Good ol’ Flin Flon! I mean, what other community could lay claim to having a golf course on a lake bottom?
Back in Flin Flon’s earliest days circa 1927, one of the greatest undertakings was to build a massive dam and then pump dry a portion of Flin Flon Lake to allow access to the massive ore body and create a tailings pond.
Once drained, the relatively level lake bottom was the sight of sports days and community celebrations. It was the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting (HBM&S) or, more familiarly known as The Company, under the direction of Vice-President M. A. Roche, that provided the resources in the mid 1930s to create the nine hole lake bottom course. It was the only such course in the world!
The course itself was unique in several ways. The fairways were comprised of a brown, granular soil that turned to muck when it rained. The greens were made of sand. The sand was oiled to add stability and prevent it from blowing around. Thus, golfers had to deal with the issue of cleaning the oil off the golf ball and thus oily hands affecting the grip on the club. No doubt, this would offer a whole range of excuses for bad swings.
It wasn’t long before the golfers set their sites on a more suitable location and again M. A. Roche and The Company answered the call in 1951 by hacking the bush and carving a golf course within the rocky contours of the Precambrian Shield and the ubiquitous presence of soggy muskeg adjacent to the Phantom Lake Resort. Some of the cutting and clearing work was undertaken by the infamous Flin Flon Bombers Bull Gang.
The Phantom Lake links, under the management of HBM&S, opened in 1952 and the course was again somewhat a wonder of the world. Grass was encouraged to grow on the fairways and there were actual grass greens! The claim of the day – another Flin Flon first – the most northerly grass greens in Canada!
Annual membership fees in the ‘50s were $25 for men, $15 for women and $7.50 for juniors. Golfing, at that time, was restricted to men only after 5 pm on weekdays and before noon on weekends.
Anyone who has ever golfed, or even watched golf on television will understand that hazards are built in to the course to make the game more of a challenge or frustration for the duffers. The early days Phantom Lake course didn’t have formal water hazards, per se, but the ditches that drained the muskeg were unique and captured many an errant golf ball. And there was that bothersome fox that liked to steal and hide fairway balls. Finding your ball after a hook or slice into the rough on most courses would be fairly straightforward but a ball hitting a protruding rock face at Phantom would bounce in any number of directions. A lot of mumbled words and blue smoke came out of the rough!
A set of clubs back in the day were fairly basic and by necessity included a Bush Iron – a low grade club for use in the rough. It was also called an “I don’t give a damn what I hit I just want the ball out of here” club.
Of historical interest, the club house from the lake bottom course was moved to Phantom Lake in 1951 and now comprises part of the current club house structure. The present dining room is named The Roche Room in honour of M. A. Roche’s dedication to bringing golf to Flin Flon.
The member-owned Phantom Lake Golf Club took over operation of the course circa 1988 and currently has 300 members ranging from seniors to children. The greatest percentage of golfers are from the Flin Flon, Creighton and lakes area in addition to tourists and Flin Flonners who return home for the summer.
The Phantom Lake Golf Club and its picturesque course stand as a tribute to the northern spirit that made, and still makes Flin Flon a unique community. Fore!
Thanks to Ron Wiebe, Brian Kenny, Frank Feiber, Stacy Hyndman and Bill Hamilton for their recollections.
This column is dedicated in memory of the late Murray Taylor who provided dedicated service in the early years of the Phantom Lake Golf Course.