The Edmonton Country Club reclines, verdantly, on 204 acres located with a 90º bend of the North Saskatchewan River about eight miles upstream from the City’s centre. Nothing in the appearance of the modern clubhouse or the grounds would alert the casual visitor to the Club’s colourful history which began in 1896.
On the centenary of its founding and the Club’s 85th year on its present site, a light look at the history of the Edmonton Country Club is offered. It is respectfully dedicated to some early Edmontonians of uncommon vision, risk takers, who preferred and took steps to protect their golf within a relaxed and private club.
Bruce Massie died in 1993. He was the last living original member of the Edmonton Country Club. In 1911, George W. Massie, his father and an original shareholder, took out a family membership at the new golf club. It included his son Bruce then aged one.
Early Club members were most generous with their time, recall and suggestions. I acknowledge in particular the help I received from Howard Emery, Q.C., The Honourable Neil Primrose, Bob Driscoll, Harvey Day, Bruce Massie, Q.C., Fred McComb and Adrian Smith, all Country Clubbers at heart. Dunc Sutherland’s old photographs and easy memories were invaluable. Many other people, both inside and outside the Edmonton Country Club, contributed to this history, both in 1985 and in this year’s update. It is simply not possible to name all of them.
The gravel in the North Saskatchewan River around Edmonton contains gold. At least it did 130 years ago. It was commercially profitable for many years and especially between 1866 and 1870 when a number of roving miners hit Fort Edmonton to get in on the rumoured profits.
Grizzly Miners with admirers, North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton, 1880’s.
Photo Courtesy of the Alberta Archieves
To work the gold-bearing silt and gravel the miners used a “grizzly”, which was a wooden sluice box with rods of iron set in an inverted “V”. The “grizzly” strained out shovelled gravel that was further strained through a succession of blankets, leaving gold dust, heavier than its surrounding elements, clinging to the last blanket. It was wrenching work but with a little luck up to one ounce of gold might be recovered in a day.
One of those “grizzly” miners was Jim Gibbons. After working the river, near the Club’s present location in the summer of 1868, he stayed the winter. He told his story Billy Griesbach, and it appeared in the Griesbach memoirs of early Edmonton. From “I Remember”; W.A. Griesbach, 1946, Ryerson Press, Toronto, we take the following:
“Jim Gibbons, with whom I spent several weeks one time getting his story, told me he spent the winter of 1868 in a dug-out in the neighbourhood of what is now the Edmonton Country Club. He had no window in his dug-out and the only light was from a tallow dip. This is a contrivance made of iron, or some other metal, in the shape of a child’s shoe, which comes to a point. The back of this shoe is a piece of metal which can be shoved into a crack in a log or can be driven in with a hammer. The shoe is filled with grease or tallow and a wick made from moss or cordage or cloth with one end resting in the grease or tallow and the other end lying out of the spout. The wick is well saturated in grease. When lighted it gives off a feeble light with a good deal of smoke. The light was barely sufficient to find articles required in the room in which the dip was burning. In about 1870, Jim Gibbons was able to get hold of a candle mould and made his own candles. These candles gave a clear light and that winter he read Macaulay’s History of England four times. One of his friends read The Rise of the Dutch Republic, by Motley, a number of times. Jim’s candle mould passed from hand to hand, and had a profound effect on the life of the early settlers.
Jim Gibbons – The first Country Clubber c. 1894
Photo courtesy of Alberta Archives
So as far as we know, excluding the nomadic Blackfoot, the Plains Cree and the Assiniboia (Stoney) Indians who had been around for about 10,000 years, Jim Gibbons was the first Country Clubber. If he wasn’t, at the very least his conquest of the relentless prairie winter, as well as his snow-bound scholarship, deserve our recognition, if not our applause.
Actually Angus Shaw was the first European to lay eyes upon the Club property. Shaw was an eccentric but determined North West Company trader who in 1803 with his men paddled up the North Saskatchewan passing the present site of the Edmonton Country Club. Shaw was on his way to what would be named Mountain House, or Rocky Mountain House, where he would establish a post to trade with the Indians. The men of the Hudson’s Bay Company would soon follow setting up Fort Acton across the river traffic – freight and express canoes, scows and barges – passing by and below the Country Club grounds.
In 1896 the City of Edmonton, Northwest Territories, was a quiet trading community of, perhaps, 1,700 full time residents. Railroad connection with the outside world lay not in Edmonton but Strathcona, and the impact of the forthcoming Yukon gold rush was yet to break. The full effect of the federal government’s open-door immigration policies upon the City was also yet to be felt. However, the newly-incorporated City’s recreation buffs had been active. The Edmonton Cricket Club had been founded in 1882, as had been the Rugby Football Club. Lacrosse was introduced in 1883; organized baseball in 1884; the Edmonton Rifle Association founded in 1886, and Edmonton’s first tennis club was in place by 1891. Organized hockey was established in 1894 in both Edmonton and Strathcona.
Clearly, it was time for a golf club, and so the Edmonton Golf Club, common parent to the Edmonton Country Club and the Victoria Municipal Golf Course came into being on April 4th, 1896. The first president was R.A. Ruttan who was the City’s Dominion Land Agent. The Club had about 14 original members concerning whom the Edmonton Bulletin sniffed: “Inspector Snyder of the Northwest Mounted Police was one of the most active…” Ruttan, E.C. Emery, Alex Taylor and E.F. Slocock were the best players. Mrs. J.M. Lay, wife of the accountant at the Imperial Bank, was the first female member of the new Club and its “patroness”. To service the new Club, Messrs. Carpenter and Vaudin, outfitters, advertised “a supply of golfers’ requisites in the shape of sticks and balls”. An 1898 photograph, showing the Club premises and 27 attentive members, survives.
By 1908 membership in the young Club had expanded to some 80 men and 35 women. At that time, active members and officers of the Club included Judge David L. Scott, a founder of the Calgary Country Club in 1895 and who, as a young Crown lawyer, had participated in the prosecution of Louis Riel at Regina a decade earlier. Later, he became Alberta’s Chief Justice. Nicholas D. Beck, another Club officer, would embellish Alberta’s legal inheritance as well. George R. F. Kirkpatrick and E.C. Emery, Beck’s law partner, active players, both shown in the 1898 photograph, would make ongoing contributions to the betterment of golf in Edmonton over the next quarter century.
Standing on what are now the grounds of the Alberta Legislature, at a site close to 106th Street and 97th Avenue, was the Hardisty Big House. Well displayed in 1898 photograph, facing south easterly, its last years were spent as the golf club’s premises.
1898 Archive Photograph
EDMONTON GOLF CLUB
Upper Balcony (from left): E.C. Emery (Barrister); J.M. Lay (Imperial Bank); Sidney Bridges (Imperial Bank); Mrs. H.C. Wilson, Alex Taylor and Mrs. Taylor; T.W. Lines.
Lower Veranda:George R.F. Kirkpatrick (Imperial Bank); W. Leslie Foote; A.B. McClenaghan; Nicholas D. Beck; A.M. NcNichol; E.F. Slocock; Mrs. J.M. Lay (Patroness); Miss Fielders; Miss Slocock; Mrs. Jellett; Mrs. Braithwaite; Mrs. R.G. Hardisty; Miss Slocock; Mrs. Harrison; Mrs. F.C. Jameison (nee Miss McLeod); Miss Calvert.
The Hardisty Big House and members.
Photo courtesy of City of Edmonton Archives.
The building itself had a unique association with the history of the City of Edmonton apart from golf. It and its predecessor, the Rowand Big House, were the official Fort Edmonton residences of two Chief Factors of the Hudson’s Bay Company, John Rowand and Richard Hardisty. The Rowand Big House (“Rowand’s Folly) had been erected in the 1840’s and the timbers from the structure were again used in the 1860’s construction of the Hardisty Big House, which replaced it.
Located on the Hudson’s Bay Reserve outside and to the north of the stockaded Fort Edmonton, the Big House in its prime was the largest and most expensive building west of Hudson’s Bay. In addition to being the residence of the Chief Factors, some employees and the occasional visiting dignitary, the Big House served as an office, warehouse, reception hall, and prior to 1870 was the seat of Government for the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Saskatchewan District.
Of historic interest alone as the 19th century closed, it was rented from the Hudson’s Bay Company for use as the golf club premises and seems to have made a comeback as a community social centre. Described as a “fairly active and festive place”, an account of the times tells us that in the Big House “…many informal luncheons and ‘kettledrums’ were enjoyed…prepared by the ladies, active competitor golfers themselves.”
It served as the clubhouse for ten years until 1906 when its fate was met. It was destroyed by fire. Deliberately. A smallpox epidemic had broken out and the Big House had been commandeered by the Local Heath Authority as an isolation hospital for those who might be infected. The epidemic soon went away but so did the golfers. They shunned the old building, choosing to use smaller premises well away from it. The Big House, a proud and enduring building which presided over a half-century of Edmonton’s growth, was then torched in nervous difference to the public health dreads of the day.
The First Clubhouse, Winter 1897.
Photo courtesy of Alberta Archives
It was all of five holes. To understand its general layout it is important to keep in kind that it was boundaried by, roughly, 109th Street on the west, 97th Avenue on the north, the riverbank escarpment (the present Terrace Building site) on the south and the Telus baseball stadium and the Donald Ross flats to the east. The High Level and 105th Street bridges gad yet to be erected. The Legislature Building was quite in the future and the only area structures of real prominence were the Big House and the enclosed Fort Edmonton to its south.
