Canada’s Custodian: Toronto Golf Club Keeps The Spirit of Golf Alive

I have waxed poetic about my love-affair for Toronto Golf Club before (namely, here and here), but this is different. Yes, I believe it is Canada’s single most important golf course. At Harry Colt’s Toronto Golf Club, Canada finally had a world-renowned golf course. In fact, only five golf courses pre-1920 (the “Thompson Era”) sit in our Top 100 list: Hamilton (1915), Mount Bruno (1918), Summit (1912) and Victoria (1906), but none higher than Toronto Golf Club at #7. The main point of this article is not to highlight what is already in writing (which is, this is an epic golf course). This is, however, a love letter to the club, who are the true custodians of the game of golf in this country.

Nobody in Canada is doing what Toronto Golf Club does. Particularly, the aggressive tree removal, which ripped out north of 2,000 trees this past winter to open up vistas, increase sunlight/circulation, and restore sight lines Harry Colt once saw on this Mississauga property.

Excuse the low-quality iPhone picture, but compare 2019’s 9th hole (before) to 2022’s 9th hole

There are no garbage cans here. At least, in one’s eyesight. They’re hidden, below the ground; out of sight, out of mind, and not a hindrance by any means. Oh—no cart paths, either. Not entirely true, I suppose. They are there, but rarely does none notice it, and they certainly do not wrap the golf course from the 1st tee to the 18th green. Toronto Golf Club encourages walking, and the majority of those who play do just that. A pleasant walk around the lakeview property, winding around creeks and crevices is just what the doctor ordered.

Perhaps my personal favourite part about Toronto Golf Club is texture. Ah yes, such a beautiful thing. As opposed to the very American model of wall-to-wall green property wide, Toronto Golf Club is not afraid to get down with brown. I am not particularly referencing fairway colouring, although I’ve heard they do not shy away from firm-and-fast (the two times I’ve played, the fairways have been green, although firm). I like the rescue, swaying back and forth in the wind as if it was a 16-year-old girl with her iPhone camera flashlight on at a Justin Bieber concert. The texture acts as a landing strip: hit it here, or else. The or else, however, is unpredictability: like heather, you could potentially get a good lie and pull off a recovery shot. On the other hand, you might get a full shot penalty and have to punch out. Unpredictability is, after all, the ethos of golf.

Speaking of unpredictability, bunkers! Ah, the bunkers, beautifully constructed by Martin Hawtree and his team in the spirit of Harry Shapland Colt. As opposed to bunkers swimming in the rough, or rough stopping balls from running into bunkers (a Canadian classic, really), Toronto Golf Club’s bunkers actually feel like they are eating into the preferred line of play. Case and point: the bunkers on the 8th and 16th hole, which are directly in the middle of the fairway. Granted, these are slightly overcooked for my taste. On each hole, four bunkers continue to choke the golfers landing zone. In truth, two—or perhaps even one—could serve the same purpose, but they are intimidating, and provide a much-needed change of pace from the “bunker left, bunker right” school of golf architecture. These bunkers are actually in play, as opposed to slightly off the target, as are the bunkers on the 10th, or the 1st, or the 3rd, 6th, 15th, or any number of holes. Don’t worry: those who want a bunker either left or right (both?) will find that on the 2nd, 11th, and 13th; more subdued tee shots.

The tee shot on the par 4, 8th

Toronto Golf Club is anything but North American in spirit. It is no country club… it is a golf club. They play golf here, and do so on one of Canada’s great playing fields. No US Open style golf here (a good thing). No acres and acres of maintained rough, void of any character, layering, or purpose other than to penalize “fairly.” Rather, a British heathlands, with character, sloped greens too tilted for 12′ or 13′ on the stimpmeter, and texture. This is, after all, a match play course (as evident by the somewhat lacklustre 18th in comparison to the rest of the supporting cast), and in that, the risks, rewards, heroic questions and daring shots throughout the round are primed for excitement and enjoyment. For those with finer taste, Toronto Golf Club awaits players lucky enough to take a left heading south on Dixie Road.

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  • Andrew Harvie

    Based in Toronto, but having lived in Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Arizona, and Texas, I have been lucky enough to see over 400 golf courses and counting!

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