Life on the links

June 2022

After a winter that seemed to go on forever, I have finally been able to dust off my golf clubs and hit the links. Such is the unpredictable nature of the game of golf at the Lakehead. You never know when Mother Nature is going to let you start the season or when she will end it. Regardless of that fact, the sport has provided local golf enthusiasts with many rounds of enjoyment over the years, dating back to the days when hickory shafts, mashies, niblicks and caddies were all the rage.

It was not until the formation of the (Royal) Montreal Golf Club in 1873, the first of its kind in North America, that golf was officially recognized as an organized sport in our country. Its popularity boomed during the 1890s with clubs developing all throughout the nation due to such factors as increased Scottish immigration, improved transportation and the inclusion of women in the game. In fact, golf was one of the first sports that welcomed women in an organized fashion, which may be why it holds a special place in my heart.

There are reports of the game of golf being played locally as far back as the late 1890s on courses that no longer exist. By the early 1900s a more organized form of golf started to take place, beginning with the development of the Thunder Bay Country Club. Purchasing land off Oliver Road in 1910, the original shareholders set out to develop a club that would service players from both Fort William and Port Arthur. Constructing a two story clubhouse in 1913 at the south end of the course, by the 1920s the annual entrance fee was set at $100, with visiting players charged $1 in green fees. Renamed the Port Arthur Golf and Country Club during the 1930s, the original clubhouse was destroyed in a fire in 1945 and rebuilt on its present site, with the addition of a curling rink taking place in 1959. With the amalgamation of the two cities, the club returned to its original name in the 1970s.

Prior to the advent of pull and motorized golf carts, caddies were a major part of the game. A golf card from the PAG&CC dating back to the early 1930s listed the various rates for caddies. To have a Class A caddy carry your bag for 18 holes would cost you 60 cents with a Class B caddy saving you a dime, at a cost of only 50 cents.

The Fort William Country Club received its charter in 1923 with the founders purchasing the 100-acre farm of John Garrity and engaging the services of the famous golf architect Stanley Thompson to design a nine-hole course. Developed at a cost of $17,000, by 1925 close to 200 shares were sold at a cost of $100 each and the members enjoyed their first round of golf in the spring of 1926. In the early 1960s an additional nine holes were added, the original nine were redesigned and a new clubhouse was built.

The 1920s also saw the formation of two municipally owned courses. The Municipal Golf Links course was built in 1924 on the parking lot of the former King George’s Park, a popular recreational park owned by the City of Fort William. Although the land was owned by the City of Fort William the course was leased to the Retail Merchants Association of Fort William who operated it until 1964 when it was taken over by the Board of Parks Management, before being closed and sold by the City of Thunder Bay following the 2012 golf season.

When the City of Port Arthur purchased the 1400-acre lot known as the Strathcona Property in 1906 for $35,000, its original purpose was not for a golf course, but rather for the provision of land grants for industrial development. By 1913 the land was being used as a nursery by the Board of Parks Management and other portions for gardens and free cutting of firewood. In 1923 a plebiscite was passed that saw the conversion of approximately 300 acres into a golf course. Strathcona Links opened to the public on September 7, 1925, with nine holes costing local golfers 25 cents and two rounds 40 cents. By the following season all 18 holes were ready for local golfers to enjoy. A number of improvements have been made over the years, including the construction of the current clubhouse which was officially opened in 1965.

In 1930 another milestone took place with the hosting of what would come to be known as the Strathcona Invitational. Held on the August holiday long weekend the winner of the first event, and the following two years was, somewhat fittingly, Johnny Henry, who had played in the inaugural round for the course’s 1925 opening.

During those early years Strathcona was also home to local skiers. In 1929 the Port Arthur Ski Club established a location for their club on the ridge running above the course, just off of Hodder Avenue. Known as Strathcona Heights, the club members spent the summer clearing brush and building the log trestle jump which was located beside one of the fairways. The PASC remained active at the site until the 1940s when they permanently moved to Mount Baldy.

The year 1949 saw the official opening of Thunder Bay’s third municipal course, Chapples, named after Clem Chapple, who donated $25,000 for the development of facilities in the recreational area named in his honour. In 1973 nine more holes were added and in the 1980s the Neebing McIntyre floodway brought some water in to play and a new clubhouse and parking lot were developed.

A number of other golf courses have been developed in our city since the 1980s, including Emerald Greens, Dragon Hills, Centennial Pines, Northern Lights and Whitewater, all of which have added to the wonderful choice available to Thunder Bay’s golf community. These courses have also served as the training ground for a number of successful golfers, as well as, hosted a number of great tournaments.

If you want to be a part of some more great moments in golf, and take in a fun tournament, consider participating in the 34th edition of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame golf tournament at the Fred Bragnalo Memorial taking place on Monday July 25th at the Fort William Golf & Country Club. To find out more about this great fundraising event, give the Sports Hall of Fame a call at 622-2852 or email

As you are making your way around the links this summer, take a minute to imagine just how many great shots, great moments, not to mention lost balls, have been experienced by golfers on our local courses since the introduction of this great sport to our area well over a century ago.

Diane Imrie is the Executive Director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. She can be reached at

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