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North America's Oldest Course

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Course has the distinction of being host to the first ever-international tournament held in North America. That event – the Niagara International – was held September 5-7, 1895.

At the first Niagara International, the first hole served as the host of the longest drive championship. The eventual winner of both the tournament and the longest drive was an individual named Charles B. Macdonald of the Chicago Golf Club. He later would lay claim to the first official U.S. Amateur championship at Newport Golf Club. On the first hole he blasted a drive 179 yards, one foot and 6 inches.

Niagara Golf Club circa 1875

This is the oldest surviving golf course in North America. Like all golf course, it has changed over the years. Its greens have been moved, its holes lengthened, new bunkers built, the rough cut back. But the fairways of this course remain where they were 135 years ago, inside a tight rectangle of land bounded by Lake Ontario, Fort Mississauga and the stately homes of Queen and Simcoe Streets.

There are still members who recall the man who brought golf to Niagara-on-the-Lake in the 1870s and who, at the time of his death in 1931, was considered to be Canada’s oldest golfer. John Geale Dickson, founder of the Niagara Golf Club, came from a prosperous old Upper Canada family. He and his family have had title to many of the stately home in Niagara including the Peterson/Romance home on John Street and the Grand Victorian on the Niagara Parkway.

There are few records from this time; however, we do have an accounting of a match played over the Mississauga Links in 1878, by Dickson, Hunter and four friends from Toronto. This appears to have been a congenial gathering of sportsmen engaged in a leisurely round on an otherwise empty course, for we are told that “a pony cart followed them from hole to hole, laden with every possible beverage which the human tongue could desire.” After the morning round they lunched all afternoon, dallied over cigars, “by which time it was too late to renew the contests of the morning.

Fort Mississauga at Camp Niagara, Niagara-on-the-Lake

John Geale Dickson’s brother Robert Dickson became the first Captain of the Niagara Golf Club organized in 1881. Whatever the condition of the Mississauga links in 1878, it was apparently in good shape by 1882, when a Toronto newspaper had this to say: “This golf course at Niagara is perhaps unsurpassed, and bids fair to become the St. Andrews of Canada. Its central position, ease of access by rail or steamer, and large area, combine to make it one of the best that could be selected for matches between other clubs or neutral ground.

History of Women's Golf Attire

Golf was introduced into the United States and Canada in the 1870s. In the 1880s country clubs spread across the continent. More than just a sports club, the country club was a place where society’s young men and women could meet one another. It was therefore important for people, especially women, to be fashionably dressed.

In the 1870s women were handicapped by long skirts that on a windy day made it impossible to see the ball. On a wet day, rain and mud soaked those same skirts into dead weight. Corsets and fitted jackets restricted movement.

Attempts were made to alleviate these problems by sewing in an elastic garter which was worn at the waist, and then slipped down to above knee level to stop the skirt from rising in the wind. Leather hems were sewn on the bottom of the skirts to prevent soaking fabric. Golf also allowed women to have expanding pleats down the sides of their tweed jackets to prevent clothing tearing when they did a golf swing; however, those pleats could not be decorative.

By the 1890s women had adopted a more practical approach to golf clothing.

Harper’s Bazaar, 1984

This illustration shows the practical ensemble many women golfers were wearing at that time. It consisted of a skirt that was several inches off the ground, and a simple blouse. However there were still problems. A full swing of the club was hindered by the blouse sleeves that were too fitted. The skirt often caught the club as it swept by.

Thermo Coat Sweater ad, 1903

In 1904 Thomas Burberry of London introduced some improvements into the women’s golf clothing sold in his store. They included the Free-stroke Coat which had special sleeves that moved freely with the golfer’s arms. He also brought back the raisable skirt which had been popular decades earlier with crochet players. Through the use of a drawstring, the skirt could be raised up to eight inches or so above the ground.

A Historic Timeline (15th c. - 1883)

I

Aboriginal

15th c.Neutral First Nations fishing settlement
17th c.Seneca Nation
18th c.Mississauga Nation

II

British Military (1814-1870)

1804Mississauga Point Lighthouse, the 1st lighthouse on the Great lakes – demolished in the year 1814
1813Mississauga Point Battlefield – defeat of the British force causing the military collapse of the Niagara Frontier – the area was regained in the winter of 1813/14
1814Fort Mississauga (tower and earthworks) – a much larger Fort to garrison 1000 troops was planned but never built
1860sFort Mississauga abandoned

III

Golf Course (1875-present)

1875Niagara Golf Club established – Founder John Geale Dickson
1878Newspaper account of a match played over the Mississauga Links by Dickson, Hunter and four friends from Toronto: “a pony cart followed them from hole to hole, laden with every possible beverage which the human tongue could desire” ... [after the morning round they lunched all afternoon and dallied over cigars,] ... “by which time it was too late to renew the contests of the morning.”
1882Newspaper article “The golf course at Niagara is perhaps unsurpassed, and bids fair to become the St. Andrews of Canada.
18832nd Inter-Provincial Tournament (1st held in 1882 in Montreal)

Thank you to Megan Hobson, graduate from the Willowbank School of Restoration, for her contribution to this historical account and we look forward to the results of her continued research into the history of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Course. Thank you and credit to James A. Barclay, author of Golf in Canada: A History; the Niagara-on-the-Lake Historical Museum; and Christopher Allen.

A Historic Timeline (1895 - present)

1895

1st International Tournament in North America, “open to amateur golfers of all nations.” It was called the “International Championship Tournament;” this was also the 1st tournament in North America to have events for both ladies and gentlemen. Organized by Charles Hunter of Toronto and Charles Blair MacDonals of Chicago; held annually for 20 years (til WWII).

Ladies winner: Miss Madeleine Geale of NOTL
Gentlemen‘s winner: Charles Blair MacDonald of Chicago
1896Names of holes at Fort Mississauga – Straightaway, Little Misery, Butts, Hunter, Fairfield, Silverthorn, Cinch, Home
1880s-90sGuests stayed at the Queens Royal Hotel
1901HRH Prince of Wales, the future King George V, was made an Honorary member
1905Second club was formed by a group connected with the Queen‘s Royal Hotel – they used the Mississauga course – part of the course included the ramparts and the interior of Fort Mississauga
1914Both golf courses closed and sites used as a military training grounds – re-opened after the War
1922Fort Mississauga & Fort George become National Historic Sites – both of national significance but Fort George became main focus for interpretation – reconstruction of Fort George – stabilization of Fort Mississauga ruins – Golf Club moved to Mississauga Course
1966Government decision to create a national historic park at Fort Mississauga – the club was told to vacate by March 1970. Happily this never came through and golfers have continued to enjoy the course.
2000A new Clubhouse was built
2007Golf club changed from a private members club to a semi-private club
20108th Annual Charles Blair MacDonald Tournament and the Eastern Hickory Championship to be played at the Niagara Golf Club

"My son and I played nine holes at this course. It's a fun track with two holes that will challenge you to avoid traffic if you hit left. For the history of the game this is a must play because it's the oldest course in North America. Bring your camera, the views are great."

– Jack K., Rochester, New York