While the earliest known reference to golf being played in Halifax was in 1873, the first golf course was the Halifax Golf Club founded in 1896. The club leased lands in the peninsular south end that are now part of Dalhousie University, and by 1898 there were about 40 members playing a sporty little course of nine holes. From the outset the Studley site was considered to be too short, and in 1900 arrangements were made to lease a portion of the Collins estate to expand. The 18-hole Gorsebrook golf links totalled about 3800 yards.
But Gorsebrook was no championship course, and after the First World War interest grew in establishing a challenging layout of which the capital city could be proud. The Halifax Golf and Country Club Limited was incorporated June 13, 1922, and the first challenge the Board faced was to find a suitable site for a golf course. Its second major challenge was to finance the project on a sound basis.
On the same day as incorporation the construction committee placed before the Board a report from Canadian golf architect Stanley Thompson on the Webb and Piercey properties at Dutch Village. Thompson had spent three days in Halifax examining the properties and laying out a proposed course. On July 10, 1922, the Board moved to acquire the 142-acre site and construction began the same year. When work ceased for the winter, nine holes were practically completed and seeded.
Although far from complete, the course was officially opened on Aug. 16, 1923 when Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy hit the ceremonial ball from the first tee (then the old #4). The course was open to play only three days a week that year.
The entire 18 holes were in play by fall 1925. Even prior to completion the course was an immediate hit, so much so that the 1924 annual report of Brightwood Golf Club in Dartmouth noted a serious falling off in their membership list and identified the Ashburn development as one of the factors in the declining numbers.
At the time Halifax had a population of about 58,000, and Ashburn added to the city appeal as a tourist and convention destination point?even though the location of the course, Dutch Village, was considered by many to be a commuter settlement. With todays transportation links, the Old Course is just minutes from downtown and is an integral part of the city.
The first clubhouse was the old Webb homestead, which had been expanded, remodelled and furnished at a cost that raised some eyebrows. To the original 14 rooms were added a sun room and dining room, all glass. The ground floor contained two reception rooms, a private dining room, a men?s coat and wash room, in addition to the kitchen, pantry, and quarters for professional and caddies. The second floor comprised a lounge with fireplace and two dressing rooms for ladies, a private card room and staff quarters. All were proud when the clubhouse was officially opened on May 10, 1924.
The famed Ashburn clubhouse hosted many golf tournaments and visiting dignitaries, including governors-general, a prime minister, a US president, lieutenant-governors, and sports figures such as Babe Ruth, Gordie Howe, George Knudson, and Moe Norman. However, its charm was greater than its capacity; in 1999 the 140-year old clubhouse was demolished and a modern clubhouse with meeting rooms, lounges, a banquet facility, Pro Shop, administrative offices, locker rooms and a dining room was built. The new clubhouse at the Old Course opened in 2000.
By 1958 the membership had reached 802 and a portion of the Old Course was expropriated for the Bicentennial Highway, reflecting the city?s growth and subsequent pressure on greenspaces. The following year outgoing president Hal Connor was asked to look for a site for a new golf course. Land near Kinsac Lake in Windsor Junction was identified and after several years of negotiation, 600 acres were purchased from the Lee family.
Golf architect Geoffrey Cornish, one of the legendary Stanley Thompsons protégés visited Ashburn in 1967, and recommended against building any new holes at the Old Course as the costs would be excessive. A new course at Kinsac Lake was recommended. Many thought the Old Course would be sold to finance the project, but the Board quickly dispelled that notion. Construction began in 1968 and the New Course was opened Aug. 5, 1970. The ceremonial first ball was driven off the tee by Dr. Harvey E. Crowell, a charter member.
New Ashburn quickly became recognized as one of the finest courses in Eastern Canada, and it has hosted two national and several provincial championships. For many years members used the rudimentary bunker as a clubhouse, but in 2005 a new facility with an extensive Pro Shop, dining facility, lounge and locker rooms was opened for members and their guests to enjoy.
In 2008 the club opened an extensive practice facility at the New Course.
- Excerpted from A Golfing Tradition ... Halifax Golf and Country Club, 1922?1997