Edmonton Golf Club – 1900
Looking south from Saskatchewan Avenue (97th Avenue). Golfing (and dog exercise) party in center. Background;
Walter’s ferry landing, seedmill and Fort Hill. Photo taken from “Big House” clubhouse.
Photo courtesy of Alberta Archives.
The holes were ill-defined and perilous, but in the Scottish tradition they acquired names including “Long Tom” – a reference to Tom Morris, the revered Open Champion, “the Gravel Pit” and “the Fort”.
The first hole had its tee located near the Big House, close to today’s 107th Street and 96th Avenue. It ran downhill, easterly, brushed an old graveyard and terminated at a green near the original Edmonton Power House, east of Rossdale Road. The second hole seems to have run northeast, but we really know little about it. The third hole was nasty, brutish and long. It ran west, uphill, and (after 1902) across the Edmonton Yukon and Pacific right of way (which would connect, via the river valley, the Low Level Ridge and the Groat Ravine to the west). Beyond that the golfers had to negotiate the many rutted tracks leading to John Walter’s cross-river ferry – where the 105th Street Bridge now stands. These combined challenges made No. 3 hole “a very sporty one”, as one wry observer noted. Another hole lay near the point where the High Level Bridge now enters the north river bank. The last hole apparently extended east, paralleling 97th Avenue, and returned, downhill, to the Big House.
Reported competitions were quite spirited. Members competed on Saturdays for trophy buttons – gold, silver and bronze; the winners earning the privilege of one week’s bragging rights, confirmed by the wearing of the trophy buttons for that time.
One of the oldest, if not the oldest, competitive golf trophies in Western Canada was donated by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1898. The Hudson’s Bay Trophy awarded for the Club Championship has been – with war-time exceptions – in competition since. Its first winner was Ernest F. Slocock, who is shown in an 1898 archive photograph.
A golfing party in the late 1890’s shown at the home of the first Club Champion, E.F. Slocock.
Mr. Slocock is seated on the porch.
Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.
In 1907 the Edmonton Country Club was uprooted when the infant Alberta government purchased its lands from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The golf course was to become the site of the new legislative assembly building. The immediate consequence to the golfers was that it was necessary to construct a seven-hole site west of the original site on what was known as the Hudson Bay flat. It occupied the eastern half of today’s Victoria Golf Course, bordering the site of the Royal Glenora Club. The course was later expanded to nine holes. In 1912 the Hudson’s Bay Company sold the whole flat to the City of Edmonton for about $10,000.00 as the City required it for its new Victoria Park. Wisely, the City elected to continue the layout as Canada’s first municipal golf course. But that is obviously another story.
By 1910 several Edmonton Golf Club members, sensing that the 1907 move was merely a stopgap solution to the pressures laid upon their Club by an expanding city, began to look elsewhere for a permanent and private location. A new Club, a Country Club, was promoted. The consortium’s prime mover was a persuasive Vancouver entrepreneur, Major Edward G. Palmer. This dapper little Englishman knew just the place.
The Edmonton Golf Club as it expanded west along the HBC Company flat.
Shows E.Y.&P. right of way and Charlie Sandison’s stone quarry – 1911
Photo courtesy of Alberta Archives
Prime lands, some 426 acres, on the river and some eight miles upstream had been inspected and optioned by him. The lands were described as having “…a beautiful aspect, a warm, dry, candy subsoil and friable topsoil.” Palmer had them certified as “…equally suitable for cricket, polo, tennis, bowling, and other kindred sports…”
Mrs. G.W. Massie, Edmonton Golf Club, 1909
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Jean Massie Maddison
The embryo Club, its lands and improvements, would be funded – as private golf resorts still are – by share subscriptions ($100.00 each), and profits to be generated by the sale of peripheral land for residential lots. About two hundred acres, made up mainly of a large parcel on the river bank heights to the east of our present 5th hole, and the Hyde Park lands, south of 62nd Avenue and east of 170th Street, were to be subdivided and offered for sale as building lots. It appears that another Hyde Park subdivision plan had been filed as early as 1908 but as a development it had not proceeded.
The first meeting of the 254 shareholders of the fledgling Club was held on February 9th, 1911 at the Board of Trade, 1st Street and Athabasca Avenue in Edmonton. The grand occasion, presided over by Major Palmer and attended by some 50 or 60 share subscribers, proceeded immediately to the election of directors. Those returned were an intrepid lot and included – John Sommerville, hardware merchant and farmer, (and vendor of some of the Club lands); G.R.F. Kirkpatrick, Manager since 1891, of the Imperial Bank (and Club President in 1926 and 1927); Dr. E.N. Cobbett, Club Champion in 1906 and 1907; Alfred Driscoll (father of life-member Bob Driscoll), a civil engineer and surveyor who surveyed much of infant Edmonton and may surrounding communities; Major Palmer, who was given the title of managing director; E.C. Pardee, the Club’s first president and local manager of the bank of Montreal; W.T. Creighton, local manager of the Canada Permanent Trust Corporation and future (1913 and 1914) Club President; J.H. (Joe) Morris, Jasper Ave merchant and possessor of Edmonton’s first automobile – a two-cylinder Ford imported from Winnipeg in 1904; and F.C. Jamieson. Colonel Jamieson, a Strathcona barrister, had distinguished himself in the Boer campaigns and would do so again in the upcoming “Great War”.
The original shareholders were a roster of Edmonton’s nobility. Anybody who mattered – or thought they did – belonged to the Country Club. The membership boasted Lieutenant Governor George H.V. Bulyea, two Alberta Premiers, A.C. Rutherford who had resigned in 1910 and A.L. Sifton, who replaced him, four Chief Justices of Alberta, part present and future, Sifton, Scott, Horace Harvey, and George O’Connor, ten other and lesser judges (one of whom soon had his share forfeited for non-payment for non-payment of calls); two future federal cabinet ministers, Wilfred Gariepy and J.L. Cote; four M.L.A.’s, the Attorney-General C.W. Cross, the Mayor of Edmonton William Short, the City Commissioner, the President of the Board of Trade, the redoubtable Billy Griesbach, numerous lawyers, chartered accountants, medical men, architects, sundry Captains of Industry and ranking businessmen. Linking an earlier era was the subscription of R.G. Hardisty. Among the originals there were as well, six women shareholders.
Edmonton Golf Club (circa 1910). Seven holes. Edmonton Yukon and Pacific R.R. (foreground).
Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta
The shareholders ratified the acquirement of the 426 acres, through Major Palmer, from farmers Albert Cleland and John Sommerville. $40,426.00, or about $100 an acre, was the price paid. The land came in at boom-time cost, but with three bank managers on the Board of Directors interim financing was no real problem. An additional nine acres, in two parcels, near today’s pump house, were smoothly acquired from the federal government (for $3.00 an acre!). They extended the Club’s holdings above and below the riverbank escarpment to 435 acres.
For his initiatives and ongoing services as managing director, Major Palmer was paid 5% of all lot sales and $50.00 per month, increased to $150.00 per month by late 1913. He also received five shares of the company’s stock. Palmer built himself a fancy home just outside the Club’s entrance and west of today’s ninth green. It was the first home to overlook the Country Club ravine. The driveshaft of the Club’s operation for the first five years, Palmer resigned in 1916 and returned to Vancouver. Making some money in the coal business, he died in 1944.
On May 20th, 1911, an offer from L.G. White, an American professional skilled to the task, to lay out the links was accepted. White, along with Palmer and Roland W. Lines, are the Club’s forgotten architects. White’s fee was $125.00. He proceeded immediately to his design. And an electric design it was.
The upper nine, substantially as the front nine remains today, was on comparatively level terrain. However, the lower nine holes were not for the wan or the hesitant. It was a tough walk with or without a caddy. White located four holes wholly on the lower flat. They do not now appear to be particularly challenging simply because of their level plane. But the remaining five holes brought into play the punishing slopes and elevations separating the upper and lower levels of the Club’s land. Those holes were generally located south and southwest of the present parking lot area. The flat holes are to the southeast.
LOWER BACK NINE – 1921
Looking south from the hillside, the photograph shows the polo and cricket grounds and
holes #10 (center), 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15. Terwilliger subdivision is in the background.
Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives.
Mr. White’s plan, ratified by the Board, was to open ten holes for play above the flats during the second year of operation (1912), and the eight holes below during the third year (1913). He agreed to stay on during the construction phase, at $80.00 per month and the work of clearing and seeding began. The lower holes would remain in play until 1936 when the present back nine was opened.
White’s lower nine was only 3,080 yards in length compared to 3,295 yards for the nine holes above. So he stiffened it by his vigorous use of the slopes and by designing the cultivated fields paralleling several holes as “out of bounds”. The nine was even more distinctive by its oddity of beginning and ending with par three holes. Its “character” hole was the par 3 10th. From a tee not far from the present practice putting green, a 195-yard shot descended to a level green on the lower flat – a drop of about 100 feet.
The lower holes were reached by descending either of two roads. One is still in use. It exits the southeast corner of the parking lot. The second, a substantially lesser grade, is now largely overgrown and quite forgotten. However, evidence of it is still visible in front of and to the east (just below the bank) of the present 3rd tee. Old photographs show that it was used, at least to move equipment, as the principal access to the lower level, no doubt because of its softer grade.
