From sandy beginnings, Williams Lake golf course has come a long way

The Williams Lake Golf and Tennis Club has come a long way since its early beginnings.

Once a tiny respite crammed together where Boitanio Park now sits, the Williams Lake Golf and Tennis Club has come a long way since its early beginnings.

Its scenic holes, which currently provide views of Williams Lake from the city’s west hillside, aren’t, however, where the course’s origins began.

The history of the golf course is an interesting one, and took a combined effort between multiple individuals to make the dream of a proper golf facility a reality.

It was 1919. Scotsman Roderick Mackenzie moved to the village of Williams Lake where, along with partner Jim Fraser, he became the first merchant at the time. Together, they opened Mackenzie’s store.

Several shops and businesses followed suit, opening shops on the two blocks where the east side of Mackenzie Avenue and Oliver Street now intersect.

Mackenzie’s store burned in a tragic fire in 1921, along with several other businesses in the area. Fraser, his partner at the time, left town in 1924, but Mackenzie remained and would play an active part in building the community.

Mackenzie would later become Cariboo MLA and would serve from 1928 to 1938.

During that time period, in 1929, he bought and donated nine acres of land in what’s now Boitanio Park to be designated as a golf course. The locals at the time were thrilled, and the Williams Lake Golf and Country Club was born.

The nine-acre course was located where Boitanio Park currently stands, along with sections of the Boitanio Mall and the current Save-On-Foods location, and was developed by a group of dedicated individuals led by Peter Proctor.

Mackenzie stipulated that when the land he’d donated ceased to be a golf course, it would become a park.

The Williams Lake Golf and Country Club would later be formally incorporated in 1946.

Proctor, along with the other members of the time, recognized the need to develop a golf course that offered new challenges and facilities. The current course was nine holes, with sand greens and was a fairly short course by today’s standards.

But it wasn’t until the population of Williams Lake began to grow in the early 1960s that the members truly began to acknowledge something needed to change.

The Pacific Great Eastern Railway had moved its way into town, and the forest service wanted to build district offices. Unfortunately for golfers, the location they chose was situated a little too close for comfort to the No. 1 fairway.

All three parties wanted a change.

The end result — after a combined effort by the PGE, the forestry offices and town alderman — was the golf course could remain in the park for five years, at which time it had to move.

The PGE was to help find another site for the course, and it did.

The group, including Proctor, Williams Lake mayor at the time Herb Gardner, Mel Kahl, Alan Vanderburgh, Jim Huckvale and Lee Skipp — among others — struck a deal with the PGE, and found the 200-acre location on the west side of Williams Lake where the golf course currently sits.

A Williams Lake Tribune article dated Oct 20, 1965, “Golf Club gets OK on 200 acre course,” states the previous nine acres was traded with the PGE, along with an additional $100 per acre fee on the new property.

The cost of the new course was roughly $60,000, however, the club realized $50,000 through the sale of the current nine-acre course.

Skipp, who came to Williams Lake in 1952 to work as a lawyer, owned a law firm called Skipp, Vanderburgh & Co. along with Vanderburgh at the time.

The course in Boitanio Park was extremely rudimentary. It was small, had sand greens and, while it was better than nothing, golfers were craving something better.

Gardner, the mayor at the time, also got behind the plan to relocate the course.

Proctor, meanwhile, became the guiding light behind the new course — going to war with the PGE to obtain a deed to the desired land on the side hill overlooking the town of Williams Lake.

Essentially, the deed was acquired by swapping properties as the PGE also owned the land the little golf course in Boitanio Park was on.

The investors at the time claimed no ownership rights to the course, however, they put up the money to get the course construction project underway.

The planning group began subdividing land to make golf course lots, which were then sold to raise further capital, while many residents donated their labour to the project.

First, the front nine was built, and operated for a number of years before the back nine was constructed. The new course was completed by 1976.

Residents were thrilled to have a proper course to play on, and the WLGTC is still highly regarded as a quality course to play at.

Proctor oversaw the design of the course, along with some professional expertise from a course designer.

The club later added a restaurant and tennis courts to the facility, and changed the name to the Williams Lake Golf and Tennis Club.

But not much has changed over the years. The layout of the course is, generally, still the same and the clubhouse currently being used is the original building which has undergone renovations over the years.

In 2018, the WLGTC is hosting 21 separate tournaments throughout the spring and summer, and holds a weekly men’s night, ladies’ night, seniors’ day and operates a junior golf program.

On the horizon is a project to upgrade and renovate its current driving range, which needs its netting and fencing replaced.

The club has honoured its past members including those responsible for its construction including Skipp, Vanderburgh, Proctor, Kahl, Gardner and Huckvale with lifetime memberships.

A plaque also sits at the Williams Lake Golf and Tennis Club commemorating the work of Proctor.

 

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