Pictou Advocate sports

When ‘Aunt Nan’ dominated golf


I find it rather fascinating how anniversaries — particularly milestone celebrations — can resurrect memories of people and things we would never otherwise think about in our busy day-to-day lives.

It often happens to me and, once again, it’s happening this year with the Abercrombie Country Club hosting its centennial birthday party just weeks from now.

For me, the big 100th actually brings back thoughts of a family member who died many years ago – so far back that I don’t even know the exact year in which she passed away.

I’m speaking of Nan Ross, who truly dominated the women’s club championship at Abercrombie during the first three decades of its existence. A list of winners released some time ago confirms that she won the ladies division an amazing 19 times in a 26-year period. How’s that for a sports dynasty?

To my sister Barbara and I, she was simply “Aunt Nan.”

She was — to be more accurate — a great aunt, remembered by us for her visits to our home in New Glasgow for social and other occasions, seeing her driving around town in her big car, almost unseen behind the wheel because of her diminutive size.

She was a tiny woman, one you would never identify as being an outstanding sports champion in her younger years.

Neither Barbara nor I saw her when she practically owned Abercrombie’s fairways and greens in her glory days. There was too big an age difference. Her final club title came when I was nine years old and Barbara had just reached her sixth birthday.

Later on, we appreciated the fact she was a great old gal, one we enjoyed seeing. Funny though, I don’t recall her ever talking to us about her golf accomplishments.

To put her many performances into a time frame, I should mention the years in which she was capturing championship after championship.

Her initial win came in 1922 when Abercrombie was just a three-year-old nine-hole course. Before the decade ended, she added top laurels in 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1928 – yes, four straight victories. She took five more in the first half of the 1930s — wins in 1930, 1931, 1932, 1934 and 1935.

Time to slow down? Are you kidding?

She left her best for last – nine championships in 11 years. There was a six-year sweep in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941 and 1942. For good measure, she added titles in 1945, 1946 and 1947.

Add them up. That’s 19 championships and, hey, that’s six more than the number of times my Toronto Maple Leafs won hockey’s Stanley Cup. And the Leafs been around a lot longer than Aunt Nan was.

Oh yes, I must mention that her son, Nesbit (Nip) Ross, won Abercrombie’s men’s title in 1960. That was actually the first golf event I covered after joining The Chronicle Herald in late 1959.

So by now, you must be wondering, how can I claim to be a relative of the late Nan Ross? It’s certainly not through her golf genes.

As I’ve confessed many times, it’s a sport I quit soon after I played with New Glasgow’s Donnie (Gavin) Murray and shot a 75. Oh, did I say that was over the first nine holes.

The connection, for Barbara and I, is through our grandmother, Jessie (Ross) McDorman, who lived with us from the late 1940s until her death in 1962.

“Nannie,” as we called her, was my very favourite person when I was a kid growing up on Temperance Street. She was also the primary newsmaker when, as a 12-year-old, I wrote and published a weekly family newspaper, Hugh’s Chronicle.

She was often in the paper’s headline, in updates about her bridge club that had five members. I referred to the group – all in their 80s at the time – as the M Quintet since all their last names started with an M. The headline in one issue, after Nannie had won the bridge competition the night before, read: “Nannie was high last night.” No, my newspaper never hid the facts.

Though Nannie died 57 years ago, I’ve never stopped thinking of her. For instance, the Sunday before Mother’s Day, it was her birthday. If she were still with us, she would have had 142 candles to blow out.

I digress. But if I can somehow manoeuvre this column back to golf, I offer this fact: Aunt Nan was Nannie’s sister-in-law.

The golfer was married to Will Ross, Nannie’s brother who operated the Ross Fur Company on Provost Street for many years. Another brother was Howard Ross, who owned the Ross Funeral Home on MacDonald Street.

When I think of Aunt Nan, I often wish I had interviewed her about what golf was like back in the ’20s and ’30s. I think she would have had some interesting tales to tell. I wonder, too, if she would recognize the 100-year-old club nowadays.

The facility suffered two major fires through the years – the first in 1956, the second in 1989. Twice the clubhouse was rebuilt. In between the fires, in the late 1960s, an addition was made to accommodate the Bluenose Curling Club. Later on, however, the two-sport relationship ended when the curlers got new quarters off East River Road.

Yes, there have certainly been changes over the century of pars, birdies and eagles.

Though I played only those nine forgettable holes years ago, I always enjoyed the atmosphere, always delighted in sitting down with golfers and hearing their stories. Golfers, it’s often suggested, can tell tales better than any athletes on the face of this earth.

As a personal salute to Abercrombie and its members in this celebration year, I hope to recall a few of the champions who have given the club its wonderful history.

I trust you understand why I’ve singled out Aunt Nan first.