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Willie Park Jr

A Brief History of Weston Golf and Country Club

When a young Scotsman named John Lindsay came to live in the town of Weston in 1909, people still remembered that the surrounding land was once treasured camping, hunting and fishing grounds of the Ojibwa and Mississauga First Nations.  It was a landscape of gentle hills and flat fields set in the winding Humber River valley, spanned by the Grand Trunk Railway line on its majestic piers.  While much has changed around the valley, those piers still stand today, a picturesque reminder of days gone by, and a distinguishing feature of The Weston Golf and Country Club.
Mr. Lindsay quickly realized the potential of the flat land beside the Humber, and encouraged a group of local enthusiasts to form a club and establish a course.  By 1915 they had acquired land from one William Wadsworth, who operated a grist and sawmill on the site, and laid out a 9-hole course.  Some of the original features can still be traced today, including the remains of the millrace which once passed across the area of the current fairway.

The first clubhouse was established in the Dick Dawson residence located near the railroad bridge on the east side of the Humber.  The Club paid $300 annual rent until 1921, when the former Wadsworth residence, known locally as Pine Hills, was acquired.  Larger and more convenient, Pine Hills served the Club well until 1966-67 when the old building was replaced by the clubhouse that stands today.

The original course was shaped by the natural terrain on both sides of the railway bridge. In 1920, the Club engaged the great Willie Park Jr. to design a new 18-hole course, and we are fortunate that, despite some controversy, his vision incorporated the immense piers of the historic 1850 railway bridge.  Today, our second hole, with its fairway framed by the monumental piers, is considered to be one of the prettiest fairways to be seen anywhere.

Weston is ranked as one of Canada’s most challenging and enjoyable places to play.  Certainly Arnold Palmer thought so when he mastered our championship fairways and famously fast greens to win the 1955 Canadian Open – his first professional tournament victory.  The moment marked his emergence as one of the world’s greatest golfers and still stands as an exciting and memorable moment in the Club’s history.

Course Architects

Wille Park Jr
Mungo Park describes the life and work of his illustrious ancestor

Some years ago, in 1995, I was lucky enough to play The Maidstone on Long Island, with club historian David Goddard. In a rare moment of golfing competence, I birdied an almost blind par three, designed by my great uncle, Willie Park Jr, to demoralise the overconfident. He had not reckoned with the last dregs of the family gene pool.

I avoided the sea to the right, and the wide diagonal swathe of marram grass, lifting and falling in sympathetic motion. I watched in disbelief as my ball, to which I must have imparted, accidentally, just the right amount of backspin, bit and stayed on the crown of the tiny green, allowing me an easy putt.

At the time I suspected supernatural intervention, but rationally I believe the original design of the Maidstone demonstrates the coming of age for the first golf architect to use the title. For Willie Park, course design was the art of the possible. It was not his role to punish the club player for having a high handicap, but he didn’t shrink from making life a little more difficult for the scratch player. His involvement at the Maidstone spans over 25 years, productive years for Willie in Britain, Europe, America  and Canada. His example showed the way for many who came after.

As a player and clubmaker, Willie, learnt his trade from family and surroundings. He was born inMusselburgh, the ‘cradle of golf,’ in 1864. His father, Willie Park Sr, had won the first Open four years earlier and, with Old Tom Morris, dominated the championship in its early years. His uncle Mungo (Old Willie’s brother) came back from the sea in the early 1870s and won the 1874 Open at Musselburgh, the first time it was played there. Old Willie won again the following year.

Fifteen years later, in 1889, Willie Jr was to play, and win, in the last Open to be played in his home town, as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers moved out to Muirfield in 1892. Golf was growing enormously in popularity, but there was not a living to be made as a professional golfer alone, even with the money matches that were popular, so Willie Jr learnt his trade as clubmaker and ball hammer in the family firm of William Park and Sons, and practised putting with marbles on the brick floor of his father’s workshop.

Willie was born at a critical time in the evolution of golf. The gutta percha ball had been invented just before he was born. This simple innovation transformed the game and indirectly led to the development of many new courses. The plentiful supply of relatively cheap gutty balls meant that golf was no longer the exclusive domain of the wealthy, as it had been when the feathery was the only adequate projectile of choice.

Willie was born in the right place at the right time. In 1880 he had mastered his trade sufficiently to take the post of ‘assistant professional, club and ball maker, steward and green keeper’ atTyneside Golf Club, in Ryton to the west of Newcastle, where his uncle, Mungo Sr was professional. Mungo had just laid out the course for the Thompson brothers, two expatriot Musselburgh men, but he returned to Alnmouth shortly after, and young Willie, aged sixteen, became the club professional. In the same year he entered his first Open, and came fifteenth. Four years later, in 1884, he returned to Musselburgh to help run the business. It is likely that his father’s health was starting to fail.

