A Short History of the Lands Chosen by Albert Austin for His New Golf Course

The property chosen by Albert Austin as the location for his new golf course was situated on a 150-acre tract of land that sat along the bank of the Humber River called the Humber Flats in the area known as Lambton Mills. The Village of Lambton Mills was a 19th century community at the crossing of the Humber River and Dundas Street West. Originally the settlement was known as Cooper’s Mill, but the name was changed to commemorate the visit in 1838 by John George Lambton, the first Earl of Durham and Canada’s first Governor General. It was along this Humber River that Etienne Brule had travelled on his way to discovering Lake Ontario. The river was filled with salmon and along its shores were a number of water-powered mills soon to be displaced by steam-power. The land was situated in what was described as the Lambton Valley, a fertile farming area and a botanist’s treasure hosting a variety of native flowers and plants.

Lying just south of the Town of Weston it was bounded on the west by the Humber River and on the east side by a dirt road called The Scarlett Road, named after John Scarlett, a prominent personage at the time and one of the founders of The Second Bank of Upper Canada. Scarlett and his family settled on what was then called Dundas Road (now called Dundas Street) near the Humber. He called his home “Runnymede” and his land holdings, which were in excess of 1,000 acres, “Simcoe Grange.”

As a keen horseman, Scarlett laid out a racing course known as the Simcoe Chase Course on a piece of land described as “lying on the north side of Dundas Street behind a hotel once called Woolf’s at the top of the hill.” Evidence of coins and betting tokens from the racing course were found during the building of the railway right-of-way many years later.  This suggests that the course may have lain on Lambton’s uppermost level. Maps of the time suggest with relative certainty that the Scarlett family owned all of the land that now forms The Lambton Golf and Country Club.

The property boasted a meandering stream called Black Creek, which made its appearance at the north east corner and, after many twists and turns, flowed into the Humber at the western property line. Much of the upper levels were heavily treed with oaks, elms and maples interspersed among groves of spruce and pine. From the height of land the property dropped two hundred feet to the river in four tiers, allowing a course to be built on several different levels. The terrain near the edge of the steep cliff was clear of trees and so afforded an unobstructed view of much of the property.



The Purchase of the land and the first Shareholders of Lambton

Albert Austin’s dream was to build the finest golf course in Canada with a large and luxurious clubhouse and outbuildings. With a number of clubs suffering because their courses were entirely inadequate, causing them eventually to either move to other locations or to go out of existence, he wished to demonstrate to golfers and investors that this club would remain in its permanent location.

His assessment of the market for membership in a new club on purchased and not leased land that would be in a permanent location with a fine new clubhouse turned out to be accurate. He knew that there were sufficient golfers, unhappy with the conditions and future prospects of their present golf club, who could afford the $100 subscription price. He was also aware that female golfers represented a significant segment of Toronto’s golfing community. To that end, he planned to have a nine-hole course in addition to the eighteen-hole course and made it clear in the circular that this course would be set aside for their exclusive use.

George S. Lyon, as well as other members of the Provisional Committee, were requested to bring in as many subscriptions as possible and the response was sufficiently encouraging and The Lambton Golf and Country Club Limited was incorporated later that year with Albert Austin as its first President.  Austin understood well the need for a new golf club of the type he intended to create and his judgment was reinforced when, in 1904, after Lambton had been open for only one year, the original $100 share was now being quoted at $250 and there was a waiting list for membership.

It is interesting to note how much faith and confidence Austin placed in Lyon. In 1984, speaking of his father, Fred Lyon stated that he was a founding member of Lambton with Albert Austin. As he put it, “A.W. Austin supplied the money and George S. Lyon supplied the legwork.” He did that, but he did much more. He was, without question, the most prominent member the Club has ever had.


The Origins of Golf

It is not known where the first game of golf was played. It is clear, however, that the modern game of golf originated, and was developed, in Scotland. From Scotland, the game spread south to England in the 17th century.

During the late 19th century, colonists from the British Isles exported their game to the far corners of the earth. There is some evidence of golf being played in Canada as early as 1824 or 1826. The first golf club that was formally and permanently established, not only in Canada but in the whole of North America, was the Montreal Golf Club on November 4th, 1873. It was later to become The Royal Montreal Golf Club by Royal Warrant of Queen Victoria in 1884.

