Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Glen Abbey Golf Club

Glen Abbey Golf Club
Oakville, ON, CAN


7273 Yards (Par 73)
Course Rating/Slope: 75.5/146
Course Architect: Jack Nicklaus (1976)
Career Rounds: 5
Last Played: June 25, 2009.
Low Score: All Scrambles/Shambles

ACCOLADES -
- Golfweek Best Canadian Modern 2012: #27
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2010: #29


"Glen Abbey was one of the first golf courses done with the spectator in mind...we did a wheel spoke design, where you had a central gallery, a halfway-out gallery and a following gallery where everybody could have a variety of ways to view the golf. It’s an idea that I came up with and it seemed to work."
- Jack Nicklaus

If you were to walk up to any golf fan in the US or abroad and ask them to name one Canadian golf course, there is no doubt in my mind which name would pop up the most.

St. George's? Doubtful. Cape Breton Highlands? The National? No chance. Banff Springs? Might get a few picks but no sir.

For better or for worse, it would be Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario, making it the most famous course in Canada.

Really, it just goes to show how important a role hosting a PGA Tour event plays in marketing your facility, especially when it's a national championship. The Canadian Open, one of the world's longest running national opens, has been held at Glen Abbey an astonishing 25 times over the 100 year history of the event through 2009. It is believed that the Old Course at St. Andrews is the only course in the world to host more national championships.

That may be the only time in history you see Glen Abbey and the Old Course in the same paragraph. Okay, I've now done it twice!

Don't get me wrong - Glen Abbey is a very solid test of golf but its popularity in recent years is waning. Once one of the top events on Tour, the Canadian Open has seen its popularity diminish substantially over the years due to a number of factors. The event currently takes place immediately after the Open Championship so you can imagine that many pros aren't exactly thrilled with the prospect of flying all the way overseas to play in Canada after a major, even if the RCGA charters a private plane for anyone interested.

Another reason is the fact that the RCGA, in many people's eyes, has become too enamoured with holding the Open at Glen Abbey instead of moving it around the country like most would prefer.

Most pros have a love/hate relationship with the Abbey, none more than Canada's darling, Mike Weir. He missed cut after cut at the Abbey and didn't hide his dislike for the course until finally realizing that he'd have to just accept the fact the Open would often be played at a course he wasn't comfortable with. If he had any intention of winning, he would have to figure out a way to get the ball in the hole there and since then, he's had a couple of good runs, barely losing to Vijay Singh in a playoff a few years back.

Even I have a love/hate relationship with the place. I vividly remember sitting on the second tee during a Canadian Open in the mid-80s and having 1981 champion Peter Oosterhuis, now a commentator for CBS Sports, toss me one of his balata golf balls as he made his way over from the first green. Talk about the thrill of a lifetime for a ten year old kid!

I also remember being close to tears on the driving range as a 16 year old, having won entry into a Canadian junior tournament being held at the Abbey. For the life of me, I couldn't stop snap hooking the ball during my practice session and not even my father could straighten me out. I remember taking a ten on the fourth hole and my old man bailed on me after seven holes, saying he couldn't bare to watch me.

I was shattered and ended up having to get up and down from the water on 18 for par to shoot something like 95. I finished second last in the field - that day taught me that there is always someone who finishes worse than you, even at the worst of times...or so it seems.

I've warmed up to the place in recent years, having played the course five years in a row in a charity event for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton. Glen Abbey was the first solo design from Jack Nicklaus, who had previously worked with famed designers like Pete Dye and Desmond Muirhead on Harbour Town Golf Links and Muirfield Village respectively. It was designed in cooperation with the RCGA as a permanent home for the Canadian Open and it is widely considered one of the first courses designed with tournament play and gallery in mind.

The course starts out with a short, very routine, 502 yard par five with a long but narrow green. This hole would normally get torn apart by the pros but they played it as a par four in the 2009 Championship.

The second hole is quite lovely, a 414 yard par four that has the fairway abruptly end at a gully about 140 yards or so from the green. The approach is uphill to a green protected in front by a large bunker.


The third hole, shown in the two photos above, is a lovely 156 yard par three that bears a striking resemblance to Golden Bell, the 12th hole at Augusta National. Both holes feature short irons over water to extremely shallow but wide putting surfaces. This hole, at the center of the green, is only five or six paces long and demands a very precise shot.

The hole that killed me as a kid is a 417 yard par four over water, as seen above. The green is quite small here as well and the top left is well protected by bunkers in front.

The fifth is another shortish par five measuring 527 yards from the tips. It's a dogleg to the right and you definitely need the left-to-right shot in your bag off the tee in order to give yourself a shot at reaching the green in two. An enormous bunker protects the green short left and the green itself features many swales and bumps.

Number six is a straightaway, 437 yard par four with a tight landing area. The relatively flat green sits up a bit from the fairway but otherwise there isn't much to this hole. Not much more on the seventh either, a 197 yard par three over water with some interesting green contours.

The eighth is a dogleg right, 433 yard par four with a bunker protecting the inside of the dogleg. The green sits at a bit of an angle to the player here, making the hole a bit more interesting as a result.

The final hole of the front side is a beauty - a 458 yard par four that has a large lake that runs for about 100 yards in front of the green. The putting surface, like most at Glen Abbey, is quite tiny and chipping and pitching is made more difficult due to the amphitheatre setting of the green.

The tenth is a 443 yard par four into a relatively tight fairway and the approach must be hit into a very tiny little green that slopes sharply from back to front. This is one of the holes I always shake my head at upon playing - the greens are so small out here and precise iron play is a must!

Now, if I'm being honest, the first ten holes out here aren't really remarkable. It's solid but unspectacular golf.

Then, Nicklaus takes us to the spectacular valley holes.

