With more than 200 golf courses already operating within an hour’s drive of City Hall, Toronto golfers jokingly compare themselves to gluttons at a sumptuous buffet. How much more choice could they possibly need? And how, they wonder, can Canada’s largest and richest city support another serving of championship golf?
Yet every year, new courses open throughout an astonishingly varied local landscape that includes deciduous and hardwood forests, rivers, lakes, valleys and rocky escarpments. Among knowledgeable golfers word is spreading that Toronto ranks among North America’s top golf destinations. Even visiting businesspeople on tight schedules are bringing their clubs and sneaking the time to play nationally ranked courses such as Glen Abbey, Angus Glen and Osprey Valley.
Like Mother Nature, Toronto’s golf industry is in a constant state of renewal. Last month saw the launch of Eagle’s Nest Golf Club (10000 Dufferin St., Maple, 905-417-2300), a links–style design carved through a decommissioned sand and gravel pit just north of the city. Stretching 7,476 yards from the tips, this much anticipated layout features tight fairways, more than 80 sod-walled pot bunkers, and acres of ball-snaring fescue.
At Eagle’s Nest, Toronto-based architect Doug Carrick used 1.3 million cubic yards of fill (enough to load 100,000 dump trucks) while shaping ugly wasteland into an oasis rich with birds and other wildlife. Carrick had a far more promising site to work with at Copper Creek Golf Club (11191 Highway 27, Kleinburg, 905-893-3370), a stunningly beautiful 7,097-yard course that has been on everyone’s must-play list since it opened near the town of Kleinburg in 2002.
Holes one to three and 12 through 18 play across tableland on either side of Copper Creek’s imposing clubhouse. But the real fun begins with a plunge at the fourth hole into Humber Valley, where Carrick switches from a links–style approach to a more classical design, allowing the contours of the valley to dictate his routing. Accenting Copper Creek’s fairways and guarding the greens are dozens of Carrick’s trademark flash-faced bunkers.
Despite the steady supply of new courses, many golfers are drawn to Toronto as a place where they can walk in the well-trod spike prints of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and other legends of the game.
September 9 to 12, the Canadian Open returns to Glen Abbey Golf Club (1333 Dorval Dr., Oakville, 905-844-1811) for its 100th anniversary. Easily the best-known course in Canada, Glen Abbey has hosted the country’s premier golf event 23 times. In 2000, during the last Open played there, Tiger Woods clinched his victory with an astounding 210-yard bunker shot over water to the edge of the 18th green. Since then, few golfers have been able to resist the temptation to drop a ball in the same bunker and try their luck.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus on land once used as a Jesuit retreat, Glen Abbey is a championship test in every sense. Fairways are tightly trapped, greens heavily contoured, and water comes into play on 11 holes. But the Golden Bear saved his best work for the valley holes, 11 through 15, which run alongside twisting Sixteen Mile Creek. This stretch starts unforgettably with a drive off the 11th tee into a wooded gorge some 120 feet below.
Though not as famous as Glen Abbey, Angus Glen Golf Club South Course grabbed the attention of the golf world when it hosted the 2002 Canadian Open. Another Doug Carrick design, the course challenges golfers with a roller-coaster routing through 230 acres of former pasture. The par-four, 475-yard opening hole is unforgettable. Following an uphill tee shot over side bunkers, golfers face a slippery and narrow downhill approach to a small green tightly guarded by a sizeable bunker to the left and water to the right. The challenge eases only slightly from that point on as the course takes full advantage of the landscape’s rapid shifts in elevation.Unveiled on the same property in July 2001 was the equally superb Angus Glen Golf Club North Course. Architects Carrick and American Jay Morrish combined their talents to build a mostly links–style layout with sod-wall bunkers and generous fairways cutting through forest and wind-swept dunes. The North Course will host the Canadian Open in 2007.
A unique way to golf alongside the immortals is offered at Wooden Sticks, an exactingly rendered replica course that transports golfers to several of the world’s most famous holes. Instantly acclaimed as one of the Toronto region’s top layouts when it opened in the spring of 2000, Wooden Sticks features holes inspired by the island green 17th at TPC Sawgrass, St. Andrews’ 1st, 17th and 18th, the 12th and 13th at Augusta National, Carnoustie’s 6th, and the par-three Postage Stamp at Royal Troon. Added to the mix by Florida-based architect Ron Garl are four other holes designed in the style of legendary Pine Valley, as well as six entirely original holes so good that they threaten to steal the show.