In 1886, at 22, he laid out his first course at Innerleithen. He did not charge a fee, but instead obtained a preferential ‘franchise’ for the supply of William Park and Sons clubs to members. Fortunately for the profession, course design as a loss leader did not catch on! But it was the start of Willie’s rise to prominence in course design.

As a golfer Willie was approaching his best. In 1887 he won his first Open, and two years later, his second. After that, business took over from playing, to a great extent, as he built up the name and reputation of William Park and Sons. From 1890 Willie was effectively in charge of the firm. He opened branches in Edinburgh, London and Manchester, and in 1897 he opened a branch in New York.

The 1890s too saw a great demand for Willie’s skill as a course designer. In 1892, it seems likely that Mungo Sr and Willie Jr collaborated with Davie Grant of North Berwick to design and construct the course at Silloth on Solway. This was and still is a fine course, although it is much changed by a series of prominent architects. Bernard Darwin said: ‘I never fell more violently in love with a course at first sight’. In the same year as Silloth, Willie was working at Jedburgh and Peterhead.

As the century approached its close Willie was approaching the peak of his prosperity, although much of his best work was still to come. He had ridden the crest of the first golf wave in Britain, and like many of his Scottish colleagues saw the opportunities offered by the game’s growth in America. In 1895 he went across the Atlantic. In the same year he married his second wife Margaret, and also published his seminal work, The Game of Golf. The book was one of the first to look at the game in a theoretical way. It was applauded as being ‘a triumph of simple language.

From a man who had had no formal schooling, certainly beyond the age of 15, and possibly younger, it is a considerable achievement, and makes cogent and sensible reading today. His written comments on the second edition are copious and astute. Many of them would apply today: “Holes which formerly required three strokes to reach the green can now be driven in two and hence larger greens are a matter of practical necessity unless scoring is to be reduced to an absurd minimum.” And again: “If it can be avoided, putting greens should not be laid down on a plain uninteresting piece of ground. There should be a suggestion of a terminus of the hole, or in other words the position should be suggestive to the player that there is the place to which he must aim to drive his ball.”

His comments show a thoughtful, confident mind, with clear design ability and a good working knowledge of agronomy and greenkeeping. “Rolling however, requires to be carefully done. In dry weather it is only good for polishing the surface, and if done too frequently may render the green so keen and fast as to make putting an impossibility.” With minimal intervention an expedient and economical way to build, Park’s courses concentrated on the celebration of natural topography and ecology. He employed high quality construction professionals and shapers, and, although he moved the design process from ‘walking the course’ to ‘planning the course’ he never lost his ability to use and enjoy the form and articulation of landscape, with the insertion of a little artifice to make a hole more challenging.

His par threes provide a library of devices by which to snare or disorientate the golfer. Often he used a diagonal hazard to distract the player, or to provide an artificial perspective to a hole. Transverse diagonal ditches or streams, as at Stoneham, or heather covered banks, as atSunningdale are typical, but Willie was happy to try new devices, as at Aldeburgh, which he designed with James Braid, where a small cliff of vertical timber sleepers at the back of a long horseshoe shaped bunker contains the par three fourth green, reached over a landscape of brutal and engulfing gorse.

Willie’s greens were typically described as “a tipped platter with two fried eggs,” but like Colt, MacKenzie and Simpson, the next generation, he preferred to allow the strategy of the hole and the green’s location to inform its design, with as little help as possible from the construction team. Willie never embraced the ‘penal’ philosophy. As Geoffrey Cornish wrote to John Adams(The Parks of Musselburgh, Grant Books): “It is evident to me that Willie Park was practising strategic design in Canada and the US during his 1916-23 years? whether or not the words strategic and penal were being used at that time in relation to design.” The Game of Golf argues sensibly for the strategic approach, as the only practical way to cater for the diverse ability of golfers. Willie was in all things a pragmatist.

By 1900 Willie was at the height of his powers. He had designed and built Sunningdale, which opened to universal acclaim, and he had set up his own development company, Chiltern Estates, to build a new course and housing at Huntercombe. This too was greeted with critical acclaim, and the present course, substantially unchanged, is a testament to the quality of its early design. But the success of the design and construction of Huntercombe was to be transformed into a bitter failure. By 1906 it had passed into the possession of the Norwich Union Life Insurance Company.

