Brandon Sun – May 9, 1984 (Tee To Green: Mike Jones)
Earl turns architect
Glen Lea shaping up
Picture this. A man who has been in the auto body business for nearly 40 years and has been known to enjoy the occasional round of golf, decides to sink his life savings into an abandoned nine-hole golf course.
He then spends three years reclaiming the land and molding it into a picturesque 18-hole layout in his spare time just for something to do.
Sound far-fetched? It isn’t. Morris Earl is living proof of that. The 55-year-old owner of Central Auto Body has gone out and done what many golfers just dream about. He built his own golf course.
Glen Lea Golf Club, located 3 ½ miles east of Brandon off Braecrest Drive, is Earl’s pride and joy.
It’s 113 acres of rolling fairways, willow thickets and well-groomed greens and tee boxes. It was conceived, constructed and is maintained by Earl, with the help of neighbors, family and friends.
"I sure didn’t go into this to make money,” explains Earl. “I had been in the body shop practically all my life. You get to be my age and you realize you have to have something to keep you going . . . something to sink your teeth into. I was born on a farm. I love the country and I love to work with soil.”
So when the opportunity to purchase the land arose, Earl jumped at it. Former owner Al Campbell had run a nine-hole, sand-green layout there, the Riverview golf course, for about 20 years. He gave up operation of the course about five years ago to build a trailer park adjacent to the site.
“Al was at a point where, with building a trailer park, he either had to get bigger or smaller,' says Earl. “Maintaining a golf course takes a lot of time and effort and the park was a big job.”
So the course was abandoned and Earl purchased the option on the land. Then he put his ear to the ground and nose to the grindstone.
He read books, talked to green-skeepers around the province and began plotting his course. It was a monumental undertaking, one that Earl entrusted to no one but himself and some hand-picked help.
“I figured that if I was going to put all my money into it, I was going to do it the way I wanted it."
Enlisting the aid of a couple of friends, Earl spent his winters planning his strategies and his summers putting them into action.
He sculptured his layout around the strength of the landscape, a narrow ravine with a creek running through it.
“I must have walked the land a hundred different ways, trying to design a course with enough length to make it a reasonable challenge, but not too demanding that it couldn't be enjoyed by everybody “
Earl, with friends Dave Cleave and Louis Bach, then went to work on constructing the greens and tee boxes and they did it with meticulous care.
Hauling black dirt, rolling and levelling until darkness fell, they spent all their spare time and weekends working to make the greens and tee boxes just the way they wanted.
“Dave was very fussy about things," says Earl. “Everything had to be perfect. The tee boxes were laid in with a transit (surveying instrument) and levelled and relevelled until they were just right. And to seed the greens, he’d come out at five in the morning to spread seed and roll it before the wind picked up.
"With greens and tee boxes in place, the next step was harnessing the creek’s life-giving flow and feeding it to the whole of the golf course.
"You can't grow grass without water and fertilizer. That was the biggest expense . . getting the water to the course."
With the aid of a neighbor s bulldozer, Earl constructed a series of reservoirs, bought a diesel pump and laid thousands of yards of plastic water pipe down the fairways and circling every green.
They cleared brush, installed drainage culverts, planted trees, moved and renovated the old clubhouse and seeded the fairways.
By August of 1982, nine holes were open for play.
“We weren’t in any hurry to get the thing operating,” says Earl. “We wanted things done right and I was willing to wait until it was.’’
By June of last year, the entire 18 holes were opened for the public.
“Business has been okay, not great, but pretty steady. There’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s a never-ending job."
Earl has planted 400 seedlings around the layout and has plans for another 300. He is constantly grooming and improving his creation, and he does so with the wants of the public in mind.
“The way things are today, the average golfer doesn’t want to spend five or six hours on the golf course. They like to go find their ball and hit it and maybe get around in 3 ½ hours. So I cut the rough down where I can. That’s the way people out here want it.”
The present layout is 5,808 yards in length. It has a couple of par-fives and four par-threes, two of which descend the ravine from an elevated tee. akin to the 17th hole at Wasagaming.
Earl’s next major project is to build a new clubhouse. The present one is clean and comfortable, but smallish.
Glen Lea has been designed with the recreational golfer in mind. It has been fashioned with care and forethought.
Earl even took care naming the club. Glen, defined by Oxford as a narrow valley, and Lea, a tract of open grassland.
"It has a Scottish ring to it and it describes the land here perfectly."
Nothing less than that would satisfy Earl.