History of Niakwa Country Club
The Niakwa Country Club was launched in the fall of 1921 by a few enthusiasts who envisioned a need in Winnipeg for a high quality golf course, close to the city.
The 125 acres for the new club was purchased from the Roman Catholic Church at $260 an acre. This property was part of the land given by Lord Selkirk to the Catholic Mission over 100 years before. To finance the total project $100,000 was required: land – $32,500; clearing and seeding fairways and building bunkers – $40,000; water supply and equipment including rollers and mowers – $10,000; and clubhouse facilities – $17,500. A small sum by today’s standards.
Traversed by several suitably contoured ravines, flanked and given character by the winding Seine River, the mapped out area for the proposed golf course was perfect. On November 1, 1921, a final decision was made to move forward with development and to name the club “Niakwa” meaning “Winding River”.
Stanley Thompson, internationally renowned Canadian golf architect, arrived in Winnipeg in November 1922. Natural artistry has been described as the essence of Thompson’s design philosophy and this was never clearer than with the layout of this course. In designing Niakwa, Thompson took full advantage of the Seine River and the ravines that ran through the property as nine of the holes either crossed the river or a ravine. In his final plan, the river was to be played over three times and alongside three more holes.
The original Thompson layout at Niakwa was virtually unchanged from its opening day in 1923 until the devastating flood that engulfed Winnipeg in 1950. The rising spring waters flooded the course and ruined the original clubhouse. A second clubhouse had to be built and in May of 1952, the Winnipeg Free Press reported “Niakwa opened their swell new clubhouse Saturday afternoon."
To accommodate the increase in members, a modern, expanded clubhouse was constructed in 1990. The objective was to continue to improve Niawka members' experience. The ground-breaking ceremony was in August of 1990 and the new facility was officially opened in May of 1991. This third clubhouse is the clubhouse that stands today.
Changes were made to the course as a result of the new clubhouse. The updated par three 10th hole was replaced by the new par three 14th hole. The original 10th hole with its famous and extremely difficult to hit “Hogan’s Flat” and awkward dogleg, had already been modified in the 1970s by Robinson and Cornish. The 11th – in the classic Thompson model with a small, well bunkered green – the 12th and the 13th were unchanged. “The Horn” continues to be a challenge for today’s golfers.
Commencing in 2006, significant changes took place in accordance with the master capital plan; however preserving the original Stanley Thompson feel remained a priority. The driving range was lengthened to over 200 yards. The par four 2nd hole was eliminated and replaced by a beautiful and challenging 180-yard par three. A fairway drainage system was installed and he bunkers on all holes were redesigned in the original Thompson style. To maintain par at 72 the 15th hole was lengthened. The bush was cleared from behind the tee and the tee was moved back 125 yards to make the 15th hole into a testing and beautiful 350-yard par four. Finally, in 2009, the greens on the 6th, 11th and 12th holes were replaced completing the improvements of the past few years.
From the time of its opening day in 1923 to today, Niakwa has been acknowledged and continues to be one of Canada’s finest golf courses. Like a living work of art, Niakwa has evolved and changed over the decades, but always with the ever present spirit of its master, Stanley Thompson.
Over its rich history Niakwa Country Club has hosted many prestigious events: the CPGA Championship in 1952 and 1960; the Canadian Ladies Amateur in 1956, 1972 and 2001; the Canadian Men’s Amateur in 1974 and upcoming in 2011; and the Canadian Club Championship in 1980 and 1987. The most famous events at Niakwa have been the Gerhard Kennedy Classic in 1946, and the crown jewel of Canadian golf, the Canadian Open in 1961.
CPGA Championship (Gerhard Kennedy Classic): August 7 – 10, 1946
Niakwa truly hit the national stage when it hosted the Gerhard Kennedy Classic in 1946. Essentially this was two tournaments in one. The CPGA tournament had been scheduled at Niakwa, but to expand the tournament Gerhard Kennedy, a local clothing entrepreneur put up money to attract an amazing field of players from the St. Paul Open the week prior.
