Cowichan Golf Club – The present course

Cowichan G & CC  the 2nd course

A.V. Macan Design

A. Vernon Macan GA circa 1949

After WW 2 the Cowichan project represented the first full scale golf course design Vernon Macan (Mac) undertook since his executive Lloyd’s GC (Portland OR) project that he completed in 1931. To make ends meet during the troubling thirties, several courses such as Marine Drive, Seattle, and Waverley paid him an annual stipend to advise on renovations the club should undertake. During WW2 the BC Lands and Forest hired him as a clerk. Ironically this was the same position he held after WW1. In 1922 he declared to the golf community he would be “leaving his Lands and Forest position to become a full time GA – golf architect.”  Because most of the northwest seniors that participated in the annual Pacific Northwest Seniors Golf Association tournament in Victoria knew Mac from the 1920’s, the association hired him to act as their executive director organizing their annual event. He also operated a Contract Bridge School to teach aspiring beginners the finer points of the card game. Mac and his partner Mrs. Constance Sheffield won two world partnership bridge tournaments.

From the beginning Mac advised the Cowichan principals that he would “only be available on weekends to supervise their Cowichan project.” Traveling on the first morning bus from Victoria, Mac spent many weekends in Duncan supervising his project. Once the Duncan course began other courses inquired for his services. This included a long-range plan for Marine Drive, renovations for Riverside and Waverley in Portland, upgrades at Inglewood in Seattle, and a total renovation for nine holes at Tacoma. By 1949 Mac had left his temporary position at the Forest Department to devote full time to his recovering golf course architectural business.

Laurie Kerr, a past BC Closed Champion and one of the 1950’s star golfers in Victoria, related this anecdote. “Mac’s friends in Victoria believed he traveled by bus because he never learned how to drive a car. On one of my weekend excursions up Island, I thought Mac passed me driving south in an old Ford car. I immediately turned around to catch him traveling down the Malahatt. Upon overtaking him I motioned for him to stop. When I approached the parked Ford, I asked him what he was doing. Typically Mac responded ‘I just thought I would give this driving a try to see if I liked it.’ I don’t know if he ever drove again.” Because his BC Telephone job required him to travel to Duncan regularly, Laurie frequently stopped at the Cowichan project to pick up drop off Mac or to report progress about his project.”

Macan’s 1st conceptual drawing using an east – west design

Mac made his initial visit to the site in January 1946. He prepared a “rough” estimate of the costs for the project. Mac sent a letter complimenting the Duncan principles on their site selection. “A very cursory inspection was all that was necessary to satisfy myself of your site’s possibilities. I can do no better than explain what I look for, if I was seeking a golf site. Land of not too heavy a nature, avoid heavy clays at all costs, with some form of natural drainage; comparatively flat so as to avoid anything strenuous in the way of walking, but of an undulating or rolling nature with sufficient break to provide feature. An ample water supply conveniently available. In addition I would try and find a site scenically beautiful, and conveniently located to my main source of membership. If there was a definitely higher point on the ground, I would select it for my clubhouse site, provided of course I could arrange a design, which would give me good finishing and starting points. It is fair to say those who discovered this property deserve the heartiest congratulations. The site possesses in the fullest measure the desirable features for a golf cours

Mac then set out to roughly describe the costs for developing the site into a golf course. He estimated: “Water supply $8,000, Seed $3,000, Greens 9 @ $650 each total $5850, Clearing approximately 35 acres @ $300 per acre total $5,250, and equipment $4,000. Project cost $26, 100 excluding the cost for a clubhouse. The Cowichan founders believed they could utilize donations of equipment, supplies and labour to reduce the Mac’s costs to $20,000. With $5,000 for a clubhouse the Board began a $25,000 fundraising campaign.  In June 1947 the Pro tem secretary wrote to Mac “Pleased to let you know the drive to raise the funding for our proposed golf course is progressing very well. Would you be available to visit the site to make preparations to begin construction?”

The Cowichan project showed Mac would not divert from his proven methodology for building a championship course on the property he was given. Simply stated if he visited the site in the early time of the year the project would not open for at least two years. Mac insisted on planting in late August or early September for a following summer opening. All construction needed to be completed before the seeding would proceed. In the case of Cowichan this immediately created a conflict between Mac and the Board. At this meeting of the future members and the Board a misunderstanding arose. The Board wanted him to prepare some holes immediately so the new members could begin play. The Board would use these examples to entice further members. The Board hoped to follow the same procedure the Chemainus (Mt Brenton GC) golfers were following. At Chemainus Fred Clunk, the retired professional from Gorge Vale, promptly laid out six holes on their property. The Brenton group began selling memberships. It should be noted the Mt Brenton golf course did not have a full nine holes until 1954. Mac immediately balked. In fact in his irate letter he threatened to resign and from that point onward he thought everything should be in writing to avoid any future misunderstandings.

