The players at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ont. have been impressed with the enthusiastic and large crowds that have been turning up at the Grey Silo Golf Club. They might be surprised, but anybody familiar with the rich history of golf in the area would have expected the interest and support that spectators, volunteers, and local media have provided.
For one thing, the area is full of golf courses, public and private. Grey Silo is relatively new, and it's public. In fact, when one thinks about golf in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, the courses that first come to mind are the public ones. Maybe that's because Rockway Golf Course, the first public track in the area, opened in 1935, and was home to three of the most distinguished Canadian players ever: the late Moe Norman, Gerry Kesselring, and Gary Cowan.
Moe was, well, Moe. There's no need to go into detail here about his outstanding accomplishments. Suffice it to say that he won the 1955 and 1956 Canadian Amateurs and that he won just about everything in Canadian golf after he turned pro, except for the Canadian Open. A room at Rockway is dedicated to him, and offers a walk through his fascinating life.
Kesselring, known to everybody in Canadian golf as Kessy, won the 1946 and 1947 Canadian Junior championships. He won four Ontario Amateurs. He won two Ontario Opens as an amateur, and after turning pro in 1953, he won again, in 1956 and 1957. He regained his amateur status in 1966. Here's the speech he gave in 2008 when he was inducted into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame.
Then there's Cowan. What a player. He won the 1956 Canadian Junior, the 1961 Canadian Amateur, and the 1966 and 1971 U.S. Amateurs. Cowan, like Kesselring, is 73 years old. He can still stripe it; I can attest to this, having had the privilege of playing with at least once each of the last three years. When Canadian golfers refer to "Gary," there's speaking about Gary Cowan, not Gary Player.
Moe, Kessy, and Gary each came under the spell of Rockway's brilliant and wise teacher Lloyd Tucker. Tucker, the Rockway professional, never taught the triumvirate as a group. He worked with each individuall and respected each player's style. They did okay.
Rockway, meanwhile, is only one of many popular courses in the area. I'll refer to but a few of the many. Foxwood is a sweet spot out in the countryside; Moe loved it there because his great pal Gus Maue is the boss. It's where Moe was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1995. There's Pike Lake, where David Hearn first took to golf. By the way, Hearn's wife Heather gave birth on June 21 to Ella Ashley, their first child. There's Doon Valley, a course I used to play when I attended the University of Guelph.
And, of course, there's Kitchener's Westmount Golf and Country Club, which has held many championships. It's spoken of from time to time as a Canadian Open site; I'd love to see the tournament there again for the first time since 1957, when George Bayer won. The course is superb. There's Whistle Bear, and Deer Ridge. Once you get started with Kitchener-area courses, it's hard to stop.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent coverage local writers have given area golf for years, which has helped build interest. Skip Johns wrote golf for years for the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, and covered the game comprehensively. Rick Young wrote a first-rate golf column for 26 years for the Woodstock Sentinel-Review until he was dismissed in February 2009, when he was informed that his column was "non-essential." I always considered it essential, as I do his work now that he's the golf writer for the London Free Press (smart move there by sports editor Dave Langford) and Scoregolf.com. Rick pays close attention to golf happenings in southwestern Ontario, as he's doing during the Manulife. John Herbert, Herbie to all, preceded Rick at the London Free Press, and he too wrote about the game not only in London but also throughout southwestern Ontario.
To me, then, it's not surprising that there's been such strong support for the Manulife at Grey Silo. When it comes to golf, it's difficult to think of an area that is more into the game than Kitchener-Waterloo.
It's no wonder, then, that when Anna Nordqvist was asked after the second round whether she felt a lot of support, here's what she said.
"Absolutely, I think this is one of the best crowds we've had all year, and it's just, you know, coming to Waterloo for the first time and seeing the support, I think it's great. I think it's great for the LPGA and great for golf in Canada. You know, it's just so much fun to play in front of people."
That's because so many people in the Kitchener-Waterloo region are deeply into the game. That's because there's such a rich history of the game in the area. They're thrilled that the LPGA has come to the area. Their presence in such numbers says a lot about what the game means to the region. It's meant a lot for many years, and this week at Grey Silo is simply providing more evidence of that.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein