It was in 1912 that young Doug Wood, back from a summer with his family in the Isles of Jersey and Wight, took tomato cans and cricket stumps in hand and set to work to lay out a golf course. In his own words:
“My father [James Wood] had a few clubs made for me at the Jersey Club, played with me every day for a week, and from then on I became devoted to the game … That summer we rented a cottage at Eastbourne. Behind the row of cottages facing the lake and in front of our cottage was an unused field … Fascinated by the game I practiced my mashie in the field. I cut the grass at each corner of the field and one spot beside the cottage making five squares of about fifteen feet. In the centre of each I sunk a tomato can. I used cricket stumps for flagpoles. From some red material my mother cut little flags, which we tacked to the stumps. The number of players in a game varied from one to eight. There was never more than one game at a time for the way we played the only safe place was well behind the hitter. There was no fixed order in which we played the [five] holes. Usually we went diagonally to obtain the maximum distance".
In 1913 young amateur Francis Ouimet defeated Vardon and Ray in the play-off for the U.S. Open and there was an instant interest in golf. “Someone,” said Wood, “may have sensed the possibility of a course for Eastbourne.” And eleven men did. Each of these Charter Members paid $50.00 and an annual fee of $15.00, which entitled his family to play. The group leased 50 acres of land from local landowner Tom Bradshaw for a period of ten years from October 1, 1914, with an option to buy. The lessees committed themselves to pay the taxes, refrain from cutting down lumber, and not to sublet. Above all, the lease prohibited three things – liquor, business on the course, and golf on Sunday. When the playing rules of the Rosedale Golf Club were adopted, another part of the game was prohibited - no betting.
By the summer of 1914 the course, always called “the links”, had been made ready for play – all for $1022.31. This covered an odd fee for laying out the course - $11.65 to Frank Freeman, the distinguished Pro from the Rosedale Golf Club - plus the labour, fertilizer, seed for fairways and greens, one heavy roller, horse boots, hole cutter, hole rings, flags and rent for the year. It was found that half of the leased land, just 25 acres, was sufficient for good play and nine holes were laid out. The Club was incorporated in 1916 and, in April 1917, the land on which the course was situated was purchased for $2400.00, including a bonus of additional adjacent land to extend and enhance play. By 1918 all indebtedness was cleared and a deed was received.
With such confidence, new rules were brought in. Since the course was very crowded on weekends, and since a caddy had just been hit by a ball, it was decided that caddies would not be allowed on weekends unless he be the son of the player. Non-observance of the rules of golf, its etiquette and attire, were unacceptable and a Committee was appointed to enforce compliance. Lady members must remember that Saturday and holiday mornings were set aside exclusively for men. Turf must be replaced after a shot. And, last but not least, emphasis was put on the fact that some ladies were still forgetting the injunction: NO HIGH-HEELED SHOES ON THE COURSE.
By 1918 The Eastbourne Golf Club was attracting considerable attention. Anticipation was high when it was announced that George Cummings (Head Pro at The Toronto Golf Club), and B.L. (Bert) Anderson of Lambton Golf Club (Secretary of the R.C.G.A.), would take on George S. Lyon of Lambton (Canadian Amateur Champion) and Willie Freeman (Lambton Professional) at The Eastbourne Golf Club on August 19, 1918, funds to be raised for the Red Cross. All four players were nationally known golfers and the press was there. The Mail and Empire covered the eighteen-hole matches shot by shot and a large gallery followed the matches - $100 was raised. Celebrity matches became an annual event. At the celebrity match of July 24, 1920 The Toronto Golf Club’s George Cummings broke the course record with a score of 31. The press gleefully recorded each hole and announced the new course record. Members were told that The Eastbourne Golf Club was now “on the map” in Ontario golf.
By 1922 the Club had acquired what locally became a unique and well-respected symbol – its flock of thoroughbred sheep. Their job would be to help keep the grass and weeds down and to fertilize the fairways. The Club had purchased the pick of a flock of 40 purebred Shropshires that were shipped to the Club in November and wintered well. They were accommodated and herded during the summer and by April 1923 there was an increase of 39 lambs from 30 ewes thanks to a Shearling ram, a prizewinner at the 1922 CNE. The lambs were a huge success. As well as keeping down the dandelions and other weeds and fertilizing the land, their efforts reduced the costs of mowing the fairways in the early part of the season and in the autumn. The following year the membership was informed that a “wool clip of 373 pounds was being shipped to the Canadian Co-Operative Wool Growers Association”. The money gained from this sale allowed for the purchase of five more high-class animals for $225. The flock was eventually replaced with more traditional equipment.
Ten years after the Club opened there were 74 charter members whose families were enjoying the full nine-hole course. Competition was intense and membership active and enthusiastic. Happily, the same can be said after ninety-six years.
Mary Byers, 2009