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Tee Times, Hot Chicks and Boris the Designer: Toronto Golf Show

Toronto’s Golf and Travel Show is really more about travel these days than anything else, but for a golf reporter looking to reconnect with course owners, pros and others in the industry, it is still a significant event.

I like to network. I pride myself on having an extensive contact list that I can turn to when I’m working on stories. And a lot of those contacts are fostered and built by the people I meet at the show. Needless to say, there is a lot of shaking hands and yacking about total rounds, and average fees, and which new competitors are entering the market.

The day started with a media launch for the Toronto Highlands Golf Trail.Lots of key GMs and pros were there — Kevin Thistle, and Wil Koopmans from Angus Glen; Nigel Hollidge from Bond Head; Greg Seeman from Woodensticks; Chris Neale from Copper Creek, though strangely no one from Eagle’s Nest, which is also involved in the project. There wasn’t a lot of talk about the actual project — apparently an attempt to promote Toronto golf with some funding from Ontario Tourism. Instead there was discussion about the sale of Glenway (the sale is part of a divorce and the price for the course is the stumbling block), pricing (I had no idea Woodensticks now had an early morning weekend rate of $140), and a bunch of other industry gossip.

From there I wandered over to the show, encountering a bunch of women who appeared — at least to my innocent eyes — to be strippers. In fact, they were three young women dressed in exceedingly tight dresses who were somehow involved in promoting Mill Run, a value-priced public facility near Uxbridge. Never did figure out what the link was between the hot chicks and the course, other than they seemed to be interacting with the (mostly male) clientele. They weren’t the only nubile young female talent hanging about the show — Hooters also had a big presence, though to my mind those girls couldn’t measure up to the Mill Run Talent. Nonetheless, it was an odd exercise — especially for a sport that is aimed at men and women. Of course, most of those in attendance were men — and I assume Mill Run was trying to tap into that. But sorry to spoil it for you guys — but I doubt these women will be working the beer cart next summer.

From there I spent some time talking to the Links Trust folks who were there promoting the new Castle Course that opens in June. It is the new course designed by David McLay Kidd that rests on a cliff overlooking St. Andrews. It’ll cost Canadians $235 per round to play, with the exchange, which is more than I paid to play the Old Course in 2003. It does look quite stunning, and I doubt they’ll have much trouble selling it. While on the topic of Scotland, I had a good chat with Alan at the East Lothian Golf booth, which was promoting courses from Dunbar in the East through to Edinburgh. Some pretty stunning golf there — including the likes of North Berwick and Muirfield.

Other stops included:

++ A short talk with Mike Grenier, the developer behind Tobiano,who apparently didn’t recall speaking with me for a magazine feature a year previous. Can’t blame him, but that meant I had to listen to the same sales pitch I’d had in 2006. Oh well, the course does look brilliant, though the early buzz is that it is also quite a challenge, especially given the thick fescue. I suspect that may change by the time I arrive there in May.

++A conversation with Aart, the owner of Timber Ridge, who always approaches me with the same line: “Robert, good to see you — what are you hearing?” Our talk revolved around the competition in the public market, and his fascination with the continued built out of GTA golf. He wanted to know about Gordon Stollery’s Goodwood project, which apparently still doesn’t have an official name or business model.

++ Running into designer Boris Danoff was an experience. I’ve been pretty disdainful of Danoff’s work in the past, and have poked fun at his new course, Dragon’s Fire, near Carlisle, Ont. So I approached him with a degree of uncertainty about how my presence would be perceived. In fact, Danoff, who was apparently well aware of my perceptions of his designs (which include Royal Ontario and Thundering Waters), was a gentleman and invited me out to play the course with him in the spring. “It won’t bother me if you don’t like it,” Danoff said. “But I want you to come and play it.” Fair enough. Stranger, however, was owner Bryan DeCunha’s contention that he built the course as some sort of public service. “I’d have gotten a better return on my money if I’d put them in GICs,” he said.

++ Cobble Beach has indeed reworked its fairways in an attempt to rid itself of the rye grass that turned up in its seed. That means the course won’t likely be open until June, says head pro Warren Thomas.

++ It turns out Bigwin Island will be fully private for a vast majority of the summer, according to Jonathan Gee, the facility’s general manager. That’s the way members want it, he says. Shoulder season will still be open for public play. I’d wait until the fall, if I were someone wanting to check this one out, as that’s when the colours, and the course, should be at the best.

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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.

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