The First Williams Lake Golf Course

The Original Williams Lake Golf Club

Note: Unfortunately we have no access to the Williams Lake Tribune pre 1980 newspapers. For this article we relied on the Williams Lake golf course references from the Prince George Citizen and the Quesnel Cariboo Observer newspapers. We would like to thank Glenys and Noel Pumfrey, Cliff Dezell, Chris Hicks, and Rich Rife for their assistance to create this article. When creating these historical articles about our earliest golf courses, we try to find the location, to create a scorecard, and to draw a map of the holes for the original course. Finally what is presently on the old course site today? A special thank you to Rich Rife for spending time assisting us to create a map for the course.

We do not expect our efforts to be complete.  If anyone has a scorecard, photos, or information about the course could you please contact us?

On Thursday April 24th, 1930 “Their Excellencies Lord and Lady Willingdon graciously officiated at the opening of the Quesnel Golf Course.” After holing out on the first hole Lady Willingdon declared the “Willingdon Links” open for play. Not to be out done the Williams Lake Golf Club also had a dignitary open their course on June 16th, 1930.

While serving BC as head of the province, Premier Tolmie initiated the process to construct a highway from the US border to Alaska. To promote his ambitious plan Tolmie invited fifty prominent Canadians and Americans to travel by motorcar from Vancouver to Hazelton an 800-mile trek. . The high-powered group included, Lieutenant Governor of BC Robert R. Bruce and Honorable E.W. Sawyer, the assistant secretary of the Interior under President Hoover. The Canadian delegation included Dr. P. Doolittle, Canadian Automobile Association President and all his counterparts from Washington, Oregon and California. Washington State Senator Condon chairman of the Alaskan Highway Commission and the Alaskan Governor Parks joined the travelers.

To gain maximum worldwide coverage for the province, Tolmie encouraged all the major newspaper outlets to cover the caravan as it proceeded north and returned. These groups chronicled the expedition including the various festivities the towns along the route held for the visiting dignitaries. KEX in Portland and KJR in Seattle broadcasted live updates over their radio stations. Each town along the journey took the opportunity to hold a series of festivities and banquets to entertain their noteworthy guests.

In Williams Lake the citizens postponed their annual Stampede Rodeo for two weeks to insure the notable guests would participate in the unique events. The Williams Lake Golf Club took the opportunity to have E.W. Sawyer; President Hoover’s representative hit the first shot to officially open their golf course. After the ceremony the group proceeded to the Stampede Hall for a lavish dinner and to see the various rodeo activities.

Course Characteristics for the Par 35 2700-yard golf course.

No report prior to 1962 indicated the course had any par 5 holes. The Prince George and the Quesnel courses occupied relatively flat lands adjacent to a river. Williams Lake appears to have been the more difficult course because of the sloping terrain on the hillside. Trees definitely acted as hazards.

Hole                1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9

Par                  4          4          4          3          4          4          4          4          4

Yardage          306                                         240                 338                 206

In 1929 Rod Mackenzie purchased 10 acres that he donated to the golf club in 1930. He placed one condition on his generous donation. “When the property is no longer being used for a golf course I would like the property to become a park.”  Research strongly implies the PGE Railway leased another thirty-five to forty acres for the golf course.

Creating the length for each hole proved challenging.  On May 3, 1930,  “It is understood that Mr. Greenlee is to build the clubhouse for the Williams Lake Golf and Tennis club.” After the opening on Aug 7 1930 in a club event,  “Fred Duncan made the shot of the day on the first hole when he holed out a long approach of about 100 yards for an eagle two.”

