As golfers long to dust off their clubs, I thought it would be a good opportunity to honour the traditions of the game by taking a step back in time to the early days of golf when hickory shafts, mashies, niblicks and caddies were all the rage.
The evidence of golf in Canada has been documented in various forms, but it was not until the formation of the (Royal) Montreal Golf Club in 1873, the first of its kind in North America, that golf was officially recognized as an organized sport in our country.
Its popularity boomed during the 1890s with clubs developing all throughout the nation due to such factors as increased Scottish immigration, improved transportation and the inclusion of women in the game. In fact, golf was one of the first sports that welcomed women in an organized fashion.
Our community’s introduction to organized golf took place in the early 1900s with the formation of the Thunder Bay Country Club.
Purchasing land off Oliver Road in 1910, the original shareholders set out to develop a club that would service players from both Fort William and Port Arthur.
Constructing a two-story clubhouse in 1913 at the south end of the course, by the 1920s the annual entrance fee was set at $100, with visiting players charged $1 in green fees.
Renamed the Port Arthur Golf and Country Club during the 1930s, the original clubhouse was destroyed in a fire in 1945 and rebuilt on its present site, with the addition of a curling rink taking place in 1959.
With the amalgamation of the two cities, the club returned to its original name in the 1970s.
The Fort William Country Club received its charter in 1923 with the founders purchasing the 100-acre farm of John Garrity and engaging the services of the famous golf architect Stanley Thompson to design a nine-hole course.
Developed at a cost of $17,000, by 1925 close to 200 shares were sold at a cost of $100 each and the members enjoyed their first round of golf in the spring of 1926.
In the early 1960s, an additional nine holes were added, the original nine were redesigned and a new clubhouse was built.
The 1920s also saw the formation of the Municipal Golf Links course which was built in 1924 on the parking lot of the former King George’s Park, a popular recreational park owned by the City of Fort William.
Although the land was owned by the City of Fort William, the course was leased to the Retail Merchants Association of Fort William who operated it until 1964 when it was taken over by the Board of Parks Management and then the City of Thunder Bay before its closure and sale in 2014.
When the City of Port Arthur purchased the 1,400-acre lot known as the Strathcona Property in 1906 for $35,000, its original purpose was not for a golf course, but rather for the provision of land grants for industrial development.
By 1913, the land was being used as a nursery by the Board of Parks Management and other portions for gardens and free cutting of firewood.
In 1923, a plebiscite was passed that saw the conversion of approximately 300 acres into a golf course.
Strathcona Links opened to the public on Sept. 7, 1925, with nine holes costing local golfers 25 cents. By the following season 18 holes were ready for local golfers to enjoy.
During the winter months the course was also home to local skiers, with a ski jump located beside what is today the fifth fairway. The current clubhouse was officially opened in 1965.
The official opening of Thunder Bay’s other municipal course — Chapples — came in 1949.
Chapples was named after Clem Chapple, who was a driving force behind the establishment of the site and donated $25,000 for the development of facilities in the recreational area.
In 1973, nine more holes were added and, in the 1980s, the Neebing-McIntyre floodway brought some water in to play and a new clubhouse and parking lot were developed.
A number of other golf courses have been developed in our city since the 1980s, all of which have added to the wonderful choice available to Thunder Bay’s golf community.
As you are making your way around the links this summer, take a minute to imagine just how many great shots and great moments, not to mention lost balls, have been experienced by golfers on our local courses since the introduction of this great sport to our area over a century ago.
See you on the links and until next time, keep that sports history pride alive.
Stan Baliuk NHL player and golf pro
Port Arthur Golf Club 1937 Tractor cutting the grass.
1930s John Henry and Cliff Barton
June 28th, 1965 Strathcona Clubhouse opening Alex Gray and G St James
1964 District Lynda Devine at 14 with Betty Bliss
Fort William CC 9th hole circa 1934
1961 Thunder Bay District Amateur Golf Tournament