Story by Pat Payton | St. Marys Independent Newspaper
It was many years ago now, but Carol (McGee) McKnight still remembers the kindness of the ladies group at the St. Marys golf club.
McKnight, who was turning 16, came to town from Sarnia with her parents, Ross and Jean McGee, in 1960. ‘Fibber’ McGee became the ‘pro’ at the golf club and he held that position until 1966.
“The ladies section that we had at the club was so kind to me,” McKnight recalled in a recent interview with the Independent. “They helped me with my golf and financially and everything else. They all helped me so much; they were unbelievable . . . and we had a lot of fun.”
Some of the ladies from that era (1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s) included: Jacqui Davis, Adelle Richardson, Bea Martin, Lydia McKnight, Marg Kinsmen, Eleanor Jackson, Denny Thompson, Mary Shelton, Eileen Graham, Val Brogden, Sue Munro, Verda Humphrys and Jean Dillon.
“When I moved to St. Marys, there weren’t any girls who played golf, just my sister and I,” McKnight said. “I don’t think people today out at the golf club know the history from those years.”
McKnight says the only remaining golfer from that ladies section is Davis, who is now 88 and has been a member at St. Marys G&CC for 65 consecutive years (since 1956). “Jacqui was so stellar in the ladies section.”
McKnight remembers playing a lot of golf as a teenager and winning many Junior tournaments along the way. She says the ladies section at the club allowed her to compete in the Ladies Club championship as well. She doesn’t remember the exact number, but she won numerous club titles.
The golf club is also where she met her future husband, Don (Micki) McKnight.
Reflecting back, 1963 was the year McKnight played some of her best golf, she recalled.
Lydia McKnight, Carol’s future mother-in-law, was the Junior golf captain in St. Marys at the time. She helped McKnight, who was almost 19 at the time, get into the Ontario Junior golf championship that year.
Helen Robertson, from London Sunningdale, was the Canadian Ladies Golf Association Junior captain. “Apparently, she saw the yearly CLGA magazine and just happened to see my name where I had a handicap of 4. She contacted Lydia and got me into the Ontario Juniors,” McKnight said.
The provincial match-play championship was held in Copetown (near Hamilton) and Lydia McKnight and her mother accompanied her to the tournament. “I’ll never forget it,” she said. “I had never played in anything like that before; I was pretty raw. I had to play to get in the top eight, and I shot 79.”
In the playoffs, McKnight faced Linda Barfoot from Stratford Country Club, and won the match on the 13th hole. Her semi-final opponent was a Copetown member. After the regulation 18 holes, they were tied, and McKnight won on the first hole of a playoff.
“I hit it in the rough and my caddie Frank told me to hit a 7 iron,” she recalled. “I put it on the green and two-putted for par. My opponent bogeyed.”
It gave the St. Marys golfer a berth in the final, where she played and lost to future pro Sandra Post, of Oakville. Post was just 15 at the time, “but a well-known golfer. It was nerve-wracking,” McKnight admits. The match ended on the 17th hole.
Post went on to be the first Canadian to play on the LPGA Tour. In 1968, in her rookie professional season, the 20-year-old Post won the LPGA championship. She was the youngest player at the time to ever win a Major women’s title. Post won eight times in her pro career, including the Dinah Shore tournament twice.
McKnight’s strong showing in the Ontario Juniors earned her an invite to compete at the Ontario Ladies Amateur match-play championship at Oshawa G&CC later that summer.
“Once again, I had to qualify,” she said. “There were five people for two spots and I won on the first sudden-death playoff hole to get into the top 16 of the First Flight. I then had to play a lady who was the second best golfer, and I beat her on the first playoff hole. Then I played another golfer and was down two with three holes to play, and won the next three holes.”
In the semi-finals, McKnight finally lost (4 and 3) to Sue Hilton, “an excellent golfer” from the London Hunt Club, who won several provincial and Canadian titles in her career.
“It was amazing, I don’t know how I did all that,” McKnight said with a laugh.
Another highlight for Carol McKnight was playing in a LPGA ‘Supertest’ event at London Sunningdale in 1966. She was 22 at the time, and her mother Jean caddied for her.
“I guess I was one of the top amateurs back then, and I got invited to play,” McKinight replied when asked how she qualified for a pro tournament. “I played with one of the founding members of the LPGA (Alice Bauer) for two days. Alice was one of the women who organized the LPGA back in 1950.”
Kathy Whitworth won the 1966 tournament “on the old 18 holes” at Sunningdale.
McKnight also played in several Ontario Ladies Amateur stroke-play championships in her career.
“Back then, we played in a lot of Invitationals in the area,” she recalled. “I think I won about 25 tournaments (including four in St. Marys when they were sponsored by the Medical Clinic).”
When asked what the strengths of her golf game were, she replied that “consistency and good putting” were probably at the top of the list. “I know I had to go into a few playoffs and I was always able to sink the putt when I needed to.”
She remembers her father being a good teacher of the game as well.
‘A really nice kid’
Jacqui Davis has fond memories of McKnight as a young golfer at the St. Marys club, describing the teenager as “just a really nice kid.”
“Carol had no one to play with because there were no other girls playing that were her own age,” Davis said. “Adelle (Richardson) and I took her under our wing, and we often asked Carol to play with us.
“It was kind of neat because if she was getting lessons from her dad, and little tips, we got them, too. We’d practice what she showed us, and that helped us as golfers, too. Carol was a really, really good young player and a really pleasant person to play with. We had a lot of fun and we’ve kept up a good friendship for a long time.”
Davis remembers the Ladies Section helping finance McKnight’s trip to the Ontario Junior championship.
Years have passed, but Carol McKnight’s great memories of the St. Marys Ladies Section and their friendship and generosity are something she will cherish forever.
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