The third leg of my Cape Breton Golf adventure was at Bell Bay Golf Club in charming Baddeck, Nova Scotia. Director of Golf Ted Stonehouse and I played a delightful round at one of the most beautiful golf courses on the island … with lovely views of the sparkling Bras d’Or Lakes. Beinn Bhreagh, Alexander Graham Bell’s summer home, is nearby, perched over Baddeck Bay. It was here that the telephone’s inventor — and enthusiastic golfer — uttered those immortal words: “Tom Watson, come here … I need you. And if Watson isn’t available, send Jack Nicklaus.”
Golf Conversations: Ted, did you grow up in Cape Breton?
Ted Stonehouse: No, I grew up in Stouffville, Ontario. It’s about 45 minutes northeast of Toronto. I started working at golf courses there when I was 11. Worked at Maples of Ballentrae for a year, then over at Sleepy Hollow for 6 years.
GC: What were you doing at age 11?
TS: I had the pleasure of hand-scrubbing 3 to 5,000 pond golf balls as fast as I could. And once the season started, I was picking up range balls. Got to meet Moe Norman and watched him hit balls on a regular basis.
GC: Had you taken lessons or did your Dad introduce you to the game?
TS: Dad played a little bit. But, no, it was something I kind of got interested in. I had to ride my bike to the course. Then at 11, I was at Maples of Ballantrea. You know Chico Maki from the Chicago Black Hawks?
TS: His son, Mike, played on the Canadian Tour, and he was an assistant pro at Maples of Ballantrea. I worked for him. That would have been around ’85 or ’86. I would caddie for Mike a little bit and that’s what got me hooked. Mike would play some of the pro events and I would go caddie for him.
GC: What was it like interacting with Moe Norman? I know he wasn’t the most verbal person.
TS: Moe was pretty quiet. Stayed pretty much to himself. I was one of the lucky ones who was still around when he was still hitting the ball well. He was doing shows and just coming out of his prime. He hit the ball so unbelievably. He’d hit 100 golf balls with the same club and they’d all land in the same area, not much larger than this table.
There was a barn at the end of the range. I swear he hit the same board on the barn 265 yards away the 4 or 5 times out of the 6 times he hit the driver. His tee never moved. He was really unique.
GC: Did you ever try to emulate his swing with the wide stance and the palm grip?
TS: No. But he always had sayings. He came in the shop one day and he kept talking about “hope and fear, hope and fear.” If you remember back in 1990 when Tiger Woods had hit it in the water on 17 at TPC Sawgrass…
Moe Norman came in a week later and was saying, “Hope and fear, hope and fear. Everybody talks about Tiger Woods. They say he’s the best player that ever played. I’m the best player that ever played. I never miss a shot. Tiger Woods … hope and fear.”
I said to him, “Hope and fear. I don’t understand what you mean.”
In essence what he was saying, if you’re hoping you’re gonna hit the shot, then you’re fearing something. If you’re fearing the shot, then you’re gonna only hope that you’re gonna hit it there. You can’t be thinking that way; you’ve got to be focused on where it’s gonna go and know you’re gonna hit it there. And just hit it.
GC: He had kind of a baseball grip, didn’t he?
TS: Dave Barr had a baseball grip. But Moe had a pretty traditional grip. I can’t remember if it was interlock. I remember seeing that his hands were crooked because he’d hit so many balls.
TS: You’d see Moe out of the blue; he’d just show up. I was fortunate because I was young enough to have had a chance to see him when he was really hitting the ball well. As he got in his later years, he still hit the ball very well, but to me, things got exaggerated. Like his stance.
GC: And his backswing was like hardly anything, right?
TS: Yeah, very short.
GC: Did you guys ever discuss the swing?
TS: I was always a little bit nervous when he came in. I don’t want to say I was awestruck. All the pros thought the world of him. They were careful to make sure that the pros beneath them understood Moe, where he’s been, the importance of Moe. You would sit down with your pro and talk about what Moe meant. And Moe thought the world of the pros. He didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody else.
GC: Which is the only thing I have in common with Moe Norman.
TS: I turned pro in Halifax at Granite Springs. Then I went to Ashburn Golf Club as an assistant pro, then a year after that I took the position of General Manager and Head Pro here at Bell Bay.
GC: I read that you went to school in South Carolina. What prompted you to go there?
TS: Rob Roxborough — who’s the Director of Golf at Magna Golf Club in Ontario — he was on a golf scholarship in the US and he encouraged me. So I did my research, got myself a scholarship, and off I went.
GC: What was the name of the school?
TS: Southern Wesleyan University is what it is now. It was Central Wesleyan College at the time.
GC: How does one go about getting a golf scholarship?
TS: It’s a lot different than when I went. Now you have a lot of web-based recruitment sites. And through the web, coaches can find a lot of information about players. Junior Golf Scoreboard is one that ranks kids across North America. Brendan Ryan is probably one of the leading golf recruiters in North America right now.
GC: For college golf?
TS: For college golf. And we’ve connected him with some kids I’ve got … one of our Nova Scotia development players who’s on Team Canada now, Eric Banks, is going to University of Florida this year. We have another one, Brett McKinnon, going to Jacksonville University in Florida.
If they’re going to try for a scholarship, they need to make sure they’re playing in the properly ranked events. Whether it’s the AJGA in the States or in Canada, it’s the Future Links program through Golf Canada.
GC: How did you get your scholarship?
TS: Back then, it was a lot of letter writing. Starting in Grade 10, I started writing to schools. I drew a line across a map. In essence, I said, “I’m going south of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
GC: You wanted warmer weather for practicing…
TS: Absolutely. Playing all year ‘round. So I started writing to schools and they wrote back. We kept communicating, they watched the scores, and away I went.
