Note to Fairways readers: this is an article I recently wrote for an American golf publication.
Let’s clear something up, right off the hop. Technically, there is no Toronto Golf Trail.
Unlike many regions throughout North America, Toronto doesn’t market itself as a golf destination. Maybe it has to do with our weather – our golf season is only six to seven months long. Certainly, it has to do with all the other attractions Toronto has to offer that likely consume much of the City’s tourism and marketing budget.
But golf should be high on any list of activities to include on a visit. In fact, for golfers looking to explore new destinations and experience world class golf, Toronto and the surrounding Southern Ontario region should be on their Bucket List. With over 250 public courses and 87 private clubs, there is more than ample inventory to satisfy everyone’s wish list and fit any budget.
Toronto is really the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), a vast metropolitan region on the north shore of Lake Ontario that stretches approximately 70 miles (120km) from Oshawa in the east to Burlington in the west. When you add in surrounding cities like Hamilton, Kitchener / Waterloo, Barrie and Niagara Falls, the region boasts a population of nearly 10 million people and as noted above, lots of golf courses.
Getting here is easy. Just about every major North American airline flies regularly to Lester B. Pearson Airport, which is about 45 minutes from downtown Toronto. Airports on the U.S. side of the border in Niagara Falls and Buffalo are just 90 minutes away while Detroit is about 3 ½ hours.
When you think about golf in Toronto, the easy comparisons are to places like New York City, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia – older metropolitan areas where much of the best golf is at private clubs close to the downtown core. Toronto is no different, with many prestigious clubs dating from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s such as Toronto Golf Club, St. George’s, Hamilton, Lambton, Scarboro, Weston and Rosedale, all of which have hosted Canadian Opens, and newer venues such as The National, Beacon Hall and The Pulpit Club. They’re all highly ranked and worth whatever magic you can conjure to get through the gates.
But for those who are short on private club contacts but still desiring Bucket List golf, Toronto has ample opportunities. Various rating groups in the country regularly publish their versions of the Top 100 Courses in Canada and while those lists are dominated by private clubs, there are still lots of places to play that don’t require an invitation.
Following are six of the highest ranked public facilities in the GTA, ten courses in all, that should be on anyone’s Must Play list. And would comprise a good start to the Toronto Golf Trail if we had one.
Note: all travel times are from the Toronto Airport, which will be explained in further detail below.
Glen Abbey Golf Club
The site of 30 Canadian Open Championships, Glen Abbey should be familiar to golf fans everywhere. The Jack Nicklaus design is characterized by rather narrow fairways and relatively small undulating greens guarded by plenty of deep bunkers. The first ten holes play ‘up top’ before the course drops to the river valley below for five very demanding tests. The tee shot on #11 is breathtaking. The final three hole are back on top with the shortish par-5 finishing hole the site of one of Tiger Woods’ Top 5 shots of all time – a 216-yard 6-iron approach from a fairway bunker over the pond to a back right pin location – setting up a birdie to beat Grant Waite and win the 2000 Bell Canadian Open. Location: Oakville. Travel time: 30 minutes west. https://glenabbey.clublink.ca/
TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley
There are three courses at this sprawling facility, all designed by one of Canada’s best modern architects, Doug Carrick. The Heathlands Course is the original and was inspired by Ireland’s Portmarnock Club. It features rumpled fescue lined fairways, deep pot bunkers and severely sloped greens. The North Course is more of a parkland layout with generous gently rolling fairways and large putting surfaces. It’s the most player friendly. The Hoot Course is the most scenic of the three, characterized by massive waste bunkers, large stands of tall pines and decent elevation changes. And in my opinion, the toughest to score on. Location: Alton. Travel time: 45 minutes north-west. https://www.ospreyvalley.com/
The Club at Bond Head
The architectural firm of Hurdzan/Fry, under the watchful eye of Jason Straka, gets the credit for two stunning courses situated in the hills north of the city. The South Course is grand in scale and detail with broad sweeping fescue-lined fairways, links style ragged bunkers and steeply sloped greens. The North course is more parkland style, with dramatic elevation changes and small heavily contoured putting surfaces. Both courses were the recipients of multiple “Best New Course” awards when they opened in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The majestic clubhouse overlooking the South Course is a wonderful spot to enjoy a beverage and watch some golf. Location: Beeton. Travel time: 40 minutes north. https://golfnorth.ca/bondhead/
Eagles Nest Golf Club
Another award-winning design from Doug Carrick, Eagles Nest is built on a former land fill site and characterized by some truly inspired elevation changes and unique landforms. The links style layout twists and turns, presenting a demanding test on every hole. The tee on the short par-3 8th renders a beautiful panorama of the Toronto skyline and provides evidence of the course’s elevation. Back-to-back par 5’s on 16 and 17 will make you book a replay before you even finish. Fine dining at Iago or casual fare at Jim and Garry’s Pub round out this epic golf experience. Location: Vaughan. Travel time: 25 minutes north. https://www.eaglesnestgolf.com/
Copper Creek Golf Club
Copper Creek starts and ends with its award winning 40,000 square foot clubhouse, perched high above the 9th and 10th holes. The patio is a magnificent place to watch the action unfold or just hang with friends and swap stories. Once again, Doug Carrick was instrumental in crafting the golf course and garnering several ‘best new’ accolades. Plenty of elevation ensures some thrilling shots, especially on the holes that meander through the Humber River valley. Generous fairways and large greens make this a very player friendly course. Location: Kleinburg. Travel time: 20 minutes north. https://www.coppercreek.ca/
Angus Glen Golf Club
With two Canadian Opens (PGA Tour) and one Canadian Women’s Open (LPGA) to its credit, Angus Glen has all the pedigree needed to put it amongst the best in the country. The 2001 Women’s Open and the 2002 Men’s Open were played on the South Course, originally designed by Carrick and later refashioned by Mackenzie and Ebert. A parkland layout with a number of water features and well-bunkered greens, the South Course is considered the tougher test. The North Course, which hosted the 2007 Men’s Open, features generous fescue-lined fairways and large undulating greens that are protected by sod-walled bunkers. Location: Markham. Travel time: 35 minutes north-east. https://angusglen.com/
Downtown Toronto has dozens of world class hotels close to entertainment and restaurants and everything else travellers like to do, but like most major metropolitan centers, getting in and out of the city can be a challenge, especially during rush hour. For golfers looking to play the courses listed here, it would be better to stay near the airport or in one of the business centers located in Markham, Vaughan or Mississauga. That’s why our travel times are shown from the airport and not downtown.
Google or Trip Advisor list no end of possibilities on what to do when visiting. For sports fans, a night out watching the Blue Jays in the SkyDome is a must, as is a trip up the CN Tower. An excursion on Lake Ontario, entertainment in the Theatre District or nightlife in the Distillery District are highly recommended. Or just hanging in one of the many neighbourhood pubs, cafes or restaurants.
One final note for American visitors: the Canadian dollar is trading at about 75 cents vs the U.S. dollar. That means your money goes a lot further in Canada! How’s that for hospitality?