Country Charm With City Access
They have a simple formula, but it is still one that seems to work year after year. Williamsburg, Ontario’s Cedar Glen Golf Course, owned and operated by Dennis and Kathryn Casselman, just keeps chugging along like they have for 37 years and counting. They make no apologies for being a rural golf course, one that is tended to lovingly by a family with nothing but the best of intentions. They may not boast a million-dollar clubhouse or fairways that will host the next Canadian Open but in essence the course has a focus that really matters – it‘s all about golf and the people who enjoy it.
“We are a quiet country golf course, not the longest by any standard but you won’t find a friendlier place to play. With life in the city so rushed people love to come here to relax,” espouses Dennis who founded the golf course with his brother Ron and Uncle Rex Whitaker.
Dennis and Kathryn did not set out to be golf course owners. In 1964 Dennis was working at DuPont in Maitland. He had taken up golf a year or so prior, playing at local standards like the Morrisburg and Iroquois golf clubs. His brother and uncle approached him with the idea of starting a golf course. The idea floated within the group for awhile, ultimately finding the trio acquiring the original 55 acres that the front nine of their eighteen-hole facility was built on. The land was purchased from Cliff and Agnes Casselman and they became very involved getting the course opened. Cliff was nicknamed “The Chief” and Agnes was fondly called “The Inspector”
Working in their spare time, the gentlemen scraped and cleared the land with minimal equipment. “The scope of the work was a little bit bigger than we had thought,” says Dennis with a laugh. “A lot of times we wondered what we were doing. We always refer to it as temporary insanity.”
With the help of friends and family (and just about anyone old enough who could wield a shovel, says Dennis) the nine hole course opened in 1972. That year they were joined by another partner Steven Morrow, who tragically lost his life in 1996
The course was a work in progress, the novice golfers did the design themselves (they received some agronomy advice from then Morrisburg greens keeper Ed Casselman (no relation)) and when things did not work they simply made modifications. It paid off.
Despite having just one customer on opening day (“The cash was short five dollars and green fees were only three,” Dennis remarks) by day two they attracted almost a dozen players and they kept coming.
The early membership consisted mostly of locals but eventually the reputation for the operation grew and customers began to come from further afield. “There weren’t as many options as there are now; we had reasonable rates and once people discovered that we were not really that far away despite being in the country, we really started to go. We weren’t club owned like the other local places so we promoted public golf and open events. People seemed to like that. It was a little different atmosphere and a very fun environment. It’s a blue collar course there’s no doubt about that. Hard-working people that like to come out and enjoy themselves.”
By the late 1970’s the course was thriving. Golfers were making the short drive from Ottawa, Brockville, and Cornwall to find a place where fun was paramount and prices were reasonable. The Casselmans and their staff welcomed the golfers like family – a tenet that remains today. “We were, and are, a little off the beaten path since the highway (#31) does not run by our door but once people saw how close we were to major centres and how they were greeted, they kept coming.”
Expansion to eighteen holes had never been the original plan but when the 50 acres of land to the north of the course became available in 1994, a possible extension came into play. “Stewart and Ethel Saddlemire were very accommodating in the sale and helped to make it happen for us – we appreciated it,’ states Dennis with obvious gratitude. Boyd Barr of Barr designs was contracted to design the addition – a plan that got reworked when an additional fifty acres was made available. It brought the course property to the 155 acres it encompasses today.
The initial concept was to build twelve holes on the new property and then rework the original nine but with costs in mind and the hope of not disturbing play as much as they could, they opted to keep the first nine and add a back nine.
The full eighteen hole course opened in July of 1999 and it was well received, bringing a new dimension to the business. It also gave them the capability to accommodate the growing number of golfers who were discovering the country gem.
Dennis says they would not have been able to get the course completed had it not been for family and friends and the club members. Sons Paul and Dave were heavily involved in the process. Dave remains with the course full-time today while Paul still returns to work on special projects.
Even with the new addition, not everything went smoothly. It was difficult to operate from the original clubhouse, golfers would have to leave the clubhouse and then not return until the 18th. They would play the first five holes, then the new nine, then returned to the original sixth hole and finished out. In order to relieve the situation they decided instead to build a new clubhouse. It opened in 2001 and they have not looked back since then.
Today golfers will find a maturing course at Cedar Glen – one that has benefitted from the personal attention of a family and a supportive community.
Playing the course, you will see that there is a noticeable variation in the older and newer holes, although that is being softened somewhat over time with renovation projects. The 10th hole is also a target style hole like much of the front nine so it helps with the transition.
Shorter holes on the front side offer a good chance to get the rust off your swing and prepare you for some longer tests on the back side which features more open lines of play. “There is quite a difference between our 9 hole layouts so it never gets boring that way,” adds Casselman.
Through the years the layout has been changed a bit and recent projects have included the improvement of tee and greens – mostly to enlarge and smooth out the areas of play. Thousands of trees have been planted while others have been culled to allow sunlight to aid growth in certain more covered areas.
Golfers seem to like the changes and the course that has resulted. Dennis has his own take on the current layout. “I like the easy holes,” he says with a laugh as he cites the 1st and 5th holes as the ones his game is agreeable with. “16 is a real test. If I can reach the green in three I am a happy camper,” he adds regarding the 470-yard par five.
Most of the holes are fairly straightforward – with any trouble quite visible. There is plenty of range in the hole lengths and lots of design variances to keep you on your toes. “The average golfer does not get beat up too badly but the better golfer will find plenty of challenge. It is the kind of course where you find your own trouble.”
Of course, the secret of the courses’ triumph has less to do with the layout and more with how the place operates. The relaxed atmosphere makes you feel comfortable, whether you are just playing a round at a reasonable rate or attending one of their special events, tournaments or leagues. Thankful for their loyal customers, Dennis also praises the members and volunteers at the club and also credits them for their success.
He remarks, “We are a really social place and we try and let people know that. If they don’t enjoy themselves we would be surprised but we would also want to hear about it so we could make it better for them.”
That philosophy has been working for years and the folks at Cedar Glen say by sticking to their family values, even in lean times and with greater competition, they seemed to have done alright. “It’s our life – not just a corporate thing like a lot of places – we have a personal commitment to all our customers.”
As Dennis concludes with the obvious approval of Kathryn at his side, “Keeping your (current) customers happy is easier than trying to bring in a whole bunch of new ones every year.”
But undoubtedly, as history shows at the Cedar Glen Golf Course, the newcomers are just as welcome.
Golf Course Superintendent
Tees / Yardage / Rating / Slope
Blue – 6345
White – 6002
Red – 5391
Average Hole Lengths (Blue Tees – Par 70)
Par 3’s: 157 Yards
Par 4’s: 381 Yards
Par 5’s: 519 Yards
Cedar Glen Golf Club
Tel: (613) 535-2323