By KELLY LOUISEIZE
There is a certain pride that comes with taking control of one’s destiny, and Shane Jourdain and Chief Chuck McPherson’s chest fills when one of their own people escort them through the new 18-hole par-72 championship golf course that is scheduled to open in mid July.
Knowing when to water, when to rake, or what kind of diseases to look for is all in a day’s work for 15 budding golf ground keepers at the Heron Landing Golf Course
“It is a wonderful feeling,” Jourdain, project manager, says while watching them work.
“This is the best part for me. Watching these guys who were once lost take an interest in their job. They give 110 per cent of themselves everyday.”
And why not? The golf course, amidst a backdrop of a pine, spruce and poplar, is owned by the Couchiching First Nation community members.
It is not an average golf course. Inspired by the exhilarating beauty of the rugged northern terrain it is “designed to ignite your passion for the game,”
“If you are looking for solitude in a breathtaking natural environment, Heron Landing promises to be much more than a mere walk in the park...”Jourdain says.
Located minutes from Fort Frances on the Couchiching First Nation reserve, 330 kilometres west of Thunder Bay, 370 kilometres east of Winnipeg, and minutes from the International Falls, Minn. border, the course provides an opportunity to tap into some of the 200,000 Americans crossing the border each year between April and October,
“If we can entice 20,000 of them to stop and play one round of golf, then we have reached our target market”
Attracting tourists to the area will be achieved through stay and play packages that include accommodations at the First Nations Red Dog Inn, equipped with 125 rooms and fishing and hunting excursions.
“The fishing out on Rainy Lake is world renowned,” Jourdain adds. “Americans are just starting to realize the northwestern habitat and the peacefulness that goes along with it.”
The golf course straddles Frog Creek, which in some areas measures 120 feet wide, and Stanjikoming Bay, an extension of Rainy Lake, and is accessible by boat, Jourdain says. Therefore, the community thought it best to construct a marina 50 yards from the gulf course, creating an economic spin off.
“(Guests) will be able to drive up and park their boat, grab the clubs from the back and go onto the golf course.”
The estimated $50,000-project is in its second of a four-phase plan and is expected to open mid-August. Funds are expected to come from the provincial government, however, “we are required to put down 20 per cent (for business developments).”
As well, they are developing campgrounds the same distance away with 15 RV sites, and approximately 25 tent lots. Powwow grounds will also be moved to the area.
“We want to keep our traditions and what better way than to relocate our Powwow grounds close by.”
In order for the $3.5 million-course to take shape, funding in the form of $1 million came from provincial and federal governments, while approximately $1.3 million in the form of a bank loan.
“The rest is from the general band funds,” Jourdain says.
The pulp and paper industry is the region’s main employer, followed by the tourism industry, Jourdain explains.
Approximately 950 employees work in the pulp and paper mills in Fort Frances with three workers coming from
the Couchiching First Nation band. The chief and council felt that the town was in no way helping to solve the First Nation community’s 30 per cent unemployment rate, he says.
“Our people cannot get jobs outside the community.”
So council and chief decided to develop a tourism plan that “created new jobs.”
From an economics perspective, the golf course is huge, Jourdain explains.
“Anytime you can create 60 to 70 full time seasonal jobs in your community out of 750 members, it is enormous.”
Jourdain is looking forward to the opening. As far as he is concerned, the staff and the grounds are ready for
business. However, he is concerned about recent weather forecasts for the area, which call for heavy rain and flooding. Last year “within a 48-hour period the lake rose five feet. We could not get to Dryden, Thunder Bay or to Kenora or Winnipeg, the highways were washed out for over a week.”
However, he does have faith in the irrigation system on the course, which is equipped to handle heavy rains.
“It is obviously shaped with today’s technology with proper drainage.”
Although the golf course is slated to open on July 15, the opening may be postponed if unforeseen circumstances
crop up, says Jourdain.