Club History

A Walk Into History

A round of golf at Uplands is a walk into history. Established in 1922 by members of the United Services Club who began golfing on rough land at Macaulay Point near the original Work Point barracks in Esquimalt in the early 1880’s, the Uplands course was carved through meadows, iconic Garry Oak trees and long-established firs and cedars. Blackberry bushes and rough thorn hedgerows had infiltrated and rough-hewn fences prevented livestock from straying onto the sparsely trafficked road to Cadboro Bay.

Land owned by the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) had been leased to two farmers who grazed cattle and made hay on the relatively flat terrain but what became a classic park-land course was originally all part of the swathe of agricultural real estate perceived by the pioneers to have one main purpose; that of feeding Fort Victoria and the burgeoning township. When the growing number of enthusiasts for this relatively new sporting activity were looking for a site for an eighteen hole course comparable with Colwood (Royal Colwood) and the Oak Bay links (Victoria GC) they were fortunate to find the ideal location.

Uplands Clubhouses

Initially on a relatively short term lease from HBC, the club almost immediately took on the name of Uplands. Entrance fees were set at $100, very soon the roster showed four hundred members and work began on the construction of a two-storey club house. Remarkably, considering the extent of clearing, levelling and seeding required, the course was ready within a year and the first golf was played on July 1st 1922 with the official opening two months later. In January 1925 the club received its first setback when the clubhouse was destroyed by fire but work began immediately on a replacement which served members well for 37 years before the building met the same fate.

The 1930’s were difficult times for golf clubs, reflecting the economic downturn which affected almost all aspects of life, whether at work or play. Not surprisingly, membership declined and entrance fees were reduced more than once in often vain attempts to retain members. The Club had signed a new 19 year lease with the HBC in 1932 which included provision for the annual rents to increase beyond the original $3000 per annum. In the light of dire short term prospects the rent was decreased substantially during the wartime period but always with the overhanging threat that HBC might put the property on the market. In the event when this was done in 1946 the Club was able to begin negotiations and search for long-term funding. The purchase ($60,000) was completed in 1948 and 26 years on from tentative but brave beginnings the members now owned their own golf course and club.

The third clubhouse which was opened in September 1963 was built further away from the road and was at that time meeting the needs of over seven hundred and fifty active members. It continued to do so until 1995 when it was replaced by the current building.

Clubhouse Painting

Course Development

The course as played for forty five years was much as it had been when first planned and its natural sweeping design through tree lined fairways bolstered by new planting, well-placed sand bunkers and deceptively contoured greens was greatly admired. In 1968/69 a major development changed the nature of four of the last six holes and increased both the difficulty and length of the course. Although the eighteenth hole was retained as the fine challenge it still presents to this day, alterations to the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes greatly enhanced the layout. The changes which involved a considerable amount of clearing and new landscaping also allowed for the creation of a long-awaited practice range. A distance of 200 yards was added to the course, bringing it close to the present length and the first quick coupler manual irrigation system was installed.

In 1985 after a Course Master Plan had been prepared by Bill Robinson of Cornish Robinson Golf Course Architects, further work on the 14th and 15th holes completed the layout as we find it today. New tee surfaces eliminated the need for temporary winter tees, greenside bunkers were renovated and silica sand was added. The work based on the Robinson Master Plan was completed in 1992. More recently the Club commissioned Cooke Carleton Architects to carry out a hole by hole critique of the course with a view to further improvements which are now close to completion.

All good golf courses continue to be “work in progress” and Uplands is no exception. In recent years new sand bunkers have been added to five of the holes along with substantial drainage work and additional tree planting. The most recent upgrading of the irrigation system was a three year project (with staff carrying out the installation during the off season to reduce costs) included a high degree of automation in the interests of producing ideal playing surfaces and economical water use. As a result water use has been reduced by 38% when compared with the previous system.

Clearing the 13th Fairway

The All Important Staff

The Club has been particularly fortunate in its professionals; so much so that the important role has been carried out to date by only four individuals. Walter Gravlin retired at the end of 1963 after 40 years of service to be succeeded by Johnny Wren, who had been Gravlin’s right hand man for many years before taking over for 10 more. He in turn was succeeded by Don (Donnie) Billsborough in 1973 who was joined in the shop and in the provision of many hundreds of lessons to members by Bruce Rands in 1974. This formidable duo retired together in 2014 and the position of Head Professional was taken by Ian Stone - another home-grown product who shares the same loyalty to Uplands as his predecessors.

Members have been no less fortunate in the service given by those responsible for the care, maintenance and development of the course. Brian Youell the current Master Superintendent came to the Club in 1981 and took the position of Superintendent in 1994 following the long serving Bill Shvetz. With the support of members he began a policy of continuous improvement. Brian’s skills have become increasingly recognised amongst his peers and members were justifiably proud when he was awarded the 2012 Superintendent of the Year award by the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association. In the same year he spearheaded the high level of environmental stewardship necessary for the Club to achieve the coveted designation of Certified Audubon Sanctuary.

John Matthews, the current General Manager was appointed in 1996 and the structure of Board and Committee responsibilities that had been in use over a long period was reviewed and amended. In the clubhouse the continuity of staff serving members for many years is no less apparent - and in particular Michelle Nott and Joanne Wilson who commenced work at the Club in 1986 and 1990 respectively.

Uplands Golf Club Pros

Sharing Our Good Fortune

Uplands members have long had a reputation for assisting in effective fund-raising ventures to serve good causes. There is no better example of this than the Uplands Annual Heart Tournament which in 2015 reaches the 38th consecutive year for the event – making it the longest running golf charity in British Columbia. In recent years the Tournament has raised close to $125,000 per annum to support the financing of much needed heart patient care equipment in Victoria hospitals.

A Course of Distinction

Uplands held its first Canadian Tour event in 1984 and for the past 8 years has been the host club for the Victoria stop on the PGA Canadian Tour. The early June venue has been a favourite with the professionals from near and far all seeking to make their mark on manicured fairways and hard and fast greens. In this respect they follow a distinguished number of the best professional players of the game –amongst them Walter Hagen, Archie Compston, Aubrey Boomer, Moe Norman, Craig Stadler and our own Jim Rutledge. All found what playing members well know; a fine test of golf in a beautiful environment at a very welcoming club.