If you stand on the spacious front deck of the Ponoka Community Golf Club clubhouse you will be treated to a glorious panoramic view of the Battle River valley and surrounding countryside. Nestled among the majestic trees and rolling landscape below is the 18-hole Ponoka golf course, which has been carefully fashioned with nature during 75 years of careful planning, hard work, and keen community support.
What many avid golfers would later refer to as ‘The Best Kept Secret in Central Alberta’ had its humble beginnings somewhere in the Dirty Thirties during friendly planning sessions between the Provincial Mental Hospital and town officials. At that time, the area, which was owned by the government, was just a pasture but during a vigorous two year volunteer work program involving hospital staff, patients, and community members, a small three-hole course was completed. While trees were carefully planted in the area, some claim that sheep would later be used to keep the grass neatly trimmed, and the exciting opportunity was soon there for the organizers to try out this new game called golf.
Community interest would grow quickly, and on Aug. 23, 1935 a local group of 13 would make application to form the Ponoka Community Golf Club Society with intentions to build and operate a golf course. The first club was officially registered on March 7, 1936, and an executive was formed and led by initial president and PMH medical superintendent and avid sportsman, Dr. Randall MacLean.
An agreement was drawn up between the golf club and the Provincial Mental Health Board to use the 90-plus acres north of the hospital for a yearly fee of just $1. Early exclusive membership was by invitation only but the course was always available for the enjoyment of the staff and patients of the Provincial Mental Hospital.
Initial manicuring of the course was extremely slow, with very little equipment available, and members and volunteers did most of the groundwork and planning, with assistance from the hospital crews. The first nine holes, with sand greens, were finally completed in 1936, while memberships and friendly rivalries throughout the community and district grew at a rapid pace. Initial yearly fees ranged from $7 for a married couple to $2 for a school student, with a single nine-hole green fee being just 25 cents.
The first tiny 12’ x 12’ clubhouse was erected in the 1940s on the then first tee, adjacent to the hospital road, and still stands among the trees on the west side of the course. During the Second World War, with many of the men away, the ladies would take a big role in assisting with the operation of the golf course, later forming their own club. It was always a supreme volunteer and team effort from club executives, members, and volunteers that kept the club and course running smoothly and in great shape in those early growing years, with the first official employee not hired until 1954.
In the ongoing years, the growth and population of the Ponoka Community Golf Club has been overwhelming, the current yearly league membership includes 200 men, 90 ladies and 90 seniors, as well as an ongoing list of active juniors and families.
Today the pristine course plays host to more than 30,000 rounds of golf between mid-April and the Thanksgiving weekend, as well as featuring an active teaching program for all age groups from eight to 86 years of age, conducted at their pace and skills.
There are also countless tournaments, social, and special events, both on the course and throughout the busy clubhouse from 6 a.m. to late evening each and every day of the hectic season.
The current staff is headed by pro manager Rob MacPherson, associate pro Geoff Dunn, kitchen manager Kathy Hughes, course superintendent Kelsey Villenue and business manager Nancy Lindstrand, all complemented by a their very skilled and enthusiastic support group. The board of directors is president Carter Gibson, vice-president Jerry McCracken, treasurer Bruce Clarke, secretary Marilyn Jensen and directors Marge Gorday, Brenda Morrison, Gerry Deckert, and Mike Sonnenberg, also keenly supported a growing list of members and volunteers.
Ponokan Ryan Vold was the first professional at the Ponoka Club, followed by the congenial MacPherson, who has been on board since 1989, and considers the position and the ongoing camaraderie as a very big and exciting part of his life. Rob started his illustrious golf career at the Wolf Creek Golf Resort near Morningside, and was quick to stress that these two very challenging and pristine natural courses will always complement each other, offering the golfing set from near and far an opportunity for a good game and a warm welcome in this area.
The Ponoka Community Golf Club is a non-profit organization, which receives no funding from the town or county governments, completely relies on revenues from annual green fees, memberships, and events, with some assistance from provincial grants and kindly donations. After working together in an excellent agreement for many years the golf club purchased the land from the Alberta Mental Health Board in 2000. Many outstanding improvements have been made to the course over the years, including a new clubhouse, the expansion to 18 holes, a watering system, the addition of the driving range and grass greens, new equipment, and changes to all areas of the course.
The club would later agree to hook into the Centennial Centre sewage system for the summer course irrigation use and storage of millions of gallons of effluent water after treatment. Many more exciting projects are also planned for the future.
Please watch for all the many special events that are being planned for the gala 75th anniversary of the Ponoka Community Golf Club this coming season, with former, new, and present members and guests invited to join in on the celebration. It will be a great time to enjoy a casual game of golf, while browsing through the colourful history and memories, as well as sharing what is in store for the future of this popular community playground.