On Aug 20th 1936 the Prince George Citizen described Bob Carter’s experiences playing the Williams Lake course for the first time. “Bob Carter has been playing the course this past week and reports; the sagebrush and cactus fairways offer an entirely different brand of golf.  The side hill greens make putting less certain than a chance on a sweepstake. The wide-open spaces are deceptive; the greens are very slow and often concealed from view. The considerably longer holes make the course 700 yards longer than the Prince George Nine. The Williams Lake Golfers play a high ball into the greens and putt with a view to striking the cup hard, and always figure on getting an up-hill putt directly below the hole.” In 1936 the eight-hole Prince George course measured about 2000 yards. Therefore the Williams Lake course probably measured about 2700 yards on the hillside among the pine trees.

Cliff Dezell former Cariboo Champion in 1955 provided his valuable recollections for the layout. “I played it often. I won the Cariboo Open in 1955 and defended the title in 1956 at Williams Lake I had a big lead after the first day but Matt Briggs caught me on the second day and beat me in the playoff. The single most significant difference between Williams Lake, Quesnel, and Prince George was that the sand greens were much larger and square. They were probably twice the size of Quesnel or PG and had plenty of slope. When you were sweeping your putting path you often had to curve it. They were also more heavily oiled hence very slow. The course had big fir trees, which came into play frequently. The tee boxes were the usual square wooden structures upon which you placed your rubber tee.

In 1962 the club decided to donate a small portion of their course to the Kiwanis Club for a park. The members altered the course to accommodate the donation. On May 3, 1962 the Cariboo Observer reported, “1st hole transferred to Kiwanis Club for a park. The new 1st hole now 500 yards combines 1st and 2nd fairways. #8 now 190-yard par 3 located between the old 8th green and 9th tee. The 9th tee moved up the hill 50 yards.”

Prominent players of the old course.

Roderick Mackenzie

Born in Scotland, the son of a crafting family, Rod learned the mercantile business living in Johannesburg South Africa. He arrived in Vancouver around 1909. Immediately he put his business skills to work opening Roderick Mackenzie & Mercantile Company specializing in outfitting the mining, logging and fishing industries.

In 1913 he foresaw an opportunity to supply the new railroad with supplies for the building of the track northward. He opened his first store in Squamish the terminus for the construction. He served the community as the Postmaster and the local Justice of the Peace. In 1919 he opened his second store in Williams Lake called Mackenzie’s Ltd specializing in hardware and furnishings. The third similar operation opened in Wells in 1936. The company operated as a family enterprise. His sons Jack and Alistair managed the Williams Lake and Wells operations and his nephew John Morrison the Squamish store.

During his life in Williams Lake Rod fully participated in all community activities. He founded the Board of Trade and served as the local MLA from 1928 – 1933. He fought strongly for the local cattlemen, and the promotion of tourism especially Barkerville.

At the 1946 Cariboo Open championships the group praised Rod who donated the Men’s Individual Trophy in 1934. “A word of congratulations to Roderick Mackenzie of Williams Lake, 75 years young and going strong, probably the oldest golfer in the caribou and still capable of taking any opponent to the 18th hole.”

John Frank (Jack) Smedley

From 1935 – 1950 Jack Smedley, the Williams Lake champion, and Lloyd Harper, the Quesnel sharpshooter, dueled for the title the best golfer in the Cariboo. How the Smedleys arrived in Williams Lake in 1923 is a global journey. His father John Dexter Smedley arrived in Vancouver in 1907. Working as an architect on Water Street he married Christina Marie Brohm from Germany on April 15th, 1909 in Vancouver.  The couple had their first child Gladys Christina in June 1910. For some reason the family moved to Christina’s hometown Oberellen Thuringen Germany where son John Frank Carl Smedley was born in 1915. . John D Smedley enlisted in the British Army and was stationed in Hong Kong during the Great War with the 75Coy Chinese Labour Corps.

In May 19th, 1917 Christina arrived in Vancouver from Hong Kong with her two children Gladys and John Jr. The family resided in Squamish BC until her husband arrived home from the War in 1919. After doing various jobs in Vancouver, John Dexter moved the family to Williams Lake BC. Like Roderick Mackenzie perhaps John believed the new railway heading north to Prince George would provide new business opportunities as the caribou grew. He formed a partnership with A. Sharp to open the Smedley & Sharp Hardware and Building Supply Store.