The 1890’s saw a tremendous boom in the game in every province and territory. The change from a rural society to urban centers began to take place in the 1890’s and this urban living increased the desire for more leisure activities. A growing middle class, along with a shortened work week also contributed to the growth in the sport. Transportation improved with the completion of the Canadian National Railways, urban trains and trolley systems. The invention of the bicycle also had a major impact, especially with women, a large number of whom entered the sport.

As the 19th century ended, there existed in Canada, in one form or another, approximately fifty organized golf clubs. Although many of these would falter and fail, it showed an inevitable progress towards the building of a firm foundation of clubs across the land. Of the approximately fifty clubs, there were roughly twenty that were formally organized clubs in Ontario including five identifiable golf clubs actively operating in Toronto.

Many of the golf clubs, formed in the 1890’s, discovered in the first decade of the twentieth century that their courses were too restrictive, caused in part by the arrival of the rubber-cored golf ball that allowed players to drive the ball much farther. Scores began to drop drastically and it quickly became obvious that the courses would have to be lengthened if they were to remain relevant. A number of these courses did not have enough room to do so and the clubs were either disbanded or were moved to a new location.

It was in this environment that Albert W. Austin and his friends took the momentous decision to form a new golf club and build a golf course at Lambton Mills west of Toronto.  



George S. Lyon - The Last Man to Win an Olympic Golf Medal for Golf

Golf Captain at Lambton for 23 years
By Mignonne Rawson - 18th January 2010

It was late afternoon on September 23 rd 1904, when a crowd of onlookers stood huddled together, shoes wet through by the constant drizzle of rain which had not let up since morning. The wind whispered through the slender gaps which separated each person. There was a quiet. All waiting. Waiting for the man standing only meters from them, hunched over the little white ball which had taken him miles that day. With a furrowed brow he produced a steady back swing. A gentle tap on the way through and the ball travelled, all eyes following it, along the clipped grass to the little hole only meters away. Plop. The sweetest sound to a golfer's ears and for player George S. Lyon one of his greatest triumphs.

By sinking that ball, Lyon had ensured himself a place in the history books. This was only the second time that golf had been played in the Olympics, and the first time that a medal was to be awarded. Lyon had managed to defeat the American amateur champion Chandler Egan by three up with two to play at the Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis. This win was exceptional for two reasons. Firstly, he had managed to fend off the best collection of players from the around the world to win this title. Secondly, and perhaps more incredibly, Lyon had done so at the age of 46; double the age of Egan, and most probably the rest of the 77 players who had competed. This was a man who had only taken up the game eight years earlier.

Over 100 years has passed since Lyon played in his 1904 gold medal round and it is only recently that the idea of re-introducing golf back into the Olympics has been addressed. In August this year the International Olympic Committee voted that golf rejoin the line-up of summer games sports, beginning in 2016. This means that Lyon's one-time golf gold medal will no longer be the only one around and that the sign over his medal, which hangs on the wall at the Rosedale Golf Club, will need to be changed from ‘The Only Golf Olympic Gold Medal.'

In the run up to the final round Lyon had not been the favourite. He had been heavily criticized by the media as having a swing akin to that of ‘a man cutting wheat with a scythe' and of having ‘a coal heaver's swing'. His swing was not a thing of beauty, being more a combination of cricket and baseball. Nevertheless, it would take him on to great things and his was not a personality to be put off by such gibes.

It has been said about Lyon that he won gracefully and lost graciously. He was a man of supreme talents perhaps helped on by his even temperament. He was a good humoured, portly, boisterous sportsman who was liable to break out in song at any given moment, just as electrifying and colourful on the field as he was off it. There is no better example of this than when, after the long and grueling day's play against Egan, Lyon walked on his hands the length of the club house to receive his medal.

Born George Seymour Lyon in Richmond, Canada, on 27 th July 1858, he was the son of Robinson E. Lyon and Sarah Maxwell. One of 13 children, Lyon was raised on a farm and as he grew it became apparent that he possessed that rare quality of being exceptional at every sport he touched.

He played baseball, rugby and football, was an excellent curler and lawn bowler and was a star of track and field. At 18 he set a Canadian record in the pole vault and would go on to represent Canada at cricket, scoring 238 not out for his club, which stood as a Canadian record for nearly 40 years.

