No architects or crews required for this course. All he needed was his trusty chainsaw
Interview by DJ Piehowski
Light / Dark
It started with a simple goal: Get better at golf. It turned into the project of a lifetime: Ron Weeks, with the help of his son Al, carved a nine-hole golf course out of a dense forest along the Wallace River in Nova Scotia, Canada. By hand. In their spare time after full-time shifts at the local salt mine. “Everything was one at a time: one tree at a time, one jug of fuel at a time. There was no big equipment that came on this site,” Al told the local Truro News. In 2017, after 16 years of work, the Wallace River Golf Course opened to the public. Weeks readily admits there are fancier courses in the area, but his attracts a different crowd: blue collar, couples, women, novices and those without time for a full 18. Which is just how he likes it: “I want to be the friendly course down by the river. Keeping golf pure and simple.”
dj Let’s start with the big one: What was the reason behind building the course?
rw Well, I just wanted to build one hole to have some fun and practice on. And I just kept going.
dj So you had played golf and were trying to get a little better at it?
rw Yes. A guy took me golfing and I had never golfed before. I was horrible and thought, “Well, usually I jump right into something, so I want a way to be able to do that.” And I just started. That’s all.
dj What were you doing at the time? Were you working?
rw Yes. I had a full-time job at the salt mine in Pugwash. I was an evaporator operator for 37 years and then I became a blaster underground. I had a great time—good bunch to work with.…I am retired now.
dj Is that where you grew up?
rw Yes. The north shore of Nova Scotia is a very beautiful place. A lot of cottage people come here from the cities because it is just that. It’s advertised as the warmest waters north of the Carolinas.
dj So what qualified you to build a golf course?
rw Ambition. I have this thing that if you really want to do something, you pretty much got to look at how to do it and then start. If you don’t start, you’ll never get there.
dj What was the process of figuring how to do it?
rw I went to some of the older courses around the Maritimes and the Atlantic provinces and enjoyed how they were put together. I looked at some of the risks, rewards, the challenges of the greens and some of the layers, just to get the idea and then try to apply that to the piece of property that was at my hand.
dj Did you also dive into books or was it mostly just by eye?
rw Mostly by eye. I would sketch out and look at the property, walk it and then do some more sketching. The challenge was, most of it was solid wood. So you’re trying to walk through solid woods, trying to look at what the vision of this piece could be and then try to make it happen.
dj How did you remove the solid woods?
rw My power saw and I became very close, yes.…In the forest, there’s a lot of trees broken anyway. They are down and crisscrossed, so you have to clean that up and then you go after the trees that are standing. It’s quite a process: After you deal with all that and all the brush, then you have to pick up all that wood, then you have to remove the stumps and roots and rocks. Then you have to actually shape the ground. There’s quite a bit to it. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.
dj How long did it take?
rw I started a long time ago, back in the fall of ’01. It’s gone on for 17 years and we are still doing stuff—cutting, cleaning and shaping landing areas. Trying to make it as user-friendly and yet still challenging as possible.
dj Holy smokes—17 years for nine holes. What’s been the most rewarding part?
rw I guess to believe that it would actually come to fruition, because you are building something and you’re trying to make it as nice as possible. I have been very blessed to see people enjoying it. Through the process you’re doubting yourself if you got it right, but as it comes together, you can actually see the flow of it. I guess the reward was people enjoying it—good golfers coming and liking the challenge.
dj What’s with the map of the world in the pro shop?
rw We started that. I went to a local store and picked up a map because I wanted to keep track of the places that people have visited from. It’s very interesting to look back at it and remember each of those individuals. They’ve come from all over the world, from Singapore, Dubai, Germany, Australia, Amsterdam, London, England, and all over North America for sure. Guatemala. It goes on and on. It’s just amazing.
dj What’s the daily operation like for you now? Is this a full-time thing?
rw Yes. Every day is pretty much about the golf course. If we are not dealing with the mowing and the cleaning and all that, we are talking to people and getting them off for their game. There’s ongoing projects to make it better. It’ll continually evolve for years, I suppose.
dj What is your son Al’s role?
rw He’s been so helpful. He helped me build all the greens. He would bring the sand and just say, “You shape.” And while he was gone to get the next load, I’d shape. It’s like an 8-ton trailer type thing. Now he’s responsible for everything, including the seeding and telling us what to do. He guides us on the greens.
dj Has your golf game improved? That was the initial goal, right?
rw Well, it had to get better because I was a non-golfer. I was just trying to learn to swing, but it’s like most of us: We’d never have survived before [swing tips from] Yahoo, Siri and YouTube.
dj Speaking of that, you’re also the marketing department for the golf course, right? How’s your drone operation these days?
rw Oh, that was fun. I had hurt my leg a while back and was laid up at home, but my house is so close that I could actually fly the drone from my living room out over the golf course. The technology is just crazy in some of these things.…I was a pilot for 20 years as well. This is just a beautiful little down-step from my actual flying.
dj Wait, really? What kind of pilot were you? What else have you got into?
rw Yes, a local pilot—small planes, single engine. It was another “just go see it and do it and figure it out” thing. Like I said, when something catches my eye, it’s all or nothing. For years I did a lot of road biking, bicycling all over thousands of miles of land. I learned to barefoot water-ski and some other fun things here and there. Those are just side things for fun along the path. Parachuting. A lot of fun stuff.
dj What’s the next big one?
rw I don’t even know if there will be a next one. This one keeps me so busy these days, it’s incredible. I had no idea how much time this would take. There are times when you get tired. But if you just stop and step back…like yesterday, we were doing our fall maintenance on the greens. That involves mowing them first thing in the morning and then you aerate them with the core punch, taking out all the holes. Then you have to sand it all, brush it, roll it and then clean it again. It’s a big deal and we were getting tired. The last one was No. 8, and I just stepped back and looked from there down across the pond out toward the creek. The tide was in, the leaves were all turned and it was so beautiful. Then I walked back over and we finished the project. That’s how I do it. If you get discouraged, you can just step back and look at the beauty of the place and keep trucking.