”Golf in the Comox Valley Celebrates 100 Years in 2022″
This article does not describe the history of a golf club as is customary. Rather, here we discuss the 100-year history of the Sandwick Golf Course used by the Courtenay Golf Club, five private ownership groups and the Sunnydale Golf Society.
The first course constructed north of Qualicum lay on the high ground area three miles north of Courtenay on the Campbell River. Around 1900 the first postmaster, Eric Duncan, called the area Sandwick, named after the Sandwick parish, on the Shetland Islands where he came from. About three hundred farmers resided in the area that included two churches and a cemetery near the original post office.
Arthur B. Dundas – “The Father of Golf in the Comox Valley”
Born in 1860 in Stirlingshire, Scotland, Arthur B Dundas was the last of five children born to Joseph and Margaret Dundas. Joseph supported the family as a local farmer. Before the 1871 Scottish Census, the family moved to the Ballybunion area in Ireland. Arthur worked as a farmer in this area until he immigrated to Victoria BC on April 6 1915. According to his entry documents, his brother Major Thomas Dundas lived in Victoria, BC. Arthur arrived with his wife Jeanette, their daughter Eleanor, and their son Thomas. Various newspaper reports about their farming activities show the family living in the Cowichan Valley. From 1917 until his wife’s death in the 1960’s the family resided at Sandwick, near Courtenay BC.
Formation of the Courtenay Golf Club on the Sandwick Golf Course
In 1921 the Courtenay Board of Trade proposed constructing a golf course in the area to entice travelers north to Campbell River to stay one more day in Courtenay. The birth of golf in the area rested upon Arthur Dundas’ deep desire to play the game he loved. Research indicates he played extensively in Ireland in the Ballybunion area prior to his arrival in Victoria. Since leaving Ireland he had not pulled out his niblick and putter to strike the little white globe around a field. On a warm spring day in 1921, he asked a local farmer for permission to layout a couple of holes so he could hit his mashie and driver over the fields. Shortly another Scot, John Aitken joined him with his assortment of clubs from Scotland. Other transplanted Brits joined the twosome.
The two began to sell the idea of a golf club to other non-golfers in the community. They rented ten acres on the old John Fitzgerald and Henry Ross farm on the upper road to Campbell River. Located next to the Campbell River Road tourists had easy access to the course. The small group of golf enthusiasts laid out six holes in the spring of 1922. As the number grew, Dundas called a meeting for September 30th, 1922 for the purpose to formalize the group into the Courtenay Golf Club. At this meeting the group elected AB Dundas as President, Charles Graham as Vice-President, and FC Brock as the Secretary / Treasurer. The executive promised the attendees the full nine holes would be completed by the end of the year. Joe Idiens defeated S. Hames for the Souvenir Cup, the club’s first official competition. In the following spring ET Ellison’s Cycle Shop began providing the local golfers with clubs and balls.
In March 1923 A.M.D. Fairburn, a civil engineer from Victoria, laid out the Comox Golf Club near the Elk Hotel over looking Comox Bay. The course began play in 1923. The Comox club opened their full nine holes on April 28th, 1928.
After only one year in operation the Courtenay GC membership felt confident their enterprise would be successful. A group headed by John Aitken and Arthur Dundas negotiated the purchase of ninety acres comprising their present course and additional land to expand for $8,500. By the conclusion of the year the club had sixty members.
In 1924 the members lengthened the course by three hundred yards and cleaned out the brush around the trees. The club decided to fence the vacant property containing the timber. Like most fledgling clubs in BC, the prominent members donated the first trophies. The Mutrie Cup, the Paxton Cup and the Graham Cup appeared in the trophy case. All competitions proved highly competitive because the handicaps ranged from 12 – 25. Newspaper reports do not show any scores less that 80 in any competition. In the first years of the men’s club championship. Joseph Idiens (10) consistently won. Arthur Dundas, probably the most experienced golfer, carried a fifteen handicap. The club began annual competitions with Duncan and Nanaimo
With only $3500 owing on the purchase of the land, the membership commenced 1927 with great plans. “Several members who are far sighted enough to realize that a first class course will soon be in great demand here are donating their time to course improvements this year. Also a very comfortable and attractive clubhouse will be erected under the fir trees overlooking the present fifth green. The numbering will be changed. Improper drainage on two of the greens and fairways will be improved by laying tyle drainpipes. Nearly all the greens will be enlarged and smoothed. The club has been in existence for five years and no player has scored a hole in one. This is especially strange considering the short fourth hole.” Johnnie Stevenson joined the club in July 1927 and immediately set a new course record 76 – the first score under 80. The following spring the Board appointed Johnnie the club’s first greens keeper. On August 10th, 1928 he became the first player to score a hole in one on the Sandwick course. The following month Mrs. Bert Marriott became the first lady golfer and the second person to score a hole in one on the 119 yard 8th hole, the original 4th hole. At the 1928 annual general meeting the Secretary John Aitken reported the club experienced its most successful year. The membership (men and women) increased to 150 members, $5,000 of the original $8500 was now paid on the mortgage, considerable fencing was done, and water was laid on all the greens.