All these sporting achievements were to be foreshadowed, though, by a chance encounter. One day, at the age of 38, after he had finished a cricket match at the Rosedale ground, in Toronto, Lyon was offered the opportunity to try a new sport by his friend Dick John, who was playing a round at Rosedale Golf Club. Although a sports fanatic, Lyon was inclined to look upon golf with some contempt. It was a relatively new sport to Canada and as a cricketer of international standard Lyon deemed it a lesser activity and beneath his ability. His friend, however, managed to persuade him, at which point Lyon leapt over the fence, threw his cricket bat to the side and picked up a golf club for the first time in his life. With instruction from John, Lyon teed up and produced a fine drive down the fairway. He was hooked. By the next year he had managed to get into the semi-finals of the Canadian Amateur Golf Championships and within three years had won it.

This was the beginning of a run unseen before or since by someone adopting the game at such a late stage. He went on to win the Canadian Amateur Champions eight times (1898, 1900, 1903, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1912 and 1914). He was the runner-up in the United States Amateur Championships in 1906 and the runner-up in the Canadian Open in 1910. He won the North American Senior's Golf Championships three times in 1923, 1931 and 1932. In fact, his domination was such that of the 15 Canadian Senior's Golf Association Championship tournaments that he played in, he won 10 times (1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926, 1928 and 1930) and came second on four other occasions.

For all his varied sporting achievements, however, it is perhaps his Olympic Gold medal that has remained his most memorable; an accomplishment which he could easily have turned into a double act at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, however, dispute caused the British golfers to boycott the Games and US golfers had then decided to withdraw under such conditions. Lyon's was the only entry deemed acceptable by the Olympic Committee, who informed him that he had won the gold medal by default. He declined the offer, explaining that he could not accept a medal that he had not won fairly in competition.

Until his final years, Lyon continued to play, more often than not carding scores below that of his age. In his later years Lyon's achievements continued. In 1923 he was made president of the Royal Canadian Golf Association. In 1955 he was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and then into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1971. He was a founding member of Lambton Golf Course and was also its captain for 23 years.

He died at his home in Toronto on 11 th May 1938.


How Lambton Came About

The seeds, which would eventually grow into Lambton, were first planted on a stretch of land on the westerly limit of what was in the 1800’s called the City of York.  In 1866 James Austin, the founder and President of the Dominion Bank, purchased the Baldwin Estate and surrounding lands at an auction.  The estate ran north up Spadina Road from Davenport all the way to St. Clair Avenue West.  The Austin family moved into the home.  When James Austin died in 1897 he had bequeathed the home to his youngest son, Albert W. Austin who also assumed responsibility for the family’s major interests.

Originally purchased from the prominent Baldwin Family by James Austin, Spadina House, now pronounced ‘Spa Dine ah” was also originally pronounced ‘Spa Deena’.  The distinction between the two ways was once an economic class marker in Toronto with the upper classes favouring the second pronunciation. Now, however, even the official Toronto Transit Stop announcements pronounce the i in Spadina as the one in mine. The Spadina House is located next to Casa Loma above the George Brown original campus.

Outside of business, Albert’s interests included golf which was growing in popularity in the late 1800’s.  He built several golf holes on his estate for the enjoyment of his family and friends.  He eventually added additional holes on adjoining lands which he had leased from the local farmers.  The result was a course he named the Spadina Golf Club.  However, by the end of the century, the City was growing quite rapidly and developers were approaching the farmers to purchase their lands.  Knowing that it was only a matter of time before they sold to these developers, Austin began a search for more permanent land for his course. There he intended to build a fine golf course that would afford the space to accommodate the length and difficulty required by the new rubber-core golf ball.

In 1902, Austin’s search took him north west of Spadina to a Village called Lambton Mills, a 19 century community at the crossing of the Humber River and Dundas Street West.  The property was bounded on the east by a dirt road named after John Scarlett, a prominent personage at the time and one of the founders of The Second Bank of Upper Canada.  Scarlett and his family settled near the Humber River on what was then called Dundas Road (now Dundas Street).  He called his home Runnymede and his land holdings in excess of 1000 acres, Simcoe Grange.  Maps of the time suggest, with relative certainty, that the Scarlett family owned all the land that now forms the Lambton Golf and Country Club property.


The New Golf Club

Having decided upon the parcel of land to purchase, a provisional committee was then established in April 1902.  Their tasks were to arrange the organization of the new golf club, the subscription of shares in the Club to purchase the land and the overall design and development of the golf course and Clubhouse.  The committee included members from Rosedale, High Park and The Highlands Golf Clubs.  George S. Lyon, who in four short years, had become one of the finest golfers in Canada, would assist in the share distribution. The committee decided that the share capital would be comprised of 300 shares at $100 each, an unprecedented amount at the time, but necessary considering the desire to build a 27-hole golf course and erect the finest Clubhouse of that day.

