Never has the start of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club season been welcomed with as much enthusiasm as it was Saturday morning.
Anticipating many members would be hoping for the 8 a.m. tee time, the first of the 2020 season, John Wiens, club owner and operator, and golf pro Billy Simkin decided an auction would be a fair and worthwhile way to offer their members the opportunity to vie for that spot, and at the same time help out the local food bank.
Although they received several generous bids, the big surprise, says Wiens, was an email from a member who is in the U.S., offering $5,000. The member, who wanted to remain anonymous, wouldn’t be in NOTL Saturday morning to play, and instead wanted to give the tee time to members who fell into the category of club legends and ambassadors.
So Wiens reached out to Jim Brown and Doug Garrett, two long-standing senior members in the legends category. But both are dealing with health issues, and were still “in spring training,” says Wiens, and not quite ready to get out on the course.
He also contacted the men’s Ryder Cup captain, Harry Huizer, and ladies Solheim Cup captain Martha Cruikshank, who were both delighted to get the call
and be the first to play the course Saturday, and readily accepted.
Newark Neighbours will receive $5,000, plus several donations from others who chose to give their bids to the local food bank.
Everyone who took part in the auction was able to play Saturday, says Simkin, and for the next two weeks, the club will limit tee times to members only, to ensure they will all have access to the course.
The auction received attention from other clubs around the province, as well as a golf magazine, Simkin says, with other clubs deciding to follow the example set in NOTL.
“It was a great result, making it easier for us and having a bit of fun with it, and also being able to do some good in the community,” says Simkin.
Wiens and Simkin were there to welcome the golfers, and with other staff, to ensure physical distancing and other safety precautions they had prepared for were in place.
Limiting golfing to members only also makes it easier to ensure protocols are followed, says Simkin — members have been made aware of the rules and will be respectful while on the course.
Tee times must be pre-booked, and are 12 minutes apart, rather than the usual 10 minutes, with signs and directional markings to ensure safety for all. The first day saw about 180 golfers on the course, whereas a normal day at this time of year would be closer to about 220 to 230, says Simkin. There are no ball washers available, and the flag remains in the hole, with the ball sitting up high enough to be retrieved without touching the cup.
The golf club dining room and patio remain closed, but the kitchen opened for takeout to members. The pro shop is also still closed.
Leading up to Saturday, Huizer had been spending some time in his backyard each day for several weeks, practising his swing and chipping balls to get in shape for the season. He was feeling good about his progress, but joked that golfers tend to be an optimistic bunch.
Cruikshank, who took the first swing of the season, had been out the day before chipping balls, to be ready to go as well. “The course looks beautiful, and the guys are all really well-organized. I’ve been coming to walk the course and it’s been making my mouth water, wanting to get out.”
After their game, Huizer said, “Martha and I had a great time, and did make some pars, besides some good shots. It was fun and an honour to get to tee off first. Newark Neighbours and the food bank were the real winners today.”