It’s not the greatest golf course on earth, or even in Canada. All right, let’s be honest: it might have trouble cracking the top 20 in Southern Ontario.
But it’s the home of our national men’s Open championship, dammit.
Glen Abbey, for all its ordinariness as a PGA Tour venue, is still the place to which Golf Canada (née the RCGA) automatically defaults whenever the RBC Canadian Open needs a safe, lucrative, convenient host club.
It’s close (if you don’t count traffic) to Toronto, where all the money is. It’s on a big piece of land with plenty of room to put up commercial tents and a TV compound. It’s where Golf Canada has its headquarters, and where the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and Museum is located.
So it’s not a national treasure. We admit that.
It’s not the Old Course at St. Andrews with its unbeatable history and its funky old grey stone clubhouse, or Pebble Beach with its eye-popping shoreline views, or Royal Melbourne with its hairy bunkers and rugged, sandbelt splendour.
But plough the Abbey under for a housing development?
It would be like Donald Trump turning Doral into West Miami Mall, or building highrises on Riviera for UCLA student housing.
Problem is, Glen Abbey is owned by ClubLink, a big, acquisitive company that buys golf clubs more often than you and I buy … well, golf clubs. It’s a business, and is owned by a larger company, Morguard Corp., a real-estate investment company, and right now the real estate boss is calling the shots.
At least the bulldozers haven’t been mobilized yet. The application for redevelopment is still in the talking stages and the city of Oakville will have some say in how or whether it approves ClubLink’s vision for the property.
The mayor, Rob Burton, wants to make sure the city isn’t going to get overruled by the province if it digs its heels in, but really? What else is in Oakville? What is it known for, other than Glen Abbey and the Ford plant, and some Queen Elizabeth Way exits that will make your sphincter pucker and your hair stand on end?
Would it be a tragedy for golf if it were to be a conspicuous victim of the sport’s economic doldrums?
Not necessarily. There are 54 better golf courses in Canada, according to the most recent Score Magazine poll. It’s not as if none could hold our Open.
But here’s the thing: Many of the courses ranking ahead of Glen Abbey on most lists are either in remote locations (Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs on Cape Breton) or have too small a footprint (St. George’s in Toronto, Shaughnessy in Vancouver) to comfortably make the most of Golf Canada’s signature event, without a lot of cramping and downsizing.
It’s why RBC doesn’t move the championship very far from Toronto, very often. And why it has come back 27 times to the course Jack Nicklaus purpose-built in the 1970s to stage the Open.
This is not, by the way, just a Canadian thing.
Even in the United States, when one of the old classics is chosen as host — like Merion, just outside of Philadelphia, for the U.S. Open in 2013 — the organizers have to go to extraordinary measures to (barely) make it work.
So now and then, a Shaughnessy or a St. George’s will make the effort, and every once in a while, the members at Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster may be persuaded to give up their course for the pros’ use, but Glen Abbey remains the Open’s natural home.
In a perfect world, the members at Ancaster would say, ‘Oh, to heck with what we’re paying: let’s just give up our course for a month every year and let the pros have it, and we’ll take Golf Canada the museum, too.”
It’s not Toronto, but neither is Oakville. Far Hills, N.J., where the U.S. Golf Association is based, isn’t New York but it’s 75 minutes away from the big city by car. Kind of like Hamilton. The R&A is headquartered in St. Andrews, and that isn’t close to anywhere, but it seems to muddle along pretty well.
But it’s not a perfect world, so if ClubLink takes the earth-movers to Glen Abbey, expect the Open to be held most often on another big, expansive piece of property, currently looking for a higher profile, not too far from Toronto.
Maybe ClubLink gets a case of the guilts and finds a new place. Someone suggested a radical redesign of the public facility, Hidden Lake, near Burlington might be in the back of its mind. Someone else thought Angus Glen, which hosted two Opens in 2002 and 2007, could do it with a little work.
But the wheels are in motion now, and it seems the Abbey’s days are numbered.
There might be a limited amount of mourning, but it’s still a big piece of Canadian golf history, soon to be only a memory.
Source: nationalpost golf news