Many of the clubs founded in the late 1800's were on shaky ground financially.  They also lacked the land to expand their courses.  Austin wanted to ensure this club would not meet with the same fate as the other clubs.  Apart from his prominent position in Toronto's Business establishment, Austin and his wife Mary were very much a part of the city's social life.  Taking no chances, the committee enlisted George Lyon to use his influence in various golfing circles, to sign up new members.  It was from these connections that the bulk of the shares were subscribed. 

By July of that year the committee determined the response was strong enough to proceed with the incorporation of the new golf club and to purchase the land at Lambton Mills.  On July 16, 1902, Lambton Golf and Country Club Limited was incorporated with Albert W. Austin as its first President.   A portrait of Austin wearing his red jacket, hangs in the Clubhouse.  It was painted in 1908 upon the completion of his term as President.  Austin remained involved in all aspects of Lambton until his death some thirty two years later, in 1934 at the age of 78.


The Architects of Lambton

Between the 1st and 2nd World Wars Donald Ross and Stanley Thompson redesigned a number of holes and, following Hurricane Hazel in 1954, Robbie Robinson was retained to restore the course.  In 1987, a Long-Range Planning Committee was appointed to attempt to identify what path the Club should follow over the next ten years.  Part of that plan included golf course architect Graham Cooke's ideas regarding the golf course.  In 1991 members gave approval for the extension of the 6th hole into a par 5 over Black Creek, the conversion of the 8th hole to a difficult par four, 7th and the building of a new 8th hole as a par three.  These holes were ready for play in 1993.  In 2008 the Club retained Rees Jones, one of the great golf course designers of our time, to create a Master Plan for our Long Term Golf Course Strategy. . This Master Plan included all of Lambton’s 27 holes.  Construction of the first phase of the Master Plan commenced on August 4, 2009 and included renovations of holes #1 – 16 on the Main Course and holes #1 – 4 and #9 on the Valley Course.  The practice range and putting greens were completely redone.  A new chipping and short game area was built. Tennis was moved next to the main Clubhouse and expanded to 5 clay courts.


Golf Courses at the Turn of the Century

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the majority of golf courses had been laid out to provide a fair test of a player's skill based upon the type of equipment available to golfers of that day.  Many were cramped for space and had no freedom to expand when improved equipment reduced the challenge of their holes.  Some of them would be forced to move to new locations while others would merge or disband. 

The emergence of the rubber-cored golf ball and the disappearance of the old "gutty" were primary causes of the upheaval.  The best and last of these old balls was the Forgan Hand-Hammered "gutty" which the average club golfer could drive 150 to 170 yards.  The Haskell ball with its rubber core followed in 1902 by the Kempshall Flyer with a rubber taped celluloid core which allowed golfers to drive the ball 50 yards farther off the tee.  Scores began to drop significantly and it became obvious that courses would have to be lengthened and made more difficult with the strategic placement of bunkers and other hazards.

Perhaps it was these changes to equipment which caused the layout of the courses to change which may have motivated Albert Austin to purchase more acreage then required.  This acreage allowed Lambton to remain in its present location as a challenge for professional and amateur golfers alike.  Today, Lambton holds the distinction of being the oldest 18 hole course in Toronto in its original location.

The Course and Input from Donald Ross, Architect

In 1919 the renowned golf course architect, Donal Ross was requested to inspect the course and offer any suggestions that might improve it.  Ross is probably best known as the architect of Pinehurst Course #2 in North Carolina.  This course was and remains one of the highest rated courses in the world today.  At the same time, Ross was also retained by both the Mississaugua and Rosedale golf clubs to help them rebuild a significant number of holes.  
Ross forwarded his recommendations for Lambton's course, which included an extensive redesign and realignment of bunkers.  He also proposed to completely re-do the 2nd hole by shortening it allowing the thrid tee to be pulled back.  This recommendations was approved and the work completed between 1928 and 1930.  Course modifications since 1903 had reduced the yardage to approximately 6000 yards.  Ross's recommendations would lenghten it to 6,120 yards.

In 1920 Ross supervised the complete rebuilding of the 1st green to bring out more character.  He proposed to convert the short 7th hole into a 400 yard test that would be as challenging as the 4th hole.  Ross then recommended a new 8th hole of 150 yards.  The tee would lie close to the riverbank and the green would be 20 or 25 yards short of the 9th tee.  

Excerpts from "The Lambton Golf and Country Club 1902 - 2002 A Retrospective"