“Only a visionary gifted with extra-sensory perception could have glimpsed the property as it appears today. It was then an unpromising undulating terrain of heavy clay, punctuated here and there with rocky outcrops and spotted with the stumps of a fine stand of red and white pine which had been lumbered.”
These words, penned by one Ben Merwin some fifty years ago, still hold as true today as they did then. If you guessed that the land to which he was referring is the current site of the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club, then you are perhaps even more visionary than the gents who first undertook the challenge to create that venue that will celebrate its 100th anniversary this summer.
From the hiring of the first club golf pro – Charles Pilling from England in 1923 (he lasted all of three months) – through to the work done by club founders Charles McCrea and W.J. Bell and so many others, on through enduring the Great Depression and World War II, the fabled old club has witnessed much.
It’s also prospered and grown.
Those first few decades would give way to the progress of the fifties and sixties, an era that sees the expansion of the course from nine to eighteen holes, a complete re-construction of the clubhouse facility following the fire of July 8th (1962) and eventually giving way to an eventual merger with the Granite (Curling) Club at roughly the same time that man first set foot on the moon.
These days, the Idylwylde lays claim to the oldest running match play event in the country, one which has drawn many of the very best Canadian amateur golfers of their time to northern Ontario, an event which could easily provide the base for an entire book of interesting tales and tidbits on its own.
Speaking of literary works, later this summer, the club will unveil the release of a publication which follows in the footsteps of “Idylwylde’s First Fifty Years – 1922-1972”. That is but one of the undertakings currently being organized by a crew of folks enlisted to appropriately recognize the course and surroundings buildings that has often been termed the “Crown Jewel of Northern Golf”.
“The Idylwylde was serene, not over-crowded – and players behaved themselves,” noted Vip Palladino, now 92 years young and one of the oldest still active members at the club.
The man who first got his start as a business owner in the automotive industry via the opening of Vip’s Car Lot enjoyed a hockey career that included stops with the Washington Presidents, Philadelphia Ramblers and Indianapolis Chiefs (as well as the Sudbury Caruso Miners), but the summer sport is where his heart lies.
“I love hockey, but golf is the best game in the world,” noted the talkative nonagenarian who can still spin a tale with the best of them. “I can play golf at my age; there’s no way I could still play hockey. Golf is the only sport I know where you could challenge the top players in the world and feel confident.”
“As long as they gave me strokes, I could play Tiger Woods.”
There is no denying that golf has always sat at the forefront of all that is the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club. It always has and likely always will.
“I couldn’t wait to join the Idylwylde, just because of the golf course,” noted Berk Keaney, well-known local lawyer and avid lover of the links. “I always come back to the course. Over time, it has transitioned to it being a little bit more social.”
President of the Board for a two year term back in the late eighties and still involved with the annual staging of the Idylwylde Invitational, Keaney has countless fond memories of tournaments of years gone by, including a showdown for the ages between Danny Mijovic and Gary Cowan in either 1982 or 1983, when the former won back to back titles.
“It was one of the greatest matches ever played there,” recalled Keaney. “It all came down to the 18th hole. Cowan was one down and hit a draw to the back of the green from 200 yards out while bringing the club straight upright from the trees on the left – and Mijovic turned pro after winning the Idy.”
But for as much as golf was central to the story, the memories of the Querney clan reflect a time when the family patriarch (Alan) would ensure that one and all were involved with summertime fun at the Idylwylde, whether you had a golf club in hand or not.
“I remember the year that my father was president; I was seven at the time,” said John Querney, who along with siblings Tom, Bill and Susan frequently made the Walford Road outing a staple of their May through August schedules. “As a kid, I remember being out on that very crowded beach, just before the peninsula, with all of the other kids of the Idylwylde members.”
“Dad would be out golfing and mom would take us to the beach. We would be there all the time.”
And like so many others, it was through family that the natural introduction to the sport itself would take place, with more than a handful of examples still within the club membership of second and third generation golfers who enjoy the course for all that it is.
“I learned a lot about the game from my dad,” said Querney. “I learned about pace of play, all of the etiquette, where to drop your bag, what clubs to bring, all of that. I know that I’m always harping on speed of play – but my dad would also remind us not to rush our leisure time.”
And a round on the Idylwylde course would not be complete if at least a few moments were not devoted to the pure scenic beauty of this wondrous parcel of land. “It’s such a beautiful course,” said Querney. “The vistas that you have from a number of holes are just unbelievable.”
That, no doubt, will be some of the talk of the day come Friday, August 26th.
And while there is no curling to be played in late summer locally, plenty of time will be spent re-visiting the second fifty year period which would see the Idylwylde rise to the very top of curling programs, nationwide, in terms of its ability to produce top end young talent on the ice.
Officially speaking, that will be the day when this all comes together: a day of family fun and festivities, a gala dinner, fireworks at evening’s end – and of course, plenty of golf. With the first ten prints of a commissioned club painting from Frances Crossan Blanchard to be auctioned off, the day will celebrate all that has gone into the storied history of the Idylwylde.
And needless to say, in the course of one hundred years, that is a lot.