Early Golf in Niagara
It is that time of year again when people start to dust off their clubs and spend their days strolling along the greens at one of the many golf courses in the region. Particularly fascinating is the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, which holds the title of being one of the oldest golf clubs in North America (founded a couple of years after the Royal Montreal Golf Club, 1873). Having opened its doors, or rather its greens, in 1875, the course remains a beloved place by local enthusiasts and tourists alike.
The golf course originally consisted of nine holes and was affiliated with the Queen’s Royal Hotel, prior to its demolition in 1930. The golf club was then renamed as it is known today. However, the grounds historical significance and connection to royalty does not end there. On October 1st, 1901, the Prince of Wales, later King George V, was made an honorary member following his stay at the Queen’s Royal Hotel. After Fort George had been captured during the War of 1812, Fort Mississauga was erected to counter the American garrison, Fort Niagara. The British fort, having been abandoned by the 1860s remains nestled amongst holes one, two, and eight. Furthermore, links one, two, and eight have not been changed since their creation more than a century-and-a-half ago. Not only could you take the same steps as soldiers from centuries past, but you can also share drinks and laughter in the clubhouse as many others have before.
John Geale Dickson was the founding father of NOTL’s golf scene as he encouraged the establishment of the Niagara Golf Club. In 1881 he appointed his brother Robert Dickson to be captain of the Golf Club. Approximately fifteen years later, the first Niagara International golf tournament was held in 1895 (the very first of its kind). Events were open to Canadian and American golfers of various skillsets as well as lady golfers, a relatively liberal association for the time. The previous championship titles were held by Charles B. MacDonald and Rose Chatfield-Taylor of Chicago before Madeline Geale of NOTL (Niagara on the Lake) usurped the title in the ladies’ division; “The Niagara lady made her name as possessing the prettiest golf stroke among women in America and won with several points to spare.”
A three-time successive winner of the International Championship would be awarded custody of the Challenge Trophy (1895 value of $800). The trophy had been in the possession of Torontonian Douglas Laird, having won the championship three times in a row by 1906. Laird’s streak was short-lived as A. A. Adams of Hamilton took the win in 1908 and 1909. At the 16th annual tournament in 1910, the trophy was held at the Niagara Golf Club who anticipated it being rehomed at the Adams’ residence. The tournament was held annually until the start of the Great War when the grounds were used for military training.
Prior to the outbreak of the Great War there had been some concerns regarding the garrisons and various landmarks on the property. A troubled golfer wrote to the editor of the amalgamated newspaper Toronto Mail and Empire discussing rumours of leasing the grounds of Fort George to an American golf club. In the 1898 letter, the golfer mentioned the appeal made by the Club’s Director to the Government, asking if they could erect a clubhouse on the grounds of Fort George in exchange for fencing and preserving the historic site; “instead of being ‘vandals’…the Niagara Golf Club is rather a protector of Canadian relic[s].” The golfer further stated that there was no danger of the club being bought out.
However, a letter addressed to then Mayor McClelland, dated May 28th, 1917, expressed discontent with the state of the Links. The writer proclaimed that residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake were incomprehensible to the importance of “having good, very good Golf Links.” Additionally, the penman offered “[his] opinion of Niagara-on-the-Lake is that it can never be anything but a Summer Resort and without good Golf it won’t amount to a “hill of beans.”’ Adding to his two cents, the gentleman compared his visit to Seabreeze, Florida to the attendance at the Queen’s Royal Hotel, indicating a poor lodging season was influenced by an even more lack-lustre nine-hole experience. The penman concludes…
“The Hotel furnishes every kind of amusement, and we are anxious to make it as attractive as in former years, but without Golf it is no good. I think it would very much be to the interest of the Town if the municipality would take some interest in the matter and help to bear the burden of keeping it in order…”
Although the grand Queen’s Royal Hotel is no longer standing and the Niagara International championship has ceased its annual tenure at the Niagara-on-the-Lake course, the Links remain open and enjoyed throughout the summer months. Book a tee-time and enjoy refreshments at yet another of NOTL’s historic sites. Do not forget to stop in at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum to learn more about the history of this old settlement.
object ID: 874.148 Record, General [The New Yorker about Queen’s hotel becoming NOTL golf club]
object ID: 9220.127.116.11 A-B [image 2 of 8; golf program]
object ID: 988.5.103 [Letter; sports; from golfer to Toronto mail & empire]
object ID: 1999.005.326 [letter]
Object ID: 994.207 [Duke of Cornwall membership invitation 1901]