John Smedley Sr. began buying property in Williams Lake. He constructed rental houses and the area became known as “ Smedleyville.” In 1938 he turned the day-to-day operation of the building supply business over to John Jr. (Jack). The Senior Smedley became the local coroner and Justice of the Peace. Jack Smedley began working as a clerk in his father’s store around age sixteen. In 1939 he married Jean Elizabeth Lakeman from Portsmouth England Her parents had formerly worked in Kings Park Mansions in Hong Kong. Perhaps the families knew each other during that period. That year his father retained ownership of the business but Jack served as the Manager. In 1953 his father is listed as the Magistrate for Kamloops. Jack sold the building supply business to join him. John Smedley Sr. died in Kamloops in 1954. Jack and his wife Joan resided permanently in Kamloops until their deaths in 1994 and 1998 respectfully. At this time it is unclear if Jack continued his winning ways on the golf courses in Kamloops.

Jack probably learned to play golf from his father or one of the many Britishers residing in Williams Lake. From 1932 onward Jack Smedley is recognized in the newspapers as the Men’s Captain of the Williams Lake GC. From 1937 – 1950 he consistently finished in the top five players in the Caribou Open competition.

Eddie Gaspard 1935 Cariboo Champion

Very little concrete information has been uncovered regarding the first Cariboo Open Champion from Williams Lake Eddie Gaspard. To date City Directories and news articles indicate he arrived in Williams Lake around 1923 from Quebec. He married a First Nations woman and became an expert canoe builder in the area. He maintained several trap lines in the Horsefly area. He built trails and roads on government contracts. Strangely he won the 1935 (2nd annual) Cariboo Open Men’s Championship at Quesnel.

The Rifes

W.A. Rife arrived in Williams Lake in 1921 to open the first drugstore between Ashcroft and Quesnel. He died suddenly in June 1928 at the age of fifty. During his short time in Williams Lake he actively participated in all activities in the growing town. Upon his death he held several prominent positions; Master of the Masonic Lodge, Chairman of the Hospital Board, School Trustee, and strong supporter of the United Church. “Mr. Rife has been identified with the movement to incorporate Williams Lake and was a public spirited citizen who was always eagerly willing to assist with any good cause. ” He left his wife two daughters Marion and Margaret, and son Ken, the village clerk.

Ken Rife joined the first group of citizens to form the Williams Lake GC. He became an excellent golfer winning several inter city championships. His son Rich Rife followed Jack Smedley in winning the Cariboo open Championship and leading the local club to the team championship. Williams Lake GC produced many fine players including P. Pigeon, Sergeant Mansell, G. Armstrong, and Mel Kahl.

As Williams Lake began to grow, the expanding city began to encroach on the golf course. Most early courses in BC suffered the same problem. Four parties, the golf club, the PGE, the forestry offices, and the municipality met to find a solution.  The club group, led by Jim Proctor, Herb Gardiner, Mel Kahl, Alan Vanderburgh, Lee Skip, and Jim Huckvale handled the negotiations for the club. They struck a deal with the PGE, and moved to their present 200 acres site on the west hillside of Williams Lake.

In 1967 Premier W.A.C. Bennett was presented with a petition that the Old Age Pensioners Association circulated amongst the village residents. They had 2,000 signatures on the petition that asked the government to donate the old golf course lands for a park. The group felt this development would be an ideal 1967 Centennial Project for Williams Lake. The park would also satisfy Rod Mackenzie’s original wish “to save his donated land for a park.” The Premier complied and today the Boitanio Park rests on the old course property.

We are searching for further information on this early golf course. For example we do not have a scorecard. We would like to know the yardages for the various holes.

If you can assist us please contact the museum at email:



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