142nd Street was the west boundary of the City at the time, so access to the Club for the City’s residents was a real and obvious problem. It was a problem then and one that would plague the Club throughout its first 50 years. It was only laid to rest in 1962 when, finally, the ravine road was blacktopped.
Aerial photo of upper and lower nines (circa 1930).
Photo courtesy of City of Edmonton Archives
But in 1911 there was the promise of a riverside road extending upstream from 142nd Street to the Club and beyond – to Big Island – which had been jointly projected by the City of Edmonton and the provincial government. Well aware that access had to be quickly provided, the Club promptly offered $3000.00 toward the cost of construction. Beyond that, the City had even hinted at the future extension of streetcar service to the Club grounds. While the matter idled before City Council the Board sunnily assured the shareholders”
"It is confidently expected that the city in conjunction with the provincial government will go ahead with
the work in completion with all possible speed.."
But the perils of waiting for government were well known to the directors. At the same time, they proceeded to the surveying and construction of the 2.2-mile ravine road, which included the erection of two wood bridges to cross the Edith and Patricia ravines. That road would connect as directly as the terrain would permit, the Club with 156th Street, then a country road, which bordered the Roy and Walter Macdonald farms.
Stories about the tortuous and sinewy ravine road are woven into the Club’s history. Ask an old timer about the Edmonton Country Club and he will reply with a tale of the gully road, including the rescue of cars and drivers. The road’s problems were doubled when it was wet, either from rain, or when it was challenged by weary golfers heading home while they were both overdue and over spirited.
Predictably, the City’s plans for the riverside, highway, which was to cross the river at Big Island and loop, back to town along the opposite bank, quietly expired with the 1912-13 land boom.
By 1912 the top ten holes (generally, where the front nine and number 18 lie today) were open for play. Right on schedule. Construction of the lower eight holes proceeded apace with seeding of the adjoining polo and cricket grounds. The sale of available residential lots – over 200 of them, surveyed by Messrs, Driscoll and Knight – was brisk. The Club’s future seemed assured.
Early glimpses of the Ravine Road connecting the Edmonton Country Club and 156 street, from 1911 to 1970.
Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives
The real estate agents trumpeted:
“PROPERTY NEAR COUNTRY CLUB WILL BE VERY VALUABLE”
“Basing our calculations upon what has happened in Winnipeg and other cities, also upon the developments that are now under way, property lying adjacent to the Country Club grounds is bound to rise greatly and very swiftly in value. This is in the west end where the higher values always prevail, because it is in that section of every city where the men live who can afford to pay the higher prices for the sake of the choicer locations.”
And the good life beckoned…
“Close to the Country Club in the not very distant future it is very likely safe to predict that there will be springing up a good class of homes in which will live the men who can afford to leave their work early in the afternoon, and who will enjoy their favourite game in the immediate vicinity of their home. Then again, their family and for the other members it will be far preferable to live close to the links etc., as it does away with the necessity of travelling back a distance after the game is over.
It is a significant fact that in view of the acquisition by the City of the present golf links, the Hudson’s Bay Company had given the golf club three months’ notice to quit. There is only one place for them to move to and that is the new Country Club grounds. This will mean immediate activity in the new location and its vicinity.”
In the spring of 1912 the operating account bulged. This was when Charles Saunders bought 23 lots or 80 acres from the Club for $46,000.00. $23,000.00 in cash was paid and the balance to paid on terms. In the end the Club never did see that balance, but in the heady market of 1912 any thought that land values might some day decline – let alone that land purchasers might go into default on their contracts – was simply irrational.
Mr. & Mrs. Geo. W. Massie and family visit the new Edmonton Country Club.
Son Bruce (age 2) the club’s last original member, shown in foreground.
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Jean Massie Maddison
The Club’s future was so rosy that the directors, in August 1912, decided to advance the erection of the eagerly awaited clubhouse. An emerging young Edmonton architect and Club member, Roland W. Lines, was retained and promptly sent to Ottawa and Montreal to inspect existing golf club premises. His report and preliminary sketches were received, and on November 12, 1912 eleven directors motored to the Club property to choose the building’s location. It was a site which, the secretary reported: “…obtained the best possible view compatible with the laying out of the grounds to the best advantage of the various games which need to be in close proximity…”.
An Extraordinary Meeting of the Shareholders took place on December 23rd, 1912. It was called for two purposes. Firstly, to implement the Edmonton Country Club Act which had been passed to provincially incorporate the Club
“…for the purpose of the establishment of a Club to promote the physical welfare of its members and to encourage the games of golf, tennis, bowling and other games, hunting or any other form of exercise, and for social purposes.”
The meeting also approved a budget of $25,000.00 for the Clubhouse. The directors soon awarded the construction contract to Messrs, Frost & Ingram of Edmonton, and a Building Committee was appointed.
Work began quickly. However, the Building Committee was soon obliged to increase the budget to $40,000.00 as the architects’ plans had to be substantially revamped to include emergency sleeping accommodation for 12 members, (in wet weather the road was hopelessly impassable, not being gravelled until 1925), advanced electrical wiring and garage facilities for members’ vehicles and mechanized Club equipment. Stabling for 12 polo ponies was also approved. In anticipation of the new clubhouse the Club adopted the Bylaws of the St. Charles Golf & Country Club in Winnipeg as its own.
While the new clubhouse was ready for use by its targeted completion date of July 1st, 1913 (notwithstanding delays incurred as a result of screening in the veranda and expansion of the Writing Room), the Club encountered continuing problems in securing its water supply. No extraction system had yet been connected to the river, and the successive drilling of fresh water wells on the grounds was met with persistent failure.
Staff were in place. A chief steward, H.N. Berthold, was hired at $50.00 per month (including, of course, the complementary kitchen services of his wife) and the Club’s first golf professional, W.R. Barrett, was brought in. There was a chef named Pryor. George Debenham, who farmed in the neighbourhood (170th Street & 62nd Avenue), was engaged as the Club’s first greenskeeper. Mrs. C.W. Sweet, pianist, entertained on Saturday nights.
The Club’s milk supply was protected by the purchase of two cows, authorized “at an expense not to exceed $80.00.”
Congestion on the 10th tee. 1913.
There was other progress in 1913. The lower holes were completed and readied for the Alberta Golf Association Championships in August, including the bunkering of the course at an expense of $300.00. The championships opened on August 28th and competitors converged on the Club from all over the Province. Out-of-towners stayed in tents on the grounds. Warbled the Journal;
“The opening day of the Alberta Golf Association Annual Tournament practically amounted to the initiation of the Edmonton Country Club…
Exclamations of surprise could be heard on every side at the splendid and picturesque layout of the course, and golfers from all parts of Alberta voiced the opinion that but a short time would be required to make the Edmonton Country Club one of the most famous courses on the American continent…”
The Ladies Championships were first. In the final, Miss Sparrow of Calgary turned back Mrs. Simpson of Edmonton 2 and 1. It was a contest the Journal tells us “…between the self-reliance of Miss Sparrow and the undaunted courage of Mrs. Simpson” resulting in, “…one of the prettiest and best games of golf ever seen in the Province…” Critical to its outcome was the eleventh hole, won, we are told, by Miss Sparrow’s eight, against Mrs. Simpson’s nine.
The Men’s Amateur Championship followed. Leading the qualifiers was the Country Club’s own J. Munro Hunter with a so-so 83, one over the then popular “bogey” course rating 82. The tournament then moved into match play and Hunter steadily eliminated the field, defeating club mate Jackson Walton 5 and 3 in the finals.
Hunter was a towering young Scot and a partner in a local sporting goods business known as Simpson & Hunter. Now largely forgotten, he went on to win three more (and successive) Alberta Amateur Championships before becoming the professional at the old St. Andrew’s Club in Calgary. He returned to Edmonton in 1921 to lay out the new Mayfair Club and remained prominent in Western Canadian golf throughout the decade. How good was he? The Edmonton Bulletin tells us that his 73 was the best score of the year in 1919. Even so, while his playing abilities would probably be no match for those of today’s young guns, Munro Hunter can, in terms of his achievements, lay legitimate claim to the title of the Club’s most accredited player yet.
Janet Sparrow (left) and Mrs. Simpson in 1913 Alberta final.
Below, Mrs. Simpson putting on the 11th hole.
1913 was supposed to be the Club’s year of triumph. The course and the clubhouse were in place and the hosting of the Alberta Amateur had brought deserving praise and publicity to the young Club. Land values shot up, so did Country Club shares. It seemed there was no downside. Not for Edmonton, not for the Edmonton Country Club.
Warming up, 1st tee (1912). (temporary club house in background)
But things began to unravel. While the Club, the members, and, doubtless Munro Hunter, basked in his championship, the first in a series of misfortunes struck. On September 9th, 1913, the secretary recorded, unflinchingly,
“Owing to the club house being totally destroyed early this morning it was resolved…to rebuild…at once, on somewhat similar lines.”
