For the first time in 69 years, the Rivermead Cup—the trophy for Low Canadian at the Canadian Open—and the Canadian Open belong to the same gentlemen. Nick Taylor’s historic 73 foot putt was being compared to Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal or any other “where were you?” moment in Canadian sports history in the media room post-tournament, but time will tell if that is true. Nonetheless, Taylor’s win at Oakdale Golf & Country Club is the first Canadian to win the National Open since Pat Fletcher, 1954 at Point Grey in Vancouver.
In some respect, the RBC Canadian Open exists in “eras”: there is the pre-tournament sponsor era, ending in 1993. The tournament moved around the country, though towards the end of this era, Glen Abbey became the mostly-permanent host of the event. Then, The title sponsor era, split between Bell and RBC, with tournaments largely in Toronto. And now, the post-COVID-19 era, where the Canadian Open has, unfortunately, taken the brunt of Saudi-Arabian announcements related to LIV. Yet both years—2022 at St. George’s and 2023 at Oakdale—we leave the week not talking about whatever crazy news began it, but the end-result.
At St. George’s, Rory McIlroy held off Tony Finau and Justin Thomas in the final group to win. It was wild, rowdy, and downright poetic against the first-ever LIV event in London. The championship was played over Canada’s best championship golf course (at least on Beyond The Contour‘s Top 100), no less, making the three-year delay between 2019 and 2022 worth it.
This year, the field was weaker. No Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas or Tony Finau. No Cam Smith, for obvious reasons (though it appears he will be back now), either. It is not the US Open field, but 2022 was the best showing the event has ever had. 2023 had similar players, minus a few. It was still a good field, especially in contrast to this event a decade ago.
The golf course is also weaker than the past two years. Oakdale is no St. George’s or Hamilton, but few are. It is far from bad—it is a lot better than Glen Abbey… most are—but a golf course like Harry Colt’s Hamilton next year has the ability to pull a couple more big-name players… Oakdale doesn’t. Architecturally, Oakdale is a “x’s and o’s” golf course, where you have to play it to position X to get to O. Great golf courses often have X, Y, and Z to get to O, but that is rarely seen in tournament golf other than The Open Championship and maybe The Masters or the US Open, depending on the golf course. The golf course held up well, with Taylor and Fleetwood finishing regulation at -17 (I was way-off with my mid-20’s prediction and I’m not afraid to walk that back. Where’s @FreezingColdTakes?).
Nonetheless, I came away from Sunday at the 2023 RBC Canadian Open with a newfound appreciation for the golf course. I always thought the front was good enough: the 1st is a dramatic start, tumbling down into the valley before crashing into the upslope to a heavily-tilted green. The 3rd, the Thompson nine’s 8th for member play, works well as a converted par 5, with its fairway tilted the same way the green slopes, making it difficult to get balls close. The 4th is a contender for the best hole on property, as is the 5th. The 8th is a quirky, fun drive-and-pitch hole, especially to a back left flag on the tongue.
The back is the obvious weaker side, but on Sunday, I gained an appreciation for the routing and Golf Canada’s vision for the championship. The 10th is a wild short par 4, with a green tucked on a hillside on the other side of the creek so abruptly that there is a second green on the close-side of the creek up the right for members who can’t physically get it up there. The 11th is a wicked redan par 3 tumbling down into the valley, and the 12th worked well for professional golf.
13-17 is by far the weakest stretch of golf, but this is where architecture rarely matters in a host venue. It was, by far, the best spectating area of the week. The Rink played centre stage on the 14th, while the 13th and 16th greens were in close proximity to the noise. The 17th tee was next to the 14th “RBC Vantage Point,” letting those take in multiple shots and cheer for a handful of players, all in one area. Only the 15th tee shot was tucked into a corner that you couldn’t see or get to, but it was an impressive stretch of spectating. Those who didn’t mind a bit of walking could easily rotate between second and third shots on the 12th, all of the 13th, The Rink, and then see tee shots on the 17th.
