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- Robbie Robinson
Robbie Robinson graduated with a BSc degree from the Ontario Agricultural College (now the University of Guelph) in 1929 but before then he’d actually fashioned his first golf course design as an undergraduate, updating and renovating a private course in Fenelon Falls for Sir Joseph Flavelle, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the meatpacking business.
He served as construction manager for Stanley Thompson at Sunningdale Country Club then stayed on to serve as the club’s superintendent until 1936, when he re-joined the architect’s practice to work on Green Gables on Prince Edward Island and Highlands Links in Cape Breton. Unfortunately, World War II intervened and Robinson enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
After his military service, he worked on housing developments for the Canadian government’s Central Mortgage and Housing Department but his involvement with golf was far from over as he also served as director of the Green Section of the RCGA for twenty years, starting in 1949.
Aged fifty-four, he decided to become a full-time golf course architect in 1961, having spent most of the post-war years designing and remodelling layouts on a part-time basis.
In The Evolution of Golf Course Design, author Keith Cutten pays tribute to the role played by the architect in growing the game: “Robinson brought a high-level intensity to his work, designing/re-modelling more than 140 golf courses in three main markets: Canada; the United States; and South America.
However, more than a few golf historians consider him to be under-appreciated as a golf course architect. Money, or a lack thereof, sheds light on much of Robinson’s career in design. As a result of growing up in the Depression, Robinson produced fine work when working with small budgets.
A review of his portfolio reveals that much of what he built was in smaller towns across Canada; and usually under the confines of limited budgets. Notwithstanding, Robbie was excellent at maximizing a design for the least money.”
The author continues: “Even allowing for Robinson’s apprenticeship to Stanley Thompson, his design style could be viewed as hybridised: a combination of some of the philosophies of Stanley Thompson, in terms of strategic character; but also influenced by larger social and economic changes.
More specifically, Robinson was a product of the Great Depression. Nearing the end of his career, Robinson ensured the continuation of the Thompson lineage, commencing with the mentorship of two young acolytes: Doug Carrick and Tom McBroom.”
Robinson was elected into the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 1955, serving two terms as president, in 1961-1962 and 1971-1972. He reached Fellow status in 1977 and served as a member for forty-four years until his death in 1989. Robbie was also posthumously admitted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 2002.
Doug Carrick, when asked about Robbie Robinson’s legacy replied: “I think Robbie left behind a number of lasting legacies. He helped to mentor a number of young golf architects including myself, Tom McBroom and Bob Moote. He established and ran the RCGA Greens Section for many years. His wife Thelma helped to establish and support many junior golf programs. He served as President of the ASGCA twice and he developed many wonderful golf courses that were affordable; courses that encouraged many new golfers to play the game.”
Doug described his own design philosophy as follows: “I was very lucky early in my career to have had Robbie Robinson as my mentor. Robbie spent several years working with Stanley Thompson before establishing his own very distinguished career as a golf course architect. Not only did Robbie school me in the design principles he learned from Stanley, but he also taught me to be practical and pragmatic, to always think about golfers of average skill and to also think about how the superintendent will maintain the golf course. Robbie really stressed finding the right balance between challenge and playability and it is a principle I have tried to follow on every project.”