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Review: Islington Golf Club

Review: Islington Golf Club (Stanley Thompson); Toronto, Ontario

Some have argued there are three tiers of Stanley Thompson golf courses. The first is obvious — the so-called “Big Five,” — that includes Highlands Links, Jasper, Banff, Capilano and St. George’s. Similarly, the second tier includes courses that are almost great like Cataraqui, St. Thomas, and Kawartha.

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I wouldn’t include Islington in the second tier, though it does have elements that thrill. In fact, the course contains some of Thompson’s most interesting work, and with a facelift by Carrick Design associate Cam Tyers (ed note: working closely alongside boss Doug Carrick), Islington is certain to make a greater impression than it has in the past.

Most, especially in Toronto, are likely only aware of the course from its now infamous (and apparently continuing) battle with neighbours situated to the right of the third fairway. The neighbours, who built their house ridiculously close to the course, used to get peppered with golf balls on the short par fours. After a fight that included court action, the club erected a fence that is unsightly, but protects the house. Good thing too — my drive with my trusty TM Rescue got blocked right at the house. Without the fence, I’m pretty sure I might have heard the sound of breaking glass.

Thankfully the course has lots to offer beyond dueling lawyers. It [photopress:islington9.jpg,full,alignright]starts out plainly — with two painfully flat openers, followed by the previously mentioned third. I’m pleased the club has stuck to its guns in regards to the third hole as it is one of the standouts on the front nine. Featuring a fairway that has all the classic Thompson elements — random, plunging and arbitrary — and a smart green site, the hole would even be better if one took out driver and tried to hit it just short of the green. I suspect the club isn’t too keen on that now, perhaps fearing another lawsuit in the near future.

[photopress:islington16.jpg,full,alignleft]From there the remaining holes on the front nine, with one or two exceptions, are smartly routed and fun to play. The fourth, a par three with a well-bunkered green that cants back-to-front, leaves golfers to carefully consider their options. The following hole, a par five, is relatively flat and plain, but the 7th, with its green tucked near the clubhouse and asking players to hit a draw off the tee, is smart. The short 8th looked intriguing, but it was out of play when I toured Islington late in the year, as Tyers was reworking it to add more punch and risk to those trying to hit it big with a driver.

The back nine loses much of the momentum. Starting with a long par three, it then moves to the 11th, a dogleg par five where tree encroachment really limits shot options off the tees. Currently it offers only a couple of shot possibilities — a high fade with a driver or a straight fairway wood or iron. I can’t imagine that was how Thompson envisioned it. I suspect that with many of the trees removed from the right side near the creek, the hole would provide an interesting risk/reward for those tempting to chew off yardage. With a few notable exceptions — like the rolling 13th — the back nine never really recovers.

However, it does offer one of Thompson’s great holes — the 345-yard 16th. Questions abound about this one. Do you hit driver and get near the creek, leaving a short, but blind approach to a green located on the top of a plateau? Do you lay back and hit a longer iron? Can you hold the proper part of the green, given its huge swales? Certainly the 16th is the best green at Islington, and in my mind one of the most intriguing Thompson holes in Toronto.

In the end, Islington is a minor chord in Thompson’s greater design opus. Despite that fact, the highlights — as well as Tyers’ fine renovation work — make it worth seeking out.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Sounds like you had a decent day at Islington and thank you for recognizing the Club. I will always hold a special spot for Islington as it is where I learned to play the game. It is also very exciting to come full circle. Who would have imagined that I would be working on the course that I grew up playing on. The Club has always had many positives in addition to the course, whether you’re talking about the friendly, dedicated membership, its convenient location or the charm of arriving at any time and not requiring a starting time, Islington is a wonderful member’s course.

    I enjoyed your review; however I disagree with your assessment of the back nine. The back nine asks more of the golfer and often brings a wonderful front nine score back to earth. The tone of the back nine changes immediately to one of precise shot making, witness the sobering thought of trying to make par on number 10, one of the underrated par 3’s in Ontario or finishing on a 400 yard par 4 that requires both an exacting drive and approach. Yes, it has some blind shots that you would not see today and the 14th is a very short par 5 but this adds to the variety and the breather versus pressure of Stanley’s sequencing of holes.

    There are two notions that you must be careful with. One being that the work is categorized as a restoration. Although Islington’s and Carrick Design’s focus during the development of the Master Plan was one of enhancement we did not adhere to a mandate of restoration. We are restoring some aspects to the original design, such as hidden vistas and bunker placement but we have also added some new bunkers to recognise the modern game. The bunker style, although reminiscent of Mr. Thompson’s late 20’s and 30’s work, is interpretive and is not the original style of bunkering found in older photos.

    The other perception that should not be overlooked is who is carrying out the work. I am a representative of Carrick Design and although I (or any other associate) will make decisions that allow the project to move forward it is always Carrick Design, specifically Doug Carrick from whom we take our direction. I think this is important especially when mentioning any restoration/remodelling work that we do or have previously undertaken, specifically St. George’s and Weston. Trust you will acknowledge this when making future references.

    Cam

  • Like Cam Tyers, I learned to play the game at Islington. That was in the ’60’s, when I lived on the 11th hole next door to the Tyers family. (Must have been Cam’s grandparents, and I remember John Tyers – Cam’s father? – very well.)

    I agree with Cam that this review underestimates the back nine, both for its design and its challenge. The back nine has lots of variety and was always at least 2 – 3 shots tougher than the front. And I’m curious about the reference to 14. In the ’60’s it always played as long par 4.

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