One of the great things about getting older is being able to say, “Do you remember when?” and the subject of the story actually takes place in a different era.
For clarification, I wasn’t always old and when I was younger, I found the stories told by my elders to be either intriguing, semi-believable and/or boring.
Time has a strange way of manipulating one’s memory as it puts salve over wounds, heals heartaches and adds colours to the facts.
These minor adjustments are most true when talking about some of the characters I’ve met during my years as a golfer and I can say unequivocally that their antics greatly enhanced my love for the game.
In the late 1950s until the mid 1960s, there was an unusual man who frequented every significant golf tournament played near Toronto.
His name was Art Latchem.
He was a magician who awed spectators by pulling coins out of their ears, guessing hidden playing cards and thrilling them with other tricks. Mr. Latchem lived a life that few could ever imagine.
He began as a barnstormer who, in case you don’t recall, was a person who stood on the wing of a biplane as it maneuvered through the air in daring fashion. He was a gold miner, striking it rich and losing it all on the stock market in 1929.
He owned the Warwick Hotel in Toronto and finally, he was the owner of Meadowbrook, Rolling Hills and Willows Golf Clubs. Any who saw him perform could easily understand how he had earned a lifetime ban from playing card games in Las Vegas.
Ernie Midgely had one of the greatest minds for odds, calculations, details, people and competitions. He knew every conceivable angle and complication that might affect the outcome of betting on sports.
When I knew him, he was a member at Islington Golf Club and was elderly. Ernie had been given credit for one of the most fantastic bets ever concocted by a human being and even if he didn’t do it, the “Upland’s Bet,” as it is known, is one of the best of all time.
It goes like this: a golf ball is placed on the edge of a toilet held in place by the seat located in the men’s locker room at Uplands Golf Club. The bet is can you sink the ball into the cup on the 18th green located in front of the clubhouse in five shots by playing under the rules of golf?
Bets are placed.
The ball is put into position between the seat and the toilet bowl. The golfer putts the ball into the toilet and flushes the toilet for first stroke. The ball travels through the pipes and out into the river that runs merrily in front of the 18th green, where it comes to rest.
The golfer lifts the ball from the water hazard under penalty of one stroke and takes his drop on the bank. That’s two strokes played. He pitches onto the green for his third stroke and calmly two-putts from about 15 feet for a total of five strokes.
John Evelyn went to public school with my father during the early 1920s in Richmond Hill, Ont. He was a hustler, a caddie, a golfer and horse racer.
Just after the crash of 1929, John was caddying at Summit Golf Club. At the completion of the round, one of the members asked the others if anyone could change a $20 bill, so he could pay the caddie. None of the members had enough money.
Gleefully, John spoke up. “I can,” he said, as he opened a roll of bills.
He was only 12 at the time.
John was the head oro at Tam O’Shanter in Agincourt. He sold new clubs, old clubs, discount clubs and liquidation clubs. Everybody knew “Big John.”
He constantly carried a mickey of rye, wore beat-up old clothes on his 6-foot-4, 350-pound frame and had a huge, deep laugh. He looked like a complete bumpkin until you realized he was an absolute genius who had all the money.
At some point, John assumed a lease to start the John Evelyn Golf Centre. It had been called Markham Golf Club and then, The Willows featuring such great professionals as Al Balding, George Clifton and John Henrick.
Now it was Big John’s turn.
Mowers were sharpened with a file not a grinding wheel or back lapping to spare the expense along with other methods.
However, people actually came to play in significant numbers. They bought items from the pro shop as though the stuff had value and they did drink the odd beverage.
After a while, I figured it out. John made them feel good. They had fun. He had a way of making people visit his course. It was like it was their duty to bring John some money.
John would stand there, his huge imposing self with his head slightly facing down, his massive hands across his waist as an impish smile crossed his face and he rocked his head back as out came this semi high-pitched chuckle that told you he was glad to see you.
He sounded a lot like W.C Fields. Then he would start with a dozen questions that each concluded with a reason you were going to leave some money there that day. Most did.
I loved him and miss him.