Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Steinbach aces it

Town's friendly Fly-In Golf Club a course with a colourful past

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Gary Nazer hits one on the sixth hole at the Fly-In Golf Club. The Steinbach golf course is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Gary Nazer hits one on the sixth hole at the Fly-In Golf Club. The Steinbach golf course is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Photo Store

The more they investigate, the better it gets, proving the unofficial slogan for the 60th anniversary of golf in Steinbach: "The scores are only half the story."

And really, it starts with the place's very name, Steinbach Fly-In Golf Club.

It's unique in so many ways. The "Fly-In" part, still what many people use as the club's name, is not a gimmick and it's an essential element of the colourful history of the game in the automobile city east of Winnipeg.

The year is 1954 and residents of the town and the region feel it's high time they have a place to launch and land their golf balls, too.

A nine-hole course was laid out at the Steinbach fairgrounds, featuring a staple of the prairies in this era -- sand greens.

The cost to play was not set, but suggested, at 50 cents per round. There was no one to collect the fees, just a box near the first tee to accept the coins, on the honour system, of course.

"Things went well in the first year and they had enough money leftover at the end of it to buy cups and a ball-washer," said current Steinbach Fly-In superintendent Rob Fast, who has spent much of the last year researching the town's and the club's golf history

That first-year success, 60 years ago, has continued pretty regularly at the Fly-In, which has become a hospitable and well-known constant of the Winnipeg and area's golf scene. One of the big reasons is that the public golfer has always been welcome.

Just like the planes.

"There are several connections," said current head pro Brian Guenther, who together with Fast and former Steinbach head pro Larry Robinson have been spearheading the work for the official anniversary celebration at the club which will take place May 29. "At the old sand greens site, the airplanes used to land and take off in the middle of the golf course.

"Then there's the 'Fly-In Club' boys who donated and acquired the land for the current air strip and original nine grass course, and today our local airport is right alongside 17 and 18.

"We get a lot of comments every year about the airshows our players get. There's parachuting and ultra-gliding going on here, and the odd time there's an airplane that comes through. There are some noisy ones that local farmers are using for agricultural purposes, so there's often some kind of air show going on.

"And there will be three or four times a year where we'll pick up people who come in their airplanes (to play golf)."

Added Fast: "There's also been a passion in town, within the business community, for flight. Guys have the money to buy airplanes and fly them. There's always been a fascination with flight in this area."

When sand greens weren't cutting it anymore, it was the current site's founder A.D. Penner who sparked the relocation by corralling nine colleagues to help foot the bill for 121 acres of farmland just north of town (the current site) for nine holes and the airstrip.

Some of these details were gleaned from legendary Free Press golf scribe Dallis Beck's work in June, 1970, including:

-- Construction and shaping of the nine-hole course, under the architectural direction of Robbie Robinson, also used the extra fill to level out the landing strip that sits just east of the old first hole, now the 17th.

-- The all-in cost, including irrigation, was $150,000, A.D. Penner told Beck. It got underway in 1968 and was complete by 1970. (Premier Ed Schreyer presided over the official grand opening in 1971.)

-- Green fees in 1970 were $2.25 for 18 holes.

The move to make the Fly-In 18 holes was completed little more than a decade later. A lease for the remaining land that the club didn't own was struck with the town and after the expert land shaping by Harry Fehr, the current front nine was opened in 1983.

When the first clubhouse was opened on the current site in 1984, the order of holes was changed, making the first hole the 17th.

The expansion wasn't without its character.

Penner, being a frequent visitor and admirer of Clear Lake's up-and-down golf course, tried to import some of that flavour to Steinbach.

Avoiding flatness was a good idea in many areas, but didn't work in others. The eighth green, for instance, was built with too much slope that had to be softened. And not long after the expansion, the club had to smooth out the second hole, which had a random hill sticking out into its fairway and required a blind shot to its green.

What exists today is a not a long par-72 test but one known for its quality conditions where hospitality remains kind and skill will prevail.

When the community gathers to celebrate the history on May 29, it will include remarks from former Premier and Governor General Schreyer, from Abe Loewen, one of the original Fly Boys and a grass-course founder, as well as a fascinating power-point by Fast on some of the club's history.

The day's schedule includes a reception, dinner and speeches, even some golf, but the focus will be on the other half of Steinbach's story.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 C4

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