I remember fondly the very first time I teed it up at St. George’s. I was just a young chap with long hair, a set of cut down Northwestern blade irons and an always stylish visor à la Davis Love III. I carried my oversize golf bag on my shoulders with a single strap — it was heavy enough to sink a boat and roomy enough to carry a couple pairs of shoes, a few dozen balls and two sandwiches for this chubby kid’s oversize belly — but nonetheless, I went on my way happily.
To that point in my golfing life, I loved the game because I loved competition. Each time out my goal was to shoot the lowest score possible; it never mattered what course I was playing. Certainly, I recognized some courses were better than others, and I always cherished the times I got to play the course with the fast greens or carpet like fairways. But St. George’s stirred up something inside of me that changed my outlook on the game forever.
St. George’s was the first golf course I’d ever played where hole after hole I started to take note of the features of a golf course. From the very first tee located on the other side of Islington Ave. to the 18th hole sitting dramatically below the stately clubhouse, I was hooked.
As the course unfolded, working its way through, over, around and in between various bumps, hollows, gullies and valleys, I wallowed in a layout and property the likes of which I’d never seen before. St. George’s piqued in me a lifelong passion for golf course architecture from the very first time I laid my eyes and sod upon it.
And to this day, it has a profound impact on my love of the game.
I’ve always said a golf course — and before that the property destined for a golf course — is the largest canvass an artist can be given to work upon. The results are always remarkable in some way or another. The special thing about St. George’s, though, is that it’s remarkable like no other and more so now than ever.
To understand why that statement is true, it’s essential to understand what’s transpired at the cub since 2013.
Like most courses in the Greater Toronto Area, St. George’s struggled through the winter of 2013. Blankets of ice and consistently frigid temperatures impaired its greens and by April of the following year, the golf course opened with 12 temporary putting surfaces.
Recognizing something needed to be done to ensure this wouldn’t happen again, and that conditions were up to the standards expected at the club, members were asked to vote on a New Greens Project presented by consulting architects Tom Doak and Ian Andrew. What resulted was an overwhelming show of support with a 95% approval rate — an indication of how much the members care about their golf course.
So on they went. Greens were rebuilt to USGA standard while being sympathetic to the great Stanley Thompson’s original contours and design. While at it, the 3rd hole, which many believed to be too difficult and unfair (it wasn’t original), was restored to Thompson’s initial designs and is now one of the most fun par-3’s you’ll ever play.
Thanks to the efforts of all involved, including long time golf course superintendent Keith Bartlett, the project was completed on time and on budget. For anyone who knows even a little bit about construction projects, that in and of itself is quite a feat.
In total, it took 58 days to rebuild and seed 19 bentgrass greens including the practice putting green. Crews began work on July 8th and were done by September 30th. All that was left to do was wait, hope and see what the winter and spring ahead would bring.
As is often the case, mother nature bows to no one. The new greens re-opened on June 8th and by the end of the month nine inches of rain, a lack of sunlight, mechanical injury and shade issues forced the club to temporarily shut them down. But through the diligent work of a talented greens department the club was able to turn what could have been a disastrous spring into a fairly minor issue.
Slowly, the club began to re-re-open the greens as they became ready for play. And after visiting recently, I can happily say the they are well on their way to being some of the finest putting surfaces anywhere. Getting quicker with each day, they’ve already reached respectable speeds and putt fairly true.
It’s a true story of perseverance and a committed membership who are on the same page and take pride in what is one of the best golf courses in all the world; another successful chapter in the history books for St. George’s.
So what’s next on the horizon for this venerable club? Well, they’d love to get a Presidents Cup. It would undoubtedly make a great venue. Their sights are set on long term as they’d like to give their course back to the membership after a couple years of construction. To this outside observer, it makes a lot of sense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if and when the club is awarded a Presidents Cup, hopefully featuring an International Team with a couple of Canadians.
As for me, I enjoy every second of everything about St. George’s. With each visit, I make a few more memories and gain a few more stories to add to the arsenal. And despite no longer having my old Northwestern blades, this special golf course furthers my love for the game, golf course architecture and what it all means to me.
Two years ago many wondered what would happen with the situation at St. George’s, but I had no doubt it would come out the other side of a catastrophic winter just as it has — better than ever and moving full steam ahead.
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