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Canada's Master of the Greens

For the week of Monday September 15, 2008

On September 17, 1893, Stanley Thompson was born in Toronto, Ontario. Thompson would become one of the world’s leading golf course architects, designing world-renowned courses across Canada, the United States, South America and the West Indies.

Stanley Thompson
© Stanley Thompson Society/ Karsh, ca.1948
Thompson was introduced to both golf and course design in 1903 by caddying at The Toronto Club for George Cumming, a professional golfer and course architect. Thompson excelled as an amateur golfer, but realized his real passion lay in golf course design. By 15, he had already created his first attempt at a golf course at Malvern Collegiate, laying out a “few greens and tees.” He would continue to learn his design techniques by working in Cumming’s firm.

In 1922, Thompson opened his own golf course architecture firm, the largest in Canada at that time. He employed an engineer, soil chemist, plant pathologist, landscape architect, town planner and arborist. His first big contract came in 1923 from the Canadian National Railway to design a course in Jasper National Park. The course would become one of the world’s best, attracting international press coverage for its beautiful views and challenging layout. The CNR promoted the course as an international golf destination. In 1927, the Canadian Pacific Railway commissioned Thompson to design a course at the Banff Springs Hotel and requests from across Canada and around the world soon followed.

Thompson learned his craft from both Cummings and Harry S. Colt, an architect famous for his use of nature as a feature of the design. According to Thompson, “nature must always be the architect's model.” His designs would incorporate new and existing trees, woods and marshes with natural inclines in the land to increase the degree of difficulty. Thompson’s courses were meant to challenge the golfer to think about their shots, not just test their physical strength. Each tee offered multiple ways to reach the green in order to challenge the experienced golfer without discouraging the casual player. 

Highland Links in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
© Parks Canada / Cornellier, A / 1988

As well, each course preserved traditional Scottish elements. For example, at Highland Links in Cape Breton, each hole was a given a Gaelic name based on how it looked or played.

Thompson died in 1953, but many of his courses continue to exist, preserving his legacy as one of Canada’s greatest golf course architects. Stanley Thompson was designated a National Historic Person in 2005 for pioneering new techniques in golf course architecture, creating a more strategic game both in Canada and abroad.

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