Michael Dawe: Red Deer found its golfing sweet spot 100 years ago

This spring marks an important milestone in the sports and recreational history of our community.

One hundred years ago, in 1919, the first golf club was organized in Red Deer.

The devastating First World War had just ended. Veterans were still coming home from overseas. Many were suffering from wounds to their bodies and/or their minds.

There was a strong push to create new and affordable sports activities in the community, preferably ones that could be enjoyed by people of all ages.

In June 1919, after a very harsh winter had come to an end, a small group of golfing enthusiasts were able to lease a timothy hay pasture on the Cronquist farm in what is now West Park Estates.

The course was laid out with a few hours work. The fairways were quite short, and there was initially only six of them. There were no “made” greens.

Gopher holes were a problem. Nevertheless, local golfers greeted the new rudimentary course with great enthusiasm. Before long, the number of holes was increased to nine.

By the beginning of July, it was obvious that there was enough interest to officially organize a Red Deer Golf Club.

J. F. Boyce, a local school inspector, agreed to be the president. J. R. McClure, a local lawyer, agreed to be secretary-treasurer.

To create some income, a membership fee of $5 was established. However, the executive announced only men were asked to pay up.

Women golfers were welcome and were not expected to pay a fee. However, if there was a scheduling conflict, the male players would always take precedence.

Extra fencing was installed to keep cattle off the course. Sheep were acquired to keep the greens trimmed.

Unfortunately, they also left little piles of hazard around. An attempt to control the gophers had an unfortunate consequence. A number of Cronquist’s turkeys were killed by the gopher poison. The club had to quickly pay compensation.

The course was alongside the Calgary-Edmonton Trail, the main highway into Red Deer. As such, there was a great deal of traffic and a lot of dust.

Another problem was some of the passersby did not like what they saw.

In particular, a number of local residents objected to seeing people out playing golf on Sundays.

One angry local farmer complained of “the necessity of driving my family past the Sunday golfers indulging themselves,” while on his way home from church.

Other protesters soon chimed in. Two citizens wrote to the newspaper that “the public playing of golf on Sundays is a bad example for the young people. It will lead the boys into evil paths.”

The Red Deer Ministerial Association held a meeting to discuss the issue. A formal request was made to the golf club asking the playing of golf on Sundays cease. The golf club declined.

A snowstorm Oct. 8 brought an end to the first golf season. It was also the start of another long and brutal winter.

By spring, the local golfers were itching to start their second season. The club had been able to sign up 31 members in 1919, but now more than 50 people put up $10 (double the first year’s amount) for a membership.

A. B. Mitchell, a local jeweler, provided a trophy for the season’s competition among the members.

With the sport continuing to rapidly grow in popularity, plans were made to find a new course location and to raise funds for a clubhouse. However, the early 1920s were hard times economically. Despite the golfers’ enthusiasm, fundraising was tough.

Finally, in the early spring of 1922, the club had enough funds to buy the old Wilkins brothers’ ranch on the north side of the river and to proceed with the construction of a clubhouse.

In April 1922, the old golf club was disbanded and the assets were turned over to the new Red Deer Golf and Country Club.

The official opening for the new course and clubhouse took place Aug. 22, 1922, with the first Central Alberta Golf Tournament. The event was a tremendous success.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

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