 1972 when he won nine of ten events he participated in, including the Quebec Professional Association Championship while finishing second in the other.

Doucet successfully converted his high standards as a competitor to the administration side of golf. In 1990, and again in 1992, Duke Doucet was voted the "Professional of the Year". He was President and Captain of the Quebec PGA besides being Director of the Canadian PGA.

 

Duke became Director of Golf in 1999 and Jim Vandette became the 7th Head Professional that same year. Jim was a junior member of Summerlea and studied in the Southern U.S. He returned and worked as an Assistant at three other Clubs before returning to Summerlea as an Associate to Duke in 1996.

 

Contributing to the development of golf has always been an on-going concern for Summerlea. To this end, the club’s open door policy for championship events has provided many challenges for some of the world’s finest players.

 

Some other events held at the current site include:

Canadian Amateur (1966)

Quebec Open (1971)

Quebec Amateur (1975, 1980, 1991)

Chairman's invitational (1980)

LPGA Peter Jackson Classic (1981) (Jan Stephenson)

PGA Export "A" Skins Game (1996) (Fred Couples, Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Ernie Els)

Canadian Senior (male) (1996)

Canadian Senior (female) (2001)

LPGA Bank of Montreal Classic (2002) (Meg Mallon)

 

The history of the club was researched and written by golf writer, Tim McKeown. He would gratefully like to acknowledge the cooperation of Karen Hewson from the RCGA and Marion Dunn of Summerlea for the information provided.