Cherry Downs is a ClubLink semi-private facility and can be played by public golfers through the ClubLink Players Club program.
Ask most Players Club members what their favourite daily fee track is and their answers are usually the same: Cherry Downs.
Although Cherry Downs may lack some of the allure of its Players Club sister-courses — e.g. the history of Glen Abbey or the visually daunting layouts at Bond Head —it is not difficult to understand why the Howard Watson design is so beloved.
Carved out of the Claremont woodlands over 50 years ago, Cherry Downs has matured into a stunning and unique golf course that boasts a distinctive personality. It may only be 6550 yards — when it is playing its longest — but every hole is a test.
“It’s one of the toughest courses in Ontario,” said Joe Pacione, Director of Operations at the course. “What it lacks in length, it makes up for in three areas: accuracy, short game and putting.”
That is not to say that birdies are unattainable at Cherry Downs.
Like any course, the par-71 track offers up its fair share. However, what separates Cherry Downs from other courses is the amount of strategy and level of execution that is required in order to play it well, from tee to green.
With the exception of the ninth hole, a treacherous 238-yard uphill par 3 that Pacione qualifies as “one of the hardest par 3s anywhere”, none of the holes are that overwhelming in length. Rather, much of the course’s difficulty stems from extremely tight tee shots, narrow fairways and its iconic menacing greens.
When Watson designed the course in 1962, he constructed the putting surfaces as a tribute to the undulating greens at Augusta National. While most of the greens provide numerous head-scratchers and sweeping breaks, no place on the course embodies this design principle more than the 18th green, which slopes massively from right-to-left and sends golf balls careening from one end of the green to the other. (The greens appear to increase in difficulty with each new hole, so it is not surprising that Watson designed this monstrous green to finish the round.)
Learning how to navigate Cherry Downs’ greens can be an adventure in its own right, especially with regular players claiming that 85% of the putts on the course break towards Whitby. Pacione insists that the experience will make you a better and craftier player.
“You cannot short side yourself on this course and any mistake will usually add up to a bogey,” he said. “But, if you can learn how to play here, you can play anywhere.
“Of course, I do warn just about anyone that plays here, from a 4-handicap to a 20, that they will likely have a more enjoyable experience if they play the white tees.”
Pacione openly admits that he plays the white tees a vast majority of the time.
So does Ozzie Napoli.
Napoli, who purchased a Players Club Classic membership earlier this year, plays regularly at Bethesda Grange and Rolling Hills. However, when he is looking to test his game, he makes a tee time at Cherry Downs.
“It is definitely difficult, but I think it is fair,” said the semi-retired hairstylist. “If you hit a good shot, you get rewarded. If you hit a bad shot … well, you don’t want to hit a bad shot.”
Napoli plays regularly with his friend Danny Jang, who is also a Players Club Classic member.
Jang thinks that Cherry Downs offers not only the best value amongst the Daily Fee courses at ClubLink, but is also one of the best deals for public golf that he has found.
With the tee sheets busier at Cherry Downs over the past few seasons than they have been in years, it is clear that a large contingent of Players Club members likely feel the same way.
Pacione loves seeing the increased amount of play at his golf course. He acknowledges that Cherry Downs’ spike in play is likely attributable to the financial incentives offered in the Players Club packages.
“Obviously, it’s good for business,” said Pacione. “The Players Club has been great for Cherry Downs.”