CELEBRATING 100 YEARS!
On August 4, 1920, the new nine-hole golf course was officially opened. A foursome of prominent golfers of that era played the opening round: George Lyons, George Cumming, F.P. Freeman and Stanley Thompson. Two or three hundred spectators watched this first round at Windermere.
It all started in October 1919 …
It all started in October of 1919 when some of Toronto’s leading bankers, merchants, barristers, etc., who were also summer residents of Windermere, on Lake Rosseau, decided a golf club was needed to make the area an even more desirable place to holiday. Provincial Letters Patent for Windermere Golf & Country Club Ltd. were granted to this founding group on October 1, 1919.
From that starting point, land was chosen and purchased and arrangements were made for the newly established Toronto firm of golf course architects: Thompson, Cumming and Thompson (Nicol Thompson, professional at the Hamiltion Golf & Country Club, George Cumming, professional at the Toronto Golf Club, and Stanley Thompson, who became perhaps the greatest golf course designer in Canadian history) to lay out the new course. For this the firm received the sum of $335 – a small sum now, but evidently an adequate one at that time. A Mr. Borrows was hired as Professional and Greenskeeper the first year at $60 per month plus meals and living quarters.
Among the founder and provisional Directors were Lt. Col. James Cooper Mason, Albert Ernest Calvert, Arthur William Treble, Major William Fletcher Eaton, Gordon Nicholas Shaver, and James S. Douglas. The first president was Lt. Col. James Cooper Mason.
Major J.S. Livingston, the first Club manager and organizing secretary, was empowered to negotiate the purchase of the Huggard and Crowder properties for a price of $5000. Approximately 32 acres were also purchased from Leslie Aitken, of Windermere House, for $2000. The Bunn property at the corner was bought later. A total of 124 acres was assembled. At that time there were three summer hotels in Windermere – Windermere House, Fife House and Maple Leaf Hotel (now known as The Baldwins Resort).
Among early shareholders and supporters, in addition to the founding directors, were other prominent people such as Leslie Aitkin, G. H. Gundy, E.R. Wood, Hugh C. McLean, Dr. C.M. Hincks, Britton Osler, Mrs. Timothy Eaton, Mrs. E.Y.Eaton, Dr. D.D.J Waller and Albert Matthews.
While land was purchased for 18 holes of golf, only nine holes were initially in play. Between 1920 and 1923 three additional holes were added, and between 1925 and 1926 the final six holes were added making Windermere a full 18 holes of championship length.
An idea of the difference of the value of money is provided by the fact that golf dues of a shareholder in 1920 were only $10 per season.
A portable clubhouse was purchased in 1920 and located in the general area of the current clubhouse.
A review of the first year records indicate that there were about 30 shareholder members and an additional 93 individual green tickets were sold at $1 per game. In the same year $140 was received by the Club for hay from the Club grounds, which was more than the $93 green fees.
Over the last 90 years there have been a number of golf pros and golf club managers at Windermere. The first appears to be the previously-mentioned Mr. Borrows. The minutes say that in addition to the $60 per month plus room and board, “he also had the privilege of selling balls and clubs and giving golf lessons”.
For quite a number of years the job of Club Pro was filled by a father and son combination of Hugh Logan, Senior and Junior. Many of the people currently playing at Windermere will remember them. A recent book referred to Hugh Logan Sr. as a “club maker who had itchy feet moving from one firm to another – his Genii model, his bent neck irons and an apparatus for teaching the ‘correct’ golf swing will not be forgotten”. Hugh of the “itchy feet” came to Canada as a professional at Rosedale Golf Club and from there to Windermere where he was the early teacher of Shirley (Grant) Wildi who became one of Canada’s outstanding lady amateur golfers.
Early in the Club’s history, William Bunn was the Greenskeeper and Course Superintendent. When William retired, he was followed by his son Elmer. Considering the limited resources available, the Bunns did a commendable job; for many years Windermere has enjoyed the best greens in Muskoka.
In August of 1923, the first president, Col. J. Cooper Mason died. He was replaced by Albert Matthews who chaired the Board of Directors until 1948, a period of 25 years. The Honorable Albert E. Matthews also served as the sixteenth Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1937 to 1946.
In August of 1948, Major-General A. Bruce Matthews became the President. He served in that capacity until 1965. He carried the Club financially through some very lean years. Bruce Matthews died in November 1991.
Bruce Matthews was succeeded as President by Fraser Fell, who had already served the Club as a Director since 1953. He remained President until 1985, continuing the tradition of dedication and contribution to the Club demonstrated by Presidents before him and those who followed: Haviland Allen (1985 to1992), William (Bill) Cullens (1992 to1995), William (Bill) Braithwaite (1995 to 1996), Scott Haddy (1996 to 2003), and Jonathan Harris (2003 to 2007).
Among the strong supporters and benefactors of the Windermere Golf & Country Club, almost since it’s inception, was the family from Columbus, Ohio, who summer at “Llanllar” and its associated properties, a beautiful home in the Windermere vicinity. Members of that Columbus family include W.G. Irwin, Hugh T. Miller, Miss Elsie Sweeney, Irwin Miller, and his sister, Mrs. Clementine Tangeman. In 1984, with the substantial support of this family and the assistance of other Members and supporters of the Club, a major irrigation system was installed.
