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Golf wasn’t what brought Alexander Dennistoun his fortunes. At
least not at first.
When the Scotsman first arrived in Canada at the ripe age of 19 in
1840, it was the lumber trade and baron Mosson Boyd that provided him with his
primary source of income. And yet it was golf that always seemed to still captivate
the Dumbarton native’s attention, no doubt a byproduct of all those afternoons spent
back home roaming the fairways of St. Andrews and Royal Liverpool.
In 1866, Dennistoun married Margaret Redpath, daughter of Redpath
Sugar founder John Redpath, and together the pair galivanted back and forth
from Canada to Scotland, where Dennistoun would once more indulge in his
favorite pastime. It was becoming more evident by the day that golf, not the
lumber industry, would soon decide Dennistoun’s future.
That became clear in 1872, when Alexander and Margaret purchased a
Montreal home on McTavish Street, just a short walk away from Mount Royal Park.
Just one year later, that site would become the inaugural location of Royal
Montreal Golf Club, with Alexander serving as its first president. Alexander
hatched the idea for this course in a dockside office with seven other local
businessmen, including fellow Scottish immigrants John and David Sidey. Each
member agreed to an entrance fee, annual $25 membership dues and a club capped
at 25 members.
Now, 151 years later, that meeting is paying dividends once more.
Royal Montreal Golf Club, the oldest golf club in North America,
will again be the site of history, as the PGA Tour announced this week that the
course will host the 2024 Presidents Cup. It is the second time in the club’s
storied saga that it welcomes the biennial event, having last done so in 2007,
when the United States and captain Jack Nicklaus defeated Gary Player and the
International Team, 19.5-14.5.
“It’s the history and the tradition that form the architecture of
Royal Montreal,” Denzil Palmer, the club’s longtime general manager and
secretary, told Golf Canada in 2017. “Every club around the world is concerned
about two things: the attraction of new members and the retention of current
members. People join our club and people stay at our club because of the
historical significance, and there’s great pride at the club from all of its
The picturesque views that await the two teams will be a bit
different than the ones Dennistoun first envisioned all those years ago. The
golf club began as a six-hole and then nine-hole course on Fletcher’s Field in
Mount Royal Park, where members played in their Scottish red coats to
distinguish themselves from non-golfers in the park.
The club was famously granted royal distinction by Queen Victoria
shortly thereafter, in 1884, and 12 years later it would relocate to Dixie, in
the parish of Dorval, where the club added a second course alongside a new
clubhouse. Its final move to Île-Bizard came in 1959, when 45 holes were added
by American architect Dick Wilson. Rees Jones redesigned its famous Blue Course
in 2004, which included the rerouting of two holes, the addition of nearly 275
meters in length and the reconstruction of all greens, as well as greenside and
fairway sand bunkers.
Steeped in history as one of the five founding Clubs of the Royal
Canadian Golf Association, Royal Montreal is no stranger to firsts. It has
hosted the Canadian Open nine times—including the first rendition in 1908, when
Englishman Jack Oke won by two strokes—and most recently in 2014, when South
African Tim Clark edged Jim Furyk by one shot. It even has a hand in the famous
1954 event at Point Grey, where Royal Montreal head pro Pat Fletcher became the
last Canadian to win its national championship.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see the day,” Fletcher said afterward in
a celebration at the first tee. “But I can assure you I’m very, very happy.
It’s been a real thrill for me.”
Of course, Royal Montreal is also the site of Mike Weir’s famous Sunday
singles victory over Tiger Woods at the 2007 Presidents Cup, when the Masters
champion broke a tied match at the 18th hole after Woods pulled his tee shot
into a pond. Woods would later concede the hole to his Canadian playing partner
after his chip for par stopped centimeters from the cup. That win took away
some of the sting from the Americans’ overall win.
“I told him I was proud of how he handled himself,” Woods said
afterward. “He had to carry an entire country on his shoulders. Not too many
people can play as well as he did.”
Those moments only scratch the surface of the history that has
been created inside the walls of the Royal Montreal clubhouse. What memories
are in story for Canada and Royal Montreal at the Presidents Cup? History
awaits in 2024.
Alexander Dennistoun’s masterful creation is, yet again, ready for
its time in the spotlight.
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