I had heard of Sleepy Hollow, located in Stouffville, Ontario, for decades. Indeed, during my time on the demo day circuit, I was actually at Sleepy Hollow for six full days over the span of six years and never once took the time to head out and see the course.
The club has been around since the 1960s and was designed by James Johnstone Sr., a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame. Known as one of Canada’s great golfers, Johnstone was responsible for the design of three golf courses (Donalda, Sleepy Hollow, Don Mills Golf Centre) and served as architectural consultant to another four (Bayview, Willows, Meadowvale, Magnetic Hill).
The 1960’s weren’t exactly considered the “golden age” of golf course architecture, so it’s with little surprise that I’ve come across few people who have much experience with Sleepy Hollow.
At first glance, the scorecard reveals a short 6200-yard golf course, and the surrounding countryside would have passersby believe Sleepy Hollow is just another rural golf course built on a flat piece of property — but how wrong they are.
After a pleasant opener located adjacent to the proshop that runs parallel to the driving range, the property is one of Sleepy Hollow’s strongest features. Set in a natural east-west valley, the course has numerous elevation changes and some beautiful topography for golf. Many of the holes take advantage of the rolling land, working their way up and downhill, across small valleys or even through natural valley corridors.
For a course that measures just 6200 yards, it played longer than the stated yardage. A hole configuration featuring 5 par-3s and 5 par-5s has a lot to do with that, but so did the various elevation changes. Yes, they could turn one of the par-5s into a par-4 (the 9th at 450 yards) to make it play even longer, but why? It’s a members course after all, who needs the added difficulty. Plus, it has a small green better suited to a short par-5.
Another feature I noticed about Sleepy Hollow was a lack of aversion to a blind shot, and that appeals to me. Holes like the par-5 2nd, with its blind tee shot followed by a second which dives down into a valley and back up to the green, or the fabulous drivable par-4 7th, asking golfers to lay up on top of a hill for a flat lie or muscle a driver through a narrow gap between two bunkers guarding the green, are what spice up the occasion for this traditional-minded golfer.
Then there’s the greens. I’ve seen small greens in my time, but Sleepy Hollow might have some of the most consistently small greens anywhere. They demand precision, not just because of their size, but because they use constant grade, tilt or slope to create havoc for the golfer finding the wrong side of the green. I can only imagine how well a Sleepy Hollow member handicap may travel because of the solid iron game required to play well here.
Though I enjoyed most of what the golf course had to offer, including some fantastic early season conditions, I didn’t like every hole. Or, at least, I’m not a fan of one in particular. The 14th is a short 279-yard par-4 with a green fronted by a pond. It forces you to hit a short to mid-iron off the tee and has very limited options. Yes, it’s drivable, but I don’t consider a 270-yard carry to a small green an option.
These are my favourite holes from each par:
The 8th without a doubt. Playing to 155 yards, it’s slightly uphill with a green located on a large knoll. Short of the green is another slight knoll which serves as an optical illusion making the hole seem much shorter than it is. The green is guarded by a bunker left and large slope right and in general is just a genius mid-length par-3.
The 12th. A shorter par-4 of 327 yards, there are a lot of options due to the long, slender green, a growth of trees up the left side rough and various pin locations. Challenge the trees and left side of the fairway with an iron off the tee and you get a good angle into an on-grade green. Play safe to the right and you’ll approach the green over a bunker front, which makes the approach seem shorter than it is, but offers a better angle to back pins. Going for the green? Sure, but you’re going to have to fly it over those trees on the left and run up a narrow opening to the green — I think this hole can be plenty of fun on a day-to-day basis.
Most people will say the 11th, a 524-yard par-5 with water running down the right side and a plateau fairway, is the best, and it probably is, but I’m going with the 4th, which I feel had one of the best green settings tucked nicely on a hill that is sloped back to front (photo earlier in post).
Sleepy Hollow was a surprise and quickly places itself among a list of courses I consider to be hidden gems. There is room for improvement to certain holes in order to recapture portions of some greens, add some more options or possibly reconfigure some holes to make up for the 14th, but as it stands, it’s a fun golf course that I wouldn’t grow tired of playing. It has plenty of bite, especially on and around the greens, and a beautiful property that makes for some really fun golf.
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