Course, Clubhouse & Pros
The course officially opened on September 7, 1925 at 1:30 p.m. with about 200 citizens hearing the dedication by Mayor Crooks. The clubhouse and pro shop were built in the mid 1930s. The first Pro was hired in 1927 with 13 applications, one from as far away as New York
The original clubhouse which was included in the cost of the golf course , was situated approximately where the putting green is today. It was a white wooden structure which offered a great view of the Par 3 1st hole. The first tee was just outside the clubhouse entrance. There was also a committee room on the side which looked directly towards #18 tee. The Pro Shop was built on the other side of #1 tee in the 1930s. It was very small and a club storage area was added on in later years. Steve Stokaluk and wife Phylis ran the concession in the 1950s’ and remember “break-ins were a real problem.
In fact some years they slept at the clubhouse. Pro Charlie Nixon used to sit on a bench in the darkness of night trying to catch the “culprits.” Steve recalls one evening returning to the clubhouse and a break -in was in progress. “I chased the burglar all the way down #1 fairway but he got away.” Wife Phylis was left alone in the dark and was not happy with Steve when he returned. “Did you forget about me?” she asked. They both remember their time running the concession fondly. A favourite trick they used to play was putting a “rubber wiener” on a bun with mustard, and watched their victim chew on it! In June of 1965 the clubhouse that exists today was officially opened, complete with Pro Shop storage, Concession area, Dining Area, Clubroom and accommodations for a caretaker. The facility was much needed and appreciated. The District Pro Am preceded the official opening and a social evening with dancing followed. There have been no significant changes to the clubhouse in the past 40 years.
The first pro hired was Robert Cunningham of Hamilton in 1927. In 1930 Jed Boon replaced Cunningham at a salary of $1,200. Charlie Nixon, who served his apprenticeship at the Toronto Golf Club and who was Pro at the London Highland Club for 5 years, was hired in 1932. Charlie came to the Lakehead in 1930 and was the Pro at the Fort William Country Club before moving to Strathcona. Charlie would serve as the Pro for the next 30 years. Betty Nixon (Charlie’s daughter) who grew up at the course, remembers “Dad used to have a game every Sunday at 4 p.m. with all the hot shots playing.” “I didn’t really get to play much golf with my Dad as being the Pro was a full time job.”
Betty remembers her dad not being too pleased when bush pilots used to land their 2 seater planes on #2 fairway. She remembers Al Cheeseman as being one of the pilots. “My Mom and Gladys Basford used to run the clubhouse and Mike Kolomy was one of my Dad’s assistants.” Betty added “my Mother also made up the flags, yellow (1st 9) and red (for the 2nd 9) and half red and yellow for the last hole.” Betty also remembers #1 tee having a wooden tee box divided into two parts, one sand and one water to clean the ball in the sand and rinse in the water. Betty added,“my Mother also made the towels you dried the balls with”.
Charlie Nixon was an excellent golfer in his own right, winning 5 District Open Championships and had two holes in one on #1 and #7. Ken Britton remembers “Charlie had a game at 1 p.m. and you considered it a privilege to be part of the group.” Britton added “Many people thought Charlie was kind of abrupt, but I found once you got to know him he had quite a sense of humour.” Upon Nixon’s retirement, Pete Kuzmich became the Pro in 1962. Kuzmich came from the Kirkland Lake Country Club. Pete was quite possibly the best golfer at Strathcona. He was an excellent ball striker and competed in more than one Canadian Open while being at Strathcona. He could also hit the ball with efficiency from the left side. His swing looked exactly the same from both sides of the ball.
Bob Cumming remembers “Peter and Bob Arvelin having several “grudge matches” when the course was not busy.” ‘Ace’ was phenomenal in those days and I do not know who won. I do know they were played without much conversation and played very quickly. Peter also ran a very successful Junior program, with Manford Brovac winning the Manitoba Junior and Jason Paukkanen the Canadian Junior. “Peter was always available for a quick lesson and never turned anyone down as long as you were serious,“ recalls Bob Cumming.