The cause of the fire was, and remained, speculative. Nothing was left except the stone and mortar fireplace and chimney. Available insurance of $12,000.00 did not cover the loss and the directors immediately resolved to borrow, by mortgage, $20,000.00 to rebuild. The legend is misplaced – the clubhouse did not burn down the night it opened. From the available history it would appear that the clubhouse had been in use, at least unofficially, for about two months prior to its loss. Ironically, the first water well had been brought in the previous day. The event drew headlines in the Edmonton Journal. It was reported as follows:
“EDMONTON COUNTRY CLUB DESTROYED BY FIRE LOSS OF $12,000.00 CAUSED
STEWARD AND WIFE MAKE ESCAPE THOUGH WINDOW”
Less than two weeks ago the height of fashion was displaying itself at the beautiful clubhouse of the Edmonton Country Club. Today that clubhouse is nothing but a few charred embers of still-burning timbers and the remains of metal ornaments, fire having destroyed the commodious quarters in the early hours of the morning.
At about 5:30 a.m. today, secretary E.G. Palmer received word by phone from an employee at the clubhouse that the building was on fire. Mr. Palmer immediately aroused the workmen in the vicinity of his home and all went down to the scene. Immense volumes of smoke were pouring out of the structure and with the exception of the cash register, which contained considerable money, and a few articles of furniture, nothing was saved. The fire was supposed to have started in the locker room, a building detached from the clubhouse, as a workman who was sleeping in the building was awakened by the smoke, giving him the sensation of being choked. He lost no time in giving the alarm to M. Berthold, steward of the Club, who had quarters at the clubhouse with his wife.
Together, after informing Mr. Palmer, they managed to save some of the property in the clubhouse and the major portion of their own effects. Mr. And Mrs. Berthold however, only escaped from their rooms through the windows.
Water had only been discovered the previous day in a well, which had been sought for several weeks and all the well-drilling apparatus was destroyed…
Mr. Palmer, possibly with remembrances of the golf tournament which was held at the Country Club only a few days ago facetiously remarked, ‘It is merely a stymie in the round of the Club’.”
As Major Palmer said: no one looked back. Construction of the new building began within a week. It was speeded to completion and, amid great ceremony was officially opened on December 17, 1913. Preserving the original stone fireplace, the new building was the hub of the Club’s activities until it was demolished in 1955. Locker rooms and facilities for the professional were distanced from the new structure to reduce possible future loss from fire, but otherwise it was a substantial replication of the original.
HERBIE BLACK AND J. MUNRO HUNTER
These men, perennial rivals, were photographed about 1923 in Calgary. Hunter the Edmonton Country Club’s most accomplished player ever, was about 6’8”, Black about 5’0”. Herbie Black was a doughty opponent for anyone. For many years he held the course record for the Calgary Country Club, a 63.
Photo courtesy of Calgary Country Club.
EDMONTON COUNTRY CLUB c. 1917
Locker Room and Professional’s Shop (left), Ladies outing on hole #9 (right)
Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives
1914 was not a vintage year either. However, it began in a spirit of renewal. The new clubhouse was in place and membership was still fairly strong. In the spring, the shareholders and directors approved the engagement of a motorbus service to transport members from the City out to the Club. This was due to the uncertainty and expense of private carriage. Members were advised that
“…motorbuses or horse-vehicles (according to the condition of the road) would leave from 101st Street and Jasper Avenue and pick up members along the road…”
Pick up cost $1.00 a head and two hours’ prior arrangement with the livery service was required. How long the service continued, we do not know.
1914 reveals the first recorded agitation for a bridge across the ravine dividing the short finishing par 3 (which at the time was being played as the ninth hole). Members were quickly tiring of the club-carrying portage down and then up the steep ravine to reach the green. This followed much too closely a taxing climb up the demanding 390-yard seventeenth hole. Hole # 17 originated from a tee located near the pumphouse on the riverbank, running uphill and northerly until it levelled off above the escarpment, and continued to a green located about 200 feet south of the present 17th green. The two holes, back to back, were proving, quite simply, too much for the older members. But nothing could be done at the time. There was no money.
The rules of play then in force reveal a curious pecking order for men, women and junior members. Ladies and Juniors were significantly restricted. They could tee off during the following weekend hours; on Saturdays before 1:00 p.m. and after 3:00 p.m.; on Sundays before 9:30 a.m. and between 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and after 3:00p.m. But even so under Rule 10 the Ladies were still far more equal than Juniors. It allowed:
“Unless playing with a senior member, junior members shall not tee off until all Ladies wanting to play have left the tee.”
1914, as it turned out was the introduction of five years of nothing but trouble for the Edmonton Country Club. By late 1913, the fallout from a worldwide depression had settled on Canada’s cities. Grain prices plunged, the Grand Trunk Pacific had gone bankrupt, prices spiralled and incomes dropped. In 1914 and its aftermath the City of Edmonton took back 75,000 residential and commercial lots for non-payment of taxes alone. The public mood had turned to despair. Edmonton’s population (following 1912 amalgamation with Strathcona) had reached 72,000, but unemployment was rampant. By mid-1914 Club membership and revenue were dropping substantially. War had broken out in August and members were joining up. Lost sales began to decline, and worst of all Saunders went into default on his 80-acre purchase. The boom was clearly over.
Austerity was called for. On August 23rd Barrett, the Club’s professional, was let go. The Club had to refuse to reimburse its top players for expenses they incurred in attending the 1914 Alberta Championships in Calgary. Whatever the cost of cutting the lower nine fairways was, it was to be avoided, imaginatively, by grazing sheep on them. The Board’s annual statements, usually printed and mailed to the shareholders, were to be simply typed and circulated among them during the annual meeting itself. By November 5th members had been advised that “until further notice” the clubhouse and other facilities would be closed owing, “to non payment of fees by a large number of the members and general lack of support.” Worse yet, Prohibition, and the threat is posed to the revenues of a private club, loomed on the political horizon.
The Club reopened in the spring of 1915 in fresh but misplaced enthusiasm. It hired a new manager, Mr. S. B. Stow. But membership continued to decline. From about 400 at its 1913 peak, it plummeted to 167 in 1916 and, worse, to 96 gentlemen golfers in 1917. Dues set at $15.00 annually for shareholder males and $5.00 for the ladies, trickled in. Green fees at $1.00 per day weren’t much help. Erection of the suspension bridge, as well as other lesser improvements, was kept on hold. To scrape a little extra income the Club grew and sold hay (under the aegis of the Hay Committee, of course).
Nothing seemed to go right. The last thing the ailing Club needed, it got. A flood. The Great Edmonton Flood of 1915. In June, 1915, the river rose 34 feet in 48 hours, submerging the flat lands and so, half the golf course. The whole river valley was inundated. Even the stability of the Low Level Bridge was threatened by the swollen river. But as the murky waters receded the Club fought back. Clutching rake, hoe and shovel, an armada of golfers descended to the flat and liberated their fairways and greens from a thick sludge of river silt and other debris.
Around the club, support for Canada’s war effort was quite enthusiastic. Many members had joined up. Some lost their lives, including architect Roland W. Lines. The minutes poignantly reveal that the directors approved a fee remission of $10.00 to one young solider-member who had lost an arm at the front. Others who had joined up, including Vice-President Colonel Jamieson, were exempted from payment of their standing fess and subscriptions for the rest of their service. Enlarged portraits of British military luminaries, including Lord Kitchener, were framed and mounted in the lounge. The Club tried to throw itself into the war effort by writing to the Honourable J. A. Lougheed, Acting Minister of Militia, offering the use of the Club’s holdings as military camp for the duration of hostilities. The offer was gratefully declined.
In the summer of 1916 with revenues drying up, the Club was pressed by George Debenham for his back wages as greenskeeper and, with Barrett gone, doubling as the Club’s professional. A settlement was struck. In full payment, Debenham was given the Club’s two cows and allowed the use of the Club’s premises for “catering” purposes. He was, however, instructed to sell Jacques’ Eclipse golf balls to the members for fifty cents each. They were to be purchased from Sommerville’s Hardware. John Sommerville was still a director if the Club, but that was okay. The Club has always favoured its directors and shareholders in day-to-day purchases.
All bets settled, 4 members teeing off on #1. C.W. Cross cabin (across river) shown on left.
Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives.
The Club seems to have had a love-hate relationship with Mr. Debenham, its first greenskeeper. In 1916 Debenham had been warned for “catering” liquor out of the clubhouse during Prohibition. He was fired for unidentified “misconduct” in 1918, and a returning solider, J. Gartell, hired in his stead. Debenham returned to the Club in 1919 but was again replaced, this time by W. Langton who had worked at the City Victoria Links. Debenham regained favour once again and was hired to fence the upper perimeters of the Club property, as straying outside livestock was becoming a problem. He was to be paid $65.00 for this. The work proved deficient and Debenham had to be sued and garnisheed.
1918 had to be the Club’s low ebb. The lower nine had been closed to play owing to lack of membership and to reduce maintenance costs. Only three shareholders, H. Milton Martin, Vern Porter and Percy Abbott showed up for the annual meeting. No matter. Again, necessity mothered invention. The rule defining a quorum was promptly amended from ten to three.
Income, though badly needed, was not accepted from anybody. Nor was the stylish clubhouse indiscriminately rented out. The spring social calendar of two Westend beaux garcons was rudely set back when on June 19th, 1918 the secretary icily recorded that “a request from Howard Emery and Bruce Smith for the use of the clubhouse for holding a dance was refused.”
