A Murder Mystery with ties to the Canadian Open

I love it when I come across a little bit of trivia that opens even more bits of trivia, and eventually one of those bits leads close to home.

Case in point: 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Open Championship that was held at Hamilton Golf & Country Club, known to all then and now as “Ancaster”.  The tournament that year was the 12th iteration of the Canadian Open, and would’ve been the 16th except for the fact that the event was suspended for four years during World War I.

The winner of the 1919 event – who also successfully defended his title a year later at Rivermead, across the river from Ottawa – was a recently-arrived Englishman by the name of J. Douglas Edgar.  Mr. Edgar was the Head Professional at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia, and a man who had quickly found a role by helping a young Atlanta golf prodigy by the name of Bob Jones with his game.

In fact, Edgar’s young friend Jones tied for second place in that 1919 Canadian Open, along with noted English player Jim Barnes, and Karl Keffer, a Canadian who had won the previous Canadian Open of 1914, and once before in 1909.  Both of Keffer’s victories had occurred at Toronto Golf Club.  Keffer’s T-2 in 1919 was one of the very few times that a Canadian would finish in the top two again, in the ensuing decades.

What was, and remains, remarkable about that Canadian Open of a hundred years ago, is that J. Douglas Edgar finished a whopping 16 strokes ahead of his runners-up.  That margin was and remains a record in a professional golf event, although it was tied three times subsequently, by Joe Kirkwood, Sr. in 1924, by a young Sam Snead in 1936, and by the crusty South African, Bobby Locke, in 1948, all in different Tour events.

In the “modern era”, Tiger Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebbles Beach by 15 shots, the largest victory ever in a major.  Johnny Miller won the Phoenix Open in 1975 by 14.  Phil Mickelson won an event in 2006 by 13.  With the parity these days on the PGA Tour, and so many events ending in playoffs, it seems pretty unlikely that anyone could ever dominate a tournament to double-digit proportions anytime in the near future.

But back to J. Douglas Edgar.  How come almost nobody knows his name today?

Well, you might have known his name if he’d lived a little longer.  He was extremely highly regarded by his peers of the day.  No less a superstar than Harry Vardon, whose game was in its twilight by the end of the First World War, predicted that Edgar would soon prove to be the greatest of all time.  Unfortunately, Mr. Edgar never got to live to his potential.

His body was discovered in a heap in an Atlanta gutter one August evening in 1921.  His wife, who had hated Atlanta and pined for dear old England, had packed up her bags, and the two children, and sailed for home a few months earlier.   Apparently, that had suited Edgar just fine, leaving him to pursue his golf, and booze, and other women, in no particular order.

But what was initially thought to be a car accident eventually proved to be a murder.  Edgar had been stabbed.  He died of blood loss on the curb before medical help could arrive.  The death, or murder, was never solved.

According to a recent account in an Atlanta-area magazine:

“The only mark found on Edgar’s body was a deep wound near his groin, not from a bullet. He bled out, unable to hang on until medical help could arrive. Some theorized that a wound of that nature meant only one thing. A vengeful husband had punished Edgar for trifling with his wife.

While never proven, some believe Edgar was having an affair with the stunning young wife of prominent Japanese florist, William Abbey. Owner of the Nikko Inn, he’d already been tried and acquitted of shooting someone previously. Perhaps Abbey had taken out his anger on his wife’s lover.”

So, just a little bit of Canadian Open trivia – the 100th anniversary – opens an interesting can of worms, and an obscure nugget of golf history.

You might want to think about this as the world’s best players bunt the ball around those same holes at Hamilton Golf & Country Club, one hundred years later, a few weeks from now.

Douglas Edgar, by the way, received a nice cheque for $200 for winning that 1919 Open. This year’s winner – could it be a repeat by Dustin Johnson? – will take home a cheque for more than $1.2 million.

Jim Deeks
Jim Deeks has been writing for Fairways for over a dozen years. He is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Open and Canadians Skins Game, and currently the Executive Producer of CANADA FILES on PBS.

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