In 1914, Salt Lake City was being prodded by women’s and civic organizations to increase its parks and playgrounds. It had just leased land from the Free Playground Society for a playground and had improved Liberty and Pioneer parks.
So it was in that spirit that the Commercial Club’s Field Sports and Athletics Committee, chaired by R. J. Armstrong, approached the board of governors with a radical proposal. It wanted the city to build a public golf course.
A resolution was presented “endorsing a plan for municipally owned golf links such as have proved so immensely popular recreational spots in Chicago, Kansas City, and many other cities.” The resolution asked the board to appoint a sub-committee to call on Heber M. Wells, former governor, former Commercial Club president, and now Salt Lake’s Commissioner of Parks and Public Property, to ask him to prepare a proposal for the links, and for the Commercial Club to urge the Commission as a whole to support the idea.
Armstrong’s committee anticipated some opposition to the plan. “There is a suggestion that opposition might come from the people to the establishment of golf grounds by the city as a move for the benefit of the classes rather than the masses: in other words, providing a public playground for so-called ‘Silk Stockings,’” said the proposal. That happened in other cities that now have public golf links, “yet the effect of those links has proved just the opposite of what objectors contended.
“As a matter of fact, public golf links provide everybody in a community–rich and poor alike–with a most healthful outdoor exercise which otherwise could be enjoyed only by the rich. Only the rich can afford to belong to the Country Clubs,” concluded the report.
Well, that was a problem. The board gave approval for the Committee to see Commissioner Wells, but with some dissent.
“Mr. Bowen explained that he did not believe it a good plan for the reason that it would injure the success of the Country Club,” notes the minutes. “Mr. Murphy was also afraid of hurting the Country Club, and was of the opinion that the city was not yet rich enough to afford public golf links.”
Mr. Steiner, who backed the committee, said he didn’t have any fears about the Country Club, “as he thought public sentiment in favor of golf would help the Country Club.” But others thought there were many other public improvements needed before golf links should be considered.
Listening to all of this was a man who knew something of golf. Charles W. Nibley was born in Scotland, but his family immigrated to America when he was 6. A self-made millionaire, he was a member of the board of governors and was also Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints. Although he had a “fragmented” education, he was a gifted businessman who, with David Eccles, made his first fortune in lumber. He had been Presiding Bishop for seven years and had put his expertise to good use for the church. It isn’t recorded what Nibley thought of the Field Sports Committee’s proposal, but a seed had been planted.
The committee met with a supportive Commissioner Wells, but the Commercial Club’s board had second thoughts and refused to back the project. The proposal languished.
In the meantime, a popular outdoor recreation area once known as Calder Park, at 2700 South and 700 East, changed hands. Blessed with natural springs, it was a favorite destination for picnickers, boaters, and dancers under the Calder family’s care. They sold it to the Granite Stake in 1902, which changed its name to Wandamere Park and operated it.
Seven years after the idea of a public golf course had been broached, Charles Nibley suddenly bought Wandamere (Calder) Park in 1921. On Christmas Eve he called Mayor C. Clarence Neslen and offered the park to the city to be used for its first public golf course.
The city jumped at the chance. The ensuing nine-hole golf course was named after Nibley, although he refused to have a memorial built in his honor, saying the money could be better spent “to improve one of the greens.”
But he did say at the dedication on May 22, 1922, “When I think that this generation and the generations of men and women yet to come shall find healthful enjoyment and rare pleasure here in playing that splendid outdoor Scotch game known as golf, and also in other outdoor amusements which shall not interfere with golf, that thought gives me the highest satisfaction and most genuine pleasure.”
LDS Church President Heber J. Grant, who had courted his sweetheart at Calder Park, offered the dedicatory prayer and then hit the first ball off No. 1 tee.
Sources: Minutes of the Board of Governors, 27 April 1914, Salt Lake Chamber papers, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah. Michael Christensen, “Charles W. Nibley” in Utah History Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press: 1999), 396; Thomas G. Alexander, Grace & Grandeur, A History of Salt Lake City (Carlsbad, California: Heritage Media Corp., 2001), 59. Thomas G. Alexander, Utah the Right Place (Salt Lake City, Utah: Gibbs-Smith, 1995). 291. Deseret News, 22 May 1921. Deseret News file “Nibley Park” tribute compiled by Connie Christensen.