The war ended in November 1918, and the Club’s prospects brightened, as many members would soon be demobilized and return to the City. A committee, made up of James A. McKinnon, Liberal wheelhorse, (and federal cabinet minister to be) and prominent City lawyer S.B. Woods, negotiated the redemption of the Saunders’ subdivision from the municipality of Spruce Grove, which had acquired the land for unpaid taxes. The Club got the 80 acres back in return for payment of $750.00 in full settlement of the parcel’s unpaid balance. This, of course, was the land that had sold for $46,000.00 six years earlier. The lots would be resold in the 1920’s.
1919 saw the Club paid successive honours. In August, Munro Hunter won his third straight Provincial Championship (they were not held from 1915 to 1918). The tournament was held at the Country Club and Hunter defeated clubmate H.M. Stratton 6 and 5 in the finals.
Memory of the 1919 tournament lives on apart from the quality of the golf. It was still Prohibition, and a host of visiting golfers were on hand. But the Club had nothing to entertain them with. That was until the night before the qualifying round when someone produced two cases of contraband Irish whisky. Cheap Irish whisky. The party was on. Forty years later, Club member Neil D. Maclean delicately remembered the carnage…”There was a fight in every corner and a f_____ in every bunker!” The toll from the party may possibly be gauged by next day’s scores. Munro Hunter was the only qualifier to break 80.
Next there was a visit of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales (late Edward VIII) who, with his entourage, lunched and golfed at the Club on September 13th, 1919, immediately after he had received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Alberta. This took place during his Canadian post-War tour.
SEPTEMBER 13, 1919
His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), visited the Edmonton Country Club,
lunched and golfed. He was the guest of E.C. Emery K.C.
Photo courtesy of Alberta Archives.
However, the Club was still badly hobbled by debt. It had to be reorganized in 1919 as the Edmonton Golf & Country Club. This was a new entity, which lasted until 1945, and which took over the original company’s assets. New shares were exchanged for old, and the Club’s liabilities were rescheduled. With a strengthening membership and a better economy, long planned improvements could now be addressed. The water problem was partially put down. The recurring cost of importing water – “a stout item”, in the recollection of 1922 president George B. Henwood – was to be overcome by the installation of a mechanized watering system which would pipe water under pressure up the hill from the North Saskatchewan river. The water would be used in the course, in the locker room, and in the clubhouse. Up to this time, rainwater had been collected on the roof of the locker room and used only for showers. Drinking water had always been trucked in from Jasper Place. Only in the 1980s did we obtain City water services. The cost of the new, 1922, system was a massive $12,554.00 but it had to be done and so it was.
The 1920 completion of the 18th hole footbridge – long awaited – was a great relief. Instead of having to inch their way down the wall of the steep ravine and up the opposite side to complete the last hole, members now had the direct convenience of their footbridge. A design of Club member and structural engineer R.P. (Bob) Graves, the completed bridge drew much professional interest. Bolted to two 8” steel cables the 290-foot structure was designed to stand a live load of 100 tons, although passage in a high wind was a real adventure. It was to be replaced in the mid 1930’s by a new bridge of suspension design but at the same location.
The free-swinging bridge had one legendary moment. That was when Dunc Sutherland jumped off it. But the jump was to the refuge of a nearby poplar tree. The tree held up – and Dunc held on. Having won his bet of $5.00, Dunc the shinnied down the tree to the floor of the ravine – some 86 feet – and climbed back up to the men’s bar to collect it!
The 1920’s began in optimism. “Scotty” Sutherland was the new professional, and membership, as well as interest, was on the rise. Competitions were welcomed and the golf was outstanding. For example, the Inter-City Championships were held at the Club in 1921. Calgary was represented by a team featuring the young T.C. (Tommy) Morrison, reigning Alberta Amateur Champion, and the transplanted Edmontonian, Munroe Hunter. Edmonton fielded Dunc Sutherland and Bert Gee from the Victoria Club. Awed galleries were entertained by the heroics of Morrison who launched a 330-yard drive – measured – on today’s ninth hole. He got home on the 480-yard eleventh with another astonishing drive and a mere mashie shot, to the delight of all. Except Sutherland and Gee. They lost seven and a quarter points to seven.
Bob Graves’ footbridge.
Dunc Sutherland, recalled his early days as the Clubs’ professional in some 1985 correspondence when he was 89.
“We had a big gate to open before we entered the Club grounds… a big barn was where we looked after two horses, one cow and a bunch of chickens…the big barn was my Pro Shop. They built a new chicken shed but one morning they were all back at their old roosting places. It looked like St. Helens. They crapped on all my goods. After that I had my first sale.
We used to visit the river and cut our own ice in blocks and stored same at the old barn. It was hauled up by sleigh and a team of horses. We also had to haul our own water supply from the river. We had a new pipeline built but couldn’t use same until the cold weather parted. The lounge was well heated with a potbelly stove. The dining room opened after the cold weather left us 20 or 25 below at times…I was never idle, no assistant, a junior helped me on the weekends. (I repaired clubs) all wooden shafts… and Jack Starkey broke lots of putters – a good customer. I saw the water installed and the bridge built…James Ramsey helped the Club a lot and Julian Garrett was a great secretary…”
Dunc Sutherland and his staff in 1927. (Dunc is in the center in suit).
Photo courtesy of the Glenbow Archives.
There were, of course, competitive challenges that had to be faced. An upstart but attractive Mayfair Golf and Country Club, comfortably located in the City core, would soon compete for golfers. The Hudson’s Bay Prince Rupert Club was in the planning stage as well. But Prohibition was going to end; the economy was stirring, and a no-nonsense group of businessmen, led by H. Milton Martin, Julian Garrett, H.M.E. Evans, and Col. James Ramsey – men who knew how to get things done – were in control.
Fire, flood, and the hemorrhage of the war years were behind and by 1921 the Club; in the sense of its improvements – bridges, roads and watering systems – was beginning to take the shape we know today. The Edmonton Country Club had survived, and would flourish, on the loyalty and luck of a stubborn core of its members.
The 1920’s was golf’s golden decade in Edmonton. The Country Club led the way as the course favoured by local competitors. Some Country Club members, mostly older ones, joined the less demanding Mayfair and the public Prince Rupert course located on the north end of the Hudson’s Bay Reserve (120 Street and 109 Avenue). But, all in all, the Club enjoyed steady membership expansion and financial health. First of all the club upgraded and reopened the lower nine, which had been, closed since1918. Prohibition ended in 1923 and the Club’s bar sales and revenues soared. Still the ravine road was a continuing problem. In wet weather stranded golfers would have to stay at the Club because only horses, not cars, could get through. Male members had to telephone home and tearfully explain their overnight absence. With this little ritual out of the way, they could return to the bar or the ongoing poker game that was held in the attic of the locker room. It was not until 1925 that the road was finally gravelled, mostly at the insistence of the ladies.
A small indication of the enthusiasm of the members was recalled by old-timer Bill Simpson. There was an extended Indian summer in 1921. In fact there was no snow until the New Year. The members’ appetite for competition resulted in the holding of a tournament on Christmas Day.
The Alberta Amateur Championships returned to the Club in 1922 with Jim Hutcheon of Calgary the winner. It was again hosted in 1934 when Bobby Procter beat Whit Mathews. The Country Club, having lost Munro Hunter, had no leading amateur players in serious competition in the early 1920s and would not have them until Jack Cuthbert and Harvey Day emerged in the late 1920s. Provincial Ladies Championships were hosted in 1929 and 1933, Calgary’s Mrs. Roy Horne winning both. However, the Club’s little professional Dunc (Scotty) Sutherland was a different story. While the Club’s professional he won several City Opens against competition provided by the two Harry Shaw’s, Sr. and Jr., Bert Gee of the Edmonton Municipal Club as well as Bill Spittal and Tommy Morrison playing out of the Mayfair. Dunc’s biggest win was in the old Western Canada Open held in 1925. Beyond that he won the Alberta Open in 1923 and Saskatchewan Opens in 1922 and 1923. Dunc (Scotty) Sutherland could play the game as well as teach it.
Dunc was born at Tain in the Northwestern Highlands of Scotland in 1896. As a lad he went to work as an assistant to the legendary Willie Anderson at the Tain Golf Club. He couldn’t have found a better mentor than Willie Anderson, who in the 1900’s had won four United States Open Championships in five years, a record never equalled. In 1914 Dunc went to war with the Seaforth Highlanders. He was wounded twice and discharged in 1917. He came to Canada in early 1919, catching on as the professional at the Medicine Hat Golf Club. Less than a year in Medicine Hat made Edmonton’s Golf and Country Club look better and better. In 1920 he was engaged as the Club’s Professional and Manager, employment which he held until 1928. At that time the job at Point Grey Golf Club in Vancouver opened up and Dunc’s Scottish professional pals in Vancouver, Davey Black (Shaughnessy Golf Club), Freddie Wood (Quilchena Golf Club) and Alex Duthie (Jericho Golf Club) talked him into leaving Edmonton to fill the Point Grey job and the share Vancouver’s temperate golf climate with them.
