By Ryan Horne
The Guelph Country Club looks real good for 100. How many of us can say that?
This year, the little nine-hole golf course on Woodlawn Road turns a century old and with the shape it’s in today, there’s a good chance future generations of golf lovers will be celebrating another birthday 100 years from now.
“It’s a huge milestone to be 100 in any type of business,” said head professional and general manager of the club, Dave Vogel.
Some might say the beauty of the course surpasses the actual game play, which is nothing to scoff at either. As you stand on the elevated tee block on the par-four first hole – which is hole 10 if you decided to play 18 – one of the best views of the Royal City is available.
This is how all great rounds of golf should start. There is pure visual beauty partnered with outright difficulty, but the narrow fairway and small green will quickly relinquish any warm happy feelings you might have had because of the view, if you don’t focus on your shot.
“Anytime you got something that’s 100 years old, you’ve got vistas and a maturity about it that’s very enjoyable for people to experience,” said Vogel. “It’s a very enjoyable visual experience along with a golf experience and that’s why people keep on coming back. It’s a tough golf course, but a fair golf course.”
But, the golf course we see today is much different than when the first golfers teed off 100 years ago.
In the beginning, the land that the Guelph Country Club sits on was not a golf course, but a farm for a racetrack.
On May 7, 1912 the first meeting of the shareholders of the club was held in the Guelph Carnegie Hall. Various committees were formed including a building committee, which had the responsibility of hiring an architect to build a clubhouse for no more than $6,500.
Vogel said it is still a mystery as to who designed the actual golf course.
A grounds committee was put together, and given a budget of $1,000, to get the grounds in shape to play golf. The farmland the course was built on was very rough, so to keep the grass short they acquired a herd of sheep to eat the grass.
During the wartime period, around 1917, the cost to join the private club was an entrance fee of $20, and an annual fee of $10 for men and $6.50 for women. Today a full membership costs $1,200.
Guelph native Arthur W. Cutten was one of the first members of the Guelph Country Club. He later went on to design his own course, the Cutten Club (now Cutten Fields), also in the Royal City.
The biggest match in the Guelph Country Club’s history was put together by Cutten himself. In the summer of 1916, he helped to set up a one-on-one round between American Charles (Chick) Evans, the United States Amateur and Open champion, and Canadian George Lyons, who won gold at the 1904 Olympics.
At the time, this was not only a match of golf, but also, a matter of national pride.
The pair played the nine holes twice, as the younger Evans scored a 69 and Lyon a 75. According to an August 1916 article, The Champion in Guelph, written by W.H. Webling in Canadian Golfer: “The match would have been fairly close had Mr. Lyon been able to strike his true putting stride and hole his ball occasionally.”
In 1935, 6,700 trees were planted as part of a nursery. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s more trees were planted, giving the course that majestic and sometimes frustrating brand of golf we see today.
In 1961, a new glassed entrance was added to the clubhouse, followed by a four sheet curling rink two years later.
Vogel said one of the reasons that curling was added was because the game was rising in popularity and interest at that time.
Fast foreword a few decades to 1999, when the club made its biggest decision to date. For the previous 87 years, it had been a private course only for members. They decided to change it to a public course to broaden their market while maintaining the tradition of a membership club.
Vogel said there is no elitism at the Guelph Country Club – just golf.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a member of the club or if you’re a guest or public player, you’re going to be treated like a member of the club for the time you’re here,” said Vogel.
Gary Moore was the head professional of the Guelph Country Club for 25 years, from 1985-2007, and he also ran the entire operation as the general manager from 1994-1997.
Moore describes the course as an “old style” model with small greens, rolling fairways and a ton of trees.
“People like that it’s an old style course,” said Moore. “They think it’s pretty, but it’s definitely tough.”
In 1995, the ninth hole needed to be completely re-designed when condos were developed. Moore worked with the architect to create a different tee-block and a new green. The hole remained a par four. Other than the change to number nine, the club has not had to deal with any realistic real estate threats like other courses.
“From where I sit, I’ve personally never been approached by a developer saying that they want to buy our land,” said Vogel.
Moore, who now has a lifetime membership, can still be seen around the club three or four times a week, golfing and lending a hand at the pro shop.
And golfing runs in the family for the Moores.
Gary’s son, Chris, has the course record for the current course with a 61 in 2011.
“He was happy that he did it, but it’s not his personality to brag,” said father Moore.
On the ladies side, Gail Moore, Gary’s wife, and Alex Chisholm, share the record of 75 on the current course in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
Chris Moore is tied for the most club championships (five) with Jeff Cunningham, the latest coming in 2010. Brother Jeff Moore isn’t far behind, with four championships under his belt. Gail has racked up five number one titles since 2000.
David Fell, 17, won both the club championship and junior championship last year.
Today, with over 500 members in the club, Vogel said the key to success is giving people the proper “value for the experience.
“This is a huge part of people’s lives and their social being,” said Vogel. “It’s like their local pub, a real sense of community.”
With the centennial celebrations wrapping up, the club looks to the future to keep its legacy going.
“It’s been a great year of celebrating, but our eyes are ahead on progression,” Vogel said.
Let’s see what’s in store for the Guelph Country Club for the next 100 years. See you in 2112.