This week, the PGA TOUR heads north of the border for Canada’s National Open. Monday of tournament week is typically low-key; players arrive from the previous week—in this case, Columbus, Ohio from Jack’s Place—and generally, on-site spectators are limited. As a result, the vibe around the tournament host is fairly laid-back. Players are getting their feet wet and learning the ropes, especially at a facility they have not been before. That is the case this week at the 2023 RBC Canadian Open, being played at Oakdale Golf & Country Club in Toronto, where work is still very much underway, both on an operation and competitor standpoint.
The golf course is new to this sort of spotlight. Rather than a St. George’s or Hamilton, for example, Oakdale’s reputation has largely stayed under the radar and out of the international spotlight. Granted, its placement on Canada’s Top 100 on Beyond The Contour’s 2022/2023 list rarely warrants a “hidden gem” shout, but in contrast to other Greater Toronto Area private clubs, it has gracefully taken a back seat in the public eye in favour of happily going about its usual business.
That all changes this week: the PGA TOUR arrives to a new facility, the first time since 2007 that the Canadian Open has gone to a first-time golf course (Angus Glen’s North course, though the South hosted in 2002).
Originally founded in 1926, Oakdale Golf & Country Club is the result of Jewish golfers turned away at other clubs in the area. Stanley Thompson built the original golf course 97 years ago, now split between the “Thompson” and “Homenuik” nines, the two of three loops that comprise Canada’s 73rd best golf course. For the RBC Canadian Open, all three nines will see golf across the week. The tournament will use a composite routing between the Thompson (four holes), Homenuik (five holes), and Knudson (nine holes). For a full overview of the Canadian Open composite routing, click here.
Holes To Note
The Composite routing at Oakdale is a unique showcase of Canadian golf history, highlighting work from Stanley Thompson and Robbie Robinson (nine holes each), and Ian Andrew, who restored the golf course in 2017 and made small modifications prior to the Open. As a result, the golf course provides a unique look at three generations of Canadian golf architecture on one eighteen hole routing. Interestingly, all three architects also contributed to St. George’s, last year’s Canadian Open host, with Ian Andrew restoring Stanley Thompson’s golf course, and Robinson playing a role in the 4th, 9th, 14th, and 15th holes.
The composite routing will use the 1st, 3rd, 8th and 9th from the Thompson course, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 8th, and 9th from the Homenuik nine, and all nine holes from the Robbie Robinson Knudson nine.
Notably, the highlights are spread throughout the front nine of the composite course, including the opening holes on both the Thompson and Homenuik courses (1st and 5th, respectively), the closing holes on the same loops (4th and 9th), and the 8th green, measuring just ~3,400 square feet. The back nine, while less architecturally interesting than the front side, will bring the ruckus with a spectator-focussed stretch of golf centred around the par 3, 14th “Rink Hole.”
With that being said, the par 3, 11th is the most dramatic par 3 on property, playing from a hillside back down into the valley across and against Black Creek. This redan-style par 3 will look marvellous on TV, and it plays just as well.
I have long been a fan of early-week viewing. Players are generally more receptive to signatures, Pro-Ams keep the mood light (though far more dangerous to watch), and you get to see what the pros are working on, how they prep, and the all-important piece of the puzzle: fewer people means better viewing opportunities.
On Monday, I took in the festivities. I followed Matt Kuchar for a few holes, Tommy Fleetwood, and more. I saw multiple pitches, chips, drives, and putts, watching them uncover the golf course’s secrets that members have known for years. The general reaction to the golf course seems to be good enough, but not to the level of the previous two hosts. That is to be expected, I suppose: St. George’s (2nd) and Hamilton (10th) are both staples in Canada’s Top 10, whilst Oakdale is in the back half of the same list. Nevertheless, having another golf course—part-Stanley Thompson, no less—in the national spotlight is always a welcomed addition to the TOUR season.
The relatively empty golf course, and the ability to be so up-close-and-personal with players and the golf course, allows a different experience than the viewing experiences on weekends or even the first two rounds. I get it, Friday and Saturday are the fun days. Concerts, thousands of people, roars, hoots, hollers… the whole nine yards; but for golfers, the better viewing will actually be on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those in the know will go one of the two pre-tournament days as well as a weekend day to get the best of both worlds… you see them prep up close and personal, and take in the energy and vibe later in the week. At least, that is what I have begun to love doing.
A Tale of Two Nines
Not only is the golf course split between two generations of architects with Stanley Thompson’s work (1926) showcased on the front and Robbie Robinson (1959)’s work on the back, but the golf course’s length and difficulty are similarly split down the middle.
The outward nine features two converted par 5’s and the longest hole on the golf course at the 7th to measure a whopping 3,795 yards. The back comes in 3,469, a total of 326 yards less coming home. In the 2022 RBC Canadian Open Qualifier—the only benchmark for the composite course so far—the front nine played 1.41 shots harder than the back nine.
Controversial 18th Hole
There has already been some quick Twitter discourse about the 496 yard par 5, 18th hole, the shortest par 5 on TOUR this year. It wasn’t always like that, though. For the 2022 RBC Canadian Open Monday Qualifier last year, the hole played as a 500 yard par 4. Its stroke average? 5.00, the hardest hole by almost half a shot (0.49) over the long par 4, 6th up the hill. Competitors for last year’s
The hole pinches golfers off the tee and forces a layup short of Black Creek similar to Hamilton’s famed 18th before playing back uphill to the most undulating green on the golf course. Par aside, birdies, eagles, or bogeys coming down the stretch will provide some interest and some challenge, with “Knudson’s Alley” up the left, for those who need to gain an advantage on the field late in the tournament.
The rough is thick and juicy yet again, and Oakdale is the Canadian Open’s longest golf course in history at 7,264 yards. Rather than St. George’s and Hamilton at a par 70, however, Oakdale is a par 72. Scoring will likely be somewhere in the mid minus 20-something range, but largely due to the extra two shots a round Oakdale has on the previous two hosts.
Regardless, the field features Rory McIlroy, Akshay Bhatia, Sam Burns, Cameron Champ, Corey Conners, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Sahith Theegala, Cameron Young, and more. Look for a ball-striker to win this week.