Over the years, many local golf observers have opined in the media about the fact that Toronto is one of the world’s great golf cities, based on the number and quality of courses we have within a 60-mile radius. I totally agree with that premise, and I don’t think anyone local would argue the point. Unfortunately, I don’t think a whole lot of people realize it. Certainly, not many people who don’t live within the GTA.
Chicago is the city that most US golf publications single out for volume and quality of courses, and I don’t dispute that, either. But I look at a golf map of Toronto with great pride… and if we include Muskoka, about 120 miles to the north, we also have one of the world’s great golf resort destinations within a day’s visit.
So what does this all mean? Nothing really. There are no real bragging rights to living in A City With a Bunch of Good Golf Courses, and probably all but two people in the world could care less about Toronto’s stature (I’m thinking me, and the guy who runs Toronto Tourism).
But one thing that hasn’t been remarked upon, aside from quantity and quality, is variety. The different offerings and styles of courses around the GTA is also very impressive.
Of course, the overwhelming style in these here parts is “parkland”, because we don’t live by the sea and, big as it is, Lake Ontario doesn’t qualify. Our best parkland courses are world class and private – like St. George’s, The National, Toronto GC, Hamilton (Ancaster), Weston, Coppinwood, Rosedale, Maple Downs, Granite Golf, Lambton, Summit, Scarborough, King Valley, Cedarbrae, Beacon Hall, and the ultra-private Goodwood, all of which feature lovely, rolling terrain and challenging, pretty and creative layouts.
But we have some excellent public parkland courses as well: Glen Abbey, Angus Glen, Copper Creek, Eagle’s Nest, Lionhead, Royal Ontario, Royal Ashburn, St. Andrew’s Valley, Woodington Lake, Batteaux Creek, The Briars.
Then we have our own versions of Links courses, like Osprey Valley Heathlands, Devil’s Paintbrush, Braeben and Glencairn (which I’ve only heard are good), Bond Head South, and now, Lebovic. These all come pretty darn close to a genuine links experience, albeit without a sea or a firth or a loch in the distance.
If we venture out beyond the GTA and cast our net from Niagara to Windsor to Sudbury to Ottawa, and all points in between, I honestly can’t think of any similar-sized combination of city, region, state, or country that has a better roster of first class golf courses, and variety of offerings, as southern Ontario. And yes, I include Ireland, Scotland, and southeast Australia in that mix.
The Irish, the Scots, and the Aussies will no doubt be shrieking “Infidel!” at me for that bold statement, and I must admit, I offer it to the readership sheepishly. Partly because I have not yet been to either Ireland or Australia. From a lifetime of reading about golf, and looking at pretty golf photos, I’m aware of many brilliant golf courses in those countries, and their second tier roster may be equally impressive. For their part, 99% of the Irish and 99% of the Aussies may say they’ve never heard of ONE single golf course in southern Ontario, so what does that say about my bold statement? Either I’m wrong, or they haven’t done their homework. Frankly, I’d much rather visit Ireland and Australia to prove myself right or wrong, than wait for them to look into southern Ontario.
This all, of course, begs the question, what makes a good or great golf course? And there is, of course, no right or wrong answer to that one. I generally figure that I’ve been around long enough and played enough bad, good and great courses to know one when I see one. I’ve played some courses that are considered great, and walked away saying to myself, “really?” (e.g., the Old Course, the National, Harbour Town). I’ve played some good courses and thought they were great, and some good courses and thought they were bad. All the bad courses I’ve played were, indeed, bad.
Okay, enough rambling. For your consideration, to agree with or probably not, here are my Top 5 Courses That I’ve Had the Pleasure to Play in Southern Ontario…
- Goodwood, Uxbridge
- Hamilton (Ancaster)
- St. George’s, Etobicoke
- Toronto GC, Mississauga
- Tie – Maple Downs, Vaughan and Muskoka Lakes, Port Carling
- Muskoka Bay, Gravenhurst
- Bigwin, Dorset
- Rocky Crest, MacTier
- Eagle’s Nest, Vaughan
- Eagle Creek, Dunrobin
In any country, those are 11 fine golf courses.