George Lyon’s path from a little town outside Ottawa, Ontario to the Final Match on September 24th 1904 at Glen Echo Golf Club outside St. Louis and the events that shaped this incredible athlete in between, make for an amazing story. Lyon, a 46 year old former army man and insurance salesman, had only put down his cricket bat to try golf a few years previous. Now he faced the world’s best – men half his age - for the ultimate prize in golf – the Gold Medal and a Championship Cup that would set the standard for trophies for years to come.
Cochrane takes the reader on Lyon’s journey from the first swing of a golf club, weaving in his harrowing life experiences and the lives of those, such as the great Walter Travis, who could challenge him for the Gold Medal. It is a story that touches on such varied events and influences as the trial of Oscar Wilde, the War of 1812, the Great Fire of Toronto, fatal duels and political power plays. It traces the sudden rise in popularity of golf in North America.
Before Tiger Woods, before Bubba Watson, before even Bobby Jones there was the Canadian George Lyon. This book ensures he will not be forgotten.
Golf played properly is a sport that is played with character - against oneself as much as any opponent. George Lyon had character.
George Lyon was born in 1858 in a small town, named Richmond, just outside of Ottawa, Ontario.
It was a large family with a strong lineage. His grandfather, after whom he was named, had fought in the War of 1812 and his father was Mayor of Ottawa in 1867, the year of Canada’s Confederation.
George Lyon was a natural athlete with a body hardened by his time as a soldier serving with Canada’s Queen’s Own Rifles in 1885 during the Northwest Rebellion lead by Louis Riel. He settled in Toronto and had a successful life in the insurance business, married the love of his life and had 5 children.
There was no sport at which he was not dominant – baseball, hockey, curling, football, tennis, and especially cricket – he even set a record for pole vaulting at age 19. However, it was not until he reached the age of 38 that he was persuaded to put down his cricket bat and try golf. That October afternoon at Rosedale Golf Course in Toronto he fell in love with the game and dominated the sport in Canada.
Over his life, in addition to numerous wins and awards, he captured eight Canadian Amateur Championships and – his greatest sports achievement - won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1904.
Lyon went on to found the Canadian Seniors’ Golf Association and was elected President of the Royal Canadian Golf Association in 1923. In 1971 he was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.
He died in Toronto May 11, 1938 and is buried beneath a very modest stone marker at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
His legacy to Canada and the sport of golf in Canada must not be forgotten.
George Lyon, against all the odds, with his “coal heavers’ swing”, won the Gold Medal for Golf and a spectacular trophy at the 1904 Olympic Games.
He returned to Toronto, Ontario in September to be celebrated by Canadians and golfers around the world. He went on to numerous further golf glories, National Championships and recognition as one of Canada’s greatest athletes – for a time.
But then George Lyon’s contribution to golf and his legacy were forgotten. Our memory of Lyon was lost and so too was his Gold Medal. The Championship Cup is safely ensconced at the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in Oakville, Ontario but his medal – the last gold medal awarded for golf - has never been found.
A replica given to Lyon’s family by the IOC hangs in the pro shop at Toronto’s Rosedale Golf Club. Fittingly, it was at Rosedale that Lyon put down his cricket bat and first took a golf club from his friend John Dick. Lyon confessed to a mild contempt for the game. Was it a serious sport?
Nine holes later he had that magical experience known to golfers everywhere – he fell in love with the game.
Where is Lyon’s Gold Medal? We may never find it but we can rediscover the legend of his path to the Olympics and the brilliant game he played to win it 110 years ago on September 24th, 1904 .
"But then George Lyon's contribution to golf and his legacy were forgotten. Our memory of Lyon was lost and so too was his Gold Medal."