When speaking about centennial celebrations for golf clubs in British Columbia, the most frequent question asked is: “Where does our club rank in BC with regard to centennial celebrations?”
The following existing clubs have celebrated centennials since the first in 1993: Victoria Golf Club (1893), Vancouver Golf Club (1910), Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club (1911), Royal Colwood Golf Club (1913), Qualicum Golf Course (1913), Vernon Golf Club (1913), Cranbrook Golf Club (1913), Kamloops Golf Club (1914), Kelowna Golf Club (1915), and Penticton Golf Club (1915).
In 2018, the Fernie Golf Club begins a decade for golf club centennial celebrations. In fact, from 1918 – 1928 over fifty golf courses began operation. Research indicates more golf courses opened in this decade than any other time in the history of golf in the province. Golf became the preferred sport for citizens of small towns because residents from all ages and economic levels could play the game. City officials encouraged groups to build a golf course so the motoring tourists could be encouraged to stay one more night in the village “to play the best golf course in the province”. The golf course clubhouse became the community centre for the townspeople.
Golf historians believe Scots introduced the game to many regions of North America. The standard belief is: when a Scot arrived in an area, he immediately began the process to form a golf club and construct a course. With regard to the Fernie GC perhaps townspeople visited Cranbrook or the Okangan region, saw golf being played, and decided to form a golf club.
Maybe, a transplanted Scot, Alex (Sandy) Watson introduced the game to Fernie? In 1912, he arrived in the coal town to work as the government customs agent. By 1917, he had changed professions from the government to the Home Bank as their manager. With strong Scottish roots, Alex came with a golfing background. Did he inspire his fellow citizens to add golf to their summer activities after the curling season concluded in March? The Fernie GC officially formed on April 5, 1918 when a group of citizens met.
The attendees elected Alan Graham as President, R.M. Young as Vice-President, and Alex (Sandy) Watson as Secretary-Treasurer. S. Herchmer, Jas McLean, E. Daniels, E. K. Steward, and Thomas Prentice comprised the Executive Committee. This committee chose the land known as “Prentice Park” with a spur line of the Great Northern Railway forming the north boundary for the first golf course. When the local newspaper announced the new golf group required assistance, volunteers appeared for the work bees with shovels, rakes, hoes, and scythes ready to contribute to the cause. The aspiring golfers worked diligently to transform the land into a make shift links.
By the end of July, the work on the course was completed at a cost of $500. In August, Alex Watson and R.M. Young defeated A Graham and S. Herrchmer in the first club match over the newly competed course. In 1919 at the annual general meeting, the Board announced the course wintered well. The members chose W.R. Wilson, General Manager of the Crows Nest Pass Coal Co, as their Honorary President and R. Wood as the Honorary Vice President. These appointments began a seventy-year relationship between the Fernie GC and the coal company. In September, Fernie defeated Cranbrook 15 – 2 in the first inter-club match held on the course.
In 1920, the club officials hired a greens keeper to improve the playing conditions. The following year, golf professional Bob Smith of Nelson, laid out a new course across the spur line that formed the northern boundary of the original course. The club paid Crows Nest Pass thirty dollars per year. Basically this represented the equivalent amount the local farmers paid to the company for the right to graze their cattle on the company’s unused lands. Because golf became so popular by the mid-twenties, Watson encouraged Suddaby’s Drug & Bookstore to order golf supplies from Scotland.
The Hughes children became the most prominent champions produced at the Fernie GC. Research to date shows the Hughes family tree dates back to the 1850’s in Creggan Upper, Counties Armagh and Louth, Ireland. Like most Irish families Patrick Hughes and Mary McKenna Hughes had several children among them son Patrick Hughes. Probably for economic reasons, son Patrick left Ireland in the 1870’s for Lanarkshire, Scotland. He married and had at least seven children. The two oldest children, Patrick and Thomas, are listed in the 1901 Scotland census as coal miner hewers.
In 1903, Patrick, age 22, and Thomas, age 20, boarded the SS Sicilian from Glasgow, Scotland bound for Montreal, Quebec. The ship manifest listed the two brothers as bound for Fernie, British Columbia to work in the coalmines. Around 1908, Patrick married Elizabeth Shields. The couple had eleven children including: Ellen (b1912), Francis (b1914) Terry (b around 1923). Patrick, head of the household, is listed in the 1921 census as a clerk/salesman with an income of $1200 per year. Clearly, he had left the coal mining profession during the previous decade. The Fernie GC produced a number of prominent regional champions including Alex Watson, manager of Home Bank; Alan Graham, a lawyer for the firm of Herchmer & Martin, and Mrs. Agnes Lawes. Lawes won Crows Nest Pass Ladies Championship in 1925,’30,’31, and ’48. While at Fernie, Sandy won the Crow’s Nest Pass Men’s Championship in 1922,’24,’25, and’28.
After moving to Victoria, he won the 1928 Victoria City Men’s Amateur Championship. While caddying regularly for the club’s prominent players, the Hughes children honed their golfing skills by copying these champions. Newspaper accounts indicate the Hughes children participated in all sports such as badminton and swimming. There is no indication their parents ever played golf. In fact, one newspaper account in 1937 indicates, the parents had not seen their children play golf until the Fernie GC hosted the Crow’s Nest Pass Championship in 1937.