Sutherland v. The Haig
Dunc Sutherland’s chance for lasting glory arrived on July10, 1925. That was the day Dunc locked horns with the fabled Walter Hagen, Jr. Their 18-hole match was played at the Country Club. Dunc should have won it. He had been two up after nine and stood even with Hagen on the 16th tee. It was there that Hagen talked Dunc into a bad tee shot “…You play a nice game Dunc. I haven’t seen you hit a slice all day…” Dunc promptly showed Hagen that he could slice too, losing 16, 17 and the match. But it was a great show for the 800 spectators who showed up and it certainly was Edmonton’s premiere golfing event of the 1920’s.
Hagen, fresh from recent victories in the P.G.A. Championship (1924 and 1925) and the British Open in 1924, had taken his friend Bob Harlow’s advice to cash in on his popularity by doing some brainstorming. Harlow arranged a Canadian tour where Hagen would play in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver, Medicine Hat and Calgary. During the tour Sir Walter thoroughly enjoyed the rum and the ladies, still showing up each morning to trounce the local professionals. But Dunc came closest. After their match Dunc drove Hagen to the train station. Hagen asked Dunc what his share of the purse had amounted to. Dunc replied, “Nothing”, so Hagen slipped him $50.00. Dunc would, however, get some revenge in 1932. He and Davey Black would soundly defeat Hagen and Horton Smith in an exhibition four-ball match held at Point Grey.
But Dunc was gone from Edmonton by 1928. He took with him the Country Club’s course record at 66. Dunc Sutherland made a lot of friends both inside the clubhouse and on the course. In his eight years in Edmonton he truly vitalized the local golf scene. The Club had rewarded him with a gold watch and badge for his win in the Western Open. The members gave him another watch when he left.
Dunc’s successor was Bill (Pop) Brinkworth. Bill was an N.W.M.P. Sergeant stationed at Regina, later becoming a golf professional at Moose Jaw. He, too, had played Hagen in 1925. Bill was a popular professional and he knew how to build golf courses as well. He remained at the Club until 1936. Then he went to Jasper Park Lodge. He returned to Edmonton in 1957 to build the Derrick Club. But before he left the Country Club, he built the new back nine. He also supervised the construction of the first suspension bridge (which replaced Bob Graves’ 1920 foot-bridge), and put in a miniature pitch and putt course on the point south of the parking lot. None of these things came easily because the depression had hit in 1929 and finding revenue, to say nothing of capital, for improvements, was a real problem. But among the members of the Edmonton Golf and Country Club was department store owner James Ramsey. Major Edward G. Palmer had created today’s Club in 1911. In 1934 Col. James Ramsey would rescue it.
Sutherland vs. Hagen, July 25
Top Photo: Hagen driving on the first tee.
Middle Photo: The Haig with his gallery.
Bottom Photo: Match completed.;
Standing (from left): George MacKintosh – Edmonton Journal, Dunc Sutherland, Julian Grant – Club President,
Walter Hagen – British Open, USOGA Champion, Frank W. Mills.
Kneeling (from left): Harry Shaw Sr., Reg Henley, George Boothe.
By 1934 the Club was on life support. It couldn’t borrow because the ravages of the depression had slashed membership revenues. Shares went begging. It had land, but the banks didn’t regard rural land, even lots of it, as an asset to lend against. The Club had payrolls to meet, taxes to pay and a new back nine to build. So it decided to issue debentures. Golf club debentures have never been prudent investment and they certainly weren’t in the 1930’s either. But to save the Club Jim Ramsey bought $75,000 worth of them (about $750,000 today), when hew others would touch them. Literally he financed the back nine, the new suspension bridge and provided operating cash that was sufficient to get the Club through the depression and the war years. His generosity became thoroughly apparent at the time of his death. When he died in the 1940’s he had instructed his estate to forgive all the Club’s debt to him, except a mere $6,000. In response, a grateful executive commissioned a Grandmaison portrait of him, truly the Club’s benefactor. It now hangs in the reception entrance of the clubhouse.
Col. Ramsey was born in Michigan in 1864. His family moved to Ontario in 1868, young James taking work in the merchandising business when he was 14. He came to Edmonton in 1911 and by 1914 had opened James Ramsey Ltd., a full service department store in the old Tegler Building, where the main branch of the Bank of Montreal now stands. It proved to be an immensely successful business and it was sold to the T. Eaton chain in 1929. Truly he was an exceptional citizen. Ramsey was an alderman of the City of Edmonton in 1915 and 1916 and was elected a Conservative M.L.A. in 1917. He chaired several Victory Bond drives during World War I. He served many years on the Board of Directors of the Club as well as a term as Club President in 1923. As long as there is an Edmonton Country Club, James Ramsey’s support and his generosity should never be forgotten.
Some Eminent Country-Clubbers
While the Country Club of the 1920’s and 1930’s was heavily involved in Edmonton society – outside golf tournaments and banquets, teas, weddings, receptions and Saturday night supper dances – it also witnessed some less serene moments.
Dunc Sutherland, reminiscing at the age of 89, 60 years later, remembered his pal Jack Starky very well. “…He never beat me in all the years we played, …[Jack] broke lots of putters…” Jack Starky was far from the best player in the Club’s history, but he can lay claim to the title of its most controversial. As a golfer he was good enough to win the Club Championship in 1933, but it is from his volcanic, gusty life-style that Starky’s reputation was established.
Jack was born in Iowa in 1895 and came to Edmonton in 1914, where he drew a substantial living from coal and paving businesses that he formed. He was robust, competitive and outgoing. Whether you were his friend or his foe, Jack never left any doubts about where you stood in his estimates. To get a job in Jack’s Namao coal mine you had to satisfy him that you, as well, were tough. To prove it, you had to fight Starky. It was part of the job application. If you gave Jack half a workout you got your job.
Jack joined the Country Club in the 1920’s. He divided his golf between it and the Jasper Park Lodge. His explosions on both courses have become the stuff of legend. One caddy laughed at Jack for successively dunking tee shots on Jasper’s 14th hole. Jack promptly threw him into Lake Beauvert as well. At the Country Club, Jack once topped a critical tee shot in to the 18th hole ravine. Thinking the golf ball might get lonely, he started throwing his clubs, one by one, after it. Johnny Letke, his caddy, thought it was part of his job to save as many of Jack’s clubs as possible. So he started running across the suspension bridge, still carrying Jack’s depleted golf bag. Starky, now insane with frustration, ran after him. He caught up to him halfway up the first fairway when Letke stumbled. Latke was sure that he was going to be punched out and, at least, fired. Actually, Starky, his rage dissipated, gave him a $20 bill. Jack was alleged to have thrown his clubs into the North Saskatchewan after three-putting the 18th hole in a critical McMullen Cup match at Highlands. That was hardly noteworthy or out of character, except that he did it from the pedestrian deck of the High Level Bridge after stopping his car and shutting down Sunday afternoon bridge traffic while he made his statement. One spring day in the mid-30’s a black bear sow and her cub were lolling between the 18th green and the Jasper Park Lodge clubhouse. Naturally the guests at the lodge gave them a wide berth. Not Starky. On this day Starky’s competitive juices were running high. Bogeying the 18th hole had cost him gobs of money. After throwing his putter at his golf bag, he turned to walk directly to the locker room, but the bears blocked his path. Starky didn’t hesitate. One kick to the sow’s head and both bears fled.
J.B. (Jack) STARKY
Age 69, Jasper Park Lodge 1964
But it was the ignitable Starky’s 1937 encounter with City lawyer George Boothe that discredited him and led to his expulsion from the Club. It went like this; Starky was in the locker room changing his clothes. Boothe came in after playing his round. Boothe did not see Starky. Boothe made the mistake of announcing his prescriptions to cure Starky’s wife Simone’s slow and aimless play. Starky heard him. Starky, who didn’t like Boothe anyway, dragged Boothe outside and beat him senseless on the old 8th tee. Boothe was taken to hospital. Starky later recalled, “… They called me from the hospital at 4:30 a.m. and told me Boothe would live.” Starky was expelled from the Club and told never to return. Unflustered and certainly unrepentant, he joined Mayfair and played the rest of his Edmonton golf there.
Over time the Club mellowed. It allowed Jack to play there during city tournaments. Jack was a great storyteller and in his latter years regaled his young listeners with tales of Jasper and the rumbustious early days of the Edmonton Golf and Country Club. In his declining years jack suffered from testicular cancer. His jewels had to be surgically removed. Jack had the preserved and kept them on the mantle above the fireplace in his Lake Edith cabin. Jack golfed, hunted, drank, made money, travelled and flew his aircraft. Curiously, he was also an accomplished figure skater. As one can see, John B. Starky drank heftily from the goblet of life. In a former age Jack might have been a voyageur; in a later age no less than a tank commander.
There were other notable disagreements on Club premises. Neil D. Maclean once socked “Slops” Dunlop, another lawyer, at a Saturday night supper dance. Dunlop, drunk, had insulted Neil D.’s daughter. Maclean too was expelled from the Club, but only for a year, which he spent at the Highlands. He returned to complete 44 years of Country Club membership. Art Wiebe and Eddie Shore, both fearsome NHL enforcers, once got in a fight on the 17th green. How it ended no one remembers, but probably it went to its conclusion. Only a fool or a blind man would have stepped between those two.