Mac’s methodology would prove to produce a better quality course than Chemainus with a larger membership in a shorter period of time. Mac would always tell his clients, “I spend an inordinately amount of time walking the site to get a feel for the land. He visualized the best routing for the property.” He believed if he made a mistake in this initial stage the club would suffer financially in the future. To illustrate his thoroughness this fact remains true today. “I am proud of the fact that if the boundaries of the site I was given have never changed, the routing I designed for the property has never changed on any of my designs. Some courses have altered the nines over time” (Quote from January 1964 San Geronimo GC Napa Valley) Mac died in August 1964.

Mac’s Cross Sectional Drawing for laying out the lines

he would use for the final design

“I advised you from the start that I do not believe in spring seeding. I have maintained from the start it would be impossible to put the ground into seed this fall so that you would have something for the members next summer. Your golf course will be there for many many years. Rushing things now, trying to do seeding this year, which should be done next year, cannot subsequently be undone. Biding your time, doing the necessary clearing after the design has been developed and working the ground next summer, so that by you would have a clean seed bed late August. But not only all the necessary construction work can be done on the greens – graded, drained, and topped ready for the seeding next fall.”  (Macan’s August 12, 1947 letter to the Board)

Mac loved to relate this story when describing his initial creation of the plan for a project. “After gaining a thorough knowledge of your site I retire to my favourite easy chair with a bottle of my country’s best and design your course in my head.” In the case of Cowichan, Macan actually changed his original design for the property after the clearing was completed. The original plan (see Plan 1) called for an east – west layout using a triangular hole design. Because of the position of the sun on these holes he changed his original idea to a more north-south layout. (See Plan2.) In his correspondence without saying the reason directly Mac would not allow the clearing drawing to be used as the course map. Perhaps he realized the holes would need to be altered as the clearing progressed.   Like many small town projects, the membership volunteered countless hours to make their golf course project feasible. Local companies donated materials and equipment. Cowichan was no exception.

Macan’s Final drawing for Cowichan

To avoid the sun he chose a more north-south layout

After the clearing Mac visited the site to locate the best position for the clubhouse, tees and greens. He then produced the final design for the course. “Now that the ground has been cleared and I can see what we have in the way of features I can locate the green and tee sites on the ground and place pegs to mark them. I wish to emphasize that the clearing drawing is just that. It is not a final design for your course. When we get to the green construction I like to be on site to do the final sloping and contouring. This cannot be done on any drawing or model. The final polish is by hand raking. It would also be lunacy not to install the irrigation system for the greens before the final preparation for seeding.”

The construction foreman Bill Armstrong

built the greens according to Mac’s conceptual sketches.

Mac would then supervise the final hand raking of the surface.

Mac always worried about pockets being left on the surface

where water would accumulate in puddles

In his letter to the Board prior to opening Mac praised their efforts especially Bill Armstrong. Vernon Macan lost many projects because he would not undertake to design and construct a golf course for a specific cost. As he stated, “I am a golf course architect. I will produce a design for the best golf course I feel is feasible for your property. You must decide how to construct the course. But if you find a man who knows how to move soil I will teach him how I want the course cleared, shaped, and prepared for seeding.” Armstrong, who had never worked on the construction of a golf course, was Mac’s perfect person to construct the course Mac designed.  To the Directorate Macan expressed;” I am satisfied you are well on your way to the development of a fine golf course. It has been a great pleasure and satisfaction to be associated with the development. Nothing is ever perfect but I do feel when all the difficulties and problems you had to face are added up in spite of the numerous shortcomings you have a course which one day you will be very proud of.

Bill Armstrong – The construction foreman / greenskeeper

On opening day occurred on august 21, 1949 under showery conditions. But hundreds attended. The former Premier, John Hart officially opened the course “with a well received speech and an inaugural smack that showed every sign of having come from a man who derives pleasure for the game.” Hart was a member of the Victoria and Jericho golf clubs. An exhibition match between two Valley sons Benny Colk and Dave Crane versus Phil Taylor, the Victoria GC professional and Ronnie Mcleod, the Banff GC professional followed.  The locals won 4&3. Colk established the course record at 70.

In 1952 the Cowichan G&CC asked Mac to prepare a long-term plan for their course. In typical Macan fashion he bluntly told the club the future issues. “Some at your club feel that some day your course should reach the state of development when no more capital outlay would be necessary. That is a rare experience in any golf club. As I see it, you cannot hope to do much at the Cowichan G&CC unless your members will provide more money for club dues. You can – and I hope you will – adopt a policy of gradual improvement through the years. If you desire improvements, more money must be found to effect them. I believe you get more than full value for the money you spend on your course. To sum up First increase your water supply, second develop the 6th green, and third construct a putting green.” The course opened at 2950. In 1957 the completed 6th extended the course to 3190. On June 25th, 1989 the club officially opened their second nine holes.

A 1949 scorecard showing the distance at 2950 yards.

The Museum would like to acknowledge we used the images from the Macan’s files and the Cowichan Club history prepared by Jocelyn MacLachlan “Cowichan Golf & Country Club 1947 – 1997″

The Museum is constantly on the search for scorecards, photos, and memorabilia associated with the Cowichan GC and the Cowichan Open.

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