22 Mar Historic Highland A London Treasure
by Jeffrey Reed, LondonOntarioGolf.com
When the Freedom 55 Financial Championship again visits Highland Country Club, it will do so on a piece of property without equal in the Forest City. It offers an unparalleled view of the city skyline, mature trees, spectacular elevation changes, pristine conditions from tee to green, abundance of wildlife and highly-regarded member services.
Whenever the topic of London’s greatest golf courses pops up during conversations with my out-of-town colleagues, Highland Country Club enters the conversation. Sure, historic London Hunt and Country Club collects more than its share of kudos – and rightfully so. And the venerable Sunningdale Golf and Country Club, boasting two championship 18-hole layouts, also has its fans. So, too, does our well-respected municipal golf system.
But there’s no private golf club in London like Highland CC. Its history, combined with a breathtaking layout and unmatched view of the downtown skyline – not to mention outstanding management and golf course operations – makes it a local treasure. Add into the equation a top-level curling facility, and you have the stuff of which legends are made.
In its 75th Anniversary publication, Highland wrote that John M. Moore, the club’s second president (1925-28), was an Ontario land surveyor and architect responsible for the London Life building. Moore was elected Mayor of London in 1926, but his health failed, and he died in June 1930.
In 1922, Moore had quipped, “It’s about time London had a golf course in the south end of the city.” In the Roaring Twenties, the city’s south border was marked by Emery Street. Highland property was then farmland located in Westminster Township. The first clubhouse was actually a farmhouse on the Johnson property on Commissioners Road – a barn served as the first locker room.
Highland’s original board of directors capitalized the new club at $100,000, with 1,000 shares of $100. Seven male members launched Highland, including its charter president, J.N.O. Pringle. Renowned Canadian golf course architect, Stanley Thompson, was enlisted as course designer, charged with turning property boasting heavy clay and lack of running water into a south London oasis. Wells were the only source for watering fairways and greens. Much later, in 1986, Highland’s now-recognizable pond was built as part of a course overhaul.
Highland initially paid Thompson the grand sum of $1,000 for his expenses, and $5,000 to seed nine holes, and construct nine tees and greens. It was Thompson who recommend Highland hire its first golf professional, John Innes. He received a monthly salary of $75. James Hickman was the first greenskeeper, hired at an annual salary of $1,500 and given a house to live in at $15 a month.
When the Ontario Men’s Amateur Championship was held at Highland in 1957, expansion and improvement plans were launched, leading to the official opening of a new clubhouse, designed by Charles Grillin and built by John Hayman & Sons. The new $300,000 digs included a six-sheet curling rink. A modest clubhouse expansion took place in the mid-1960s, and a new roof was installed in 1985.
In the early-1990s, Highland approached concrete business owner Nick Spivak about swapping its inner-city land for Spivak’s parcel of land in Delaware, but the deal was never made. Spivak, who died in November 2014, liked the idea of building a golf course, so he created The Oaks Golf Club.
Highland has hosted the 2000 Ontario Women’s Amateur championship, and during its 75th anniversary the 1997 National Club Professional Championship, which recently-retired director of golf Mike Silver said produced a three-round winning score of -8 playing at par-71.
Resting in the heart of the city off Commissioners Road West near Upper Queen Street, Highland CC is a member-owned club dating back to 1922. With a spectacular view of the city, mature trees, spectacular elevation changes, pristine conditions from tee to green, abundance of wildlife and unparalleled customer service, Highland CC is truly a London treasure. Long-time general manager Leo Larizza is proud to oversee a unique trifecta of golf, curling and food and beverage operations.
The Mackenzie Tour PGA TOUR Canada season-ending event will again showcase Highland to the golfing world. With players and fans boasting about its amenities, memories again will be made at the 2017 Freedom 55 Financial Championship.