Sitting in my quarantine office, looking out the window as our backyard magnolia bursts, I got to thinking about all the marvelous luxury golf experiences in Toronto and around the region that I’ve played in my seven decades on the planet.
Frankly, it’s a lot. And the more I thought about the golf courses near me, the more it reinforced my long-held conviction that the GTHA has more GREAT golf courses in its vicinity than any other city in the world. If you’re from Chicago, I may have lost you with that statement. But if you drew an umbrella from Oshawa in the east, Barrie to the north, and Brantford to the west, you’d probably find well over 125 courses, and I could give you twenty names where I would give each one of a rating of at least 7.5 out of 10. And a few would get over 9.
The ideal GTA luxury golf experience
Which means nothing, of course. Course ratings are subjective by nature, and a course I may adore could well be someone else’s cow pasture.
So then I got to thinking about some of the great, individual holes I’ve played on some of those Toronto golf courses – good, mediocre and bad – that I’ve played round these parts. Perhaps you’ve played many of them, too. Space doesn’t permit me to list my Top 18 holes in one go, so perhaps we’ll address this issue by dividing them in half… a favourite front nine, if you will, and then next issue, a favourite home nine. These holes I’ve chosen are not ranked by preference, or order on their golf courses, just my admiration.
Keep in mind, I’m not a pro, or an architect, or even an expert… just a guy who’s played a lot of golf in his life, and developed a pretty keen eye for what’s beautiful, and what works.
So let’s pretend that this would be my ideal GTA Golf Course, based on holes I’ve played in my lifetime.
For example, if I could have an ideal opening hole, I think I’d pick the 9th at the Toronto Hunt Club, which is located in Scarborough, on a bluff overlooking the lake. This is a par 4, with a narrow tee shot over a deep gully, then an approach into an elevated green, but with a view of the lake and the coastline of New York state in the backdrop. Possibly the downright prettiest hole we have when talking golf courses in Toronto and the region.
Goodwood, near Uxbridge, is course that only a privileged few get to play. It was built over a decade ago by the late financier Gordon Stollery, and is maintained by his family as a very exclusive private club today. The 10th hole, or the 1st hole depending on which nine you play first, is a long downhill par 5 – just gorgeous, and par here is an achievement.
I’m a little biased, because I’ve played this hole more than 2,000 times, but the third at Rosedale Golf Club, from the back tees, is a gem. A right dogleg, your drive has to carry over and past the Don River, leading to an approach to a shallow, elevated green. Miss the green short, you have a scary uphill wedge to play. Miss it long and pray your come-back chip stays on the green!
Time for a par-3, and I can think of none more dramatic than the fourth at Scarboro Golf & Country Club.
From a tee that seems about 500 feet above the green (but probably about 60), and a river running alongside, you simply have to take a deep breath, a steady swing with your mid-iron, and savour the hang time of your ball as it sails into the sky, then drops gently down to… alas, wherever you hit it!
Generally considered Canada’s finest golf course, St. George’s G&CC, in Islington, is a beauty on the eyes and on the scorecard. It’s been years since I’ve played it (and caddied in the 1968 Canadian Open), but I remember two holes in particular… the long ninth, about 540 yards slightly uphill, with many a bunker to avoid along the way… and the other, which you’ll find in Part 2!
One of the prettiest holes I’ve ever seen anywhere (on more than 320 courses I’ve played), is the tenth at Devil’s Pulpit. Not very hard to par, but the downhill vista, looking west and with a majestic oak tree almost smack dab in the centre of the fairway, always reminds me of how aesthetics plays such an important role in one’s appreciation of the game.
I guess I’m a bit partial to holes with elevated tees, and the first hole of the South Nine at Hamilton Golf & Country Club is one of my favourites. A straight away 390 from the tips, this may not be the best hole at Ancaster, but it’s always an exhilarating one to play.
In terms of golf courses in Toronto, this one doesn’t necessarily win a photo contest. But I’ve always considered it one of the toughest par 3’s in the GTA… heck, anywhere! It’s number seventeen at Toronto Golf Club… a dead straight, flat, narrow, 205-yarder with huge bunkers on either side of the fairway, and woods and gully all the way along, with a green that looks flat as a pancake, until you stroke your putt. A great hole.
The final hole at Eagles Nest Golf Club, a great public course in Maple, just north of the city, is one of the area’s most inspired finishing par 4s. You can play from the back tees at 484, or be smart and play it from the golds at 392. But either way, you’re looking at water all the way along the right side, and a narrow target. Very reminiscent of 18 at TPC Sawgrass, only reversed.
Okay, let’s stop for a cold one at this point… and tackle the back nine of luxury golf experiences in Toronto and the region next month.
Jim Deeks is a Toronto-based television producer, and Host of CANADA FILES, a weekly interview series appearing on over 60 channels on the PBS Network in the United States. You can watch episodes here: www.canadafiles.ca. A former Executive Director of the Canadian Open, and the Canadian Skins Game, Jim has been playing golf since the mid-1950s.
Top image: No. 18 at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, courtesy Chris Fry