A classic discovered; a landmark destroyed

Amid all the doom and gloom about the decline and struggles of the golf industry – much of which is only circulated by rumour – it’s a very pleasant relief when you’re made aware of a positive story.  Even better when you’re invited to come take a look, and oh by the way, bring along your clubs.

Cedar Brae Golf Club hosted a “media day” this week, inviting a bunch of us to come and take a look at their spanking new clubhouse, and play the golf course.  First let me talk about the new building.  The members of Cedar Brae have every reason to be proud of what they approved and built.  Designed by Toronto architect Richard Wengle, who was on hand to help with the ribbon-cutting, and who seems to be the designer of every handsome, new, high-end in-fill in Rosedale and Lawrence Park, this new structure at Cedar Brae is a stunner on the outside, and very attractive and functional on the inside.

The 30,000 square foot Cedar Brae clubhouse was designed by award-winning Toronto architect Richard Wengle.

The 30,000 square foot Cedar Brae clubhouse was designed by award-winning Toronto architect Richard Wengle.

The building cost just over $10m, and that seems a very reasonable price to pay for what the members will now enjoy for decades to come.   Having been closely involved with the planning and design of a new clubhouse at my own club in Toronto a couple of years ago, I have a pretty good understanding of all the hard work, and conflicting input, the Cedar Brae project team went through.  But they did a splendid job.

Most of the club’s board members were all on hand at media day to proudly show off their work, and give the visitors personal tours of the building, and that was much appreciated.

I’ve lived in Toronto all my life, and by my most recent count, I’ve played 68 courses in the GTA.  I had never played Cedar Brae, and while I was aware of the name, I really didn’t know much about it.  But I can honestly say that, if I hadn’t been incredibly fortunate to have joined another club at age 14 (where I still am today, some five decades later), I would easily and happily join Cedar Brae today.

I was absolutely blown away by the golf course.  There’s not a bad hole in the layout, and once you get past a couple of ho-hum opening holes, there’s a veritable buffet of fine golf ahead of you… including some of the prettiest par 3’s you’ll find anywhere.

Most of the course meanders through the Rouge River valley, and over and across the River itself several times.

There is nothing “made up” about this course, and that’s mainly because it was designed, decades ago, by Robbie Robinson, who learned his craft from one of the great classic course designers of all time, Stanley Thompson.   I love the modern Canadian courses of Doug Carrick and Tom McBroom, and outsiders who’ve worked here like Michael Hurdzan and Tom Fazio… but today’s new courses are just so different from classic venues in the GTA like Toronto, Rosedale, St. George’s, Summit and Scarboro, which – partly because of their age and the maturity of their trees – just seem to saunter leisurely through what would happily be public parks if they weren’t privately owned, and didn’t have 18 flagsticks on them.

Cedar Brae fits naturally and easily in that rank of outstanding classic courses.  But for some reason, it’s never mentioned in the same paragraph as the names above… even though it’s been around since 1922, and at the same location since 1954 at Steeles and Markham, which is hardly “out in the boonies” in today’s greater metropolis.

Like just about every other private golf club in Canada, Cedar Brae is certainly welcoming new members these days.  Obviously, if they were able to build a spiffy new clubhouse, they’re not struggling hard to stay alive.   Their initiation fee is modest in comparison to many others, and in my mind, it could offer the best membership value in the city.

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I couldn’t submit this week’s piece without acknowledging, with a very heavy heart, the devastation of the wildfire in Fort McMurray.   I can only imagine, and hope I never have to face the reality, of what a horrible and gut-wrenching experience it must be to be forced to literally run from your home and leave everything in your life behind.

Six weeks ago, by complete chance, I played two rounds of golf in Myrtle Beach with a charming gentleman from Fort Mac, who worked for the municipal government there.

He was a pretty good player, and very proud of the Fort McMurray Golf Club, which he had helped to build into a local landmark over the years.  I understand that most of the buildings at the Club have been destroyed, basically in a matter of minutes once the flames arrived.

In such circumstances, golf is probably the least important thing to think about.  But I hope there will still be the remnants of the course there once the fire’s been extinguished.   And I hope that golf will provide some of the residents some degree of pleasure as they go about rebuilding their city, and their lives.

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