Steele family, Prospect Lake Golf Course owners, seek new operators

Cedric and Dorene Steele, who have operated the Prospect Lake Golf Course for 40 years and nurtured the game for thousands of local players of all ages, are packing up their clubs and heading into retirement after the 2015 season.

The Steele family will retain ownership of the picturesque nine-hole course on the south end of Prospect Lake, but are accepting expressions of interest for operators to lease the golf facilities and surrounding properties.

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The family owns 88 acres in total — 35 dedicated to golf, 45 of forested lands and eight acres of protected lands.

Shawn Steele, the couple’s son and manager of the course since 1999, said the goal is to partner with an operator with “recreational interests” who will run the golf course and develop activities such as mountain biking, rock-climbing and other adventure-based businesses in the surrounding areas.

The rural Saanich property is zoned for day-use recreation and commercial use.

Cedric Steele, 71, a property developer, philanthropist and honourary navy captain in Greater Victoria, said the decision to retire “was bittersweet.”

“We have taken great pride and pleasure in watching people golf and enjoy the relaxed camaraderie and scenic, natural beauty at Prospect Lake,” said Cedric Steele.

He said the golf course wasn’t always a money-maker, saying commitment to the course and membership “always trumped financial return.”

“For Dorene and I — and I think for many families in the area — the golf course represents an important snapshot of time,” said Steele. “Prospect Lake represents an exciting time when our children were young that we shared with many families learning to play golf together. It also represents the culmination of years of privileged experiences that allowed us to keep the golf course going through ebbs and flows of a changing industry.

“We are most proud, however, of the wonderful friendships forged with the members and staff — many who have been with us for over 20 years. This is a sentimental time for our family and we are deeply grateful to everyone who has shared this journey with us.”

The rural property was originally purchased by Andrew and Dot McGregor in 1922. They started converting the farmland to a golf course in 1959. It was opened as Gregarah Golf Club on April 1, 1964, with green fees set at $1 and a membership that quickly swelled to more than 200. Vic Young notched the first hole-in-one in June 1967.

The Steele family bought the course in 1974 and Dorene Steele became one of the first women in the province to play a management role in the golf industry. With no irrigation, a limited budget and few tools, she ran a tight and tidy course and membership flourished.

The original farm house was converted to the existing clubhouse in 1976 and the golf course changed its name to Prospect Lake a year later. Dorene continued to manage the course for several years until the birth of her two sons, Shawn and Darren.

Course superintendent Carl White is responsible for the improvements and excellent condition of the course today. He arrived in 1991 and brought the layout through a challenging time of replacing diseased greens and severe drought.

Shawn Steele said the final season will be a tribute to members and staff who have supported the course over the years. The course will reopen April 18 for the farewell season and close Nov. 30.

He said there are no plans to sell the land. “Our goal is to select a partner with recreational interests who will love the land as much as we do,” said Shawn. “Our community promise is to ensure that the lake and the land will serve as a long-term legacy for the ongoing enjoyment of families.”

Shawn Steele said he will focus on his recently launched business, charitygift.ca, which enables people to donate directly to charities of their choice.

Cedric Steele, an honorary naval captain who has served charitable causes and business boards over the past 50 years, was given the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

The son of a South African farmer, Steele arrived in Victoria in 1973 after acquiring the golf course. His father grew corn in what was the Orange Free State and ran a milling operation and small trading store.

“At age 14, I was driving a truck around the country trading blankets and tobacco for chicken and sheep and I guess that prepared me for the trading I would do later in life,” said Steele before receiving the award.

He said some of his first real estate deals in Victoria involved trading suites and apartments in the Laurel Point Inn in the late 1970s for office and commercial properties.

One of those buildings was Hartwig Court on Wharf Street, where Steele still operates.

Steele owns apartment and warehouse buildings around the capital and has developed commercial buildings in Langford and a condominium building in Esquimalt.

The Royal Canadian Navy named him an honourary captain in 1997. Three years earlier he was part of the Canadian Forces Liaison Council and charged with bridging a closer relationship between the business community and the navy.

Steele was the driving force behind the navy’s Homecoming Statue on the Inner Harbour, part of the Canadian navy’s 100th anniversary celebrations in 2010.

Steele also served as honorary consul to the Republic of Latvia from 2002 until 2010. His father, Leo Steele, was born in the Baltic country, so a connection was made with the Latvian ambassador to Canada for Steele to help with business connections, visas and other issues involving Latvians on Canada’s West Coast.

Steele’s long resumé also includes Victoria Chamber of Commerce president, chairman of Glenlyon-Norfolk School, director of the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health and six years on the Victoria Police Board. He served with Tourism Victoria, the faculty of business at the University of Victoria and Revenue Canada’s Small Business Advisory Committee.

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