A Fortuitous Find for Lethbridge Country Club
You never know what you will find when you look through someone else's belongings. A granddaughter of a former club secretary discovered a wonderful, completely unexpected, find when she came across a box marked Lethbridge CC at her grandfather's home in late December 2017. She had the foresight to take it to Brian Huculak, the GM and Executive Professional at Lethbridge. Inside, among other things, were two original drawings by Stanley Thompson, one dated May 1, 1931. Confirmation of old local newspaper accounts of Thompsons' input to this club has finally been achieved.
Canadian Golf, July 1917, announced that seven new clubs had been started in Canada, in the midest of WWI, which illustrated the need for a relaxing diversion from the mental stress caused by it. Lethbridge Country Club, incorporated in 1913, was one of the them. The members had originally played on a course on the river flood plain but relocated to the jail farm in 1913 where play continued until 1916. The club then met its demise likely due to many members enlisting in the services. The club was revived in 1929 and, after several years of planning and effort, the members returned to the Oldman River floodplain. This was done knowing the risk of flooding in such an environment. The risk became reality in 1995 when a major flood occurred that caused them to relocated the clubhouse to a higher elevation. A Lethbridge Herald article dated April 19, 1932, states "The Country Club has a fine pice of land, just south of the power plant on the river bottom, where the first nine holes of an 18 hole course have been laid out by the celebrated golf architect, Thompson, of Toronto". The land was legally transferred to the club on August 15, 1932.
It is well documented that Thompson was in JAsper to play the 1929 Canadian Men's Amateur Championship and travelled south to visit Waterton Lakes National Park at the request of the Federal Government. To do so, he could have travelled through Lethbridge. Stanley was not only a great architect but was obviously a credible salesman who would have known beforehand about the status of golf in Lethbridge. As usual, when he planned his western trip, he would have tried to hit as many bases as possible, most likely informing his potential clients beforehand. HE was almost certainly invited to visit.
This drawing is dated May 1, 1931. Perhaps his work on 11 courses in 1930 explains why it took 20 months to produce. There was still ample time to prepare the ground between receipt of this drawing and the opening of the course in June, 1932. The "greens" were, in fact, dark brown, as they were sand impregnated with crude oil and then rolled, but no "grass grow in" was necessary. The players did have to get used to the aroma coming from the putting surface but time would reduce this as the volatiles evaporated.. Thompson dropped in again in April, 1932 after inspecting what had been achieved on the ground. The Lethbridge Herald article of June 8, 1932 provides a card for the course which is different from that on his drawing.
The reporter was very effusive about the course while remarking about the very few gopher holes in teh fairways and the terrain and buck brush adding to the sportiness of the course. He spent over half his column on the intricacies for the duffer of playing hole no. 4. Even today, playing this hole, requires some thought for the duffer as well as the low handicapper.
The Thompson drawing shows the access road to the site and a clubhouse. It is doubtful if it was ever built because, in 1933, the club exchanged $750 for an unused school house, cut it in half and transported it down the very steep and narrow access road and reassembled it adjacent to Thompson's seventh green. That then became the 9th and the 18th became the first. In fact parts of the school were moved down the river, a story in itself.
The members should be justifiably proud of their golf course. It has a great visual impact from any position and presents a playing challenge for all levels of ability. When the writer played it in 2013, it was in wonderful health and playing condition.
The proof that Stanley Thompson was instrumental in designing this golf course has been found and to know that his work is still visible ont he landscape is cause for celebration. The Society is extremely grateful to the members for their gift of the original drawing which will reside in a safe, controlled, environment in our archives at the University of Guelph for future generations to study and enjoy.
The author would also like to thank General Manager, Brian Huculak, for his continuing interest and research over the years in establishing changes to the layout and Stanley Thompson's input.
John D. Smith