Thursday, May 17, 2012

Canada's toughest hole (in relation to par)?

I'd long heard about the famous 8th hole at Uplands before getting my first look at it, in person, last week.

These days, Uplands is a nine-hole public course in Thornhill, Ontario - just north of dowtown Toronto. Back in 1922, when the course originally opened as a private 18-hole club, it was surely one of Toronto's best. The original design is credited to Stanley Thompson, who's brother Bill was elected Uplands' first president.

A report on developments at Uplands in the July 1922 issue of The Canadian Golfer magazine reads: There is sufficient room for two 18-hole courses... work will be commenced on one 18-hole course at once. The plans provide for two reversible 18-hole links starting and finishing at the clubhouse, a new feature in golf course construction in Canada, and one which should prevent over-crowding. Only one 18-hole course was ever built at Uplands. And, I'm not sure what's meant by 'reversible courses', as in a literal sense I can't see how reversible courses could properly function on such heaving ground. Uplands is a wildly undulating property - up and down, quirky and bumpy, the course isn't long, there aren't many bunkers, but it continues to look like 'plain fun'.

Back in 1988, Uplands was reduced to nine-holes. At the same time, it also became a public-access course. Seemingly crammed into an urban setting these days - with massive homes covering what is now 'the lost nine' and the private Thornhill club (another Thompson design) immediately adjacent - it's hard to believe there was once 'sufficient room for two 18-hole courses' at Uplands.

The aforementioned 8th hole (originally the 17th) is a sight to behold. Some 235 yards long, it's labelled a par 3 on the scorecard; which, in my view, definitely makes it one of Canada's toughest holes in relation to par.

As pictured below, Uplands' 8th plays from an elevated tee, through an extremely narrow corridor created by overgrown trees, to a super-tiny fronted by a steep, rough bank that eliminates any opportunity to run a ball onto the putting surface. Oh yeah, there's also a creek meandering along the left side, assisting to make a 'lay up' off the tee look as difficult as hitting the green. I watched three groups play this hole last week during my brief visit, and it seemed (almost) unplayable for the average green fee-paying golfer. There was a back-up on the tee, in fact, as people searched for balls then made illegal drops and, generally, carded high scores.

There's no doubt the tee shot was less constricting and not as frightening in the course's early days, but I still thought - imagine playing this hole in the mid-1920s, with an old ball and hickory shafted clubs!

Witness the 8th at Uplands:  

A view from the front of the back tee - frightening.
(Click on all images to enlarge)

The steep grass bank fronting the green, as viewed from
short-right of the putting surface.

The super-tiny green, which may measure less
than 2,000 square feet - a daunting target from any
distance, never mind 235 yards.


  1. Is that seriously the original design? Surely when the course was altered or lost, someone just took one of the remaining tees, a green, and though 'okay, well that's what we've got left, so that's what it'll have to be.'
    If it is the original hole, Stanley must have been having a reeeaallly bad day and just decided to take it out on the poor members.
    And I think your computer may be misbehaving Jeff. Apparently there was room for two '74-hole' courses at Uplands.

  2. wow that is insane! Is it even possible to land it on the green? Ballmarks probably aren't an issue on this hole!

  3. Tony -

    I'm certain this is the original design. I've talked to Lorne Rubenstein about Uplands, and he's written about the course and this hole on numerous occasions. Lorne also grew up playing Uplands, back when this was the 17th hole.

    I think if I designed a hole like this today I may never get another job!

  4. Jason -

    With my 9-handicap, I'm not sure I could hit the green in 50 consecutive tries :)

  5. I tried, in respect for Stanley Thompson, to find something of value in this "hole", but could not. Not in playability, aesthetics, or maintenance values. Probably the sole reason it still exists is because of the Stanley Thompson connection. It is a sad fact that something like "this" might be "celebrated" by romantic no-minds who base their opinion solely on this connection.
    An assessment of this hole, based on Dr. MacKenzie's philosophy in a warped sort of way may go something like this: This hole provides the Least pleasurable excitement to the Greatest number of golfers, regardless of skill level.

