by Joan Champ
“You think it’s hard for me to hit that little white ball? Hell, I can hit it fine, but you should see me try to find it!” – Phil Lederhouse
I’m in awe. Phil Lederhouse of Prince Albert, who lost his sight in 1934 at age 19, was a world champion golfer. From the year he started golfing in 1955 until the day he died in 1991 from a heart attack during the Western Canadian Blind Golf Championship in Winnipeg at age 75, Phil dominated in every tournament he played. Lederhouse won 20 Saskatchewan titles, 15 western Canadian titles, 5 Canadian championships, the British Open Blind Golf tourney in 1990 (at age 74), and was runner-up in two world championships. He placed in every tournament he entered. A highlight for Phil was a hole-in-one in 1990 at age 74. Jaw-dropping for duffers like me who struggle to play this difficult game with full eyesight.
Phil had a natural gift, but he could not have achieved what he did independently. As with all blind golfers, he could pretty much set up and swing on his own, but he needed the guidance of a coach who accompanied him to all his tournaments. The coach helped him line up his swings and gauge the wind and elevation. Once on the green, Phil and his coach would pace off the distance together before the coach set up the putting stroke. Hubert Cooke, golf pro at the Prince Albert course, was his first coach. Others who assisted Phil with his golf game included Gordie Coombs, Tome Sherman, Jimmy McCubben, Danny Jutras, Gordon Chipperfield, Kelly Steuart, and Keith Stieb.
Phil’s inspiration to take up blind golfing came from his future wife Ruby, who was also blind. The two met in the late 1940s when Phil was a student in Saskatoon’s CNIB rehabilitation program taught by Ruby. In 1950, after reading an article about blind golf in a magazine, Ruby suggested to Phil that he try the sport. Thus, on the first Sunday in May 1950, Phil and his friend Hubert Cooke went out onto a tee at the Prince Albert golf course and Phil hit his first balls. Within six months, and with Hubert as his coach, Phil travelled to Hamilton, Ontario, where he won the Canadian Blind Golfers’ championship. A few months later, he placed third in the International Blind Golfers’ Championship. He was a natural.
Phil became a bit of a celebrity during his golf career. Sponsored extensively by the Lion’s Club, he travelled widely for tournaments and met many show business and sports stars such as Bob Hope, Jack Parr, Ed Sullivan, Jack Nicklaus, and Gordie Howe. Phil once appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. He was Bob Hope’s guest at a Pebble Beach, California, golf tournament in the 1960s. The story goes that, to raise more money for a charity, Bob and Phil had a match, with Bob picking the venue and Phil picking the time. After Bob chose the Pebble Beach course, Phil decreed that the time of the match would be midnight!
Phil was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1983, and the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1990, the year before he died, Lederhouse, won three major golf titles: the Saskatchewan Blind Golf championship, the Eastern Canada Blind Golf title, and the British Open Blind Golf championship.
A little bit about Phil Lederhouse’s personal life:
After Phil lost his eyesight, but before he met Ruby, he had made a living cutting firewood in the bush north of Prince Albert. He then worked for M&C Aviation during the Second World War, repairing planes for the BCATP’s Air Training Base in Prince Albert. A 1942 story about 27-year-old Lederhouse in the Daily Herald states that his job with M&C involved sorting tens of thousands of screws – 40 different kinds of them – “a ticklish and vital job in the aircraft industry.” Off the job, Phil was an accomplished musician, playing both guitar and piano by ear.
Phil and Ruby got married on September 13, 1952. The couple ran hospital canteens in Prince Albert for over 60 years, first at the old Victoria Hospital and at the Holy Family Hospital until both buildings closed. The Lederhouses opened a new canteen at the current Victoria Hospital once that building opened. Their children, Grant, Bryan, and Lynda, helped their parents with the canteens from a young age. Grant recalled that people occasionally took advantage of his parents’ visual impairments by either stealing items or short-changing them. For the most part, however, people were honest and supportive. After Phil’s death in 1991, Ruby and Bryan ran the hospital canteen until it closed on January 1, 2014. Ruby Lederhouse passed away on May 12, 2016.
Phil Lederhouse’s golf clubs and cleats are on exhibit at the Prince Albert Historical Museum.
Thanks to the Bill Smiley Archives for its assistance in the preparation of this column.