While past and present members of the Abercrombie Country Club celebrate their facility’s centennial anniversary, my journalistic curiosity is prompting me to ask a question that’s a milestone tradition at times like this.
Who, I wonder, would be considered the club’s most successful golfer in those 100 years of countless men, women and juniors chasing their little white balls around the course?
No, I’m not going to answer the question myself.
I’m not even going to attempt to name a top five or a top 10. I’ve lived away from Pictou County too long — a half century and counting — to name names. I’ll leave that to the chat groups that gather in the clubhouse for coffee and conversation.
For now, I want to focus on a former member who should be considered in anybody’s discussion. You likely remember him: John T. MacLeod, Jr.
Just don’t drop that “Jr.” reference on the end of his name — there was also the late John T. MacLeod Sr.
Both made impacts at the club.
John T. — the father — obviously should get the first mention.
He was a likable fellow, one who other club members enjoyed playing with — many, many times at the break of dawn. He was one of Abercrombie’s “Dawnbusters.” They were the guys who arrived in the morning darkness and waited for the first crack of daylight to do their thing.
He was also a great story-teller. I learned that first-hand 20 years ago when I spent a full morning at his New Glasgow home. I still recall his tales.
He talked about his Second World War service, piloting Spitfires and dive-bombers over Italy until the morning he crashed and began the ordeals of being in a German war camp for a year, fearing every day that he might never see freedom again.
He talked about the happier times, too, like returning home and the many golf rounds with his buddies. He chatted about his successes in the business world and, of course, his many successes on the fairways and greens. He talked about he and Jean raising five children and how he appreciated being inducted into the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame.
The Dawnbusters lost their pal in 2008, just before the beginning of another golf season, when John Sr. died at the age of 86.
Meanwhile, John T. — the son — grew up on New Glasgow’s west side, spending summer days playing ball with his friends on the old West Side School property, and hockey in a backyard rink that his dad maintained each winter.
At 13, his sports interests turned to golf. He began at Abercrombie, using a seven-iron and three-iron bought at Zellers for two dollars each. Playing times for juniors were restricted, so he and his mates hit golf balls around their neighbourhood.
It was a modest start, yes, but he quickly improved and was soon collecting championships and tournament victories.
Oh so many successes!
At Abercrombie, he won the club title nine times, including seven in an eight-year period from 1977 to 1984.
When he and I spent a few hours together, it was similar to the earlier occasion with his father. He did the talking, I did the listening. The younger MacLeod admitted he never thought he was good enough to contend at a Nova Scotia Amateur championship. But in 1971, still young enough to play junior, he entered the Amateur at Paragon. That put him up against the best golfers in the province, hall of famers like Peter Hope, Perry Locke and Gerry MacMillan. He entered to get the experience.
It was the first time he competed in an event of such length. Still, he wanted to give it a try and post a decent score.
A decent score? John T. Jr. won it all. He was the first junior-aged golfer to take the Amateur.
He would capture a second one, but not until 15 years later in 1986. That one was a proud moment for him – the tournament being at Abercrombie. His explanation: “I didn’t want somebody from out of town to beat me on my own course. So it was quite a thrill.”
There were many thrills for the younger MacLeod. Even though he suffered elbow and shoulder injuries that kept him out of competitions for 10 years — a long time in a golfer’s life — he collected more victories than most golfers can dream about. One of our extended conversations took place just before the turn of the century. By then, he was 46 years old. Know what was his magnificent accomplishment by that time? His victory total had reached 98. It wasn’t much longer until he reached 100.
So here’s a golf club observing its centennial, and John T. MacLeod Jr. had personally captured a competition for each of those 100 years. That was 20 years ago!
Unlike his father, he didn’t stay around Pictou County to live out his years. He’s been away now for a long time. I’ve been told that he moved up north. Somewhere in the north. I’ve never been able to pinpoint just where. While his 100-plus wins highlight his career — I also like to reflect on comments he made about youngsters getting into golf. He had coached minor baseball teams for years and had seen many kids spending much of their time sitting on the bench during games.
“You tee off and you play the shots. No matter how good or bad you are, you get to participate in the sport fully, the same as anybody else. You can play golf for the fun of it, you can play serious and, based on a handicap system, you play with people with comparative ability. So it’s fair for everybody.”
With that kind of rational, it’s no wonder he treasured his time in the sport.