    1. Obviously you have a misguided meaning of the challenge. This hole is one of the greatest messures of that challenge. As it appears you do not understand such I would hope that you find a way to limit your chatter in regards to such. I for one, when I was a member at Uplands, commonly overcame the challenge of this deliteful obsticle. A comparison in difficulty of challenge is the 16th hole at Beacon Hall, that I also routinely mastered. Also considered one of the most difficult par 3 in Canada. From the back tees, of course.
      I also, but only once, used a putter from the back tee (Blue) at Uplands on the old no. 2 hole, par 3, 165 yard carry. Seeing it was over a gully with out of bounds over the back of the green. I not only hit the green...the ball landed on the green, took 2 hopes forward and spun back several feet. One of if not the most incredible shots my playing partner, a long time CPGA professional, has ever witnessed. Cost him a dollar, cost me a new balata Titliest. Not bad for one of the greatest challenge shots ever.

  6. Here's what I heard. This was the last hole to be worked on, Stan had an absolute pearl of a par-3 in mind - pond, cascade, three-tier green, the works - but the morning they were due to start it, he heard the city was defaulting on the final stage payment of his fee, so he thought, 'Sod it: they're getting this instead..."

    Then he bought the land behind the hole and left instructions that three dirty great pylons were to be erected there 20 years after his death. Just to really show the SOBs.

    All right, I made some of that up.

    Better that, though, some would say, than to face the unthinkable alternative. That just occasionally, even the greats had off days and yet continue to get free passes on work for which a contemporary designer would be pilloried.

    Even as a Thompson fan, I'm with TK Gerry on this one.

  7. The 8th, as you played it, Jeff, and the 17th as I remember it from the 20 years I played at Uplands, is the original design. But the green was quite a bit bigger. There was room to land a 1 or 2-iron, or even a 3 or 4-wood, on the green and have it stay there. Most of us used the bank on the right and played a snooker shot. It was fun to watch the ball carom down on the green; sometimes it ricocheted so hard that it ran clear across the green and down the other side. So you sucked it up and played your third from there. Your photos make the corridor from the tee seem narrower than I remember; the hole always asked for a tee shot down a chute, but you never felt squeezed at the tee. The squeeze was at the green. I've felt for years that the hole should be declared a Heritage site, if there were such a thing in golf--and there should be. And Gerry, and Jeff, for that matter, believe me, the 17th--excuse me, now the 8th--provided tremendous pleasure to a great number of golfers. After all, there's no water on the hole. You could play short if you wanted, and as I say, the hole wasn't nearly as constricted as now. It's one of the best long par-threes I've ever played, and, I believe, one of the finest in the game--and not a bunker on the hole. There are many 100s, or even 100s, of "romantic no-minds" who feel this way. I count myself in that group.

    I miss Uplands. It was a fantastic course and club back in the 1960s and 1970s, and full of holes any architect would want to study. What a shame it was so cut up, and that what remains is but a shadow of what those of us who belonged to Uplands remember. I remember many interesting shots on a terrific piece of ground, a tremendous practice area, probably 275 yards long and plenty wide, in the area to the right of the upper parking lot. I remember the match-play Millar tournament, which always attracted the best Canadian pros. I remember the Eager Beaver tournament, which pretty well started the Ontario amateur tournament season. Moe Norman showed up every year to deliver a clinic off the first tee.

    I have a video of a film one of the members made at the party when Uplands was being wound down. Anybody who watches it would know how much the place meant to all of us. I still get choked up when I watch it. What a place.......

  8. I'll always bow to the opinion of those who've actually played a hole, Lorne, but when you say there's no water on the hole, do you mean that the creek to which Jeff refers isn't really much of a factor?

  9. Jeffrey Prest, there is most certainly a creek running down the left side of the fairway, and with the intrusion of trees into the playing corridor I imagine many shots clang from the leaves and branches into a watery grave. Now, sans tree encroachment, that creek is most certainly not in play for anyone but the highest of handicaps, requiring a carry of some 100 yards, downhill from the middle tees.

    I think the green site is spectacular. Sited just steps over a (natural?) diagonal ridge in an amphitheatre. If we call it a par-4 so that some will lay-up would everyone then agree that it is great?

    For mine, it is a great golf hole.

    Thanks for the review, Jeff.