In 1977 Joel McCulloch, along with his father William, set out to transform a Westport farmer’s field into something special. Three decades later they can truly say that has been achieved. The Evergreen Golf Course may never be found in the top 100 rankings of golf courses in the country but when you spend some time with satisfied golfers who have traversed the golf course, it is easy to see what its true worth is. “This is what I come nine hours every summer to enjoy,” says long-time member, Danny, a former dog handler for Canada Customs who makes the trek from Kingsville each summer to spend the season in Westport playing the Evergreen Golf Course. “The place is like a little slice of heaven,” he says as he stands on the picturesque seventh tee looking east to Foley Mountain in the distance.
Dropping by to visit Evergreen on a sunny Saturday you get to see the course in full bloom. Dozens of excited golfers, many of whom have cottages on the nearby lakes, queue up to play the course. You don’t have to be too far into the parking lot before a smile greets you. A staff member may provide it or it my come by way of a happy golfer but no matter; the immediate impression is that this is a place where people are welcomed with open arms.
That is clearly the case says Joel as we meet to discuss the course. Along with his wife Ruth they make a formidable team. Joel tackles the golf course and the duties on it alongside their son Tim while Ruth and daughter Allison can be found taking care of the golfers around the clubhouse. The family atmosphere endears many golfers, both casual, and within the membership of more than 200 who enjoy the club each season. Ruth’s enthusiasm on the first tee is a trademark for the course. There are no tee times available at Evergreen but every golfer is accommodated, member or guest alike.
Admittedly a meagre venture when it first opened Joel says right from the start they made sure to treat people right. “It is something we pride ourselves in,” he tells me. No doubt it is something he learned from his parents who operated the Green Shingle Lodge, a Westport landmark, for many decades. Joel says the course was pretty rough to begin with and only played to par 31 but they worked hard every year to improve it. Now playing to a full par 36 after 18 acres and two new holes were created in 1994, the course now meets modern standards. Four USGA specification greens have been built with plans for more in the future.
Keeping the golf course in solid condition is a challenge with a green staff of only three but it is a tremendous source of pride for Joel. As he says he would rather put less money in his pocket at the end of the year rather than have anybody be critical of the condition of their golf course. It is that important to him.
At just over 3100 yards Evergreen is not immensely long but that does not mean it is void of challenge. Joel points to the par three and par four holes as the toughest ones on the layout. He points to them as where you have to earn your score while the par five holes are a little more accommodating and provide ample birdie opportunities. The even mix of par 3,4, and 5 holes appeals to all levels of players. What does not overjoy all of them is the difficulty of several key holes throughout the course. As tough as a test as they may be, they are the ones that people talk about long after leave the grounds.
The opening hole of the course is a straightaway par for but, like all those at the golf course, it is tree-lined, a legacy of the many plantings by the family through the years. The property was initially barren so to see the height and quality, along with a variety, of trees that exists there now shows just what an effort they have made to create a quality golf course. The first tee sits at a high point on the 58 acre property that rises and falls as much as 50 feet. As it was shaped primarily by hand the natural topography of the land is still prevalent.
While the first hole, along with your tee greeting by Ruth, is welcoming by the time you reach the second tee you can see that this course will be no pushover.
Hole #2 at Evergreen has achieved its own level of fame. It has appeared in rankings of golf holes in several publications as one of the most difficult of its kind. At 214 yards you not only have to deal with length but also a variety of other hazards and challenges. Out of bounds runs all the way down the left side of the hole and a lake guards the right. There is also a water hazard to carry and a hefty yawning bunker that you must evade in order to reach the putting surface. The slender green provides little comfort, however, as it is steeply tilted, lending itself to multiple putts. A par here is a victory. Anytime.
The par three holes, with an average length of 188 yards, tend to shape the final scores at Evergreen. The third hole is a bruiser itself at almost 200 yards but has a little more space to play than the second. It is a picturesque hole presenting a panorama of trees, water, and floral accents. Completing the trio of par three holes is the eighth, the shortest on the course but one that requires a lengthy carry across a large trout pond. A 3-level green and bunkering creates even more resistance.
Many “country” courses are known for short par four holes but that is not the case for Evergreen. With an average length of more than 400 yards from the back tees better players have a chance to test out their long games. At the same time they must keep the ball in play, avoiding the many trees that line each fairway. Although wild shots don’t necessarily become unplayable you may be impeded from a clear line to the green. In my opinion, also supported by Joel, the best of the par four holes is the seventh. This mid-length, narrow hole demands an excellent tee shot to a canted fairway and a precision approach to one of the smaller greens on the course.
As mentioned the par five holes are quite friendly, still requiring fairly straight shots but with length that can be overcome easily for better players, providing birdie or even eagle opportunities. The final hole is the strongest of them. While not the longest, the blind tee shot dictates that you to avoid a pond to be in position to reach the green in two. The final putting surface, like most that can be found on the course, has a generous amount of slope, forcing you to pay attention to even the shortest of putts.
The common bond among the holes is the attention to overall conditioning including the lushness of the fairways and the smooth roll of the greens, which are kept at a reasonable pace. Along with the friendly atmosphere Joel says it is the course conditioning that people often mention as the reason why they return to play the course again and again. The course is fully irrigated on tees, greens and fairways.
In concert with a golf course that is fun to play and maintained properly, the club also offers amenities and services that are attractive to both guests and members. Green fees ($25 for 18 holes) and membership rates are quite reasonable and frequent player cards where golfers play four games and get the fifth for free also create loyalty. Unlike many courses the green fee rates are the same on the weekend as they are during the week. The club also offers discounts for tournaments and encourages groups of up to 120 to book their event at the course. They offer a variety of leagues along with many other fun and social events.
The clubhouse is simple but effective, offering a bar, a full slate of menu items, a small sampling of pro shop items, all in a place where a lot of laughs and stories are shared. A full fleet of power carts is available and practice facilities consist of a putting green and driving net.
As a hub of recreation the village of Westport moves at a leisurely pace and the Evergreen Golf Course proves no different. From the minute you arrive you feel relaxed and the McCulloch family goes to great lengths to ensure you stay that way. They stake their family reputation on the service and facility that they deliver. It’s hard to have any greater assurance that your golf experience will be a good one.
Ruth & Joel McCulloch
Yardage/Ratings/Slope (Par 36)
White/Blue Tees – 6122 Yards
Yellow/Red Markers – 5320 Yards
Average Hole Lengths (Blue Tees)
Par 3’s – 188 Yards
Par 4’s – 404 Yards
Par 5’s – 448 Yards
Evergreen Golf Course Golf Club
Tel: (613) 273-6463