In 1967 Peter invited two of the top junior female golfers in the country to play in what was billed “The Centennial Match”. Sandra Post, Canadian Girls Junior Champion and Pam Miller played an exhibition match against Peter Kuzmich and Mike Kolomy. A gallery of more than 400 toured the course to watch the match which Kuzmich and Kolomy won 1 up. Sandra Post had the lowest Medal score of the day with a 77. Another highlight was five year old Danny Young hitting the opening shot. Sandra was the first Canadian woman to play on the LPGA tour. She would go on to be a star on the LPGA, winning a Major Championship at the age of 20 years and 20 days in 1968, a record which still stands today. She would have to be the most famous golfer to have played the course.
Peter Kuzmich left after the 1968 season for the Niagara Falls area and was replaced by a young Englishman, Ted Shaw. Ted arrived from the Elmwood Club in Montreal West Island area. He was also an excellent ball striker, however the “short stick” was not his friend. Ted’s wife Uta worked hand in hand with him during his tenure. One of Teds’ favourite times was the Mens’ Club opening Stag in May, when he used to play a film highlighting the previous years’ British Open. He used to get quite a ribbing at the social, but it was something that was looked forward to each year.
Ted Shaw was the last Pro that Strathcona had. The City discontinued their use of Pros’ in 1988. Sadly Ted passed away a year later from cancer. In 2003 the City hired it’s first Director of Golf, Tom Forsythe, who came from the highly ranked Highlands Links Golf Course in Nova Scotia, where he was the manager.
In 1906, the City of Port Arthur purchased a 1400 acre lot from Drummond Campbell for the sum of $3,500. The parcel of land was known as the ‘Strathcona Property’ have being named for the Right Honourable Alexander Smith (Lord Strathcona), who was a Scottish fur trader. The original intention for the land was to provide sites to various industries, however by the turn of the century a portion of the land was being used for tree cutting of firewood and the lease of land for gardens.
Back during World War I the Lakehead unit of the 52nd Battalion trained over part of what was later to be the golf course. For many years to the left of #5 tee was a long ditch. This was used as a trench dug by the troops. They had target practice from there and used to shoot into the hill across the fairway which was once the site of the Port Arthur Ski Club. The troops also used to march down what is now #16 fairway and its’ believed they dug the big pit in the centre of the fairway. In July of 1924, City Council granted 125 acres of the ‘Strathcona Addition’ to the Parks Board for the purpose of laying out a course. Chief Engineer of the City Mr. J. Antonisian designed the course at a cost of $35,000, including the clubhouse. (The Pro Shop was built a few years later). The course officially opened on September 7, 1925 with 500 people in attendance. They watched a best-ball match between
Johnny Henry and Miss Jean McGregor against PACC pro Aldolph Pilon and Mrs. W.S. Hunt.
Johnny Henry and Miss Jean McGregor against PACC pro Aldolph Pilon and Mrs. W.S. Hunt. The course opened as a 9 hole facility on what is now known as the back nine. The second nine was completed in 1930. The cost to play 9 holes was 25 cents. Yearly fees were $12.50 for men, $10.00 for ladies and $20.00 for a family. “Has all the features to make this one of the finest and most picturesque and sporting courses in the country” were the comments of two visitors to the opening. Bert Styffe recalled working on the course in the construction period as a young schoolboy. “We used to get paid 10¢ a day on weekends cutting brush.” Numbers 3, 4 and 5 were pure bog. We’d throw brush on what was to be fairways and they’d cover it with dirt.” While most courses are laid out by golf architects, Strathcona was designed by the City Engineer, and as a result some holes played much too long and others too short. However in a few years things got straightened out to the fine layout it is today. Aside from general improvements the course is just about the same today as it was back in 1930. Rubber and cocoa mats were replaced with grass on all tees by the mid 1960s’. Some of the greens have been shifted or built up over the years and some of the tees have been lengthened. The greens on holes #1, 2, 6, 8, 11 and 12 have actually been moved. While the greens on 7, 10, 16 and 18 have been expanded and built up. The rough has been brushed out extensively and traps were put along some greens and fairways. In addition holes #2, 6, 9, 10, 12, 15 and 16 have been lengthened to various degrees. In 1991 the ‘Signature Hole’ on the course #5 lost its’ signature. The tree in the middle of the fairway came down. It certainly makes for an easier tee shot today. The course celebrates its 80th Anniversary in 2005 and has stood the test of time. It has produced some of the best golfers in the area and has been an outstanding recreational facility for the citizens of the Lakehead.