Summerheights Golf Links Celebrating 50 Years
Cornwall's Summerheights Golf Links is profiled in the following article that appeared in the Golf Business Canada Magazine. This Labour Day Weekend, you can golf for only $50..... start your day off with a bucket of balls, then enjoy 18 holes with a shared power cart and a choice of a hamburger, hot dog or sandwich.
Nobody starts a business and looks ahead to the 50th Anniversary. Yet, in 2012, we are celebrating our Golden Anniversary at Summerheights Golf Links, a little golf course that grew slowly and became quite big. Summerheights is a 36-hole golf course on South Branch Road in the north end of the city of Cornwall, Ontario and is family owned and operated by myself, and my wife, Kathy MacLennan. Over the past 50 years we have hosted countless tournaments and celebrities, and welcomed golfers to learn and love the game of golf.
In 1961, I was only four years old when my father, Dwayne, and my Uncle Ken, decided to build a golf course in Cornwall. For many years, my family farmed in the area along with our neighbours, the Neil family. In 1936 a financial arrangement resulted in the Neil family trading farms with my great-uncle, Elwyn, and leaving our family with a larger property including a larger farmhouse.
My dad and my uncle inherited the farm from my great-uncle in the mid-1950s and after several years of farming they were considering other options for the property. At that point, Ken was a member of Cornwall Golf and Country Club and my father played golf around the area, so my mother, Jean, suggested they build a golf course. There were more than a few people who doubted the success of another golf course in the St. Lawrence Seaway town. People said the town was not big enough to support another golf club beyond the private Cornwall Golf and Country Club. Even their own lawyer recommended against their proposal! The meeting with the lawyer did not go well and they were told it was a waste of good farmland, a response they did not want to hear. After they left the lawyers office, my dad turned to my uncle and said: “We better find ourselves another lawyer!” Undeterred by the advice of others, they moved forward and opened a ninehole course on July 23rd, 1962. It was a tough go at first and with little income Ken sold his share to my dad in 1963. My dad worked hard on the course while holding down other jobs to support us.
Despite the situation, my father knew there were few options for local golfers and with constant improvements the golf course became busier each year making his golf course one of the finest public facilities in the region.
A FAMILY BUSINESS
I remember working in the pro shop at the young age of 13, and I then proceeded to earn my business credentials from St. Lawrence College in Cornwall followed by the Turf Management certification from the University of Guelph. I joined my dad and together, we began growing Summerheights in both size and popularity.
Working side-by-side dad and I agreed that an expansion to 18-holes was needed to stay ahead of the competition. “We either watch people go to other courses or do more to keep them here” my dad said, so in 1979 we expanded to 18-holes and turned the farmhouse into a new clubhouse of 5,000 sq. ft complete with a kitchen and banquet hall.
Before long we were making changes again and further expansion created the third nine-hole course in 1987 followed by the final nine-holes in 1997 that led to the current 36-hole configuration. To make this transition easier the family employed the services of Toronto-based architect, Robert Heaslip. This relationship proved very critical in the course design, as we were able to share our knowledge of the land with the designer to create holes that satisfied all of us.
The process of growing a facility to this size can be awkward and through the insight of our family and the architect we were able to rearrange golf holes to create the best configuration that would result in the South Course and West Course; the two 18-hole layouts that many golfers now play. I always joked with my dad that it took him 36 years to build 36-holes! In addition, the clubhouse has now doubled in size to 10,000 sq. ft to accommodate the many golfers and tournaments. In 1983, I married Kathy and she joined the family business. Not one to pass up on family traditions, the whole MacLennan family is still active in our family business.
With a third generation of MacLennans, our daughter, Katie MacLennan Andrews, and husband Nathan Andrews, we all play an important role in the daily operations of the golf course. Katie took online classes from Selkirk College in F&B Management, Tournament & Special Event Planning, Golf Shop operations, and Overview of Golf Shop Operations while Nathan went to Guelph University and took the Turf Management Short Course and online classes from Selkirk College. Without the dedication and support from our family and the experienced staff, Summerheights could not have blossomed into the successful family business it is today.
The community has supported Summerheights and as a community conscious family, we have given back with support for a number of local causes such as $100,000 to the Cornwall Community Hospital Foundation, and most recently $20,000 to the new Benson Center, Cornwall’s newest recreation facility. Something that sticks in my mind is the number of charitable golf days we’ve been able to assist with. They have all been in support of local causes and I have to think that literally millions of dollars has been raised at Summerheights. It is gratifying to both Kathy and I that we have been able to play a part in these tremendous community efforts. In 1996 Summerheights was chosen as Small Business of the Year by the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce and in 2004 received national recognition by the National Golf Course Owners Association Canada as the Eastern Ontario / Outaouais Chapter Member of the Year. Summerheights has also been recognized as the favourite golf course in the community by the Readers Choice Awards for the past 17 consecutive years. The third generation golf course has grown, in no small part, thanks to the community of customers and friends who have visited and supported us through the years. Both of my parents have passed away, with my dad passing away just last October, at the age of 81, but their legacy remains firmly intact at Summerheights.
As part of the 50th Anniversary Kick Off Celebration on May 11th, the South course was renamed the MacLennan South Course in my dad’s honour, and the West Course was renamed the Matheson West Course after my mother, Jean Matheson. The celebration will be ongoing in 2012. On July 23, Summerheights’ official birthday, green fees will revert to what they were in 1962: $1. At this point we don’t see a problem with filling the two courses, as the response has been amazing! There will be golf for everyone, with music, food and lots of surprises throughout the day. On September 22nd we will host a golf tournament to celebrate our 50 years.
So, where does Summerheights go from here? With the family first mentality at Summerheights we continue to move into the next 50 years. With both Katie and Nathan immersing themselves into the business, Kathy and I are looking at slowly stepping aside and letting the younger generation move forward. It is something my dad had to do at one point, and we now understand why it was so difficult, but necessary, for the business to survive.
50 YEARS OF FAMILY
The recent years of the challenging economy have tested us but we do our best to be at the top of our game. It hasn’t been easy, and some years are easier than others but as a family we have stuck together and tried to move ahead. There are days when it is difficult because you have to go home at the end of the day with that person you have worked with, but in the end, it is worth it when you see each other pulling together for the same outcome: trying to make Summerheights Golf Links and our family the best they can be.
There are over a dozen golf courses within 45 minutes of Cornwall but Summerheights remains one of the more popular links to enjoy a round of golf. Why? Our course is family owned and operated and when you arrive, you become part of our family.
The above article was published by the National Golf Course Owners Association Canada in the Fall Issue of the Golf Business Canada Magazine, in recognition of the MacLennan family's contributions to golf.
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