City golf milestone hailed on Open's eve

JOHN HERBERT -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

As London tees up for the Canadian women's professional golf championship this week, an overlooked link in the city's rich golfing history is finally being recognized.

Played in London in 1966 and 1967, the Supertest Ladies Open drew female golfing's best and was the first time the LPGA Tour came to Canada.

But the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and the Royal Canadian Golf Association admit they may have slipped up by not including the championship in the history of the Canadian Women's Open, being played at London Hunt and Country Club this week.

The family of the late J. Gordon Thompson, founder of London-based Supertest, which teamed with the LPGA and sponsored the pioneering London tourneys, has been invited to a Hunt Club reception today.

The event will celebrate Canadian golf legend Marlene Streit.

"When you think about it, you really started at this back in the 1960s when you hosted the LPGA tournament,'' Hunt member David Nash wrote in a letter to Jim Thompson, the son of J. Gordon Thompson.

The RCGA and hall of fame also are looking at rewriting their history books.

The Supertest Opens at Sunningdale in 1966 and '67 were the first time LPGA stars came to Canada to play for big money -- purses of $15,000 the first year and $22,000 the second year.

The event ran for two more years at Toronto's Bayview club before Supertest Petroleum dropped its sponsorship.

Superstars Kathy Whitworth and Carol Mann won the two London tournaments.

Karen Hewson, director of the golf hall of fame based at the RCGA offices at Glen Abbey in Oakville, said she knew little about the Supertest event or that it had drawn such big names.

"It's probably an oversight of ours,'' she said.

"It's probably a good part (of history) to add to the records of the Canadian Women's Open.''

After the Supertest Open folded in 1969, the LPGA Tour didn't return to Canada until 1973, when a new event, the DuMaurier Classic, began.

Played at London Hunt in 1993, the DuMaurier Classic ran continuously until 2000.

The RCGA took over the event when a federal ban on sports advertising by tobacco companies forced Imperial Tobacco to drop sponsorship.

In 2001, the event became known as the Canadian Women's Open.

Hewson said if the DuMaurier winners are included on the official list of winners of the Canadian Women's Open, it makes sense the Supertest Open winners receive the same recognition.

Ironically, the LPGA was in danger of folding when Sunningdale rescued the tour by starting the London tournament.

J. Gordon Thompson teamed up with the LPGA to bring the world's top pros to Sunningdale. He wanted to give women's golf a boost, former pro Jim Windsor said.

Thompson's son, Jim, then president of Supertest, presented the first-place cheque of $2,250 US in 1967 to Carol Mann. The final tournament also helped Sunningdale celebrate Canada's centennial.

The event was 54 holes and attracted 10,000 spectators.

And long before 16-year-old American golf phenom Michelle Wie began itching to play with the big girls, an 11-year-old with a London connection, Beverly Klass, was trying to join the LPGA Tour.

Beverly Klass wanted to play in London's Supertest event, but the LPGA said no because, like Wie, she was too young.

Klass showed up in London, anyway, played a practice round with Windsor and waited for the LPGA and her family to settle a court battle.

The Klass family lost.

Representing the family was upstart Toronto lawyer Alan Eagleson, who would make his mark not in legal fights over golf, but hockey.


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