GC: Did you have a full ride?
TS: I went to a smaller NAIA school, so I got a partial scholarship. That was great, a lot of fun, a great experience, and good golf.
GC: Did you do any studying at school or were you just drinking Molson’s?
TS: I took Business Administration with a major in Accounting. I used the golf to help pay for that.
GC: So you actually had an education?
GC: Well some of these kids get these golf scholarships and all they do is play golf.
TS: It is different now. There’s a young kid out of Texas who comes up and has a summer home in Nova Scotia. He’s going to one of those schools where they go to school three hours a day and golf the rest of the day. There are those programs out there – private schools that are customizing to golf.
GC: When you were in college, did you have any aspirations to be a tour player?
TS: Yes. I had the opportunity to meet Hugh Royer III; he’s from Aiken, South Carolina. I got to see how good he was and how much better he was than I would anticipate being. I got to hang out with a lot of his buddies: Nolan Henke, Tom Lehman. That was really neat to get to meet those guys. But for me it was kind of natural to become a club pro.
GC: In the US, there’s a PGA certification program. Is there a similar program in Canada?
TS: Absolutely. A pretty substantial one here in Canada. A strong academic side along with your playing ability.
GC: Do you remember how you did in your Playing Ability Test?
TS: I remember making my last putt to get my card. It’s almost like a mini-Q School. Back when I did it, we use to have to play 36 holes in one day.
GC: Did you pass the first time?
TS: The second time. The first time I missed by two shots. Then I went back the next week and got it.
GC: How did the position here at Bell Bay come about?
TS: They advertised for a Director of Golf. I applied for the position and got it.
GC: What year was this?
TS: January of 1999. So this will be my 13th year here.
GC: When did Bell Bay open?
TS: The Fall of ’97. It was Golf Digest’s Best New Course in Canada in 1998. And in Score magazine, we’ve been as low as 41st in Canada.
GC: I don’t know about 41st, but Bell Bay’s in my top-five.
TS: That’s great. Have you played five courses in Canada?
I’ve played three. So it’s definitely in my Top-Three. Hey, I saw the video of your team. I noticed that all of them except one is a lefty.
TS: And now I have four lefties.
GC: Are you discriminating against righties?
TS: I wish I had more.
GC: More righties?
TS: Yes. It’s hard to do golf schools when you need to demonstrate something right-handed for the person that’s learning.
GC: Ted, I am available. You’ve seen me play, you know what I can do. And I’d be happy to impart that knowledge to your members and students: “You see how I’m swinging this club? DON’T do it this way!”
It’s called the “Negative School of Golf Instruction.” DON’T DO THIS!
TS: You did flush one there on 18 today. That was a sweet drive.
GC: Waitress: give this man whatever he wants!
So I understand that Weirsy was here.
TS: Weirsy was here with Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic, and Brett Hull.
GC: Brett Hull can kill it!
TS: He played unbelievable. I think Weir on his own ball was 74 that day. I think Hull was 76 on his own ball. Joe Sakic was scared to death on the first tee. Just really uncomfortable with the whole thing. We had a couple of thousand people lining the fairways and these guys were totally out of their element. It would be like us strapping on the blades and playing hockey in front of two or three thousand people.
Poor Weirsy; it was his first day with those new sticks. It was brutal.
GC: What had he been playing previous to TaylorMade?
TS: He was playing Wilson for a long time. We walked down the first fairway; he hit a good 3-wood right down the gut. I was looking in his bag … it was all these new irons but no driver or fairway metals that were new. I think it was part of that contractual thing with TaylorMade at the time when they were trying to fit him.
They made him about three sets of clubs. I think they were like 100 grand each.
GC: 100 GRAND???
TS: They were custom grinding the actual heads…
GC: What were they made out of? Gold?
TS: I understand that it was crazy expensive. I don’t know enough about it, but I thought it was a little high. I think because they had a particular person hand forging these things for him and he had three sets that he went through until they got it right.
GC: This is my first time in Baddeck. It’s charming. I like that it’s free of all the ugly commercialism.
TS: The one thing about Nova Scotia, especially Cape Breton, is there are so many places in North America that have become so touristy. But Baddeck still has that quaint sense of community. You don’t necessarily have that everywhere.
GC: There aren’t that many places left in the U.S. that look unique. They all have the McDonald’s, the pizza places, the Wal-Marts, the Walgreens. You can go from the Atlantic to the Pacific and you see the same garbage in every town in America.
I love coming to a place like Cape Breton where it’s pretty.
TS: There’s probably only two courses in all of Nova Scotia that have houses all over them. The rest of them are still pretty untouched.
Bell Bay is a great golf course. We’ve hosted the 2005 Canadian Amateur, we’ve hosted Gretzky & Friends, we’ve hosted two Canadian Club Championships, we’ve hosted three Future Links Atlantic Championships; it’s got that championship style layout that people love.
GC: It’s a gorgeous course. But I think some of that high, wispy grass … you can could trim that a little for some golfers who haven’t the skills you and I have.
TS: Encroaching the fairway a little too much?
GC: A little bit. I think you could get rid of that stuff.
But I enjoyed Bell Bay very much. I wish I could spend a week here and play it every day, enjoy charming Baddeck, and then go over to your house for dinner.
Thanks for the hospitality, Ted.
TS: You’re welcome. We enjoyed having you.
Ted Stonehouse has since departed Bell Bay Golf Club for his new position as Director of Golf at Clovelly Golf Club in Newfoundland. Best wishes and success at Clovelly, Ted.