Course of the Week: Cherry Downs

I have to admit, I have something of a love-hate relationship with Cherry Downs. I love the golf course but it hates me. Doesn’t that sound like great material for a country song?

The golf course is a beguiling mistress – occasionally rewarding me but mostly withholding favours. Basically driving me crazy. Why does it beat me up so badly every time out?

Could it be that Cherry Downs is a shot-maker’s course and I’m incapable of manoeuvring my ball around its tight corridors? Possibly.

Could it be that Cherry Downs has some of the slickest, sloping, slanting, sliding putting surfaces ever invented and I can’t figure them out? Probably.

Could it be that Cherry Downs, which isn’t overly long at just 6,550 yards from the tips, and even when I move up to play the Blue/White hybrid tees and don’t even have to hit driver on some of the holes so I think the course is just there for the taking, still manages to mess with my head?


Some courses can really get inside your gourd and Cherry Downs definitely has that effect on me. I’ve probably played it an average of twice a year for the past fifteen years and eagerly look forward to it every time and still come away knowing I could do better – a lot better.

The course is a Howard Watson design from a time (1962) when golf courses didn’t have to be long to be challenging. The twisting fairways, framed by birch, poplar and cedar trees, are tight and trouble lurks not only to the sides but sometimes if you’re too long as well. Cherry Downs is one of those rare designs where you need to plan every shot from the green back to the tee. In other words, figure out the best angle and distance to hit your approach and then figure out what club you need to get to that spot. More often than not, it won’t be a driver.

One of the signature holes on the course is a perfect example. It’s #14 and is called The Snake – a mid length par 5 that doglegs left off the tee, then right to the green. Big hitters might be tempted to hit over the cedars on the left to a generous landing area, which will afford a straight approach up hill to a well guarded green – bunkers front and right, wicked sloped run-off left and back.

Cherry Downs Hole #14, Par 5, 515 yards
Cherry Downs Hole #14, Par 5, 515 yards

However, if you don’t have that Jason Day type drive in your arsenal, you’ll be faced with a lay-up using something less than driver, followed by a short to mid iron lay-up so you can have a peek at the green. Each shot will cost you extra strokes if you’re long because you’ll be chipping out of the bush to a spot where you can advance forward again.

Last time out I played it using hybrid-8 iron-8 iron and had a birdie putt. Of course, the green is just as treacherous as can be so I still needed to make a 6-footer for par.

That’s the other aspect of Cherry Downs that will have you muttering to yourself, whacking your forehead with your putter a la Woody Austin and generally cursing the good name of Howard Watson. The greens are devilish.

The ClubLink website suggests they are homage to Augusta National and that may be fair. They’re certainly not like anything you see being designed today. You can use a lot of adjectives to describe them and some aren’t fit for print but you have to manage your putting extremely well to score at Cherry Downs and that often means working out where you want to miss a putt.

Being aggressive can occasionally be rewarded but is often punished by leaving you with a long, curling comebacker. The art of defensive putting isn’t something that’s taught much these days because most greens don’t demand it. Well, welcome to Cherry Downs!

Another aspect about the course that gets everybody’s attention is the rolling terrain. The course winds over, around and through some delightful hills and valleys and Watson made exceptional use of it all with elevated tee decks, uphill climbs to plateau greens and hero shots across valleys and wetlands.

Cherry Downs Hole #9, Par 3, 238 yards (188 from the hybrid Blue/White tees)
Cherry Downs Hole #9, Par 3, 238 yards (188 from the hybrid Blue/White tees)

According to Director of Operations Joe Pacione, #9 is another signature hole and a shining example of the use of elevation. It’s 188 yards uphill to a hard sloping green perched on the side of the hill. Miss it left and your ball bounces and trundles down to a wetland area. Miss it right and you have an almost impossible blind approach. Miss it short and you either have a blind uphill shot or a bunker extraction. If you can’t hit the green, the actual safest miss is long, still leaving you a challenging chip back to the green but likely the best option to save par. Isn’t that a lovely way to end the front nine?

My favourite hole on the golf course and certainly one of the prettiest is #3 and while I don’t have all my scorecards from the past 15 years, I think it’s a safe bet to say I’ve never parred it. It’s about 400 yards on the card but the tee shot drops steeply downhill to a plateau so something less than driver will leave you an approach of 150 yards. If you go too long, you could be hitting from a severe downslope. If you go left, your approach is blocked by trees.

Cherry Downs, Hole #3, Par 4, 413 yards
Cherry Downs, Hole #3, Par 4, 413 yards

The approach itself is across a wetland and creek to a mightily contoured green in a gorgeous setting – a clearing really, totally surrounded by trees where even the sunlight only penetrates at high noon and furry creatures no doubt lurk. The green is a nasty piece of work – with side slopes and rolls, an occasional hump and even a false front. It’s tough enough to keep your approach on the putting surface but tougher still to get down in two putts. A rare beauty!

I could happily describe each hole because they all have unique character but hopefully you already have a taste of what it’s all about. Cherry Downs is definitely a shot-maker’s course and some of you won’t like it the first time out if you’re part of the bomb-and-gouge crowd. But for those who like to think their way around a course, then execute shots, it’s perfect.

This past weekend, Jim Furyk shot 58 at the Travelers Championship to set a record for a PGA Tour event. Furyk is no bomber and ranks pretty much dead last in driving distance but he’s a master at negotiating his way around a golf course and making putts. That’s the kind of skill you want at Cherry Downs.

I can’t wait for another crack at it. Hope you enjoy it!

Note: The golf course is part of ClubLink’s Public Player program. It’s easily accessible just minutes off Hwy 407 at Brock Road. There’s also a 9-hole academy course that’s excellent for working on your short game or for kids.

For further information about the club and current green fee rates click HERE.

Peter Mumford
Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. He's played over 500 different courses in 21 countries and met some fascinating people along the way. He's also a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

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