The tee shot on the 11th, shown above, is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The 452 yard par four plays well downhill into the valley below, with a fairway guarded by towering trees and a bunker right.

The approach is terrorizing - likely a mid-to-short iron over Sixteen Mile Creek to maybe the smallest green on the golf course, so small that there is a second green that sits to the right of it to help give the main green some needed vacation time every now and then. This is simply a tremendous hole and usually plays as one of the most difficult during the Opens played here.

The par three 12th, shown above, is another beauty, measuring 205 yards from the back tees and featuring a shot over the creek to a pretty shallow putting surface. There used to be a wicked tee set up on the hillside many years ago but for some reason it's not in play anymore.

The 558 yard par five 13th is a tremendous risk/reward hole. Pretty straightforward drive but the real decision comes on the second shot - do you layup in front of the creek or do you give it a go and try to reach the green in two? The creek is actually pretty wide in front of the green and swallows up a lot of golf balls. There is major undulation in this green and there are chipping areas to the left and in behind the putting surface to reak havoc on misplaced approach shots. A very manly par five.

The 457 yard par four 14th might just be my favourite hole on the golf course, especially from the back tees. The ever-present creek winds throughout this hole and you have to decide how much of it you want to cut off with your tee shot. This diagonal type hazard is used brilliantly here by Nicklaus and if you want to set up a short iron approach to the severely undulating and elevated green, you'll need to be bold with your line off the tee. Tremendous hole with a really fun green too.

The par three 15th looks pretty benign on the card at only 141 yards but the green, shown above, is no bargain. It slopes severely from back to front and you have to really control your spin to ensure the ball doesn't roll off the front and down a huge false front. Keep your ball below the hole!

You venture back up from the valley for the last three holes. The 16th is the best birdie chance on the golf course, a 516 yard par five that doglegs hard to the left. The approach shot is likely played from a downhill, sidehill lie to a very wide but kind of shallow putting surface that is protected by a little pot bunker, shown above. The bunker was added in recent years and doesn't really fit in with the hole in my opinion. This hole has been played as both a par four and five in recent Opens but was changed back to a par five in 2009 to bring some excitement back. Fun hole for amateurs and pros alike.

The 17th used to be a beast and was notable for all the bunkers that lined the fairway. Those bunkers are pretty much obsolete now due to technology, as most players can blast right past them on the 436 yard par four. Still, a very interesting, "S-shaped" green surface here, as you can see in the photo above.

I truly believe that the 18th at Glen Abbey is one of the most famous risk/reward, closing par fives in golf. At only 524 yards from the tips, it's eminently reachable for many players but the second shot must be played over a huge lake to a very shallow putting surface protected by bunkers in back. The hole has forever been etched into golf history after the remarkable 218 six-iron shot Tiger Woods played from the fairway bunker onto the back fringe of the green, over the water to beat Grant Waite in the 2000 Open by a single shot.

I've tried the shot...trust me when I say it's almost unfathomable what he did there.

This is certainly a tremendous 'stadium-type' course and is very fan-friendly with all of the mounding and amphitheatre viewing areas throughout the course. I've also warmed up considerably to the architecture over recent years.

Glen Abbey offers quite a bit in shot values, offering many risk/reward opportunities while also requiring deadly accuracy with irons and a deft touch around the small putting surfaces. Playability also ranks high out here, especially off the tee. The fairways are quite generous but the Abbey most certainly is a second shot course with the small greens.

The slope and course rating out here is quite high from the backs but I don't really feel it plays that tough. Of course, I haven't played a round with my own ball in about 20 years so it might be a bit tougher when I'm not playing in a scramble. This was Nicklaus' first design and he gets caught repeating himself numerous times - every par three but one plays over water and there are way too many dogleg rights, something Nicklaus incorporated into his early work due to his left to right ball flight. The valley holes offer tremendous variety, however, and are extremely memorable.

The aesthetics wouldn't necessarily be a strong point at the Abbey but the beauty of holes 11 through 15 can't be denied.

I've never really played the golf course at peak condition, quite shocking since the annual charity event I play is usually only about a week or two before the Open. The greens are never smooth, run slow and the fairways are shaggy as well.

It's always cool to play a Tour course but there is a lot of housing on the outskirts of the holes that mar the landscape somewhat. However, as said numerous times, the valley holes are a delight.

The land is pretty flat here and other than the long hikes down into the valley and back up, there is no reason you can't walk this course.

I've been warming up to Glen Abbey quite a bit as the years have gone on. The front nine isn't really remarkable, save for the second, third and ninth holes but the last eight holes are truly wonderful.

Overall, this is a tremendously FUN golf course to play, with five par fives, all reachable from the proper tee and some neat par fours sprinkled in as well. It's a very expensive course to play during the summer season and it's hard to say if the value is there for the dollar.

What I can say is that I always look forward to my rounds at the Abbey and I never leave disappointed.

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I think everyone has tried the Tiger shot. Hard not to when the ourse provided GPS has it labeled as the "Tiger Bunker". It is the most difficult shot. On T.v you have no idea what he was dealing with. Not only are you hitting out of a bunker and over 218 yards of water to no green, you also have to get the ball up right away over the pine trees at the front of the trap. You can't even see the green fromthe trap. Incredible shot by tiger.

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  3. Thanks for the post. As always, the pictures are awesome, and I especially enjoyed the view from the 11th tee.

    I know it must've been really upsetting as a kid, but I couldn't help but chuckle that your dad "bailed" on you when you came down with a case of the hooks. But I think even with the reachable par-5s, all of the 420+ yard par-4s are enough to make even a grown man cry.

    I am surprised that Jack actually makes courses that people can walk. Every Nicklaus course I've been too would be impossible without a cart.

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