In Memoriam: Alvin (Al) Nelson

This article and associated photos were provided by David Miller, Club Historian & Past President, The Vancouver Golf Club. We extend our gratitude to Miller for his time and assistance, and our condolences to the VGC community and those who knew Al.

January 31, 2024 - The PGA of BC regrets to share that longtime golf professional and past PGA of BC President, Alvin (Al) Nelson, passed away on January 9, 2024. He was 91.

Al was a prairie boy, born in Peaceville, Saskatchewan in 1932. Record droughts drove the family from their farm. When they moved the family to Vancouver, they settled near Fraserview Golf Club where Al began to spend his spare time.

Ernie Tate was the Pro at the time and took a liking to Al who had joined the Junior program. Ernie offered him a job shagging balls at Ernie’s lessons and the rest is history.

Al was quite the golfer and had success in many local tournaments including winning the 1948 Vancouver City Junior Championship. At the young age of 17, he left school and turned Pro. His first job was in Winnipeg at the famous St. Charles GC and his next stop in 1951 was at the Revelstoke GC. Here he met the love of his life, Virginia Smith and married her immediately. She was very involved in the Ladies section of Vancouver Golf Club, loved by all, but unfortunately passed away in August 2023 after 72 years of marriage.

In 1953, he came back to West Vancouver as the Head Professional, The Gleneagles GC, at the age of 21.

With finances improving at VGC, Ernie Tate was able to hire one Assistant and recommended a young Al Nelson. Board Members travelled to the North Shore to meet Al and the rest is history.

Al had a flair for marketing and business and quickly identified areas to improve the Club revenue and of course his own. Initiatives such as logo Golf Shop balls and apparel (Al designed the original VGC Dogwood Logo), range ball cleaner/dispensers, range ball tokens, introduction of power carts, strategic relationships with vendors etc.

In those days, the course was literally empty during the week, so Al forged relationships with major downtown hotel concierges to send visitors to VGC to golf generating revenue for the Club, revenue for Al in the Pro Shop and a golf pass for the concierge. He recognized that some entertainment venues could supply golfers as well. One was The Cave Supper Club that hosted famous singers and groups. Al would get them up golfing and then convince them to play some tunes for the Members. One popular group that visited the Club each time they were in town was The Mills Brothers, an American blues band. Al would also invite sports celebrities to come to the Club.

Once a tee time was confirmed, he would drop a hint to Al Davidson, the popular radio sports announcer in town, to show up and he might get an informal interview on the first tee. The next morning, Davidson would broadcast it on air, on his “Spotlight on Sports” Show with a comment that the interview took place at The Vancouver Golf Club.

Al was always thinking of ways to promote the Club.

Al’s accomplishments were not just limited to VGC. Al was President of the PGA of BC in 1965-66, PGA of Canada Life Member, PGA of BC Golf Person of the Year, and awarded a VGC Honorary Life Membership in 1988.

Al was also instrumental in convincing New Westminster businessman, George Williams, to put up a substantial cash purse for the 1982 B.C. Open at the Vancouver Golf Club. Without it, the long running championship was likely cancelled.

Al maintained a pretty fine golf game over the years and was runner up four times in the Vancouver City Match Play Pro Championship. At Vancouver Golf Club, Al shot 64, from the tips, twice.

In his later years, Al could be found at the Club, down at the range giving tips or at the Thursday cribbage game board with Joe McMeekan and the boys.

Al is predeceased by his wife Virginia Lee Nelson and they are survived by their daughters Susan Connolly and Cynthia Currie.

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