Here, in the most cosmopolitan of Canadian cities, flower boxes line the windows of second-floor apartments perched above street-level storefronts. Among the CN Tower and museums, bustling streets, sports stadiums and restaurants, there somehow remains a feeling of crisp cleanliness and refreshing contentment.
People like to live in Toronto.
And many do so within walking distance of where they work or attend class. Kind of a New York of the North, where the streets are both home and workplace and where commutes are optional. But the byways of Toronto are considerably safer and cleaner than their Gotham counterparts, and you’re apt to get hellos – not sneers – from strangers. There is a reason people like it here.
“People live in Toronto because they want to, and because people live on these streets, they keep them clean, they watch out for each other,” said Ellen Flowers, whose genuine pride in this city goes beyond her duties as a member of its convention and visitors association. “There is so much culture, so much going on.”
Added Marijean Foster, who sells steaming hot dogs on Yonge Street: “There’s nowhere like here.”
There is a civic pride in Toronto’s bigness and in its beauty. Its challenges and charm, its history and histrionics. Contrast is a constant, with pinstripes and panhandlers, yet it all seems to work.
Golf – though hidden, or at least partially shielded, from a visitor’s first glance – is more than an afterthought in this city loaded with other things to do. Xenophobia aside, American visitors with open eyes can find a trail of good golf during the day and a slick city when the sun sets. It is a hybrid worth experiencing.
There is a cluster of excellent courses close to town, including Glen Abbey, Royal Woodbine, Angus Glen, Lionhead, Royal Ashburn, Nobelton Lakes, Royal Ontario, Eagle’s Nest, Wooden Sticks and Osprey Valley. A 90-minute drive eastward takes you to Niagara Falls, which not only is a great destination to soak in a natural wonder, but also is the site of some worthwhile golf at Legends of Niagara. More than 70 courses are within driving distance of Toronto, northward past Lake Simcoe up to Georgian Bay, and eastward along Lake Ontario.
“There is an unbelievable amount of golf here,” says Jim Lee, executive director of the Canadian Golf Tourism Alliance, a golf consortium with client courses throughout the country. “I think Canada as a whole gets the recognition it deserves, but people might overlook the Toronto area. And they shouldn’t.”
Canada’s most famous course, without a doubt, is Glen Abbey. The fact that it is accessible to the public makes it the drawing card for golfers visiting Toronto. The course actually is in Oakville, about 40 minutes from Toronto proper, and frequently is referred to as the shrine of Canadian golf. The headquarters of the Royal Canadian Golf Association is on-site and the club has played host to 22 of the past 26 Canadian Opens. The 2004 version of Canada’s national championship – the country’s only PGA Tour stop – will be played Sept. 9-12 at Glen Abbey.
When Glen Abbey was built in 1976, it was with the idea to provide a permanent home to the Canadian Open. That was the case for many years until it was decided that the Open should rotate to other courses to give it more nationwide exposure. But the Jack Nicklaus design still is regarded as the center of Canadian golf. On a course filled with spectacular sights, perhaps the most stunning is at the 11th tee, where players hit into a river valley some 120 feet below. This starts a five-hole stretch called “The Valley,” which feels like a course within a course.
Glen Abbey is the site of one of Tiger Woods’ greatest shots as a pro, which of course means it is one of the purest shots ever struck. Woods’ 218-yard 6-iron from a fairway bunker on No. 18 set up a birdie that clinched the Canadian Open in 2000.
One of the people most familiar with Toronto-area golf is Tim O’Connor, director of communications for ClubLink, which operates 22 private clubs in Ontario and Quebec, as well as Glen Abbey and some of the courses on the Muskago Golf Trail north of Toronto. O’Connor, while playing a recent round at Glen Abbey, took time out with a visitor to go to the spot where Woods hit the terrific sand shot.
“How does he get it home from there?” O’Connor asked in disbelief.
“He’s Tiger Woods,” O’Connor answered himself. “That’s how.”
After Glen Abbey, another “can’t miss” is Osprey Valley, a 3-in-1 stop that offers 54 very different holes. The Heathlands Links is an inland-links layout, and features rolling hills, pot bunkers and small, tricky greens. The Hoot course is kind of a Canadian knock-off of Pine Valley, and the Toot course is a parkland design.
Heathlands Links is perhaps the highlight of Osprey Valley, with its dunes that might have Scottish golfers looking for the nonexistent sea. It is a difficult layout on the tamest of days, but when the wind howls, watch out.
“You are absolutely playing three different kinds of courses when you come here,” said Robert McClure, director of golf operations at Osprey Valley. “And when the wind blows, you might play the same course two days in a row, and have to play it completely differently.
“If you’re looking for variety and something different, this is a beautiful place.”
The most beautiful scenery in Toronto-area golf requires a northward trek 175 miles to the Muskoka Golf Trail. Along the way, you will be treated with vistas that include a massive outcropping of granite known as the Canadian Shield. Stops on the six-course trail are Deerhurst Highlands, Rocky Crest, Taboo, The Lake Joseph Club, Grandview and The Rock.
Picking a favorite course on the Muskoka Trail is a subjective exercise, but Rocky Crest is a solid choice. With its spectacular log cabin clubhouse, the Tom McBroom-designed layout is framed by giant forests of pine, white birch and hemlock. The rolling fairways are accented by deep bunkers and granite outcroppings, which are aesthetically and strategically indicative of the kind of golf you’ll find adjacent to the splendor of the Canadian Shield. The routing, views, marshes and wildlife enhance a memorable course that has become a Canadian favorite since it opened in May 2000.
Speaking of natural splendor, a 90-minute drive east from Toronto to Niagara Falls is worth the trip for the awe-inspiring power of the Falls and the peaceful golf at the Legends at Niagara. The mist from the Falls and the Niagara River can be seen in the distance from the 13th green on the Battlefield Course – the premier 18-hole layout on the 45-hole property. The Battlefield – so named because it abuts the site of the Battle of Chippawa, a fierce War of 1812 skirmish – features four holes play around a 20-acre lake.
“People are always saying the Battlefield Course was named correctly,” said Mike Purnell, assistant pro at the Legends of Niagara. “And it is a battle. The rough is knee-high fescue and there are swales around almost every green.
“It’s tough, but fun.”
The Battlefield Course is a study in contrast. Difficult, but enjoyable; a picture in serenity only 30 minutes away from the thundering rage of Niagara Falls.
The contrast is not dissimilar from that of Toronto’s city center: Homey, yet cosmo; chic, but traditional.
Dichotomies, as proven by Toronto and its golf, can sometimes be delicious.