Legendary Canadian golf architect Stanley Thompson believed that whenever possible a course must be at one with the natural landscape. Thompson disciple Carrick brilliantly adopted this approach at Heathland Links at Osprey Valley (Hwy. 136, Alton, 1-800-833-1561), a links–style layout in the Caledon hills. Located just northwest of the city, the course design takes its inspiration from the flowing contours of what was once a farmer’s field.
Carrick has worked minimalist magic with a mix of deep cross and pot bunkers, fescue roughs that dance in the valley breezes, sand dunes and mounds. In 2001, Osprey Valley leapt into the ranks of Canada’s top golf facilities with the opening of two new Carrick-designed 18-hole tracks. Osprey Valley Toot is more of a traditional parkland layout, with raised greens and elevated tees perched over valley fairways. Osprey Valley Hoot, meanwhile, is a sand wasteland course in the style of Pine Valley.
Though no other modern architect has equalled Carrick’s impact on the Toronto golf scene, he is rivalled in talent and reputation by another local designer, Tom McBroom, whose abilities are displayed at Hockley Valley Golf Course (Mono Third Line, Orangeville, 416-363-5490). This heavily wooded layout in the Hockley Hills is one of the most picturesque in all of Southern Ontario. McBroom’s routing rises 300 feet and then plunges as much within a span of several holes. On a clear day, from the elevated tees, golfers can see as far north as Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay.Almost as pretty but a far tougher challenge is Woodington Lake Golf Club (7110 Mill St., Fourth Line, 905-936-4343), near the village of Tottenham. Toronto architect Robert Heaslip confronts golfers with more than 70 bunkers as well as water hazards that come into play on 10 holes. The trouble starts right from the par-four opening hole, where the first glimpse of the ball-hungry gulch 215 yards out is certain to buckle the knees of weekend golfers.
Like mountaineers scaling Everest, some golfers travel the world in search of the most difficult courses and golf holes. In the Toronto area, the brave of heart need look no further than the Legends course at Lionhead Golf and Country Club, a superior layout that Golf Digest rated the third toughest course in North America. Wickedly fast greens, water on 13 holes and dozens of sand traps spell trouble as Legends weaves its way through the forests and wetlands of the Credit River Valley. Marginally less punishing is Lionhead’s second course, the Masters, with a slope rating of 146 compared to Legends’ 153. The top challenge here is the par-five 575-yard 16th where, following a drive demanding pinpoint accuracy, the golfer is confronted by a long carry over water to an island green.
As much as golfers might like to spend their entire Toronto visit playing golf, many are pressed for time. One option for the harried is Royal Woodbine Golf Club (195 Galaxy Blvd., 416-674-4653), a course so conveniently located that the airport is literally a runway-length away. Designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Royal Woodbine packs punch into every inch of a journey that takes the golfer from the wetlands of Mimico Creek to the shadow of hotels and highway overpasses.
Two courses operated by the City of Toronto Parks and Recreation Department, while not in the same class as the high-end properties already described, are also ideally situated. Humber Valley Golf Course (40 Beattie Ave., 416-392-2488), in the city’s west end, is an appealing 5,446-yard layout featuring lush fairways, wooded glens and well-maintained greens. Still closer to downtown is Don Valley Golf Course (4200 Yonge St., 416-392-2465), a tree-lined 6,109-yard valley design located just a five-minute walk north from the York Mills subway station on the Yonge Street line.
One final suggestion offers golfers both an incredible bargain and another chance to walk in the footsteps of the immortals. In its current location since 1907, Lakeview Golf Course (1190 Dixie Rd., Mississauga, 905-615-4653), a municipal layout operated by the City of Mississauga, welcomed legends such as Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour while hosting the Canadian Open in 1923 and 1934. For $50 on weekdays, golfers can enjoy a fully mature 6,300-yard design that remains one of the jewels of Toronto’s ever-expanding golf kingdom.—Brian Kendall is the author of Northern Links: Canada From Tee to Tee