Back for another look at Thornhill and Whirlpool


One of the few pleasures of getting older, for a golfer, is having the interest and the opportunity to revisit golf courses you may not have played for many years.

As my reader(s) may remember, I keep an active, ongoing list of all the courses I’ve played in my lifetime, stretching way back into the depths of a previous century (I won’t say which one).  I give each course a rating out of 10, and write a little comment on my perception.  Many of the courses on the list are regulars, which I play quite often, and occasionally adjust the rating – usually on the basis of whether I had a good score the last time I played.  Or not.

I had the pleasure of playing two courses this past month which I haven’t set foot on since that previous unnamed century expired.  And maybe because I’m getting older, mellower, and less demanding of myself and my course expectations, I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed both venues much more than I did the last time I played them.

Both courses, as it happens, were designed by legendary Canadian golf architect Stanley Thompson.  I enjoy Thompson’s courses, which include St. George’s, Capilano in Vancouver, Cape Breton Highlands, and Muskoka Lakes.  But I’ve never considered him quite in the same league as my favourite designer, H.S.Colt, who (to me) was more daring and dramatic in his execution.  Now, I don’t consider myself an expert at judging courses by any means.  But I have played 312 different layouts in my life, and somewhat like looking at paintings in galleries, I know what I like, which may not always be the common view.

In any case, the first revisit was to The Thornhill Club, renamed from Thornhill Golf & Country Club a few years ago.  When I was a kid, Thornhill was considered to be almost out in the country, up on Yonge Street just south of Highway 7.  It’s still there, but it’s now almost in the bull’s-eye of a map of the GTA.

Aside from being a venerable member of the Toronto private club roster, dating back to 1922, Thornhill also carries the exclusive distinction of having hosted the 1945 Canadian Open.  That event marked the eleventh straight victory on the PGA Tour for Byron Nelson that year… a record of success that will surely never be broken by anyone.

I played the course there about 25 years ago.  My comment then was “Nice course, nice elevations, quite similar to others like Weston, Rosedale, St. George’s.  Not overly difficult.”  I gave it a 6.8.

Having played it twice again in the past month, I find myself surprised that I was so blasé about Thornhill.  I really enjoyed the experience much more this time around.  The course is very pretty, very challenging, very interesting, and in immaculate shape.  There are many holes at Thornhill that you walk off and look back and say, “THAT was a good hole!”  If you were a first-time visitor to Toronto and this was the only course in our city that you got to play, then you’d leave with a very positive memory!

I’ve also jacked up my rating on Thornhill, to 7.8, and chided myself in the comment section for being so snooty previously.   It hasn’t quite reached the level of the other three I compared it to, but it certainly has more of my respect, and of the other gentlemen I played with.

Whirlpool Golf Club

The other course I played, just a few days ago, was The Whirpool Course at Niagara Falls.   Perhaps because I was looking at it carefully as a possible venue for the Export ‘A’ Skins Game in 1993, I came away then quite unimpressed.  I gave it a below-average score of 5.8, and a disparaging review of “People rave about this course, but I don’t get it.”

That’s still somewhat of a fair comment, in my mind, but I certainly enjoyed the experience more this time, playing as a grateful guest in the Niagara Parks Commission Invitational.   This time I moved my rating up to 7.0.  The Whirpool is a public course, subject to more wear and tear than a private club, but it holds up very well… a credit to Course Superintendent Andrew McQuillan and his crew.  The layout is challenging but fair, and in particular, I liked its par 5 holes which weren’t overly long but still required three shots.   There’s not a lot of elevation change, but consider that it’s built on table land on top of the Niagara Gorge.  The only complaint is you really don’t have a view of the Gorge just a few steps away, or the Falls themselves, about 4 miles down the Parkway.  (But then again, you’re here to play golf, laddie!)

On July 2, Whirpool will be celebrating its 67th birthday, and it’s a credit to the Parks Commission that it continues to maintain and promote this course, especially with newer competition in the Niagara area from Thundering Waters, Royal Niagara, and the Legends on the Niagara complex.

In fact, the whole greater Niagara area offers a good wealth of accessible and enjoyable courses, and combined with the added attractions of sightseeing, casinos and entertainment, and the many accessible wineries, you’ve got a pretty fine vacation right there.

But back to the theme of this blog… think of a course or two that you’ve played and perhaps didn’t like all that much.  Now consider going back for another look.  You may find you like what you see much better.

Maybe your eyesight’s actually improving.

Jim Deeks
Jim Deeks has been writing for Fairways for over a dozen years. He is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Open and Canadians Skins Game, and currently the Executive Producer of CANADA FILES on PBS.

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