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Uplands course again ready to take on PGA Tour Canada pros

Getting a golf course prepared for a pro tournament is similar to getting a diamond ready for the baseball playoffs. It doesn’t happen often, so people expect it pristine. No problem there.
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Uplands Golf Club course superintendent Brian Youell is working his 19th Canadian pro tournament. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Getting a golf course prepared for a pro tournament is similar to getting a diamond ready for the baseball playoffs. It doesn’t happen often, so people expect it pristine.

No problem there. Youell has been prepping Uplands Golf Club for the annual Victoria stop on the PGA Tour Canada, with the event now known as the Royal Beach Open, since a Walrus waddled onto the fairways.

“I’ve been doing this going back to when Craig Stadler played here in 1984,” recalled Youell, in his 42nd year with the club and now the course master superintendent.

Uplands became permanent home to the Victoria Open in 2008. This is the Victoria stop’s 39th year on the Canadian Tour and will be Youell’s 19th pro tournament, and 14th consecutive at Uplands.

“Our ground staff loves the challenge of getting it up to pro standards,” he said.

That is sometimes a challenge in itself.

“It was cold to start the ­season, and so it was tough for the course to fill in, but we got it there with seaweed and ­fertilizer,” said Youell.

“We have obviously not had to water this spring, and the course will play fast for the pros and they will get good distance on their drives. It’s a healthy course with good density and the roughs will also provide a challenge for the pros.”

The biggest change will be moving a bunker to the front of the eighth hole.

Because the PGA Tour Canada is affiliated with the PGA Tour, a feeder minor league in essence, Youell can consult the PGA Tour agronomists and its grounds-keeping manual. But mostly it’s about home-course knowledge for him when it comes to Uplands.

He rose from playing the game on basically a par-three cow pasture on the Cordova Bay site on which the current standout course now sits. His first paying gig was at the old Douglas Golflands Driving Range on Vanalman Road. Next stop was Uplands, and he hasn’t looked back in over four decades.

Like many youngsters, before reality sinks in, he had dreams of playing pro in his sport. But hand and wrist injuries incurred while playing rugby and lacrosse put an end to that chase. Instead, Youell has lived vicariously through the pro golfers coming through Uplands each year, many of whom have gone from the PGA Tour Canada to the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour.

“I still enjoy it and would do it for 10 more years,” said Youell, who turns 60 this year.

Not that it hasn’t been without dangers. An errant line drive ball hit Youell on the temple in 2010 while he was working on the course. He went on to speak at schools and to other groups about concussions and was even the keynote speaker on the issue in a conference held at Penn State in 2017. He said he just wants to educate people about concussions and impart as much information as he can through his own experience and recovery.

Helping Brian get Uplands ready again this year is brother Dennis Youell, current course superintendent, and in his 39th year at the golf club. While Brian considers the overall shape and condition of the course, his instructions must be executed with competence by staff.

“Dennis is the guy who takes care of the fine details,” said Brian Youell.

Uplands head pro Ian Stone calls the Youell brothers the “rock stars” of the Uplands course, enhancing the experience for both pros and regular club members alike.

“The course is ready right now for the pros,” said Brian Youell.

As it should be, and always has been, whenever showtime rolls around.