Orchard Hills bears witness in name to an industry that once successfully operated throughout Southwest Washington and North Central Oregon.
Up until the end of the 1920's, prune orchards could be found in abundance. Their harvest represented a significant contribution to the area economy and they thrived in the local climate. Along with our club, Prune Hill (west of Camas), and the community of Orchards, were aptly named to designate their presence. Many locals can remember the fully-equipped prune dryer located mid-way between Camas and Vancouver, which was set up to process the crop.
W.H. Wood , known by his friends as Billy Wood, owned and operated one such orchard which was located a short distance east of Washougal near the newly constructed Evergreen highway. The 39-acre property, which is now the home of the front nine, had been acquired by the Wood family in 1911 and proved to be an ideal location in terms of maintenance and yield. Wood was a knowledgeable prune orchard operator and had considerable influence at key levels of the crop processing cycle.
During the latter part of the 1920's, Wood felt that, in order for the local prune farming industry to continue, certain specific changes would have to take place. California-based operations were rapidly gaining market share because of improved operations through
cooperative farming and processing. Wood set out to convince the locals that a similar cooperative should, and must, be organized in order to survive. His organization efforts were unsuccessful; and by the end of the decade, prune orchard farming in the area ceased to exist as a profitable venture.
Early Development of the Golf Link
By mid 1929, Wood came up with an alternative use of his orchard property. It had a wonderful sweeping view of the Columbia River from Crown Point to the outer edges of Portland. Wood believed that a public golf course could be constructed and operated on an economically viable basis. The decision was made and the planning began.
George Junor, grounds keeper at the Alderwood club in Portland, was charged with design if the layout. Alderwood was a public course located a short distance east of the current Portland airport. It was later consumed through construction and expansion of that facility.
Charles W. Gill, a Washougal contractor, was selected to renovate the old orchard barn creating a clubhouse to compliment the facility. Wood selected L.F. Russell, a neighboring orchard farmer, to operate it when completed.
Junor's design called for nine holes to be cleared through the prunes, with a total yardage of 2,895. Junor's design was implemented and utilized during the first ten years of the course operation.
Charles Gill's clubhouse development was to include a large front porch, a service shop, club rooms, dining rooms and locker room. Russell would operate facilities designed to attract golfers from Portland and Vancouver as well as the local area.
With the plan in place and agreed upon, Wood announced the official opening to be July 4,1931. He selected the name Orchard Hills for the golf course and issued numerous press releases describing the project.
Construction flowed smoothly and on schedule. A deep well was drilled and housed in a very well-built redwood structure which remained for many years. Ditches were dug and a state-of-the-art automatic pumping and sprinkling system was installed to assure proper irrigation to each fairway.
On Sunday, prior to the official opening day, Junor conducted an inspection of the project. He commented that the links were in better shape than is normally the case for a young course and he was very pleased with the greens. The general consensus of other visitors was that Orchard Hills was sure to become one of the finest public courses in Oregon and Washington.
On Friday July 4, 1931, Orchard Hills public golf course was officially opened. Wood did not plan an elaborate event. The first foursome to tee off received free golf balls. The man and woman achieving the lowest score received a golf club. Balls were given for each birdie and practice balls were awarded to the man and woman recording the highest score.
The First Ten Years of Operation
Wood never had a profitable year of golf course operation in the original format. Primary revenues were derived from greens fees which he had established at 25 cents for all day play. During the winter months, maintenance expenses significantly exceeded income and quickly exhausted any surplus achieved during the summer. Sometime during the mid to late 1930's wood called a meeting with a few of the more active golfers. He then announced that he could no longer justify continued operation.
Crown Willamette Golf Association
In an attempt to provide a stable revenue base for operation of the course, the Crown Willamette Golf Association was formed by members of the Camas/Washougal communities. Association dues were set at $2.00 per month and membership quickly rose to approximately 120. Many civic-minded people, who never set foot on the links, joined the association to assist in the preservation effort. Jack Hanny, Camas mill manager and golfer, authorized payroll deduction for employee members. He and Mr. Bishop from the Washougal woolen mill, were very supportive of the association. They should be fondly remembered for their contribution. The $2.00 was a family rate for all golfing privileges. The bulk of association dues went to Wood and, when combined with fees paid by the general public, provided a temporary solution to the negative cash flow problem.
The War Years
World War ll created a new set of financial difficulties for the club. Membership in the association rapidly dropped as young people joined the armed services. Others relocated and started working in the vancouver based shipyards. Wood took employment in Salem as of oregon prune cooperative and the club was being run by a series of husband/wife team operators and managers.
In 1943, wood called an association meeting in the old clubhouse where he announced his decision to sell and discontinue operations. He established an asking price of $20,000 for the property and expressed regret at having to sell.
Formation of OHGC (Private)
The Crown Willamette Golf Association was still very active. The diminished membership included many Camas/Washougal businessmen and members of the management teams of the Camas paper and Washougal woolen mills.
All were in agreement that every effort should be made to keep the course open. Spirited discussions about continuation alternative ensued. Some favored a program of increased fees and term purchase while others wanted to raise capital. It was decided to attempt the formation of a private club. In order to accomplish this, a plan was devised to sell club memberships for purchase capitalization. A lifetime membership package was established at a $100.00 purchase price with $3.00 monthly dues. With the goal of selling two hundred memberships in place, the most noteworthy and critical volunteer effort in our club's history was begun. Numerous individuals expended an exhaustive effort to raise the needed capital.
