All it took to build the Wallace River golf course was two guys, one chainsaw and 17 years.
On a busy day, father and son Ron and Al Weeks sometimes get 35 or 40 golfers playing their nine hole course that opened a year ago.
“It started out to be one little hole where I could go to swing a club and no one would ever see me. It just grew and grew,” said Ron. “It was farmland a hundred years ago, but it had all grown up.”
Ron and Al are so close that Ron served as best man when his son got married. So when Ron proposed that the two of them should make a practice of finishing their shifts at the salt mine inPugwash and then firing up the Husqvarna, Al went along.
“Everything was one at a time: one tree at a time, one jug of fuel at a time. There was no big equipment that came on this site,” said Al. “We both worked full time, plus overtime, trying to pay for fuel.”
There were naysayers, and when the pair took 200 cords of lumber off the land that would become the first hole, the doubters seemed right. How could anyone look forward to tens of thousands of hours of work, much of it picking rocks?
“When you were out there cutting you would get discouraged, but if you turned around and looked backwards and saw what you’d got done, you’d turn around and cut another tree,” Ron said.
Bit by bit it came together. Ron designed the layout, doing research by travelling to oldercourses around the Maritimes, like Brudenell and Dundee, and renting a cart and driving around to look at them.
“You take snippets out of them and apply them to the property that you’re given,” he said.
Al was in charge of greens, and brought in dozens of truckloads of gravel and sand to build properly drained greens. The greens aren’t large but they’re full and lush and true, remarkably good really, considering he taught himself how to build them.
He got help from Aaron Little, the superintendant at Fox Harb’r, who taught him how to mow greens and change cup locations.
“I bought an old mower from Ontario, had it shipped down. The first day we mowed greens we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, we’d never used the mower before, but
we’d seeded the greens so we needed to mow them,” Al said. “I went to Fox Harb’r one morning and mowed greens. Same as when I changed holes, first time I ever changed holes I did all 18 at Fox Harb’r. He said by the last one I’d have it half figured out.”
“If you have a smaller green that’s in really, really good shape then people don’t complain about it,” added Ron.
By last summer, the two were just about ready to open Wallace River with its string of holes along the water when Ron was injured at work in the mine, putting him out of commission and unable to greet customers, so they hired two employees.
“We made enough to pay them, but we didn’t have enough left over to pay our taxes,” Ron said.
Now, someone from the family is usually around on the weekend, but the course uses the honour system through the week, trusting customers to pay to play by putting cash in a box or using the debit machine on the counter in the small but tidy pro shop.
“It is a risk that was not easy to take,” Al said. “Last year we learned we needed to do something differently in order to make some gains financially. We’ve got some debt that we incurred when we built.”
Wallace River is just a few minutes drive fromboth Fox Harb’r and Northumberland Links, but Ron says the people that play those courses are a different category of golfer.
“Really adamant golfers go to Northumberland,” said Ron, whose course attracts a lot of couples, novices and women, plus people with limited time. “And they should, it’s a jewel, an amazing course. But there’s quite a group out there that don’t have time to play 18 holes and can’t commit to it, but nine holes is doable.”
“We’re just trying to . . . capture the part of the market that wants to keep golf simple and have fun. This is place where you teach your kids how to golf, we hope, and . . . it’s a challenging course, it keeps you coming back,” added Al. “We’re not trying to be Northumberland, and I don’t want to be, I want to be the friendly course down by the river. Keeping golf pure and simple, that’s our market right now.”