The 18th is always going to be controversial, and while No Laying Up seems to be all-in on it, I still think it is an awkward, clunky finishing hole. Friend of the website Robert Thompson, who essentially paved the way for golf course writing in Canada, likened it to Hamilton’s 18th, though I’m not sure if I agree. Yes, you tee off down the hill with less-than-driver towards a creek, but at Ancaster, players shouldn’t have more than 7 iron in. The strategy at Hamilton’s 18th is the further you lay it back, the flatter your lie is. Want a shorter club? Bust it down towards the creek. Flatter lie? Lay back, but have a longer club in. At Oakdale’s 18th, the fairway is flat and the golfer simply has to avoid the hazards. Each day, Rory McIlroy hit 4 iron-5 wood into the 496 yard par 5, 18th… which, in my eye, is just weird.
Even so, it doesn’t matter now. Taylor’s putt has permanently plastered that hole in Canadian golf history. In the playoff, the merit of how Golf Canada and the PGA TOUR set up the hole made sense, as if it was built for this singular moment. Hitting the fairway gave you the advantage, while missing the fairway either forced a layup, or meant a low-chasing shot coming in. Hitting the fairway won Taylor the playoff: he was able to get the ball on the green in two, while Fleetwood’s tee shot found the bunker up the left and forced a layup. A walk-off eagle to win… maybe it’s not so bad?
It might not be St. George’s or Hamilton in terms of its golf course, but Oakdale’s facility is far better suited to host events of such magnitude and, in general, I think the event will be looked at in the same light as the past two showings. Between the spectator experience, the scope of the facility, and Taylor’s win, the RBC Canadian Open at Oakdale was a victory. It was 30% bigger of a build-out than St. George’s in 2022, which was roughly 30% bigger than Hamilton in 2019, so what will it look like at Hamilton next year, or even Oakdale when it returns in 2026? While I still wish RBC and Golf Canada could find a way to get a Canadian Open rota around Canada—Shaughnessy, Mickelson National, St. George’s, Hamilton, Oakdale now, TPC Toronto coming soon, Laval-sur-le-Lac, and more potentially—Oakdale has proven itself this year a worthy host.
Looking ahead, the RBC Canadian Open heads to the revamped Hamilton Golf & Country Club next year following Mackenzie & Ebert’s renovation. Lorne Rubenstein tweeted his wish for short grass around greens at Oakdale, but he will have to wait until next year. As part of Ebert & Mackenzie’s work, they wrapped every green with short grass, meaning lots of tight-lie pitches coming soon. The new Hamilton is big, with improved sight lines, fewer trees, and new tees, stretching the course to somewhere north of 7,100 yards. Harry Colt’s routing remains, but this is essentially a new Mackenzie & Ebert modern golf course. Rory McIlroy, who won in 2019 at Hamilton, and those who played the last time it was there, will essentially throw out their yardage books and have to get to work on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday next year to learn a new set of greens and distances.
After that, though, the future of the championship seems murky. 2025 does not have a host venue yet, though my money seems to be swinging towards Pulpit Club’s Pulpit course, a Dr. Michael Hurdzan & Dana Fry design about 45 minutes northwest of Toronto International Airport. The 2023 Canadian Amateur is at Pulpit and Paintbrush this year, and while Golf Canada has historically not used their Men’s Amateur National Championship as a test-run like the USGA does for the US Open, there will no doubt be some inquisition into the ability to host and seeing how it goes in August this year. TPC Toronto is a betting favourite for the next-available date, but infrastructure won’t be ready by June 2025. Ian Andrew is currently on deck to renovate the North course this fall, while 2027 seems like the most likely first-date for TPC Toronto’s introduction to Canada’s biggest event. Lambton and Mississaugua have both been rumoured to be considered, but they each have logistical issues. Coppinwood is also a potential option for 2025, but less likely than Pulpit given its distance from downtown and the airport.