Ronald Douglas Harris always was the guy from Parry Sound. And he was proud of it.
Anyone who ever spent any time with him knew this. While his professional career in the golf business took him away from Parry Sound, he never forgot where he was from, and he regularly championed his home town. Ron Harris grew up in Parry Sound, in the family home at 11 River St., where he lived with his parents Herman and Bernice, and his sisters Shirley and Carole. He was an accomplished athlete from an early age, and while golf ultimately would shape his life, it was as a hockey player that Ron first earned acclaim.
Ron was a key part of the Parry Sound Shamrocks junior team that won a provincial championship in 1957, and the memories and stories related to that accomplishment remained fresh in his mind decades later. Among those who used to enjoy Ron’s flashy style on the ice was a young Parry Sounder who lived just down the street from the Harris household, and his name was Bobby Orr.
Friends and family who were there at the time will remember Ron cruising around town in a cool car painted green and white – which just happened to be the Shamrocks’ colours, of course. In addition to his hockey prowess, Ron also emerged as a champion amateur golfer, both at the Parry Sound Golf Club and in the surrounding region. The same focus and raw talent that allowed him to succeed on skates followed him onto the links.
Hockey and golf aside, Ron always said his No. 1 accomplishment was convincing fellow Parry Sound native Carolyn Jones to marry him. They wed in Parry Sound in 1960. But not long after that, the professional path that would take Ron away from Parry Sound began to form. He accepted a job as an assistant golf pro at the Cornwall Golf Club in Cornwall, Ont. Ron still was playing competitive golf, but it was in Cornwall that he first began to develop his skills on the business side of the equation. Cornwall also is where Ron and Carolyn’s first son, Bill, was born. Ron’s professional life took a significant leap forward a couple of years later when he got his first job as a head golf pro at the Cowansville Golf Club in Cowansville, Que. Ron didn’t speak French at the time, and had no history or experience with La Belle Province, but the opportunity to be a head pro was something he couldn’t pass up, as a career stepping-stone if nothing else.
But as Ron would say much later, “I went to Cowansville thinking I’d be there for a couple of years. I wound up staying for 25.” Cowansville, Que., is the place where Ron’s career in golf fully bloomed. Within a couple of years, the pleasant little nine-hole course that Ron had been hired to run gave way to a new championship-calibre 18-hole course that became the envy of the region. Ron was the head pro and the head greenskeeper, a daunting combination of responsibilities that would be considered untenable today.
Ron also built his stellar reputation as a golf teacher. He studied the golf swing relentlessly and communicated that knowledge to others. Not only did Ron groom a number of young golfers who went on to substantial achievements, but he became the pro’s pro. Other pros would seek him out when they were having trouble with their own games, often before big tournaments. Sometimes they’d call Ron just to hear his voice, to have him talk them off the ledge. Ron had a way of calming you and expressing confidence in you, so you subsequently could regain confidence in yourself.
A notable sideline to Ron’s golf career during these years was his multi-faceted achievements in the sport of curling. The new Cowansville Curling Club had been born at the same time, and in the same building, as the new Cowansville Golf Club. At the curling club Ron became the ice-maker, ran the competitions, became a Curl Canada instructor and skipped a local rink that was a respected and feared entity on the provincial bonspiel circuit. Cowansville also was the place where Ron and Carolyn’s second son, Glenn, was born.
By the mid-1980s, Ron’s parents were aging and experiencing some health issues so he opened his mind to the possibility of moving back closer to Parry Sound. The opportunity presented itself when Ron was hired to be the head pro and head greenskeeper at the fledgling 18-hole Nottawasaga Inn Golf Club, which had just been built around the existing Nottawasaga Inn in Alliston, Ont.
Ron took all the skills he had amassed in Cowansville and applied them to the Nottawasaga Golf Club for the final 20-plus years of his working life. Not only did Ron’s experience and knowledge help build the Nottawasaga’s sports branch into the regional behemoth it is today, but Ron also fulfilled a lifelong dream by designing 27 additional holes for the Nottawasaga, bringing the complex to its impressive present-day total of 45 holes. Simultaneously, Ron became known around the province of Ontario as a valuable mentor to colleagues who had queries about how to make their own golf courses better. This included Ron offering advice and encouragement to his old and new friends at the Parry Sound Golf Club. There simply weren’t many people around who had Ron’s combined knowledge of how to run a golf course from a practical standpoint, and also how to develop and maintain that golf course physically. Ron retired from the Nottawasaga Golf Club in 2007. Sadly, that was the same year his beloved wife Carolyn died, at the age of 70. Ron continued to help anyone who needed his assistance in the golf business, right up until mere weeks before he passed away in January 2011, at the age of 73.
Golf, hockey and curling star. An expert in the golf business, both in the pro shop and on the greens. Mentor to many. The contributions made by Ron Harris to the world of sports were both deep and unique. And he always let you know that he was the guy from Parry Sound.