The “Grey Owl” is one of the largest and longest-running golf tournaments of its kind in North America. Every year, during the second weekend in June, 320 golfers of all skill levels tee it up at the picturesque and challenging layout in the Riding Mountain National Park’s Clear Lake golf course.
The tournament was started in 1961 after Laurie Artiss, then sports editor of the Brandon Sun, and Bill Bell, the owner-operator of the Idylwylde Bungalows came up with the idea of an early-season tournament at Clear Lake. “Cactus” Jack Wells, one of Winnipeg’s best-known and beloved sports commentators, and other members of the sports media got behind the idea and it grew from a small beginning to a 44-year success story. Howie Larke, then the Manitoba promotions manager for Labatt’s Brewery was among the first-year players and Labatt’s came on board as the official sponsor. The brewery remains as one of the tournament’s Gold sponsors.
The first tournament in 1961 was billed as “Clear Lake First Annual Spring Golf Tournament” and the entry fee for the one-day event was $6 — $4 for green fee and $2 which went into the prize pot for two prizes in each of six flights. There were 126 advance entries, but 20 no-shows brought the attendance down to just over 100. The Grey Owl name was adopted just before the inaugural event, so it has been the official name ever since.
The first winner of the Grey Owl tournament was Ron Fidler. First winner of the Media flight was Don Wittman. In addition to the championship and media divisions, the tournament features nine other flights open to all, plus an overall Greyer Owl championship and four age-division sections for golfers aged 60 years and older.
The Grey Owl soon expanded into a 36-hole competition over two days, then spread into a three-day affair, but still played over 36 holes with golfers able to play on Friday-Saturday, Friday-Sunday or Saturday-Sunday schedules.
Today, the Grey Owl includes golfers of every calibre from across the country and for the past decade has attracted a regular group of participants from Texas and Minnesota.
The Grey Owl has gained the reputation as one of the premiere events on Manitoba’s golf calendar, attended by the best in the province including Manitoba and Canadian Mid-Amateur Champion Garth Collings.
With money raised during the tournament, The “Grey Owl” supports two charity organizations – Junior Golf in Manitoba, and the Prostate Cancer division of the Canadian Cancer Society of Manitoba.