This tournament hosted many famous players of the time but perhaps none more famous than Ben Hogan, often considered one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game. Hogan won the overall event and collected the sizable amount of $3,500. This was also the same year that Hogan won his first Major title at the comparatively late age of 34. Over his career, Hogan won 64 PGA tournaments including eight Majors.
Another legend who played in this Classic was Sam Snead. Snead burst onto the PGA Tour in 1937 winning five times that year, wowing crowds with long drives that earned him the nickname "Slammin' Sam". Snead continued to wow at this tournament by acing Niakwa’s signature hole, the long par three 15th hole, fully measured at 235 yards from the “tips”. In all of the club’s history there have been fewer than a dozen aces at the 15th hole. Snead went on to finish third overall.
Jules Huot is noted as winning the closed portion of the tournament (the CPGA Championship). Other prominent golfers in the field were: Ken Black, Stan Leonard, Jimmy Demaret, Stan Horne, Bill Kerr, Lawson Little, “Jug” McSpaden, Dick Metz, Tony Penna, Craig Wood, Fred Wood and Jimmy Thompson.
Canadian Open: July 12-15, 1961
Niakwa Country Club was the site of the Canadian Open held July 12 to 15, 1961. The field of 150 included 11 amateurs. The professionals competed for a total purse of $30,000.
The 1961 Canadian Open was nicknamed the “Umbrella” Open. Until that point, Winnipeg’s summer was perfect and dry however, the rain started down on the first day and did not stop until after the last day of the July Tournament.
Prominent golfers in the field were: Tommy Aaron, Al Balding, Miller Barber, George Bayer, Guy Brewer, Billy Casper, Bruce Crampton, Jim Ferrier, Dow Finsterwald, Jack Fleck, Doug Ford, Marty Furgol, Bob Goalby, Tony Lema, Stan Leonard, Dave Marr, Don Massengale, Bobby Nichols, Moe Norman, Bob Panasik, Phil Rogers, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Doug Sanders, Charlie Sifford and local hero George Knudson.
Young Jacky Cupit was only one year into his professional career when he shot a remarkable 270 with rounds of 66-69-64-71 to win the Championship. His win netted him the sum of $4,300 while the final five professionals on the money list each received $20.
Other National Events hosted by Niakwa
CLGA Ladies Close 1937
Won by Heather Leslie 2 up in match play
CPGA Championship 1952
Won by Pat Fletcher with a 54 hole score of 210
CLGA Ladies Amateur 1956
Won by Marlene Stewart-Streit on the 38th hole of match play
CLGA Ladies Close 1956
Won by Marlene Stewart-Streit with a score of 235
CLGA Ladies Junior 1956
Won by Betty Stanhope-Cole with a score of 161
CPGA Championship 1960
Won by Bill Kerr with a score of 206
CLGA Ladies Amateur 1972
Won by Marlene Stewart-Streit with a score of 295
RCGA Men’s Amateur 1974
Won by Doug Roxborough with a score of 280
RCGA Interprovincial Pro-Am Matches (Crown Life) 1979
Won by Team Manitoba
CPGA Canadian Club Professionals Championship 1980
Won by Jim Collins with a score of 210
CPGA Canadian Club Professionals Championship 1987
Won by Gar Hamilton with a score of 212
RCGA Canadian Club Champions Championship 1989
Won by Gordon Courage with a score of 283
Canadian Senior Men’s Amateur Championship 1994
Won by Doug Silverberg with a score of 217
CLGA Canadian Ladies Amateur 2001
Won by Lisa Meldrum with a score of 283
World Blind Golf Championship 2002
Won by David Morris, Dennis McCulloch, Peter Robinson
Canadian Men’s Amateur Championship 2011
Won by Mackenzie Hughes