George McLeod wasn’t exactly a golfer back in 1962.
The wily oil and gas industry veteran, who even now only dusts off his clubs for a pair of tournaments every year, was just a young man working for Halliburton in those days.
And he was also one of a group of men who had been volunteering to haul sod and pick roots from the fairway at Lake Point Golf & Country Club in preparation for the first Fort St. John Petroleum Association Golf Tournament.
“And so they gave us a few free games,” said McLeod. “We thought we were pretty good. And so we entered the first one.”
The conditions were unique.
“We didn’t have grass greens,” McLeod added. “It was oiled sand. And you had a bar to pull out to smooth it out to putt.”
George Soule, the founder of Peace Country Rentals, also took part in that first tournament after helping ready the course. His wife bought him a set of used clubs at a second hand store for three dollars. He used those clubs to shoot an 89. That was for nine holes.
“I’d never ever golfed before in my life, and I went out and tried to play this game,” said Soule.
“You got to improve as you go along,” he added.
Soule was driven to improve his play by watching championship rounds that have often been decided by just a single stroke.
“Those were exciting,” he said. “And instrumental in me wanting to play and play better. And I went from probably a 52 handicapper down to 14, because I wanted to be better.”
Soule has been part of all but one of the first fifty tournaments, a heart attack the only thing that could keep him from participating one year.
He has decided that he won’t be playing next year.
“I’m kicking 80 in the ass,” he explained. “And it’s about time I made room for younger people. Because the whole object was for the young guys working in the patch to get to know the people that they work with.”
That is a common refrain among members of the older generation who have been playing in the tournament for decades. It was even announced during the tournament this year that the Petroleum Association plans to have its first event for golfers 55 years of age and older next summer, largely to make room for younger men who want to get into the game.
“I’ve been thinking of stepping down this year,” said Jim Sodergren, who saw his first action in the tournament the year after Western Rock Bit transferred him to Fort St. John to be their new salesman in the region in 1967.
“I was only supposed to be here for two years and then out,” he said, echoing so many men who have followed their work to northeast British Columbia. “I’m still here.”
Sodergren added that his play on the course hasn’t improved over the years, but he has enjoyed the tournament since day one.
“I think it’s for the younger guys,” he continued, explaining why he won’t play in another tournament . “And it’s such a good socializing event.”
One of those younger guys is Ryan Sebastiano, a Peace Country Rentals employee who has only been golfing for five years.
This was his third competition.
“Every year, I meet probably 20 new people and have a good time with everyone,” said Sebastiano. “Everyone just has fun and is happy to be there.”
He added that there are a lot of perks to playing in the tournament, including the opportunity to win a golf cart, which he did his first year, not to mention a reason to take a break from the hectic life of the oil patch for a few days.
“There’s always something good about going in it.”
Another young golfer is Garrett Smith of V.E. Brandl, who unfortunately had to bow out of his third tournament this year after injuring his ankle on the first day.
“It’s fun,” said Smith. “We got lots of guys up here that I grew up around with my dad, friends of my dad’s, that I’ve known forever.”
He has also been able to compete against his father thanks to the tournament.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Smith.
“He’s much better than I am,” he added.
However, it isn’t really about the competition for Smith, but about the opportunity to get to know the men he works with in the industry every day.
“You actually get to spend some time out of work – out of the oil patch – with them,” he said. “And drink beer and have fun. And the golfing for us is kind of secondary.”
Still, the golf itself is the source of many fond memories for longtime participants.
“I remember one time,” said Fred Hendricks, who played in his first tournament just a few years after the inaugural event, “Ivor Miller hit a shot on number 17, with the water hole, and the ball hit the bank, bounced out and hit a tree, and then bounced back and landed on the green. So, you see some pretty weird things.
“Some of my best times were playing in the best ball on the Saturdays, because I didn’t win too many tournaments,” he added. “But it was always fun playing in the best ball.”
Sodergren recalled another amusing incident.
One of his fellow golfers was preparing to tee off when a pair of their competitors discreetly replaced his ball with a ball bearing that they had painted white in advance.
“That club shattered into a million pieces,” Sodergren said with a laugh.
It has been that mix of competition and camaraderie that has made the annual golf tournament such a special event for its regulars.
“You make a lot of friends,” said Soule. “But even with friends, you enjoy beating them. You can play cards and it’s the same thing. You may lose, but you still appreciate your opponent. And it’s no different when we play fastball. Same thing.”
“It’s quite relaxed,” added Hendricks. “There aren’t too many really, really serious about [it]. I’m sure they’d like to win, but I think there’s a lot of camaraderie as a result of it. And a lot of fellows get to know other members of the Petroleum [Association] and sort of get to know their competitors and customers.
“Same thing with the bonspiel in the wintertime,” he continued. “It’s a time to just forget about work for a few days and relax and get out and have fun.”
Tyler Kosick, President of the Fort St. John Petroleum Association and another member of the younger generation of golfers, is hoping to see the tournament continue for as long as possible.
“It’s quite a prestigious event,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. And I sure hope the club stays strong and we get another 25 years out of it.”