In the summer of 1993, Chateau Whistler golf course and hotel opened. For the complex’s first function, the hotel hosted the British Columbia Golf Association’s (BCGA) 100th anniversary gala dinner. Don Gardner, the Executive Director of the BCGA, planned the event. Peter Bentley, the CEO of the Canadian Forest Products Company CANFOR), sponsored the event. The attendees included the who’s who of British Columbia golf: past provincial, national, and international champions, British Columbia team members, prominent amateurs, and influential local professionals who played roles in the one- hundred year history of golf in the province.
Arv Olson, the Vancouver Sun sports reporter, launched his book “Backspin”. (A reflection on the first 100 years of golf in BC). The BC Golf Museum, in partnership with the Vancouver Park Board and the BCGA, hosted a championship using hickory shafted golf clubs at the Stanley Park Pitch & Putt golf course – BC’s first such facility. The BC Golf Museum also produced an exhibition utilizing the research on the earliest golf courses that we knew in 1993. The exhibition focused on clubs formed prior to 1913 commencing with the first organized golf club in the province, the Vancouver Country Club, located at Jerry’s Cove. In 1892, the Bell-Irvings enticed a group of Vancouver businessmen to form the Vancouver Country Club and build a course at Jerry’s Cove, now Jericho Beach. The exhibist showed the history of The Victoria Golf Club, the oldest golf club in its original location in Canada. The list of pre-1913 courses at the conclusion of this article illustrates the state of the research in 1993.
To locate the early courses, a researcher needed to find the original microfilm for the local newspaper for the area being researched. For example, to trace the roots for the Hedley Golf Club, formed in 1909, the investigation needed to be conducted at the local Princeton Museum and Archives. Starting with a clue, the researcher began by looking at microfilms for the “Hedley Gazette”. After an exhaustive, tedious, boring, and neck Breaking exercise, the microfilm screen could reveal the desired result. A heading such as: “The Locals are Playing Golf”, “A Group of Citizens are Forming a Golf Club”, “Golf is Being Introduced”, or “The Royal and Ancient Game Arrives” appeared on the screen. Clearly, the research took time. Sometimes important news clippings could be missed.
Today, because of the power of the internet, researching family roots, company origins, golf course formations, or golf professional movements is dramatically different. Genealogy companies, such as: Genealogy Bank, Fold3, Ancestry.com, Family Search.org, NewspaperArchives are scanning the historical newspapers of the world. By purchasing a monthly or yearly subscription to these databases, the researcher can conduct a word search in many of the local historical newspapers for towns in Canada, US, and Britain. In British Columbia, some of the historical newspapers show town life for locations that no longer exist. By entering the word “golf” into a specific newspaper, a simple click of the mouse on the “search button” instantly reveals every time the word “golf” appears in the newspaper. To easily locate these references, the search highlights the word “golf” in yellow.
This method produces a more comprehensive search than the old microfilm search. Clearly, it was impossible to hope to find every golf reference by visually viewing each page of the newspaper on the microfilm screen as the researcher turned the wheel.
This example illustrates how the research has become easier and more extensive. In 1993, the Museum believed golf had died in Vancouver at Moodyville in 1899. Utilizing the historical newspaper database produced by the University of BC library, a simple search reveals this was not the case. A search of the historical newspaper “The Express” published in North Vancouver shows golf was played on the Lynn Creek golf course until 1907. The Moodyville Rifle Range did not force the closure of the golf course in 1899 as previously believed. The course simply moved closer to Burrard Inlet and the rifle range reopened near its original location in 1894, only a little further inland.
A comparison of the 1993 list for pre-1913 golf courses with the 2017 list for pre 1913 courses shows a dramatic increase in the number of locations where local residents played golf. If the list is expanded to 1940, the number of golf courses that existed in BC shows golf was not a trivial game played by a few people as suspected in 1993.
When viewing the popularity of golf in western Canada and the US, the number of golf courses indicate golf played a major role in the social development of the towns. Utilizing the internet, the BC Golf Museum now has found the initial roots for golf in the western Canadian provinces and the western US states. Because database companies are providing access to additional historical newspapers monthly, the earliest references to “Golf in North America” will be revealed within the next decade.
The present challenge is to find the earliest golf references in North America. Definitely, the “Apple Tree Gang” who constructed a golf course in 1888 in Yonkers, New York, were not the first to introduce golf to the US. Perhaps, “The Royal Montreal GC” formed in 1873 in Montreal, Quebec was not the first golf club in North America as we now think.
The answer to the earliest roots for golf in North America lies buried the local historical papers. The internet will produce the answer.