After several months, the effort stalled with the transacting of 185 sales. Many of the people who purchased those memberships did so with the knowledge that they would not participate in or take advantage of the benefits afforded them. These were clearly people who had responded to the earlier effort to solicit memberships in the CWGA. It was then decided to present an offer to Wood.
John Roberts and Bruce Dobbs, who had worked very hard on the membership drive, traveled to Salem and presented an offer of $16,500. Wood, being a civic-minded person with a strong desire to keep the course open, accepted the reduced purchase price.
The Orchard Hills Golf and Country Club (Private), our club, was born.
The Modern Era
Popularity During the Initial Years
Everyone is in agreement that the years following initial formation of the club were enjoyable ones. During the war, golf activities at Orchard Hills were in full swing during the war, golf activities at Orchard Hills were in full swing. Gas rationing created a situation where by the local club was pretty much the only entertainment available because of the high cost of travel. Gambling was permitted on site and slot machines and one arm bandits were present. A popular event during the war was the thursday night golf league with dinner afterward. There were also numerous parties in the old clubhouse which included dinner and dancing. On saturday nights there was always a dinner with followed the saturday mixed 2 ball with partner's names drawn from a hat.
Construction of the New Clubhouse
Discussion began around 1950 regarding the need for an expanded clubhouse facility. The old barn had served the purpose very well but it was obvious to all that an expansion was needed. Estimates were requested from contractors for renovation existing structure. The resulting information indicated a minimum of $70,000 to accomplish the project. Debate centered between two options to handle the existing barn. The apposing group felt that a new and modern structure should be built on the ridge north of the existing barn. Their argument was that resulting building would be superior and could be accomplished at the same or less cost. It would be decided that the new clubhouse would be built.
The cost estimate for construction was established at approximately $70,000 with paralleled renovation costs. In order to raise needed capital to do the job, it was decided to sell bonds yielding 5% interest. During the bond sale drive, various plans, options, and individual estimates were submitted for the construction. The bond sale drive stalled at the $30,000 mark giving rise to the opinion that the project could not be accomplished.
Consistent with the history of volunteers that had brought our club to this point, another chapter would be recorded. Hugh Kennedy was retiring as accomplished purchasing agent for crown Zellerback in Camas. Leo McEnry, an excellent Washougal builder, expressed a willingness to explore alternative construction methods. He agreed that the project could be accomplished within budget if significant assistance was available in the areas of finishing, painting and landscaping. The club membership unanimously agreed to assist where ever needed.
It was also hoped that savings could be realized through reduced cost of materials. Kennedy pulled out all stops to obtain low cost materials from his professional contacts. The ceiling trusses were taken from the old Washougal Elementary School being torn down. The lady members performed the interior painting. The men's club finished the exterior and landscaping.
At the conclusion of the project in 1953, our new clubhouse stood as a class "A" structure. The total cost was within the $30,000 budget.
Construction of the Back Nine
The clubhouse and other noticeable improvements attracted new members and, for the first time, a substantial number of Vancouver residents. These developments gave rise to hopes that a second nine holes could be acquired that would complete the basic development of Orchard Hills Golf & Country Club. To this end, the board of directors turned their attention to the acquisition of land which could be used. Finding suitable land was no easy task. Three criteria had to be met. First, the land had to be accessible from the existing layout. Second, no less than 50 or 60 acres were needed to accommodate the envisioned expansion. Finally, the land had to be suitable for golf course construction. Meeting these criteria proved to be so difficult that serious consideration was given to selling the existing facility and finding a whole new location for the club.
The directors persisted and finally put together a series of transactions which, in combination, satisfied all requirements. At the annual meeting held December 4, 1962, acquisition of 53.4 acres from several seperate sellers was authorized by the membership. Those purchases were finalized in April 1963. In june of 1965, the outstanding clubhouse bonds were retired which freed up funds to be used to pay the purchase prices of the land.
During 1966 and 1967, planning began for construction of the new nine holes. Bill Sanders was retained as architect with instructions to plan for construction during the summer of 1968. At a special meeting of members held January 24, 1968, the board was given the authority to borrow up to $140,000 to finance the construction. After many alternative plans were considered and rejected, the board approved a design and for bids from contractors.
Construction involved substantial excavation and filling. This was especially needed in the area where holes 14, 15 and 16 are located today. Thousands of cubic yards of earth were excavated and transported away from the site. Top soil had been preserved by first scraping it to stock piles and then spreading it over the excavated areas. During the first year of play, extensive repair work was necessary due to erosion.
When construction was completed, the new nine was essentially bare of trees. Over the years, members planted the many that add to the challenge of the layout.
No story of Orchard Hills would be complete without special mention of the 17th hole. This par three, playing to 200 yards from the championship tee, has brought a modest amount of fame to the club. The water hazards, out of bounds left and mammoth trees narrowing the pathway to the green, make it a memorable hole. Happy is the golfer who escapes with a "3" written on his or her score card.
We who play Orchard Hills today owe a great debt of gratitude to those directors who had the foresight and perseverance to accomplish the back nine addition to our golf course.