This was a difficult time, but Willie continued to build, particularly around London, and on the Continent. After Huntercombe was lost he poured himself into work, and before the First World War he was at his most active and influential. Among a long list, he worked at Royal Wimbledonin 1907, West Lancashire, Temple, Lauder and Biggar in the Borders and Grantown on Speyfurther north. Nieuport Bains, Mont Agel (Monte Carlo) and Royal Antwerp were also carried out in this period, and Killarney in 1911. With the onset of war there was little to be done in Britain or Europe, and few people to do it. In 1916, thus, he went again to New York, where his younger brother John was already professional at the Maidstone. Willie developed the office of ‘William Park – Golf Architect’ with the same energy and application as in Britain. Between 1916- 1924 he built some of his best courses in North America and Canada. They remain a testament to his skill and aptitude.

At the end of his career, in 1923, with the assistance of his younger brother John, Willie once again undertook work at the Maidstone, which they had first laid out in 1895 or 96, and which John had constructed in 1899. But by 1924 Willie was losing his ability to run the business. It is possible that his mental health was suffering from the effects of thyrotoxicosis, which at the time was untreatable. In 1924, my grandfather, Mungo Park Jr, travelled from Argentina, where he was also a golf architect, to New York. He brought his older brother home to Musselburgh: he died at  Craighouse hospital on 22 May 1925 Willie’s lasting legacy was the breadth and span of his activities. He combined successful careers as a greenkeeper, professional golfer and club and ball manufacturer with the development of the new profession of golf architect. Arguably he was the first to coin the title. It is noticeable that when he first went to America he described himself on the ship’s manifest as a golf professional. By the time he returned to America in 1916, at the age of 52, he is listed as ‘Golf Architect.’

He, more than any other, provided the bridge between the players of the money match days and the new men of business who were driving the game forward in America and Britain. Henry Leach, writing in The American Golfer, describes his leaving as the breaking of “the only solid link remaining between the golf of today and the really great golf of the past, the time when the history of the game as we know it was being built up, that link being comprised in the human person of our Willie. For you see, Willie Park was ‘one of the boys of the old brigade.’ In this respect there was none like him.”

This legacy may be as significant to the overall history of golf architecture as his designs. His work at Sunningdale and Huntercombe inspired Colt, Abercrombie and many others. They demonstrated that successful new golf development of the highest quality was possible on inland sites. His work in America and Canada confirmed his position as the father of golf course architecture. Inevitably it is his built legacy for which he will be remembered, and it is a testament to the quality of his courses that so many remain relatively unchanged. Gullane, Huntercombe, Sunningdale, Mount Bruno, Ottawa, the Maidstone, Olympia Fields, Royal Antwerp, Mont Agel, Killarney and many others are a substantial legacy, but so too are lesser known gems, such as Silloth, Kilspindie, Aldburgh, Temple and Stoneham, where the great Willie Park encourages lesser mortals to practice the art of the possible in subtly considered landscapes, and to achieve, from time to time, those satisfying moments of unimportant personal greatness.
- Credited to Mr. Mungo Park and The Willie Park Society

Consulting Architect
Mr Doug Carrick

Carrick Design have enjoyed a long and wonderful working relationship with the Weston Golf and Country Club since 1997. Inspired by the timeless, classic design work of Willie Park Jr., Carrick Design have remodelled all of the bunkers, re-built the 10th green, remodelled the 2nd fairway, re-built many tees and expanded irrigation reservoirs on the 2nd and 3rd holes. In addition to these projects, Carrick Design have assisted the club with strategic tree removals and tree plantings, the re-design of the practice area and restoration work adjacent to the railway line expansion.

Carrick Design Inc. and it’s namesake, Mr. Doug Carrick, have become well known for developing some of the finest golf courses in the world. Founded in 1985 by Douglas Carrick, Carrick Design Inc. has established a reputation as one of the leading International golf course architectural firms. The firm has gained a wide variety of experience on projects ranging from large scale golf / residential communities, golf resorts, private clubs and high end pay as you play courses.

Carrick began his career in golf course design in 1981 under the tutelage of the late C.E. “Robbie” Robinson, who schooled Carrick in the classic design principles that were passed onto him by renowned golf course architect, Stanley Thompson. 
Carrick’s first solo design, King Valley Golf Club, quickly gained recognition as one of Canada’s top ranked courses and was voted Canada’s 2nd best new course in 1991 by Golf Digest. Designs for Greystone Golf Club and Osprey Valley Heathlands Course followed and helped to solidify Carrick’s reputation for producing top quality golf courses. In 1995 Angus Glen Golf Club was recognized by Golf Digest as the “Best New Course in Canada”. Angus Glen’s reputation as one of Canada’s top ranked courses was further enhanced when in was named as the venue for the Bell Canadian Open in 2002 and 2007. 

