McCleery GC History
Around 1860, Hugh McRoberts arrived in New Westminster. As the population increased, he became despondent over the expanding town area. One day in the spring of 1862, he launched his canoe into the mighty Fraser River. At the junction of the south and the north arms of the Fraser River, McRoberts turned right following the north arm towards the Musqueam lands. Even though the Fraser was in spring flood mode, he managed to locate a landing spot on an island opposite the present day Marine Drive GC. Much to his delight, he found rich loam soil covered the area. The isolation and the tranquility from the “over populated” New Westminster delighted him. He decided to purchase 1500 acres. The island became known as McRoberts Island. Today it is Sea Island and the Vancouver International Airport occupies his original lands.
Report from “The British Columbian,” published in New Westminster April, 1862:
“A visit to Richmond
We paid a visit the other day to the Island recently occupied by Mr. McRoberts, situated about nine miles below New Westminster on the North Arm of the Fraser. Most gratifying was the visit establishing in our own mind, the fact that the large extent of the Island prairie in this district is most valuable, not only as grass and stock farms, but for all green crops, fruits, and even cereals. Mr. McRoberts has purchased 1, 560 acres, upon which he has 54 head of cattle, and had it not been for the loss of 75 head on the Sumas last winter he would have counted 129. Although ground was not broken till after the middle of March, he now has 12 acres under cultivation, an orchard of 650 thrifty – looking trees, several of the apple and cherry bearing the first season, and a field of four acres of potatoes, looking remarkably well, with vines little less in circumference than a lady’s wrist. “
McRoberts sent news of his good fortune to his nephews in County Down, Ireland encouraging them to join him. Anticipating their arrival, he purchased several blocks across from his land on the north side of the river including District Lots 315 and 316. In fact, he planned to build a bridge to DL 316 (the Marine Drive GC) to transport his farm products to New Westminster.
In 1862 Samuel and Fitzgerald McCleery arrived via Panama, San Francisco, and Victoria seeking their fortune in the depleted gold fields in Barkerville. With no success to riches, the disillusioned prospectors decided to heed their mother ‘s advice given to them upon their departure to the new world – “plant yourselves a potato crop”. They accepted their uncle’s offer of DL 315 and DL 316 across the Fraser from his homestead. McRoberts also offered his government contract to his nephews – to construct a trail from their farm to New Westminster. Today Marine Drive basically follows their original trail. They constructed their temporary house on stilts to protect it from flooding near the Marine Drive GC 10th green area. The brothers operated DL 315 and 316 as one farm locating their first permanent house on the dyke near the present 12th tee on the Marine Drive GC. This home served many purposes over its existence: as the residence for the McCleery clan, a library, a school, and a church.
In 1873, Fitzgerald constructed a new home for he and his bride on the original McCleery GC 10th green. Their farm thrived supplying produce, vegetables, milk, butter, and meat to New Westminster. After Samuel’s death in 1882, the entire farm area became known as the Fitzgerald McCleery farm.
In 1910 upon their return from a family visit to their roots in Ireland, the McCleery family’s life began to change. Vancouver and Point Grey began to expand. The provincial government officials knocked on the McCleery farmhouse door asking Fitzgerald to sell the farmland. The government planned to construct the new University of British Columbia on their site. If he chose not to sell, he would be expropriated. Fortunately, war soon broke out and the government abandoned their vision choosing the present day site.
The family’s next problem arose when the politicians identified the flat farming areas along the Fraser as ideal industrial lands for possible dock facilities for the commercial ships traveling to the orient. For two decades from 1910 – 1930 this land designation deeply affected the prime farmlands.
In order to pay the increasing tax bills, Fitzgerald began selling the prime view lots on Marine Drive overlooking the farm. In 1919 as his health began to fail, Fitzgerald sold the original Samuel McCleery property (DL 316) to William Murdoch McKenzie plus a piece of property on Marine Drive that extended down to the farm on the eastern boundary. Two years later McKenzie sold the flat farming area to the newly formed Marine Drive G&CC.
As the game of golf began to flourish after WW 2, the Vancouver Parks Board began searching for a site for a second public golf course. The commissioners focused on the financially strapped Marine Drive G&CC, the holding company for the Marine Drive GC lands. For previous two decades, the golf club could not afford their mortgage and debenture payments. In fact, the club had not paid even the interest since the early thirties. The parks board staff did an end run around the golf club. They approached the lenders directly with an offer to purchase the Marine Drive GC lands and all chattels for $51,000. Of course, the lenders viewed this proposal as a possible way to at least retrieve some of their money. In 1948, the lenders gave the golf club thirty days to find the money or face foreclosure proceedings. Fortunately, George Norgan, the club president from 1936 – 1940, saved the club. His Bay Financial Corporation paid the $51,000 to the lenders.
