Alvie Thompson is a remarkable man with remarkable stories and a lifetime spent playing, teaching and giving back to the sport he loves — golf.
Thompson was recognized for his years of achievements and dedication with a lifetime membership from the Sunshine Coast Golf and Country Club (SCG&CC).
Friends, family and course members celebrated Thompson at a dinner in his honour at the club on June 22.
“They wanted to surprise me, but they figured there was no way they would keep it a secret,” said Thompson. “The surprise took place here, in our kitchen, when my wife Donna had a letter from Doug Kelman, our club president, who said I had been nominated for a life membership in the club. It was just fantastic. I kind of broke up a bit and was emotional.
“Golf, as in all sports, you work so hard, but your recognition comes later — in a lot of cases — much later.”
Thompson grew up in south Vancouver and took to the game at the age of 15.
His brother Keith, four years older, helped get him started in the game when he got the Marine Drive Golf Club to offer Alvie a junior membership.
“I got this letter in the mail telling me I had been accepted as a junior member,” he said. “My brother told me it was to get me off the street and to do something sensible. It was a great thing for him to do and it was great that the club did that for junior players.”
In those days a yearly membership was $12, a far cry from what it is today, but still, Thompson recalled wondering how they would ever be able to get the money together.
“Some how we scrounged the money up and I started playing. The high school was real close to the course and my friends and I used to race to the course after school to get in as many holes as we could before dinner,” he said.
Summers were fantastic for Thompson and his friends.
A club member, OJ McDonald, was part owner of Queen Charlotte Fisheries, which is now the Bayshore Inn.
“We used to work there, canning fish for hours, and then wake up early, play golf and head back there. Some of us had paper routes or worked in the lumber yard. It gave us lots of time to play golf,” Thompson said.
He played a lot of sports growing up and was quite the accomplished lacrosse player. Thompson scored a lot of goals, even won a provincial championship, but golf for him was all about the individual competition.
“When I was first asked to play golf, we played a round and I said to myself, ‘I can beat those guys.’ I saw a sport that I could excel in. I started shooting 80, then 75 and after two years I was at a level where I could break par,” he said. “I started thinking I would love to get a job as a pro, so I started doing more things at the club, shagging balls and such, and Stan Leonard, who was the head pro at the time, really helped me. I consider him a mentor and a great friend. I gave the eulogy at his memorial service when he passed. He said to me, ‘saying you want to turn pro is one thing, but it’s a game you need some breaks in. You need to be a good golfer and a personable person.’”
Thompson worked hard refining his game and giving back at the course. He won his first two pro-am events and from there decided to turn pro.
He moved outside of Toronto where an accomplished pro career took shape. Between 1954 and 1969 he won or was a runner-up in 27 events across Canada, in the U.S., even in world cup events in Argentina.
He qualified for the Masters in 1963 and finished 28th, firing rounds of 79, 72, 75 and 71.
“Jack Nicklaus won the tournament with 11 birdies. I had 13 birdies. If I would have made a few more putts and chips, who knows what could have happened?” Thompson recalled. “I’ve always prided myself on putting and making the shots.”
Thompson said he was fortunate to be mentored by so many people, which is why he has always given back to the game as he still does today.
“I really took the help and gave extra help to those young players who showed promise, but beyond that, who had a desire to be a golf champion,” he said.
And despite some health issues, he hasn’t slowed down. He still plays at least once a week.
“I was a junior, assistant pro, teaching golf pro, tournament professional — that’s how you build a career in golf,” he said. “What I’m proud about in my career is that I played in golf tournaments and at the same time I managed the business end of golf. Being a golf pro is hectic — I had a family with three children. But I was hungry to be the best, and if you want to get the best out of something, you have to be hungry.
“It is such a wonderful feeling when you give back and mentor. There is just so much that you get back. You can’t do anything but win by that gift. It’s a thrill. It has been and continues to be a wonderful thing.”
Jim Pringle, head pro at the SCG&CC, sees Thompson as one of his mentors.
Pringle said Thompson has had a profound impact on his life and many others.
“He is such a wonderful guy. He gave and continues to give so much of himself to the game,” Pringle said. “Any golf club that has someone with a combination of a phenomenal playing record and someone who is so respected across the country is so deserving of the lifetime membership. Over the years, he has touched so many people and so many young people have gotten into the game because of his influence on them. He’s one of Canada’s golf icons.”