by BRENT LONG
It’s long overdue, but Clinton “Robbie” Robinson is finally a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame. While legendary golf course architect Stanley Thompson is credited for designing the original nine-hole layout at The Briars Golf Club back in 1922, his disciple and good friend deserves much of the credit for the routing that is enjoyed here today.
Robinson, who would have turned 100 in April, was inducted into hall of fame in May during a special ceremony at Wooden Sticks GC in Uxbridge. Although he doesn’t receive the same level of recognition as Thompson, Robinson is recognized for designing and remodeling more than 140 golf courses throughout Canada, the United States and South America.
“I think Robbie's legacy to golf course architecture is that he designed very practical, playable and economically built golf courses that are very fun to play. He helped to keep golf affordable for a broad spectrum of golfers,”
says architect Doug Carrick, who formed the firm of Robinson and Carrick Ltd., in 1987, with Robinson.
That’s exactly what Robinson did at The Briars. It was the spring of 1972 when he first walked the former Prest Farm and shared his vision for the rolling property with club members who wanted to expand the course to 18 holes. “I walked what would be the course with him during his first interview and you knew right then and there that Robbie could visualize the course and what he wanted to do with the land,” says Jean Banfield Noble, a member of the golf course architect selection committee that unanimously gave the job to Robinson.
Club members had purchased the adjacent property in the mid-1960s with a mind to expand the golf course and with $150,000 in the bank from an anonymous donor the project finally received the green light. “We knew we were not going to survive as a nine-hole course, people didn’t want to play just nine holes so we had to move forward,” Noble says. “He didn’t charge us very much because he stayed at our place throughout the summer. He’d bring his wife up on some visits and we became great friends.”
It took about six months for Robinson to build the new holes including the seven on the south side of Black River. He also reconfigured the flow of several of the original holes so both nines finished at the clubhouse. Noble, who is 85-years-old (the same age as the club) recalls walking the new layout in the fall of 1972 and thinks some lucky members played it that Thanksgiving Weekend, before it officially opened in 1973.
The Briars Resort Innkeeper at the time, John Sibbald also walked the golf course property with Robinson in the summer of 1972. “He was a very fine intelligent gentleman. He was very informal when you were out in the field with him, but he was very precise when it came to the golf course,” Sibbald said. “At the time I was doing all of the bookings and I knew what our guests wanted, there was a greater demand for golf and Robbie came up with a traditional parkland design that has stood the test of time.”
Robinson graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph and started working immediately for Thompson in 1929. He lived in Cape Breton for two years during the construction of Highlands Links. He was also involved with the original design/construction of Capilano G&CC in Vancouver, Banff Spring GC in Alberta, Westmount G&CC in Kitchener and St. George’s G&CC in Toronto.
He became a construction and engineering officer commanding a unit of 1,200 with the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII. Robinson supervised the construction of the first radar station in North America on Vancouver Island and many airfields. Following the war, he was employed in site selection and development of various national defense stations, while continuing to dabble in golf course design, especially after Thompson died in 1953.
Robinson was secretary and manager of the Royal Canadian Golf Association from 1956 until 1960. He entered private practice as a golf course architect in 1961. Perhaps his single most significant contribution to the game was in the study of turfgrass and the establishment of the Canadian turfgrass shows and as the Greens Section Director for the RCGA from 1949 to 1968.
However, he died of prostrate cancer on December 29, 1989, but Robinson’s brilliance continues to shine today at many clubs across Canada including some of his finest work right here at The Briars GC.
To learn more about The Briars GC, pick up a copy of the newly released book, “The Golf Courses of Stanley Thompson – Celebrating Canada’s Historic Masterpieces” at The Briars Resort. In it, noted Canadian golf writer Lorne Rubenstein, shares a wonderful recollection of The Briars GC history with readers along with many other fine tales about Thompson and his associates.
A select list of Robbie Robinson Courses
|Bayview CC, Thornhill
Beverly G&CC, Copetown
Brampton G&CC, Brampton
Cedarbrae G&CC, Scarborough
Coral Creek G&CC, Fisherville
Craigowan G&CC, Woodstock
Credit Valley G&CC, Mississauga
Dalewood G&CC, Port Hope
Doon Valley GC, Kitchener
Hidden Lake GC, Burlington
|Hunter’s Glen, Kleinburg
Maple City G&CC, Chatham
South Muskoka Curling & GC, Bracebridge
Upper Canada GC, Morrisburg
Sunningdale CC (new course), London
Twenty Valley G&CC, Vineland
Tynandaga GC, Burlington
Blue Mountain, Collingwood
Sturgeon Point GC, Sturgeon Point
Lake St. George GC, Severn Bridge
Frankford Municipal, Frankford