In the early 1950’s another opportunity arose for the aggressive Parks Board. The commissioners attempted to convince the Vancouver City Council to purchase the soon to be vacanted Quilchena GC lands in the Arbutus area for a public golf course. The Council, however, had more grandiose plans for this area. They envisioned a community with schools, various types of housing, and a mall. To appease the Parks people, the council promised to set aside thirty acres of the old course for a park including saving the original third green. Also the councilors promised to purchase the farm area along the Fraser at the foot of McDonald – the McCleery now the Logan farm.
Before finally deciding on the McCleery farm, the Parks Board considered constructing a golf course in the John Hendry Park area. This venture would replace the soon to close Hastings Park Golf Course. The PNE committed the golf course lands to the 1954 British Empire Games committee.
In June 1954 “A man from city hall called at the old colonial house where Mr. Fitzgerald McCleery led his bride in 1873. There, in the tranquil living room with the creaky floors, and cozy cook stove, Mrs. Logan rocked in her chair and listened to a proposal to buy the remaining farmland from her father’s original DL 315 site for a golf course. When the visitor left she breathed a sigh of relief. Now son Gerald could move to new farm land near Princeton, BC and carryout his plans for a modern farm utilizing the techniques he learned at the agricultural department at UBC.”
After a favourable approval vote for the $30 million dollar referendum for parks in June 1954, the City Council passed a motion to purchase the Logan farm from the McCleery family. Mrs. Logan sold under the condition the property would remain a park/golf course for perpetuity. With about eighty acres in their hand, the Council under threat of expropriation, acquired forty acres at the foot of McDonald to give the Parks Board sufficient lands to build a full eighteen-hole golf course.
In 1956, in order to add credibility to their project, the Parks Board enticed Arthur Vernon Macan, the renowned golf architect, to view their property. He envisioned a unique use of the dyke plus the unusual arrangement of three consecutive par 5 holes. It should be noted Macan designed the Stanley Park Pitch and Putt course for the Parks Board in 1932. From 1957 until his death in 1964, Macan developed a unique working relationship with the Parks Board Superintendent Stuart Lefeaux and Bob Livingstone, the head of operations. During this period, he produced a plan for a third nine-hole course for the Fraserview GC on the Vancouver City dump. He designed the Queen Elizabeth Par 3 course. Working with Burnaby Parks and Vancouver Parks when the two co-owned Central Park, he created a plan for the Central Park Pitch and Putt.
While living above Fred Woods pro shop at the Shaughnessy Heights golf course, Macan from 1957 – 1960 supervised the construction of three golf courses; McCleery, Richmond, and Shaughnessy. In all his correspondence with inquiring new clients, Macan described his three projects as follows. The greens at Shaughnessy cost $5,000 each. McCleery cost $3500 each and Richmond cost $2500 each. Interestingly the Richmond greens are the only ones still basically existing sixty years later. A favourable agreement with the Woodward family enabled the Parks Board to gain free access to all the topsoil from the Oakridge Mall project. Macan basically used this soil for the greens construction.
The Vancouver Province reported progress on the new course on February 5th, 1959. “Vancouver’s newest golf venture, the $625,000 McCleery GC, is expected to draw golfers like ants to a picnic when it opens in July. Little expense has been spared to make the site as attractive as possible. Some 1,700 deciduous trees and over 600 evergreens have been placed to breakup the evenness of the land. Most of the course is set on the flat former farmland. Some added interest is provided by the elevation of the tees and greens. Several holes are adjacent to the dikes at the southern end of the property and others on the upland area to the north. The first four holes offer an unusual combination of first a par 4 415 yards then 3 par fives measuring 485, 490, and 495 yards respectively. The shortest hole on the 6550-yard par 72 course is the fifth – a 160-yard par 3 hole. First and foremost it is stressed this course is for “Joe Public”. The course officially opened for play on July 3, 1959.
The first recorded minutes of the aspiring McCleery GC date to Oct 13th, 1959. The first motion by the acting Directors A. Hodson, A. Harris, R.Currie, T. Henderson, B. McDowell, D. Stock, G Payton, and Roy Heisler, the course professional was to set the membership dues at $10 per year. Further motions included: membership in the RCGA, and BCGA. The club held their first formal organization meeting in the Kerrisdale Community Centre on January 12th, 1960. By acclamation the 200 members elected the acting directors. A. Brodie was elected the first President and T. Henderson was elected the first Captain. The club also passed a motion to register under “The Society Act”. On April 15th, 1960 the Directors approved the clubs constitution. Until his death in 1973, Bert Ticehurst, the consummate and most successful public golfer, was the face of the McCleery Golf Club. The McCleery women’s club formed in 1960.
The BC Golf Museum collection does not have any pre 1970 images of the course. Could you assist us by allowing us to scan any images you have? Contact the museum at email@example.com