Hopefully my musing (last month, here) of the best golf holes in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area prodded some response, especially among those readers who have experienced most or all of the holes I chose.
Please rest assured that I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m just a guy who’s been fortunate to play the game on many different courses around the globe, and around my city, and when I see or play a hole that I like, I tend to remember it. We are SO blessed, in southern Ontario, to have so many fine courses, it really took a lot of critical thinking for me to respond to Mr. Keast’s invitation to select a top hybrid 18-hole layout.
But without further ado, let me take you through the back nine I’ve chosen. These are just super golf holes, beautiful to look at, and challenging to play. Put them together, and you’ve got something that would rival Augusta, Pine Valley, or Pebble Beach any day of the week.
The first hole at The Thornhill Club is one of the most exhilarating opening holes I know, anywhere. It reminds me somewhat of the first hole at Portstewart Golf Club in Northern Ireland, with a dramatic elevated tee dropping down to a generous emerald fairway about 40 feet below, and a gentle rightward curve to a smallish green. Not a tough hole, but an invigorating one to take you down into the valley to start your nine.
It’s been many years since I’ve played at Brampton’s Lionhead Golf and Country Club, but I remember well the excitement that greeted the opening of this golf development in the early 1990s. And I remember the opening hole of the Legends course (one of two on the property)… as tough an opening par as I know, anywhere. This hole also has an elevated tee, but the landing area is pretty generous. What’s really challenging here is the second shot, probably a fairway wood for most of us, over the Credit River, and over four small round bunkers to an elevated, wide and very shallow green. A great golf hole. Hit this baby in two and alert the media!
Trust me, I’m not trying to punish you by putting one of the toughest par 3’s in the GTHA next on the list, but I simply must put you on the tee of the 13th at Devil’s Paintbrush, in Caledon.
This hole genuinely makes my knees knock. At my age, I need my driver to even THINK I can hit the green, 226 yards away. But with absolute purgatory all the way down the right side, and behind the green, the only real option is to aim to that big tree on the left, and HOPE you don’t actually hit into it. A 3 on your scorecard here is Nobel-worthy.
One of Canada’s most storied golf holes is number 12 at venerable Mississaugua Golf and Country Club. Known for generations as “Big Chief”, and as the site of Jack Nicklaus’s personal Waterloo in the 1965 Canadian Open, this par 5 starts out gently enough with room to play with off the tee. Big hitters with lots of moxy may try to reach the green in two, the rest of us will lay up short of the Credit River which cuts a fairly wide swath all the way along in front of the green. Just close your eyes and pretend the river isn’t there. Unfortunately, Jack didn’t.
I told two friends who are Summit Golf and Country Club members that I was picking one of their holes for this selection of the GTHA’s best. I gave each three guesses which one it was. Neither got it. But for me, the 8th at Summit is one its many gems… another elevated tee, with a fairway gently sloping down, down, down to a back-to-front sloping green. Looks benign from the tee, and it’s not a difficult hole. But placement of your second shot is critical here. You don’t want to leave yourself a downhill or sidehill putt… just pray that the pin isn’t at the front of the green!
I must admit, I’m not a big fan of The National Golf Club in Woodbridge. It’s a fine golf course, but just too difficult for me, even when I was a decent player. Now, it’s like playing with a 16-ton anvil on my back. Nonetheless, I must pick one hole from a course that is always in the Top Three national course rankings. And it would be the 17th… a 418-yard, level devil that punishes you with water down the right side, rough, trees and O.B. down the left, to what seems to an obscenely-bunkered and small, elevated target straight ahead. Gets me every time!
I played Cedar Brae Golf Club (in the Rouge Valley at Markham and Steeles) just once, about five years ago, and was blown away with what a fine, pretty, and enjoyable layout I saw. Many holes stood out for me, but the one I’ve chosen is a lovely par-3, the 16th. Forgive me for my elevated tee fetish, but this is another one that lets you see what you’re up against. A narrow green with lots of white powder around it, but hit a good shot, and ye too may be rewarded with your own personal tweet-tweet.
There are so many great holes at St. George’s Golf and Country Club that it’s really a challenge to pick one, or two. Number 14 is probably the club’s signature hole, so it’d be remiss not to include it here. A long, downward par 4, with a fairway sloping to the creek on the right side, then passing straight in front of a small, well-bunkered green. If the hole wasn’t so beautifully framed by land and trees, and so downright pretty to look at, you’d be pretty disappointed that once again, you found a way NOT to make par here.
There’s no better finishing hole in these here parts to rival number 18 at Hamilton Golf & Country Club, better known as Ancaster. It’s a perfect amphitheatre for important professional tournaments like the Canadian Open, but even without a gallery of 20,000 watching you play, it’s a challenging downhill drive, a challenging uphill second to reach the green, and a treacherous green to two-putt for your par, bogey, or other. One of the distinctive features of this hole is the serpent-like river that stands between you and success on your inward second. As I said above on no.13, just close your eyes, pretend you’re Rory McIlroy, there’s no river there, and all will be just fine.
So, congratulations! You’ve just played a wonderful back nine, on holes designed by names like Harry Colt, Stanley Thompson, and George and Tom Fazio. You should feel blessed… and if you ever have the chance to play these holes in reality, you have been! Time now for the best way to finish a round of golf… a pint of cold Guinness, a bottomless bowl of salted peanuts, and The Open Championship on the telly. You’ve earned it.
Toronto native Jim Deeks has played golf in over 15 countries, on over 320 courses, over nearly 60 years. He’s a former Executive Director of both the Canadian Open and Canadian Skins Game, and still writes occasional columns and travel pieces for various golf publications. He is also the Executive Producer and Host of CANADA FILES, a weekly series of (non-golf-related) interviews with prominent Canadians, that appears on 234 PBS stations throughout the United States. Visit www.canadafiles.ca.