As Bill Brinkworth departed to the Jasper Park Lodge in 1936, Joe Pryke, Bill’s assistant, had taken over as head professional. Brinkworth’s duties as grounds superintendent were assumed by George Alexander. Alexander, in turn, was replaced by his assistant, a young Polish immigrant and mechanical wizard, Frank Karas. As Howard Emery has warmly written,
“No history of the Edmonton Country Club would be adequate unless it contained a tribute to Frank Karas. With worn out equipment, this faithful, competent and dedicated man single-handedly maintained the course, water systems, utilities and buildings for over 30 years…”
After selling his small farm, which overlooked the Patricia Ravine, he returned to his native Poland in 1967, soon after which, word was received of his death. During one hard depression year, Frank was owed $400, his yearly wage. Without money to pay him, the Club signed over 20 acres of farmland to him. That 20-acre parcel is found today in the middle of Westridge subdivision, and is worth a little in excess of the $20 per acre that it fetched in the 1930’s.
John Dower was Greens Committee Chairman throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s. A humane and philanthropic man, he devoted himself to the continued improvement of his course and its grounds. Some older members recall John Dower, owner of Dower Brothers Wholesale, delivering sacks of trap sand to Frank Karas, the greenskeeper. Dower brought them and other supplies from the City to the Club in the trunk of his Cadillac. He had paid for them out of his own pocket, as was his habit.
The First Kilburn
The pre-eminent golfer of the late 1930’s was Edmonton haberdasher Doug Kilburn. A rather demanding and testy soul, Doug was quite serious about his game. The caddies certainly didn’t care for him at all, but Doug won four successive Club Championships between 1936 and 1939. This record was not matched until the 1970’s and only then by another Kilburn. John Kilburn won four Club Championships between 1970 and 1973, eleven in total spread over his 33 years of membership.
W.A. (Bill) White
This warm and friendly giant of a man served over 30 years as the Club’s secretary-treasurer and without remuneration. He was also in charge of membership. Bill White was Mr. Country Club inside and outside the Club. In 1994 Bill died when well into his nineties. He was always proud of the Honorary Life Membership granted to him in 1963.
The “New” Back Nine
Laid out in 1911, golf architect L.G. White’s lower, river valley nine had some disadvantages, which quickly became apparent. The four holes that lay wholly on the flat river bench were solid but comparatively unchallenging. They doubled back parallel to each other but were not delineated by trees or bush. The remaining five holes – all of which incorporated the steep escarpment into their play – were all quite creative, but they were tough sledding for the older members. In particular, holes 16, 17 and 18 (before the foot bridge came along) demanded skills and endurance usually associated with mountain climbing. A lot of members played the upper nine twice, foregoing the back nine. There were other problems. At least 90 to 100 feet below the high bank, playing the lower holes was very cold, especially in the spring or fall. There was simply less sunshine. Beyond that, the great flood of 1915 did not rule out the expectation of another.
The building of the footbridge across the ravine in 1920 helped to some degree, but it was obvious that sooner or later the back nine would have to be relocated to the same level as the front nine. Of course nothing could be done until land acquisition and construction costs were secured. Bill Brinkworth, James Ramsey, Howard Emery and Harry Evans seized that opportunity in 1932. Brinkworth pronounced the west lands to be ideal in character for eight new holes (#18 would remain as is). He thought that the two converging ravines and the high riverbank had great potential for a golf course. Best of all there was good soil and drainage. Ramsey pledged all necessary funding. Edmonton realtor Evans and lawyer Emery would look after the necessary land purchases, which would be made, so far as possible, on behalf of the Club as an undisclosed principal. Secrecy would keep the prices down. To avoid speculation by area landowners, the four men inspected the needed parcels be night. The purchases from farmers were quietly made by Messrs. Evans and Emery, with some parcels picked up from tax forfeiture sales. Even club members were kept in the dark until all the acreage was secured. It was not until 1934’s annual meeting that the shareholders were told of the success of the project. What had been done was immediately ratified. And why not? Jim Ramsey was going to pay for it. Original 1911 shareholder Bill Reid agreed to buy the bottom land to add to his area farm. This would defray much of the upper land acquisition cost.
AUGUST 6, 1933
Heading for the 14th tee, Mess’rs Wood, Hutton and Sturrick.
Photo courtesy of Alberta Archives.
In the spring of 1934 construction, under Bill Brinkworth, began. It included the westerly arm of the 1922 watering system, the contouring of new fairways and greens with traps , tees and grass bunkers to follow. The cost was about $20,000. The work was accomplished without bulldozers, gradalls, backhoes, draglines or any of today’s hydraulic or powered earth-moving equipment.
Some 50 years later Gordon Brinkworth, Bill’s son, looked back on the job;
“The construction of the new nine holes at the country club was initiated in order to align the course wholly with the upper nine to the same elevation, and alleviate the long climb up the old #17 and improve on the switch-back method of play that was offered by the old lower nine. Coupled with this was also a good financial deal in land transfer that was made with Bill Reid, an affluent club member and gentleman farmer, who subsequently bought the old lower nine as good bottomland farming.
I can still remember H.M.E. Evans, the Club President, congratulating my dad for a job well done when it was all completed and ready for play. Mr. Evans informed him that my dad missed his original cost estimate by 20¢.
It is hard for me to parallel the work methods and equipment of those days and compare it with practices of today. Looking back at everything we had to work with then and the methods used, it seems so primitive. Teams of horses were utilized to pull Fresno Scrapers and tumble bugs to excavate the dirt, in order to contour the greens and tees.
They were also the means of excavating sand traps and bunkers. Horse drawn wagons with specially devised sand boxes were used to haul the sand for the traps…”
(From left): Col. James Ramsey. Howard T. Emery, Wm. H. Brinkworth and
H.M.E. Evans open the new upper back nine. Shown on the 10th tee.
The new nine was ready for play by 1936. Ramsey, Brinkworth, Emery and Evans played the inaugural round, fittingly. Hundreds of people came out to inspect the new nine on an April Sunday in 1936. Even the Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Alberta, W.L. Walsh, attended the opening. Many tributes were offered. In an age when even the Edmonton Journal cheered private golf clubs, Sports Editor George MacIntosh joined in the enthusiasm, waxing;
“Then came Brink.
In the spring of 1929 W.H. (Bill) Brinkworth was appointed ground superintendent and since has become a regular fixture. Under his supervision many pleasing improvements have been made on the course and he enjoys the deserved reputation of providing, season after season, greens that stand comparison with anything in the country. He gets results, does Brinkworth, and one of his outstanding characteristic is well illustrated by the following. A man who doing some work for the Club replied to Brink’s expostulation as to his slowness by saying, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ Brink answered, ‘I wasn’t in charge of that job.’ “
Col. Ramsey. Dedication Ceremony, April 1936.
With the new suspension bridge in place providing access to the new nine, the Club’s fortunes seemed assured. Compliments rolled in. The secretary of the Royal Canadian Golf Association would later declare that the Club had the best group of par three’s of any course in Canada. Brink’s favourite was hole #13. #16 was the most troublesome. With its narrow fairway, ravine and river bank, the Sports Committee never could decide whether it should be played as a par 4 or par 5. Tributes notwithstanding, the Great Depression ground on until it was tempered by World War II.
Fifty years ago, and even long before that, caddies were a large part of Country Club golf. Caddying, and hunting balls, was a way to make some money and learn the game by watching it played by experts. Member’s sons, kids from Jasper Place, or from Edmonton’s affluent west end and local farmers alike, would bicycle or hitchhike to the Country Club on weekends and for tournaments. Fifteen or 20 eager caddies would always be on call at the Caddy Shack behind the Pro Shop. The Honourable Mr. Justice Donald H. Bowen, together with his boyhood friend Don Cormie, caddied at the Country Club in the late 1930’s. In May 1986 shortly before his death, Bowen was asked to provide his memories of his first profession. He did so and they are reproduced as “A Worm’s Eye View of the Country Club”.
Older caddies awaiting play.
Photo courtesy of Alberta Archives.
A WORM’S EYE VIEW OF THE COUNTRY CLUB
“The History of the Country Club would not be complete without some mention and recognition of the caddies. While golf clubs were established for the benefit of relatively affluent members, before the days of the cart a great deal of their enjoyment of the game depended on those beasts of burden – the caddies. Skinny twelve and thirteen-year-old boys would cheerfully carry those huge leather bags, loaded with clubs for 18 holes, for, in my time, 50 cents a round for a “B” caddy or a magnificent 75 cents a round for an “A” caddy. This included advice as to the distance to the green and the club to use, keeping one’s eye on the ball in flight and then finding the ball in the bush within minutes. It entailed playing in rain, without umbrellas or rain gear, and playing in blinding heat at other times. I don’t ever remember, though, the caddies complaining. We were all happy to be able to earn the relatively modest stipend on the hard years of the thirties. We were healthy and happy leading a clean life in the outdoors and always trying our best, with few exceptions, to do a good job for the members.
