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  • Neil White

St. George's Golf and Country Club (Toronto)

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

“Well, there’s something I have never seen before!”

Our genial host has played thousands of rounds in his 40 years as a member of St George’s Golf and Country Club.

He was a scorer at the Canadian Open, was instrumental in the move to return many original Stanley Thompson features and knows every inch of the course.

But he had never witnessed anyone bouncing their tee shot through the reeds and safely to the opposite bank of the water hazard in front of the 13th green.

“It’s what keeps us coming back,” joked our convivial compadre who had executed the skim shot.

This was one of the many fun episodes during a gorgeous day just minutes from Downtown Toronto.

CN Tower and the giant skyscrapers of Canada’s most populous city provide the backdrop to the view of the course from the veranda – an informal but attractive and popular addition to St George’s dining areas.

My host showed me the view as he told me how the clubhouse’s position on the opposite side of Islington Road to the course dates back to Prohibition.

The road marks the district boundary and the course was in an area where drink was banned but the clubhouse was under a more liberal authority.

It was apt then that post-game, we supped splendid red wine as an accompaniment to the most well-presented (and delicious) meal I have seen at a golf club.

This was our first experience of a North American Country Club and from the moment our Uber rolled up, it was clear it would be to savour.

A kindly chap relieved us of our bags, told us that they would re-emerge on our buggies and pointed us to the locker rooms.

The locker room manager offered me a place to put my bag in this incredible, pristine warren that seemed to go on forever.

Our host then took us on a tour of the magnificent building and its many dining areas, photographic tributes to Canadian Open victors (Rory McIlroy won here in 2022) and a former curling sheet that is now the most impressive golf simulator area I’ve seen.

After knocking some balls on the range in the middle of the property, we began the main event, the dips and rises of Thompson’s oasis of calm within view of the bustling city.

The tranquillity of St George’s is a feature. On many of the holes, all that could be heard was me muttering to myself over my dismal short game.

However, it did lull me into an early false sense of promise because I walked away with a rather handsome four from the first hole.

My drive found St George’s cloying rough but my approach snaked across the putting surface, leaving a slippery 15ft putt for birdie that was narrowly missed.

After the long par-four second and more slopes, comes the first of the venue’s fabulous and fiery par-threes - downhill with a huge bunker, 50 yards short of the green.

The traps at St George’s are beautifully cut with white sand that may be pleasing to the eye but is certainly best avoided as I can testify after my first blob of the day.

By comparison, the fourth should be a fairly gentle par-five but sound tactics are essential to find a fairway that slithers through the now familiar kidney-shaped bunkers towards a plateaued green.

The view from the fifth tee is one of the reminders of our proximity to the city and falls through trees before rising to a green with a false front.

“Don’t go for the flag!”, insisted our host as we took on the pretty sixth - one of the shorter par-threes and one with a sharper bite than is obvious from the tee.

Not even he heeded his advice as all four of us opted for glory and clipped towards the target, hidden behind big bunkers and at the top left of a huge, sweeping green. Inevitably, a quartet of bogeys ensued.

After the long swirling par-four seventh comes another of the epic par-threes with a green that slings around from right to left to a flag obscured by a raised bunker.

Even those who find the green will find the contours a considerable conundrum.

After a decent halfway score, I had a veritable swagger after booming my longest drive yet down the 10th.

This, we were told, is when the valleys of St George’s become particularly pronounced and sure enough my ball had dropped down into a deep dip but I still fancied my wedge into the perched green.

However, it flew past the flag and was caught up in the short but thick grass behind the target. My hope for an easy par swiftly turned into the despair of a double bogey.

The quality of architect Thompson’s holes on the homeward nine may not have been matched by my play but that did not prevent my enjoyment.

I found the 11th, for example, to be glorious. Situated next to an impressive halfway hut, it is a down-hill par-five with another regularly photographed city backdrop to a fairway hemmed in between bunkers.

The 12th maybe even better – a par-four into a green complex, the like of which I have only ever seen previously on links.

My ball fell into the sand on the right of the hole but at least that preserved me from the indignity of trying and failing to clip up the steep entrance to the green.

There must be legions of players who have watched the ball trickle back towards their feet.

The hits keep coming with the aforementioned par-three 13th across the reed-covered pond and the picturesque 14th which swings down from left to right before moving in the opposite direction to a green protected by a stream.

The quirky holes continue with the 15th – a mind-blowing par-five which bends one way and then the other past huge sand traps before rising to a green with a near-unfathomable gradient.

The long par-three 16th caused the pros most consternation at the Canadian Open with a false front to a green surrounded by bunkers.

It is followed by two toughies – the long dogleg 17th, with more city views, has traps waiting for anyone (me) daft enough to try to cut the corner and the delightful 18th with the gorgeous clubhouse as its backdrop.

This is a cracking finishing hole and left me with my final painful memory of Thompson’s fiendish bunkers.

It completed the round but not the enjoyment. It was great to meet the enthusiastic and knowledgeable assistant pro and other members before adjourning to the wonderful meal.

In all honesty, I had feared that St George’s may have been stuffy (largely, because of its rather exaggerated instructions for visitors on its website).

However, this was as relaxed and sociable a day as we have had on our travels - and St. George's is rightly acclaimed as one of the world's great golf venues.

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