Canadian Gem at Niagara-on-the-Lake

The 2011 C.B. Macdonald Challenge a wonderful start to September
By Hugh Menzies

Slightly shy of two centuries ago, Americans battled the Canadians at Niagara-on-the-Lake and came off second best. Not so on the weekend of Sept. 10-11, 2011. This time the American side emerged victorious in the annual C.B. Macdonald Challenge hosted by the oldest golf course in North America still on its original site.

True, the American side, out-numbered once again, received valuable help from a host of friendly Canadians who temporarily swapped their Maple Leafs for Stars and Stripes. But who’s counting among friends. All told, 56 players, eight of them of the fairer sex, engaged in two days of golf in glorious weather along the southern shore of Lake Ontario. (Ten of those competitors played Friday in the final round of the Gutty Slam with Jim Wilhelm emerging as the over-all victor of the four-event Slam).

Saturday’s first nine featured two-man teams from each squad doing alternate-shot battle with pre-1900 clubs and the replica McIntyre line-cut gutty ball. I was fortunate to be paired with the charming and doughty Bill Stewart from Hamilton, Ontario. Thanks to Bill’s stellar short game we built up a handy lead and then withstood a late charge from our competitors. 

We switched to pre-1935 clubs and replica mesh balls and played a team better-ball format for the second nine. (Niagara-on-the-Lake is a nine-hole course so we had a chance to do better the second time around). Once again Bill and I ham-and-egged it well to emerge victorious. 

By day’s end, the American team had forged a slender 15-13 edge. We savored our lead over a boisterous dinner at The Grill on King organized by event host Paul Dietz and did our best to rein in over-confidence.

Sunday’s play involved singles match-play. My opponent was the redoubtable Doug Marshall. Doug, brother Ian, and myself had played a practice round on the Friday, during which Doug experimented with some demo irons courtesy of Louisville Golf’s Mike Just. At Mike’s request, Doug gave me the irons to try. I employed them on Sunday. As my first effort with a mid-iron soared down the center of the fairway, Doug ruefully remarked: ”If I’d known I was playing you today, I’d have held onto those clubs.”

Turned out it did not matter. After a hard-fought battle, Doug’s par on the last enabled him to pip me by one shot. That par was good enough to give him the runner-up spot in the eight-man super senior division. If only I’d employed Mike’s mid-iron off the tee instead of my three wood. (Got to work on that course management.)

At the awards lunch, Paul Dietz sneakily summoned the Canadian team to the front of the room and awarded them silver medals. Only afterwards did he announce that their medals represented the runner-up position. The gold went to the Americans, and their very valuable Canadian allies.

Overall men’s champion was Bobby Sly, who pipped Brian Schuman on the first play-off hole. Alison Sponge of London, Ontario won the women’s division, though Noi Moreau ran away with the fashion prize in her skirt and matching parasol. Bill Turville took the super-senior title and Gary McNutt won the Senior division.

It was a great weekend of golf played on a charming course in beautiful weather. Kudos to Paul Dietz who, despite a bad cold, made everything go like clockwork. And if anyone goes back to play next year I recommend the Stone Road Grille restaurant on Mary Street. A real culinary gem.