Paul Hickey: Architect Eb Zeidler’s lasting connection to golf and design in Peterborough

A celebration of life is being held Friday at 11 a.m. at Trinity St. Paul’s Church in Toronto for architect Eberhard Zeidler, who died in January at the age of 96.

One of our country’s most respected and accomplished architects, Eb Zeidler had strong ties to our city and to golf in these regions. He was not an architect of golf courses, but among his many projects in Peterborough in the middle of the last century was the third pavilion of the Peterborough Golf and Country Club (1959), the first to incorporate a curling rink.

Zeidler’s wife, Jane, was the daughter of accomplished amateur golfer Robert Abbott who captained the Yale University golf team, won NCAA championships, won our club championship 13 times and finished second nine more times. With the exception of Bob Jamieson, no other local golfer’s resume matches Abbott’s.

Much of Zeidler’s design work was in Toronto. His accomplishments include the Eaton Center and Ontario Place as well as health sector landmarks such as the atrium of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and the McMaster Health Sciences Center in Hamilton.

Locally, he appears to have designed most of the churches built in the 1950s and 1960s, including St. Barnabas at the north end and the Beth Israel Synagogue near the hospital. The Memorial Center was also his work, as was the coolest house ever built in this city, the Cherney House at 99 Roper Ave.

So why write about Eb Zeidler rather than Donald Ross or Alister Mackenzie? Because friends of golf often ask questions about the architecture of golf courses.

What makes a Stanley Thompson course a Stanley Thompson course? Why do you love Royal Dornoch so much that you can’t stop writing about it?

While I have answers to these questions by describing a particular designer’s telltale bunker style or green complexes, I now prefer the comparison between, say, Dornoch and a grand house.

It’s a visual thing. Through your eyes, you feel it in your bones when you’re in the presence of great design. There’s a reason why many older homes on certain streets in this town are so admired. Your eyes don’t lie.

When you look at a building from the street, you grasp things like balance, proportion, scale. Does the size of the columns give the impression that they are there to support the structure, and not just to perform a dummy function?

The proportion of a facade or side of a house that is made up of windows – your eye knows when it’s good. What your eyes and brain find most appealing are the simple things I mentioned above that are the work of a seasoned architect. Good sized front entrance. Same with golf.

The next time you stand on the tee on an off-season golf trip to Myrtle Beach or somewhere in Europe, think about how the course makes you feel.

Does it make you feel tiny (bad), like a giant (also bad) or just right? Do the holes unfold in front of you in an understandable and rhythmic way?

Does it look natural, as if the man had a hand in it, but much of it seems to follow universal themes associated with beauty. A good first step in understanding the design of a good golf course is to think about your favorite holes and dig a little deeper by asking yourself what’s so special about those holes.

If you love and appreciate golf, you have in your heart and mind to feel the same about course architecture. Worth it. Nothing beats the feeling of playing a well-designed hole well. I’m not sure Eb Zeidler ever played golf, but I’d bet my life if you hit him off the sixth tee at Royal Dornoch he’d recognize his greatness immediately.

Paul Hickey is a golf enthusiast who can be followed on Twitter at @outpostprez. This is his last column of the season.

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