“People thought we were crazy,” recalled Walter Lowell as he reminisced about his family’s 1932 development of the Canton Public Golf Course.
“It was the Depression and there were more chickens and cows in Canton than people at the time. So, we knew we were crazy!”
“There was also a real negative reaction from people who thought, 'why are they taking perfectly good farm land and turning it into a **** golf course?'"
Nevertheless. On Memorial Day 80 years ago, the Lowell family opened a golf course which would grow into a beloved icon in the community.
It was nearly a century ago that Walter’s grandparents, James E B. and Charlotte R. Lowell, came over from Meriden to purchase farmland in Canton from the Higley family. Once there, they raised chickens and sold eggs. The Lowells remained on the land for about two years, before leasing it out to others and heading back out to Meriden.
James and Charlotte had one son, James B., who went on to attend Dartmouth. While there, the first imaginings of what would someday become the Canton Public Golf Course were conceived. It started with an economics professor who advised his students that if they fed or entertained the public, they would have a job for life.
James B. was inspired. When he graduated and returned to the family home, now in West Hartford near the Rockledge Golf Course, the green dye was cast.
James B. made a proposal to his family: Sell their property by Secret Lake and develop a golf course on the remaining acreage. It took 18 months of manual and at times hard labor, from both hired help and the family.
But, nothing was going to deter James B. Lowell from his dream.
About Town sat down with Walter and Phyllis Lowell to hear some stories about what made the Canton Public Golf Course a place that people still talk about 80 years later, even though it's gone.
AT: So, apparently not letting hard work stand in the way of getting things done is a family trait?
PL: Don’t ever tell Walter he can’t do something because he will push until it gets done — and done properly.
For example, Walter pushed to have women admitted as members in the PGA of American. He was also instrumental in getting Hawaii its own local chapter of the PGA. And, he got amateur and profession golfers to work together, which was not always easy.
WL: My mother always said that if you’re going to do something, do it well.
AT: What is your fondest childhood memory at the Golf Course?
WL: One of my fondest memories was catching worms on a warm night, then going back to the brook to fish. There were beautiful brook trout back there. We also used to hunt for pheasants and woodcock on the property.
AT: In 1968, you took over the business from your father and moved your own family onto the Golf Course. What are some of those memories?
WL: I loved teaching the kids to golf. Phyllis and I also loved the people – 99 percent of them anyway!
I remember my mother’s gardens. They were so beautiful. She was the best gardener.
PL: We’d all come in for lunch during the summer, an early dinner really, because we’d all go back out to work afterwards, until dark.
WL: Our family still talks about the delicious soup that Phyllis made from mushrooms found in the fields on the Golf Course.
At one point, five generations of our family were working at the Golf Course.
AT: What was the secret to your family’s long time success?
WL: This was a golf course for the people. In 1957, there was some pressure to charge more for greens fees and even change the name to Canton Country Club or Canton Golf Club. I said no.
My father said that,`people have patronized and supported us for 25 years. We’re not going to turn our backs on them now. We’ll always be a public golf course.‘
And, so we were.