Friday, 16 January 2015

Who Routed Capilano?

courtesy Global Air Photos


So who "really" routed Capilano?


Here is an article by Robert Trent Jones Biographer James Hansen called, “Who routed the course at Capilano: Thompson or Jones?” published on October 30th, 2014:



Here is my response by letter to the magazine (published this month):


Dear Editor,

I wanted to reply to Professor James Hanson’s article in the last issue of GCA, in which he made the case that Robert Trent Jones was responsible for the routing of the Capilano course in Vancouver, not Stanley Thompson. “I routed the holes for Thompson at Capilano,” Jones asserted in his 1988 autobiographical book, Golf’s Magnificent Challenge.

The full quote reads: “We soon turned north to Canada, where there was still some money with which to build courses. I routed the holes for Thompson at Capilano, worked on some short courses in Ontario and Quebec and helped him with the course in Banff, where they were having trouble with winter kill on the greens.”

Interestingly, a few pages earlier Jones says: “Thompson's modus operandi was in keeping with his personality. He would walk a property to get a feel for it, never taking a note, then sit back with a bottle of Scotch and a good cigar and design the course. And they were always good. Jasper Park and Banff Springs in Alberta, Capilano in Vancouver, Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia – all were wonderful, beautiful layouts.”

So which quote represents the truth? 

Hansen says: “If anyone would dispute Jones’ claim to Capilano’s routing plan, it would be the Canadian golf historian and Stanley Thompson biographer, James Barclay (who died in 2012). But even Barclay, in his biography of Stanley Thompson, The Toronto Terror, conceded, ‘Jones did the course routing for Stanley Thompson’s classic layout at Capilano’.”

The problem is they both cite the exact same single source – "Trent Jones" in Golf’s Magnificent Challenge

So let’s step back for a moment and pull together what is known about Stanley Thompson and Capilano.

For perspective, by 1931 he had already built 67 courses and in 1932 Thompson would build Noranda Mines, Woodbine in Toronto, St Leonard’s in Montreal, Sunningdale in London, Ontario, Waterdown near Hamilton and went to work at Gavea and Itanhanga in Rio.

Hathstauwk, Eric Whitehead’s club history of Capilano, mentions AJ Taylor met Thompson and hired him to design the course in 1931. In Canadian Golfer in February 1932 we read:“Stanley Thompson, golf architect of Toronto, is in Vancouver this month on consultation in connection with building a very fine new course.”

When we look at when Thompson was compensated for the job,it is worth noting he was paid on 20 April 1932, for a visit. We know Thompson met Taylor at the Waldorf Astoria in July 1932 from Hathstauwk: “This 1932 meeting at the Waldorf, which was eventually adjourned to an informal cocktail session down in the hotel's famous Peacock Alley, was merely in the nature of an early report on preliminary drawings created from a topography map.”

From this information it’s rational to conclude that he walked the site in February and then produced a routing on a topographic map while in his hotel room. This had been his modus operandi throughout his career.

The timeline also brings into question Trent’s travels since he went to Banff during the summer, to consult on turf and see the sites in the Bow Valley before headed out to Vancouver to see the British Pacific Properties. Throw in the length and complications of train travel and it’s unlikely that he was back before Thompson met with Taylor.

But that’s not the limit of the supporting information. Thompson went to Vancouver in the spring of 1933 to inspect the site “and had his course design on paper.” Some clearing began immediately under the direction of Stan Conway. They began with the clearing of the centre lines with the intention to work their way out later. We also know that Thompson submitted construction plans (typically layout plans) in June 1933 that included the irrigation drawings referred to in another letter after that visit.

Using the notes about payment once more, it is worth noting his next visit came on 20 October 1934. The clearing at Capilano turned out to be absolutely brutal given issues with the massive boulders and huge tree stumps found on every hole. It was in 1935 that Stanley hired Geoff Cornish as an associate to help address the lack of soil on site.

Thompson’s next visit was 9 November 1935, followed quickly again on 31 January 1936. At this point he was directing the construction and was supervising the green contours and bunker shaping on these trips. He wrote 12 pages of “finishing notes” on 4 February 1936, that outlined all the work he wanted completed on each hole to finish the golf course. His (often sarcastic) letters and telegraphs (published in Hathstauwk) were sent to British Properties project supervisor John Anderson document the timing of the rest of his construction visits.

But we also need to address what Thompson was like to work for. Hansen says: “Not just that, as 80-year-old records now preserved in the Robert Trent Jones Sr Collection at Cornell University Archives show, Trent Jones also produced sketches for some of Capilano’s green complexes.”

But when Thompson had time he didn't produce green drawings,he would build models. In the Nashwaak Review’s “Interview of Geoff Cornish,” Cornish, one of Thompson’s associates, says: “You know here in Cape Breton, Stan only did models of one or two greens, like I showed you last night. He did some courses, such as Capilano, where he did all eighteen.”

There are images of the complete model he made for Banff. There’s a great photo of Thompson painting an individual green model in 1950. His nephew talked about visiting just before his death and the house being full of plaster models. Stan also did not do working drawings, just routing plans with tees, fairways, bunkers and greens hand drawn. These were always produced by the engineering firm Wilson Bunnell & Borgstrom from his tracings.

There are various interviews around with former Thompson associates, including one I conducted with Geoff Cornish myself. The one constant is how decisive Thompson was on what he wanted. He had his associates supervise construction, but both Robbie Robinson, another former associate, and Geoff have made it clear that Stan did not welcome input. He was very particular about getting precisely what he wanted, often gruff with them and never one to extend an opportunity for them to design holes. “You learnt by observing,” Geoff once said.

Thompson was, after all, a man who convinced titans of industry to spend way more than they budgeted. He was an architect who was always the centre of attention according to his family and peers. He built St George’s, Banff and Jasper along with 64 other courses before he started Capilano. What are the odds this man would hand over the routing of his most important commission to one of his junior partners?

The evidence provided by James Hansen is not enough to make any change to the accreditation of Capilano.

Yours sincerely

Ian Andrew
Ian Andrew Golf Design
Brantford, Ontario



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