Behind a great golf course designer, was his older brother

Anyone who is even remotely interested in golf course design will know that Stanley Thompson is Canada’s Greatest and now influential golf course architect.

Not nearly as many, however, will know the story of his older brother and mentor, Nicol Thompson, who was the best professional at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club for 38 years.

Nicol Thompson, who was inducted into the Professional Golfers Association of Canada Hall of Fame for 2022, can easily be described as a pioneer in almost all aspects of the sport in this country.

“There’s no question that Nicol Thompson got Stanley into golf course architecture and mentored him,” says Dr. Jamie Harris who is Canada’s leading authority on Stanley Thompson and wrote the most recent book on the golf course designer’s life.

Born in Scotland, Nicol Thompson grew up in Toronto within the Chipping distance of the Toronto Golf Club. It was there the whole Thompson Clan learned the sport and where Nicol became friends with George Cumming, the club’s head professional.

Thompson became the Hamilton club’s head professional in 1899 and moved into a stately home on Flatt Avenue near Aberdeen Avenue, just a short walk from the golf course grounds on what is now the Chedoke Martin course.

He and Cumming tinkered with golf course architecture and it’s believed that as early as 1912 he was showing Stanley how it was done.

Stanley Thompson fought with the Canadian Army in the First World War including at Vimy Ridge.

When he returned to Canada in 1920 after a respite in Great Britain where he played many of the top courses, they became part of the golf course design firm of Thompson, Cumming, Thompson.

Within a year, their respective clubs had urged – some would say forced – Nicol Thompson and George Cumming to get out of the design business and concentrate on their positions as head pros.

Although that meant that Stanley Thompson was on his own, no one really doubts that Nicol wasn’t still involved behind the scenes.

In fact, when the Burlington Golf and Country Club was first being envisioned and then created, it said they wanted Stanley to be their architect but for him to get Nicol and George to sign off on everything he did.

(More on that later this summer as the Burlington club celebrates its 100th birthday.)

Harris says his research shows that Nicol, sometimes on his own, sometimes with Cumming, and sometimes with Stanley, created a number of courses including Summit, Brantford, Midland, Royal Muskoka and the Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, NY

He also worked with Stanley on altering the Hamilton Golf Club in Aberdeen that would eventually become the Martin course at Chedoke. After retiring from the Hamilton club in 1945, Nicol also worked with Stanley on a few projects including laying out and building the Beddoe course at Chedoke and Whirlpool in Niagara Parks where he became the first head pro / manager.

Nicol Thompson was the Hamilton Club’s head professional from 1899-1901, in 1903 and from 1912 to 1945.

He was the head professional at the Country Club of Birmingham in Alabama from 1904 to 1911.

When he returned to the Hamilton G&CC in 1912, he and superintendent John Sutherland were given the job of finding the property that would become the club’s new home. That farm in Ancaster, purchased in 1914, became the present golf course.

Nicol was not one of the founding members of the PGA of Canada because he was working in Birmingham at the time of its creation in 1911.

He became quite active in the CPGA after his return to Hamilton in 1912 and served as president of the organization from 1923-1926.

It wasn’t long after his return to Canada that Thompson established himself as one of the top professional golfers in the country. He finished second in the 1913 Canadian Open in Montreal and in 1930 when the Open was played at the Hamilton G&CC, Thompson led the tournament after two rounds eventually finishing seventh which earned him the Princely sum of $ 50.

Thompson won the CPGA Championship in 1922 and finished second in 1919 and 1924. He also captured the Ontario Open Championship in 1925.

“The grand old man of Canadian golf” died in Hamilton in August 1955 at the age of 75.

“Mr. Thompson was very much beloved by the membership and truly focused on the services they provided to them, ”then Hamilton President Richard Lennox received in a letter of support to the PGA of the Canada Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

“The successful operation of the HGCC Caddy Program was very close and dear to him.”

That program continues to this day.

Whole-in-One: COVID-19 may not have gone away entirely but in another sign that golf is returning to normalcy, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board has approved a return of the Middle School Golf Championship.

The tournament, which was not held in 2020 or 2021 because of COVID, will be played this year on May 25 with a 10 am shotgun at Oak Gables.

The Middle School Championship was first held in 2004 on the Martin course at Chedoke where the winners were Laura Hildebrandt and Mackenzie Hughes.


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