Blairhampton Golf Club celebrates 50 years
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | June 23, 2016
A long, narrow driveway leads you to Blairhampton Golf Club’s parking lot. It isn’t uncommon to see a groundhog or other critter scurry in front of you when you arrive. The scenic, 18-hole course is carved out of the natural beauty of the Highlands, just 11 km north of downtown Minden on Duck Lake Rd.
The road is winding and sometimes new visitors get lost. But most don’t regret the journey. As superintendent Kevin Fowler puts, this is one of the country’s best-kept secrets.
However, golfers have been finding their way here for 50 years. The course’s 50th anniversary is being celebrated on July 1. On that day free rounds will be raffled off and there will be giveaways for hats, ball repair tools and more.
In 1962, Toronto lawyer Andrew Shuyler began building the course. He also owned a nearby island now named after him.
Unfortunately, a torrential storm washed out part of the course before it opened. The stress proved too much for Shuyler and he passed away, according to pro shop manager Gord Barter.
“He didn’t see it open in 1966,” said Barter.
Shuyler’s wife Billie and son David took over the operation and ran it for 21 years. In 1987, Doug and Sandy Prozak purchased the business and continue to operate it to this day.
The pair came from Oshawa but cottaged nearby on Shadow Lake in Norland.
“It was a lot of hard work,” recalled Barter, a Minden resident who has been an employee for more than 20 years. He first discovered the course as a golfer and then began working in the pro shop.
Four years ago he left his other job as an insurance broker and went full-time.
“It’s been great,” said Barter of the experience. “I wouldn’t have been here that long if it wasn’t.”
As pro shop manager, he can be seen in the pro shop and on the grounds—usually with a walkie-talkie in-hand and headset to answer calls. It’s his job to ensure golfers’ needs are taken care of.
The course has come a long way over the past three decades. In 1989, the clubhouse was built to replace a tiny shack that greeted golfers when they arrived.
“There was a sign on it and a box. ‘Just put your money in the box. If you take a chocolate bar, put your money in the box,’” laughed Barter, reflecting on the original building.
That system would still work today because of the trust that has been built with customers, he added.
In 1993, the Prozaks added a driving range. Six years later they hired a team to build another nine holes. It was a major undertaking, requiring 100 tractor-trailer loads of sod and two years to complete.
The course, which is considered fairly challenging, is a total of 6,497 yards from the blue tees (furthest distance from each hole) and 4,870 yards from the red tees (otherwise known as the ladies’ tees).
The course employees 15 people, including five grounds workers. All are full-time during the summer.
The upkeep is a challenging job and one that requires a lot of time and effort.
“We start early,” said Fowler. “It’s a full day.”
“There’s constant cutting all day ... there’s a lot of grass growing really fast and so little time to cut it,” added Barter.
The property is teeming with wildlife, such as blue herons, American bittern and deer. Golfers appreciate those sights while they enjoy their game.
And even a few celebrities have teed off, including world champion figure skater Kurt Browning and retired NHL player Basil McRae.
“People are happy to play golf here,” said Barter. “I’m a people person and I’ve made a lot of good friends here.”
For more information visit blairhamptongolf.com or call 705-286-1315.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.