Early Golf in Balfour BC 1912



Sources: Nelson Daily News, Kootenay Mosaic by Clara Graham, Kootenay Outlet Reflections by Linda. Taylor, Canadian Golfer Magazine.

In 1889, Charles Wesley Busk came to the West Kootenays working for W.A. Baillie-Groman. While surveying boundaries and canals at the south end of West Kootenay Lake, Busk decided to establish roots in the area. Staking two hundred acres on the west lakeshore about thirty miles from Nelson, he named his property Balfour after the British Prime Minister whose family had mining interests in the region. Within weeks he commenced establishing his future home high above the lakeshore. With grandiose plans in his head he used his surveying expertise to lay out a complete town site. In1891, he established the first building, the Balfour House Hotel, with rooms upstairs and his general store, “Wholesale, Retail and Commission Merchant” on the main floor.

Disheartened when the Hendryx (Bluebell) Mine chose another location for their smelter in 1894, Busk sold his interests to Joseph and Mary Gallop, new arrivals from New Brunswick. Balfour thrived until the closure of the Pilot Bay smelter in 1896. In 1897 construction of the Southern Railway (later the CPR) from Crow’s Nest to Nelson established Proctor and Kootenay Landing as the ” Lake Link” points for the crossing.

To attract visitors to ride their line from Crow’s Nest to Nelson, the CPR constructed a hotel at Balfour overlooking the Lake. Using Tudor and the famous CPR chateau style architecture as inspiration, William W. Bell from Winnipeg designed a three-story structure high above the shoreline. ” Featured in the design were long, open verandas supported by large square pillars, overhanging balconies, dormers, decorative eaves, and tall brick chimneys.” The design conveyed the wilderness surroundings and provided a luxurious ambience to the eastern guests.

On the 10th of May 1912 the grand opening for the Kootenay Lake Hotel resembled an occasion fit for royalty. Three hundred guests arrived by motor launch from convenient pick-up points along Kootenay Lake. At the wharf the white shirted hotel staff invited the guests to traverse the hillside to the “castle on the hill” by a steam-winched cable car, a hack drawn by two horses, or a long series of steps illuminated by electric lights.

Operating as a summer hotel only from June until November, guests mainly hunted, fished, and hiked in the surrounding mountains and lakes. Near the Hotel the CPR provided tennis courts, walking trails, and golf.

In 1911 during the construction of the Hotel, John Burns and sons from Nelson included tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course in the overall landscaping plans for the property. To provide water to the fairways during the dry summer weather, the steamer SS Nelson moored below the hotel and pumped the necessary water to the irrigation system.

The Hotel provided an infusion of continuous summer business activity for the Balfour residents from 1912 – 1916. Unfortunately tourism diminished during World War 1. The Hotel closed in 1916.

At this time conditions in the War turned grave. The enemy introduced chemical weapons and the Canadian forces suffered from the effects of being gassed on the battlefields. Seeking locations with a favourable climate and clean fresh air, the Federal Government chose three locations in British Columbia to transfer the injured soldiers: leasing the Qualicum Beach Hotel and golf course, the Tranquille Hospital near Kamloops and the Kootenay Lake Hotel. The Military believed golf would be an ideal pastime for the recovering soldiers. In 1915 advertisements began appearing the Victoria Colonist requesting golf equipment be sent to the Qualicum Golf Course for the recovering soldiers. In 1915 a golf course opened at the Tranquille Sanitorium. Kamloops Golf Club supplied the golf equipment. At Balfour the soldiers and staff constructed the links. (Note: It is u8nclear if the soldiers and staff utilized the 1912 course or constructed an entirely new one.) The Balfour Sanitorium Soldier Actors Guild donated all their proceeds from concerts in Balfour and Nelson to the construction and operation of the golf course. Spectators attending the matches between the Balfour and Nelson golfers donated to the Balfour golf club.

In the December issue of the Canadian Golfer Magazine the editor described the new enterprise in Balfour as the most unique golf club in Canada. “The Balfour Golf Club was formed at the beginning of 1918 by the patients and staff of the Balfour Military Sanatorium. Some of the initial work on the golf course and all the initial expense were undertaken by the patients. As our health did not permit strenuous manual labour we had to call in outside help. This we had to pay for and so a committee waited on the citizens of Nelson, who very generously responded. We are now in good financial standing and have our links in as good shape as is possible. Golf is the only exercise we are allowed so you can imagine how we appreciate our links ”

On August 14th, 1918 Mrs. Olson struck the first shot on the Balfour Golf Course. Mrs. Shaw broke the usual bottle of wine to declare the course officially open. In the first official handicap tournament Captain Gray defeated Captain Spenser 4&3. Captain RH Olson, the medical superintendent donated the Olson Cup for annual competition. AB Spenser defeated CR McDougal in the inaugural Olson Cup competition. It appears the club played for the Olson Cup on three occasions.

The ten-hole links course measured 1936 yards and the course record held by C.R. McDougal was 43. On a nation-wide tour to thank returning soldiers for their efforts during the War, the Prince of Wales played the course on Thursday October 1st, 1919. “The next two and a half hours of the afternoon were spent on the golf links, the Prince playing 18 holes against Major-General Sir Henry Burnstall, a member of the Royal Party. That the golf course was a sporty one was the opinion of the Prince after his game which he stated he thoroughly enjoyed.”

The November 1918 issue of the Canadian Golfer Magazine reported the club’s first hole in one. “At Balfour, where a large number of convalescent officers are recuperating, a golf course has been installed. Captain Evan C. Williams, formerly a well-known Toronto banker, decided to go in for the hole-in-one stunt, finding the cup from the tee at the first hole measuring 195 yards.”

Because of the influence of the Balfour GC, EC Wragge, a barrister from Nelson, became the moving spirit to develop the Nelson Golf Club. The Nelson G&CC officially opened their golf course on July 1, 1919. The soldiers from the Balfour club and the actors guild played a prominent role in the Dominion Day festivities.

In December 1921 the last patient at the Hospital transferred to Tranquille. “On April 17, 1922, at the final meeting of the golf club, the balance of funds on hand was given to a family of a soldier in straightened circumstances.”. Those present agreed the course should remain open as a public golf course. During 1922 F. Lyford, a resident of Proctor, operated the course. The following year the Coates Bros. published advertisements in the Nelson newspaper that the course remained open to visitors.

As life in the Kootenays returned to normalcy after the War, the Kootenay Lake Hotel no longer attracted tourists to its doors. The CPR could not overcome the stigma of the Hotel as a former hospital. In 1929 the CPR sold the property and building. In the early 1930’s Mr. Hogan, a Spokane businessman and tremendous supporter for the West Kootenay region, invested funds to kick start golf in the region. This venture proved futile and ceased by the mid-thirties.

Research indicates the course probably remained in playing condition until July 1932. “Citizens of Balfour have completed the arrangements for July 1st. The Balfour golf Links will be open.” No further reference to the Balfour links appears in the Nelson newspapers.

The Royal and Ancient game resurfaced in Balfour in 1990 at a meeting of the Balfour Recreation Commission.  The members joined the wave of golf course construction throughout the province in the 1990’s.

Note The museum is on the search for any images, scorecards, information on this early golf course. We wonder where the Olson Cup is today.

Contact the BC Golf Museum 604 222 4653   email: office@bcgolfhouse.com



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