A list of Carrick Design’s design awards include Golf Digest’s Best New Course in Canada Award for the Muskoka Bay Club in 2007, Bigwin Island Golf Club in 2002, Greywolf Golf Course in 1999 and Angus Glen Golf Club in 1995. King Valley Golf Club, Angus Glen North, Greystone Golf Club and Humber Valley Resort’s River Course received 2nd, and 3rd place rankings, respectively. Score Magazine ranked The Magna Golf Club as Canada’s Best New Course in 2001, Eagles Nest as Canada’s Best New Course in 2006. In 2007 Humber Valley Resort’s River Course, Muskoka Bay Club and Cobble Beach Golf Links swept 1st, 2nd and 3rd place honors for Best New Courses in Canada from Score Magazine. Muskoka Bay Club was named Best New Course in 2006 by Fairways and Ontario Golf Magazine. The Humber Valley River Course was named Best Golf Development in 2005 by Homes Overseas Magazine.
Carrick Design has the unique ability to blend housing developments sensitively into the golf course layout to maximize surrounding property values while still maintaining the integrity of both the golf course and housing areas. Carrick Design has been involved in the planning and design of numerous housing and resort golf course communities as well as stand alone private clubs and pay as you play courses. 
Carrick Design Inc. has also been retained by several of Canada's most prestigious private golf clubs to oversee all renovation work to these landmark courses including; The Weston Golf and Country Club, Capilano Golf & Country Club, Mississaugua Golf Club, Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club and many others.

Carrick Design’s International work includes The Fontana Golf Club in Austria, which has been ranked Austria’s Best Golf Course since opening in 1997 and was the site of the European Tour’s BACA Austrian Open from 2006 to 2010. Other International projects include Pannonia Golf & Country Club in Hungary and The Carrick on Loch Lomond in Scotland and Ansung Country Club in South Korea. 

Doug Carrick has a unique eye for developing each site into a spectacular golf course while maintaining the character of the site. The physical layout of the site and maintaining traditional values of the game are two important qualities that guide and influence each of his designs. This ensures unique, quality courses for each client. Doug Carrick is a full member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and has served on the Board of Governors, Executive Committee and as President in 2009/10. 

Consulting Architect
Mr Andy Staples

On December 9th, 2021, Weston Golf and Country Club announced the appointment of Mr. Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design as consulting golf course architect for Weston Golf & Country Club. 

Andy Staples emerged as the unanimous recommendation of the Green Committee following a thorough review of a number of outstanding proposals received from some of the world’s finest golf course architects.  Andy comes with a wealth of knowledge of the golf course styles and designs of Willie Park Jr.  He made a study of Willie Park Jr. designs in the United Kingdom to gain an insight for a number of restoration projects for golf courses of the Golden Age of course architecture. 
This expertise ultimately led Andy to be engaged by Olympia Fields to conduct restoration projects for both their North Course designed by Willie Park Jr. and their South Course originally designed by William Watson and Tom Bendelow.
More recently Andy has been engaged by Mount Bruno Country Club near Montreal to complete a master plan for the renewal of their Willie Park Jr. course designed originally to host the 1922 Canadian Open.  Andy’s restoration work of the Willie Park jr. course at Meadowbrook Country Club in northern Michigan received great acclaim for his bold re-imagining of the work of the great master.  Andy proudly claims to have more Willie Park Jr. experience than any other current architect.
Another key feature of Mr. Staples’ presentation to Weston was his emphasis on sustainability in design.  His approach encompasses the consideration of the best use of scarce resources, environmental considerations, and the impact of any changes upon course maintenance standards and costs.
Andy visited Weston in August of this year and, starting at 6:45 a.m., spent over eight hours walking every part of the course taking notes and forming impressions.  The enthusiasm he came away with after meeting with Robert Ackermann was infectious.  Andy commented  “I love this course, I want this course, and I’m excited for this opportunity”.

We hope to be able to introduce Andy Staples to the membership in person this coming golf season, subject of course to travel restrictions.  In the meantime, for those wishing to know more about Andy Staples the link below is to a 90 minute interview in which Andy discusses his career, and his Willie Park Jr. experience.

Andy’s first task will be to complete a new master plan for our golf course.  The prior master plan is over 20 years old and most of the work anticipated by that plan has been carried out through the years.  However, as golf courses are constantly changing, growing and evolving, and as we know the irrigation system will need replacement soon, a new master plan will provide the blue print for maintaining and enhancing our Willie Park Jr. classic design for the future.  

- Robb English (Green Committee Chairman)