In 1972 Jim MacLeod became the General Manager and Pro. Jim MacLeod was a pro in Scotland for some years and an excellent golfer and teacher. He competed in two British Open Championships and taught two Walker Cup (ladies vs. US) players and four Scottish Ladies Champions. As pro at Mid Ocean, he coached the Bermuda World Cup Team. Between Bermuda and Windermere, he was Pro and then General Manager at Tyandaga Golf Club in Burlington, Ontario. Jim MacLeod remained the General Manager and Club Professional from 1972 until his retirement in 1993.
A great many of the changes that provide the fine course we can now enjoy came about during Jim MacLeod’s tenure. To clear up spongy, wet conditions on parts of the course, a series of 14 ponds were constructed. Drainage lines were constructed to the ponds to relieve wet fairways particularly on the back nine, but also on holes six and seven. The ponds themselves provide additional beauty, making the course more competitive. The third green was repositioned, adding length and difficulty to that hole. Many Greens and tees have been enlarged. An overall plan for planting hundreds of trees was undertaken and those trees are now adding to the natural look and beauty of the entire course.
During Jim MacLeod’s tenure, Windermere developed as a “Club”. The mixed two ball events were instituted, along with inter-club matches with the Muskoka Lakes Golf & Country Club and Beaumaris Golf Club. Windermere became a “Golf & Country Club” in 1973 with the installation of the first two tennis courts. In 1991 the third court was added.
At the time of his retirement, Jim MacLeod’s contribution was recognized by the renaming of the 7th hole: MacLeod’s Pond.
Following Jim MacLeod’s retirement, pros at the Club were Kelly Lynes and Sean Beane. In 2004 Mark DeActis assumed the position of Pro, having worked since 2001 as Assistant Professional. Upon his appointment Mark was the youngest Head Professional at a golf club in Canada. In 2009, Mark DeActis was appointed Co-General Manager & Director of Golf. In the same year, Jason Eberle was appointed General Manager & Course Superintendent. Jason Eberle has been Greens Superintendent since 1998 and in his first 11 years has made his mark on the course. The quality of the fairways, greens and tees have been enhanced through a soil testing program. Improvements were made to the irrigation system on the front nine. But most obviously, the beauty of course has been enhanced by his use of gardens, ponds, the addition of new traps, the clearing of brush and the exposing of the natural granite of Muskoka.
In 2003, the beautiful new clubhouse was built by Upper Canada Log homes, replacing the first permanent clubhouse, built in 1954. Both clubhouses stood on the site of that first portable clubhouse which was purchased in 1920.
In 2007, the two major shareholding families, the Matthews and the Millers, expressed to the Members their willingness to see the Club converted from a share corporation to a non-share capital corporation. Bryn Matthews, Margaret Miller and Bruce Mitchell, trustees of a shareholding trust representing the majority of the shareholders of the Club, worked with a Transition Board, to develop a proposal which would allow for that conversion and the placing of the Club on a sound financial foundation. A proposal was presented to the Members by Bruce Mitchell and Robert Hutchision (Co-Chairs of the Transition Board). It was endorsed by approximately 80 percent of the Members voting at a meeting held on August 25, 2007.
At the end of November 2007, the final proposal for the restructuring of the Club was delivered to all Members, seeking support accompanied by a capital contribution as part of a plan to retire existing debt. A sufficient number of Members endorsed the proposal, and in 2008 the Club was reorganized as a non-share capital corporation. A Board of Directors was elected at the Annual General Meeting in August 2008, for the first time, by a vote of the Club’s Members. Ross Wells was elected as Club President for a two year term.
The current members of Windermere Golf & Country Club are indebted to the foresight and generosity of all of the former shareholders of the Club, and in particular the Matthews and Miller families. To commemorate the extraordinary generosity of these two families the Club on the occasion of its 90th Anniversary celebrations renamed the 13th and 15th holes, “Matthews’ Legacy” and “Llanllar”.
The history of the Club is one which is deserving of celebration, and one which establishes a solid foundation upon which a strong future can be built.
In 1992, a Mission Statement and Vision for the Club were adopted by the Board of Directors. They have been reviewed twice by subsequent Boards. In 2009, the Club’s Mission Statement and Vision were cemented.
The Windermere Golf & Country Club exists to provide to its Members and guests (and where appropriate to the patrons of the neighboring resorts and the public) a superior golf course and tennis facility within a friendly, family-oriented club.
To be true to the above mission, it would appear that Windermere Golf & County Club should proceed in the following direction:
- Towards the establishment of one membership class (i.e. Annual Members) who would assume responsibility for all operating and financial aspects of the Club;
- Towards an increased annual membership size at the expense of public use of the Club’s golf and tennis facilities;
- Towards improvements in the golf course, particularly in it’s conditioning and maintenance, but also incorporating some design improvements;
- Towards and increased younger, family orientation and involvement in the Club’s activities.
Among the founder and provisional Directors were Lt. Col. James Cooper Mason, Albert Ernest Calvert, Arthur William Treble, Major William Fletcher Eaton, Gordon Nicholas Shaver, and James S. Douglas.