At the 1930 Annual General meeting Secretary John Aitken praised the club for its success. The membership honoured Arthur B. Dundas for his foresight and dedication to forming a golf club in Courtenay. But Aitken warned the club more memberships needed to be sold to ensure the viability of the club. He felt the club required two hundred members to maintain its present position.
The Vancouver Province described the layout in an article on August 23, 1931. “The greens are not large but well trapped and guarded by undulating approaches which play havoc with the run-up shot. Once on the green carpet the golfer can rest assure that a well struck putt will not waiver an inch from its directed line. Altogether the course measures 2652 yards. The golfer uses every club in his bag and par for the layout is 34. Perhaps the most striking hole is the short 118 yard par 3 eighth calling for a high mashie niblick over a clump of trees. It is an easy par three if the player can rid himself of the mental hazard of the trees rising sharply in front of the green. There is one dogleg hole the 270-yard third, but the others call for straight drives down the spacious fairways. “
9th Hole circa 1947 The clubhouse was on the right hand side of the green
Fearing the Depression might affect the existence of golf in the Comox Valley, Bob Filberg, long time member of the Courtenay GC, purchased the Comox GC property from the Elk Hotel. On April 5, 1934 he spearheaded the amalgamation of the Comox and Courtenay golf clubs. The Courtenay club had the largest membership and Comox had the more scenic course. All the trophies and members transferred to the Comox club. “Ostensibly there would only be one operating golf club and course in the Valley, but this idea was short lived.”
This score card is probably early 1950’s because it has a 6 inch ruler on one side. This means the card was used during the stymie era.
Over the next forty years the course had several ownership groups. First another prominent member of the Courtenay club, Joe Idiens, had other plans for the Sandwick course. He purchased the old course and immediately renamed the facility the Sunnydale Golf Course, after the famous Sunnydale course in southwest England. Idiens operated the course until 1943 when he sold the facility to Doug Newson and Ivan Aven. After two years the partners sold to Percy Elsey. “Percy, the diminutive wit from Oyster Bay, who went into retirement a few months ago has broken into the news again.” Percy recently announced; “I am back in business again. I now own and operate the Sunnydale GC. “ Elsey obtained a liquor license that enabled him to operate small company tournaments and business banquets. Sunnydale became a social centre for the area.
The course yardage on this card is 2960 yards par 35. The course yardage in 1931 was 2652 par 34
In 1951 a fourth group led by Fred Richardson, purchased the facility. Fred operated the Tillicum Athletic Club in Victoria. Hence all the open events became the “Tillicum”. After fifteen years a group of RCAF pilots from the 442 Squadron at Comox, including Doug & Frank Metcalfe, Ed Riley, and Earle Neil purchased the golf course. Over the next decade the group made extensive improvements including a deep well, the construction of the lagoon, the installation of a new watering system, the remolding of the kitchen, and the upgrading of the original clubhouse foundation. As profits diminished the group placed the Sunnydale facility on the market for sale.
In 1976 the property went into receivership destined for subdivision into housing. A group of dedicated golfers organized under the Sunnydale Golf Society to save the golf course. The group lobbied the provincial government to declare the property part of the Greenbelt Recreational Area. The Department of Lands, Parks, and Housing agreed to lease the course to the Society. The group negotiated a financial agreement to allow the Society to expand the course to eighteen holes on some contentious acreage. The ambitious group planned to enlarge the clubhouse to accommodate the expanded membership the 18-hole course would attract. On June 4th, 1983 the Society officially opened the new 18-hole facility. Upon opening Sunnydale golf course was the only eighteen-hole course north of Nanaimo.
The tale of the Courtenay / Sunnydale golf course is one of dedication, determination, and devotion to making golf a success in the Comox Valley by many loyal local golfers in the Comox Valley.
The museum is on the search for any memorabilia associated with the Courtenay Golf Club during the period 1922 – 1934. We are seeking: photographs, scorecards, trophies, ladies pins or spoons.
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