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More: Women's Golf in Saskatchewan 1899-2000
More: An early history of golf in Canada by Karen Hewson

Ninety Years of Golf:
An Illustrated History of Golf in Saskatchewan

- by Mickey Boyle

Mickey Boyle's richly illustrated book is more than just a history of the game of golf in Saskatchewan.

This slim volume, which was published in 1987, provides an insight into the power plays both on and off the fairways. Golf is a rich man's game that has evolved over the decades and become a game enjoyed by duffers from every walk of life.

But 90 years ago those involved in thwacking that little round ball around the "cow pasture'' were a virtual whose who of the movers and shakers in the political, professional and business community, albeit white Anglo-Saxon Protestant society.

Boyle doesn't shrink from addressing the bigotry that was reflected in golf club membership, which wasn't address until 1970 when membership was opened to anyone who could afford the initiation fees.

Boyle looks at the geniuses of golf, which is believed to date back to the second century when Roman soldiers in Britain didn't have sufficient people to form a hurling or field hockey team and instead used their hurlies to knock a small stone or wooden ball against a stick.

He points to Scotland as the land where golf became an obsession - so much so that King James II in 1457 put a ban on golf because it was interfering in church attendance and the sport of archery.

In 1491 James IV of Scotland issued an edict that: " In na place in the Realm be usit fut bowis goulf or uthir sik unprofitable sportis.''

An avid and accomplished golfer himself, Boyle walks the reader through the development of the golf ball and the various irons and woods, introducing such terminology such as "brassie, midiron, mashie, and the niblick.'' Ninety Years of Golf

He also recounts the tale of Canadian dentist Dr. William Lowell, who invented the wooden tee. Unfortunately, in the 1920s when his tee became popular and other companies started manufacturing wooden and plastic tees, he hired a firm of lawyers to defend his patent, but lost.

Legal fees came to more than $100,000 (a princely sum in those days) and the decision went against him when it finally reached the Supreme Court. The court reasoned that a simple piece of wood, sharpened at one end with a concave surface at the other, couldn't be patented.

The game of golf in Saskatchewan is spreading like a prairie grassfire and with the likes of Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, it is gaining in popularity among the junior ranks.

Boyle traces the beginning of golf in Regina to a meeting on March 21, 1896 between golf professional Jack Harrison of Pense, who inaugurated the game in Winnipeg, and the following community luminaries: barrister Hugh A. Robson, who later became chief justice of Manitoba; postmaster J.A. Whitmore; sheriff James Benson; barrister William C. Hamilton; Gilpin Brown of the NWMP; farmer George Motion; and barrister Norman MacKenzie.

In 1896 there were 57 clubs in the United States. There are no accurate records of the number in Canada, however, the Royal Canadian Golf Association founded in 1894 had a membership of 11 clubs in 1896. By 1987, there were more than 200 golf courses in Saskatchewan.

The Queen City's first golf games were played on four holes laid out in the sports ground in an area now known as the Crescents in Regina (Angus and Leopold Crescent). "The fairways, where they were not trampled by people playing other sports, were kept short by grazing horses and cattle,'' Boyle states in his book.

On April 27, 1899 the course was redesigned and expanded to nine holes and the Regina Golf Club reorganized with Premier of the Northwest Territories Sir Frederick Haultain, an enthusiastic golfer elected president and Lieutenant-Governor Forget elected honorary president.

Boyle tells how the real estate boom of the early 1900s forced the golfers to look for more permanent sites. The more affluent members wanted a fashionable club house as well as facilities for polo, golf and tennis. They formed the Wascana Country Club, southeast of the city limits on rich grasslands adjoining Wascana Creek. The private golf course was designed by J. Kelso Hunter in 1911 and for years was ranked as one of the top courses in the province.

The others moved the Regina Golf Club to a location just south of the Royal NWMP barracks on land leased from the federal government. On June 19, 1911 the first game was played on the new Regina course.

The first nine holes were designed and developed by J. Kelso Hunter in 1900 and it is one of the oldest courses in North America to remain in its original location. Little used for 10 years it was reactivated in 1911 and the second nine was built by golf professional Fred Foord in 1914. In 1925 renowned golf course designed Stanley Thompson formulated a long-term program that was carried out over several years, and there have been relatively few changes made since.

Boyle's history chronicles the rise and fall of the two Regina clubs over the years and the clout members of the Wascana Country Club had with city hall. Land developers, who were major players in the club, convinced the city to build a street trolley line out to the golf course, but were on the hook for the cost of the project which proved to be a dismal failure and a costly mistake. The club directors ended up paying the city $66,000 on Nov. 25, 1913 to clear any money owing on the project - the equivalent in 1987 of $1 million.

Boyle also examines the history behind the Craig sand-green golf course in Regina and the controversy surrounding the city's decision to build Tor Hill and the Murray golf courses at Kings Park. These courses were designed by Thompson, who is best known for designing the Banff and Jasper Park Lodge golf courses in Alberta and the Capilano golf course in B.C.

Prior to the advent of television and the telecasting of Professional Golf Association tours, Boyle dedicates a chapter to regaling readers of stories of the great name players that came through Saskatchewan right up until the 1950s on exhibition tours. Among those who swung through Regina were Gene Sarazan, Walter Hagen, Joe Kirkwood, Bob Toski, Gary Player and Bobby Locke.

The book also looks at the golf pros, the pool of local talent in Saskatchewan, who won numerous championships, as well as touching on the folklore associated with the 19th hole.

The one drawback of Boyle's history lesson on golf in Saskatchewan is the limited amount of information on the province's women golfers. Ten years later that shortcoming was addressed in a book devoted to women's golf.

He does, however, look at golf course design, provide hints from the experts on improving your "swing,'' lessons on etiquette and some basic information on Saskatchewan's top courses and the raison d'etre for playing the game and dedicating green space in our urban jungles to the development of golf courses.

He argues that golf is good for ecology and it keeps the crime rate down because when young people are busy playing golf there is little time for mischief.

Boyle quotes Damon Runyan, a columnist for the New York American: "The writer believes that one of the greatest influences toward clean living is golf and the importance of golf to a community cannot be exaggerated. Show us a golf playing town and the writer will show you a town in which refinement is above average.''

The book is spiced with quotes and antecdotes and provides a potpourri of information that will be of interest to anyone, who loves the game of golf or is a history buff.

Unfortunately, the book, which was published in 1987, is out of print. Copies may be found at many of the libraries around the province.

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