Ordinarily, the caddies were picked up on the corner of 156 Street and Stony Plain Road by the members in their cars. Two or three of us would congregate at that point on a sunny Saturday or Sunday early morning. We could always count on affable members such as Moe Lieberman or George O’Connor giving us a lift in their (to our eyes) rather splendid vehicles. The ride out to the Club was as much a treat as the money we made while there. Sometimes the members drove down 149 Street and we were picked up there. I remember at one point, Jack Starkey driving down 149 Street at a terrific rate of speed going to the Club. Jack was somewhat difficult to caddy for and not too popular with the caddies. On this particular day, two caddies borrowed a set of coveralls and drenched the chest with chicken blood. This, together with a large skinning knife inserted between the arm and the chest, gave a reasonable facsimile of a dead man lying in the weeds beside this rural road. Jack Starkey saw this out of the corner of his eye and brought his car to a n abrupt halt in a cloud of dust and flying gravel, and came running back to see the “corpse”. At that point the “corpse” came to life and disappeared in the bush alongside the road. The air was blue with Jack’s swearing! It is interesting to note that of the two boys in question, one ended up as the president and owner of one of Alberta’s most successful large financial companies and the other as a Supreme Court Judge. The work ethic installed as a caddy stood them in good stead.
Although the vast majority of the members who used caddies were a delight to work for, as always there were some who were extremely difficult. This led, without naming names, to a confrontation between a foursome and their caddies on the ninth green, resulting in the caddies laying down their bags and walking off! It was urged at the time that the caddies be barred from the Club. However, cooler heads prevailed mainly because most of the members valued their services and it was resolved by suspending them for a week. Justice triumphed.
We all had our favourite members, not only because they tipped 25 cents over the regular fee but mainly because they were courteous, decent, happy people to be around. To name only a few – people such as George O’Connor, Howard Emery and Neil Primrose were indeed a pleasure to serve. With them, if by chance a caddy failed to mark exactly a ball in the bush, there were no recriminations but rather co-operation was given by them in attempting to find it.
Smoky Gomulka was the caddy master. He lived on a farm on 156 Street just north of Stony Plain Road, but I’m sure he slept most times during the summer at the Club. Smoky was older than most of the caddies and had worked for some time in the Arctic among the Eskimos. His knowledge of hard trading made it difficult for the caddies to get a great deal from him for the balls they found in their spare time, although Jimmy Young made up for this by the vast quantities of balls that his fox terrier could bring out of the bush!
Smoky, also had the advantage of somehow having access to the members’ lockers. In those days the lockers were the places where the members kept their liquor. Smoky was able to gain access to this and was in the habit of taking an ounce or so out of various bottles from time to time. The members never missed such a small amount and the caddy master was kept happy.
Certain of the caddies stand out in my memory mainly because they were older. Some names come to mind – such as Dave MacKenzie, Ernie Hill, Richie Dallamore, Jim Young, George Diggins and the Sutton brothers. I think Scotty Sutton had the best deal at the Club. He rarely caddied a round but stayed most of the day in the caddy shack playing blackjack, successfully. I remember numerous occasions when I would come into the caddy shack at the end of 18 holes with my stipend and tip – and walk out an hour later with nothing, and my money tucked securely in Scotty’s pocket! It didn’t seem to matter much at the time.
The caddy’s life was not all hard work. There were many happy times for us around the Club in our spare time. One popular diversion was initiating the newcomers from time to time. These initiations became rougher and rougher as time went on, culminating in rolling one initiate in a barrel down the ravine by the suspension bridge. The young fellow lived, but initiations were stopped from that time on.
When I look today at the bridge across the ravine, I am reminded of a summer evening at the Club when time was hanging heavy. Most of the caddies were from Jasper Place and some of them had horses. This particular evening, on a dare, two of them rode bareback at full gallop across what I believe would be the second of the bridges installed over the ravine. Indeed it was a wild ride and ever since, when I think of that ride, it reminds me of Burns’ Brig O’Doon. Suffice to say the participants and the horses survived!
The opportunity to work as a caddy was in my view appreciated by all the caddies. It gave them a sense of camaraderie, a sense of responsibility, a sense of working hard for gain at a time when they were relatively young and immature. By rubbing shoulders with the members it gave them a goal to achieve in life. All in all, a rewarding experience that I am happy I didn’t miss.
From my home today I can look across the river to the present clubhouse and practice fairway – and it still provokes a sense of pleasant nostalgia in me.”
– Don Bowen (1986)
Some Country Club caddies had more excitement then others. In 1929, His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta, William Egbert, accepted an invitation to golf at the Country Club. For him it proved to be a memorable day. The Vice-Regal party played the front nine, had lunch and then teed off on #10. To play #10 you teed off from the east side of today’s parking lot, playing a blind shot over the escarpment to a green on the lower flat 190 yards away. The shot had to carry heavy scrub on the hillside and so the four caddies were sent below to keep track of the resting place of each tee shot, as it could not be seen from the tee. The Lieutenant-Governor’s ball, well struck, finished near the green. The caddies were bored and restless as the golfers trudged down the hill following the path through the scrub. Egbert’s caddy decided that it would be fun to roll his golf ball closer to the pin. The caddy’s touch was so deft that the ball rolled into the cup. None of the caddies, including a young Alex Olynyk, had time to retrieve the ball as the golfers were now in sight. For the caddies there were no easy options. If they confessed each caddy would have been sent up the hill and deprived of fee, probably never to caddy at the Edmonton Country Club again. So they looked on, nervously but quietly, as Egbert “discovered” his ball in the cup. There was an outburst of applause and congratulations from all present. For the rest of his years , His Honour, from Calgary, warmly recalled his round at the Edmonton Golf and Country Club and the hole-in-one he had scored.
Inevitably, the caddying profession was doomed by the invention of the pull cart (Bag Boys) and the 1950’s arrival of the motorized power cart. Kids would henceforth learn their golf from television and within reduced-cost memberships available at the City courses and at some of the private clubs. But there was no greater employment thrill for a 14-year old kid than to caddy for a scratch golfer, identifying with him so completely that he copied his player’s swing, his mannerisms, and his speech, all the while silently cursing his opponents. As Don Bowen said, the caddy fee was almost incidental.
The years 1939-19446 punished the Club rather painfully. Almost half the senior male membership dropped out to join up. The Club was left with only 125 male members. Those who remained had to face the rising cost of the game as brought on by the war. Beyond that, the war effort deprived the golfers of new equipment, golf balls, clubs, and footwear. Everything was scarce and expensive and worst of all, gas rationing discouraged travel to and from the Country Club. Liquor and food rationing didn’t help either. Car pools were popular and naturally lots of good tee times were available. But the Club was really sputtering. Good help was hard to find inside the Club House or on the grounds. Grounds Superintendent Frank Karas was forced to rely on teenagers Jack Meldrum and Butch Maveety to help him keep the course presentable. A.J. (Red) Hopps, Johnny Letke, left-handed portrait photographer Helmi Goertz and Pep Moon were the best amateurs around and, before he went to was and was taken prisoner by the Germans, Chicago Black Hawk Bobby Carse.
Pat Fletcher, who in 1954 would become the last Canadian to win the Canadian Open had taken over as Club professional. In 1942 he showed his administrative talents by doubling as the Club president. As the war ended he moved to Saskatoon. But the cash kick-start provided by James Ramsey a decade earlier was drying up and for the third time in its corporate life the Club faced receivership. The Club had little revenue and owed $70,000.00. Again the bankrupt Club turned to its members. In 1946, Neil Primrose, Bob Watson, Bob Driscoll and the ever-available Howard Emery, with some forbearance from its creditors, reorganized the Club, reverting to the original “Edmonton Country Club” name for the new corporation. The replacement shares would be resold to the members but were non-assessable. Some money was garnered by the sale of the last of the old Hyde Park subdivision lots located behind the 12th, 13th, and 14th holes. Each was an acre in size; each was sold for $100 with terms available! Otto Anderson was hired as managing professional with Ronny Fitch taken on as Steward. It was at this time that the Ladies Division and Executive were formed.
Looking north – Men’s Locker Room, Pro Shop and Clubhouse.
Photo courtesy of Alberta Archives.
The war forced many accommodations. The Country Club had its share too. The USAAF arrived in Edmonton in 1942. They were here to ferry combat aircraft to Alaska and even to Russia. Far from home, in a foreign land, and needing companionship, the officers of the Army Air Force bought a number of House memberships at the Club. They used them to the fullest. The Americans were good spenders and best of all they brought their Lucky Strikes, tax-free bourbon and Southern Comfort to the Club with their dates. Doing so, they re-invigorated the Club’s Saturday night dances. But at those affairs it was inevitable that some of Edmonton’s young lovelies would succumb to the lure of a smart new gabardine uniform, a set of wings, and a southern drawl, all under the seductive setting of Edmonton’s soft summer nights. Some of Edmonton’s fairest found marriage. Others had to settle for mere romance – fleeting, but still romance. The evidence was clear. Sunday morning searches of the mounds surrounding the 17th, 18th, 7th and 9th greens by knowing caddies would uncover empty highball glasses, Zippo lighters, sunglasses, loose change, the occasional money clip and the other paraphernalia of worry-free international relations.
As 1946 passed, the Club with the return of the young veterans seemed poised to regain the financial strength it had not enjoyed since 1929. The Edmonton Country Club had navigated its first half-century and greeted the challenges in the second. The late 1940’s would see substantial course improvements overseen by the internationally respected golf architect Stanley Thompson, the drilling of the Club’s exploratory oil well (and the members’ syndicate formed to finance it), the opening of the new Club House in 1956 and the holding of the Canadian Amateur Men’s Championship in 1961. In the darker side were the Clubhouse armed robbery of 1951 and the Carter homicides in 1952. But the Edmonton Country Club was back, it was healthy and it was here to stay