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Toronto Golf Club: When is it a restoration and when is it something else (RCGA seminar edition)

 

To get up to speed on this topic, you might want to look at my other posts of the “restoration” of Toronto GC. The first can be found here, while the most recent is here.

Yesterday the Stanley Thompson Society and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame held another in its ongoing series of golf architecture presentations. They started last year and have continued — and usually draw 20 to 30 interested patrons. The most recent panel was on the “restoration” of Toronto Golf Club, and included Michael Kalman, chief operating officer of TDI Golf, which did the work at Toronto GC, architect and historian Jeff Mingay and, for a reason that never made sense to me, John Smith, club historian at Cataraqui Golf in Kingston. Don’t get me wrong, John knows his club well, but brought little of value to a club he obviously isn’t very familiar with.

In fact, that’s a good place to start — the Stanley Thompson Touring Society’s role in a panel like this was awkward. The organization’s executive director, Bill Newton, was there and tried to lead discussion, but it mainly came back to Stanley Thompson courses, while Toronto GC is a Harry Colt design. Sure there’s a Thompson connection, as the Thompson boys grew up around Toronto GC, and Stanley’s one-time partner, George Cumming was the pro. But it isn’t a link that has anything to do with the current restoration work.

Here’s the gist of the debate — Toronto GC is one of the most important golf designs in Canada. It was, along with clubs like Tillinghast’s Scarboro, and Colt’s Hamilton, one of the first truly great courses in the country. It is relatively simple with a smart, regal routing that gets ev

Renovated Discussion: Architect Jeff Mingay (left), TDI's Michael Kalman, Toronto Golf's Jim Fraser and Cataraqui member John Smith chat after their seminar yesterday on the renovation of Toronto Golf Club.

erything out of a terrific piece of land. It is also a relatively simple design, and that subtle nature may confound some. Not me. I thought it was golf at its best. However, over several years the club made the decision to go forward with an aggressive plan to update and alter the course, and hired Martin Hawtree, noted for his expertise in Colt, to lead the process.

With that Toronto GC closed last July and work started. Two greens (11 and 15) were moved and replicated, new tees were installed, areas regraded (the fairway on 11, the “terrace” on 7) and bunkers were built in a style that was much busier than the initial simple traps that existed. These alterations were driven by Hawtree, who cited safety issues and a desire to use a later Colt style that didn’t match the one used when the course was built, as reason for the changes. It is a fundamentally different look, though the routing stayed the same with a couple of changes to tees (most notably on 6 and 7).

One thing everyone wanted to make clear right from the start is that even if Hawtree calls the work a “restoration” on his website, and even if it is listed in the “restoration” section on the TDI blog, this isn’t a restoration. It is a renovation, and I’d call it a classical/modern renovation which sees the course lengthened by 400 yards, with several changes made to help older members play the course. I found that juxtaposition interesting — on one hand many holes will be more difficult, while on the other hand slopes were softened to make them more accessible and walkable by older members.

Toronto GC's first hole prior to the renovation

The first hole last fall after the changes.

 

“We want to be clear — we were not doing a full restoration — we were doing a full renovation of the course,” says Toronto GC member Jim Fraser, pointing out the job is incorrectly noted on Hawtree’s website. Fraser added the cost of the renovation was $5.6-million, with $2-million specifically aimed at replacing the irrigation system.

Among the odd changes discussed was the lengthening of the 7th hole, formerly a mid-length par-3, and now turned into a 221-yard beast over the “terraced” hillside with a change in the tee angle. Strikes me as an unnecessary change — or one aimed at just picking up yardage, though the angle might make the hole more intriguing. Now Toronto has three long par-3s (and I consider the Redan 4th long at 190-yards given the slope in the green) and one short one (the 14th).

That said I’ll reserve judgement on the changes until I see them first hand. Hawtree’s work at Tarandowah is excellent, in my mind, so there’s no reason to believe his changes at Toronto will be less than a success. It is the need for those changes in the first place that I wonder about.

Additionally, I’ll say Toronto did one thing clearly beyond what I hear about from most courses undergoing a renovation/restoration and that is the club sent its superintendent (Al Schwemler), its assistant superintendent (Bill Green), a shaper and other key members of the project, to the UK to look at examples of other Colt courses. That’s smart and a model other clubs could follow.

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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.

13 CommentsLeave a comment

  • PAGING LEO BRADSHAW
    Will somebody call LEO BRADSHAW, a long time member and a very smart golfer, and ask him to comment?

  • I’m cautiously optimistic that the changes will make TGC a ‘better’ golf course. As pointed out at the seminar, TGC is not a course that Colt would have spent a great deal of time at, so I don’t think the reno will destroy a key Colt work, relatively speaking. The fact that the routing and majority of greens are still intact is the most important thing, IMO.

  • Any significant changes to the 18th hole? To me, that was TGC’s biggest flaw. I always felt like playing TGC was like having the most delicious steak and saving a piece of fat for your last bite.

  • Rob

    If the club wanted something authentic, then rather than going to the UK to check out some Colt courses, they’d have been better off going down the road and checking out the detailed Colt drawings at Hamilton. It’s pretty clear what style of trap he wanted and it wasn’t like those done by Hawtree.

    Matt

    Colt spent more time at Toronto than most think. He made 3 visits in 1911, 1913 and 1914 with reports. And his partner Alison made visits in the 1920s.

  • Paul would have been a better addition to the roundtable than ol’ john smith – who plays at a Thompson course, and has affiliation with the Thompson (read: NOT COLT) Society.

    thanks for the info Paul.

  • Phil (whomever you are): for the record, the seminars are co-sponsored by the Thompson Society. I do not believe there is a Colt Society, at least not a Canadian chapter. Smith not only represents the Society but is an expert in many restoration matters, or whatever you want to call it. And who is Paul? Ain’t blogging fun. You don’t need to leave a full name, just a first name or handle, and you get an unchallenged opportunity to be nasty. It is a very professional medium.

  • Bill: I think he’s referring to Paul Turner, a fellow from the UK who has studied Colt courses extensively. He also commented previously on this thread.

  • “Bill”,

    Yes, as RT (Robert Thompson) suggested, I was referring to Paul Turner. With some minor research, you will find that there is Colt Association (http://www.coltassociation.co.uk). Whether or not they are based in Canada is as irrelevant as (Martin) Hawtree having a Canadian office (which he doesn’t).

    I’ll also note that i wasn’t the first to take a (perhaps cheap) shot at Mr. (John) Smith’s involvement. I suggest rereading the original article.

    Good day, Bill.

  • Phil: I did read it. And that exactly is my point. Bloggers and those who respond too often take ‘cheap’ shots that do much more harm than good. Let’s leave it at that.

  • Bill and Phil: I’m not taking a cheap shot at anyone — just stating the obvious and I didn’t mean it to be insulting. John Smith is an expert at Cataraqui. He has not, to the best of my knowledge, led a restoration of any other Thompson course. So I’d suggest his expertise is both deep and narrow. He also doesn’t seem to know a great deal about Colt courses, so the discussion was about Colt and it kept swinging back to what Bill and John know — the fine work of Stanley Thompson. This isn’t meant as a shot at anyone — just an observation of what went on.

  • RT: Sorry if you misinterpreted me. i was in whole-hearted agreement with your assessment of Mr. Smiths involvement… just didn’t want to be the only one taking the heat! and my shot was admittedly cheaper than yours.

    Bill: cheers.

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