The very happy author
By Paul Knowles
The first thing I noticed when we walked up to the first tee was that we were almost the only people on the golf
course. The second thing was the bird song, and the flashes of orange as orioles flew from tree to tree. Soon, we’d
also spotted deer tracks in the bunkers. Clearly, while this may not be the finest golf course in Ontario, we were
nonetheless going to enjoy a very pleasant day while we played golf.
We were at the Turkey Point Provincial Park Golf Course, located on the shore of Lake Erie (although that
particular water feature doesn’t come into play). It’s a venerable course – Park Superintendent Julie Foster told me
it was founded more than a century ago, by locals who were smitten by the sport – and Turkey Point is the only
provincial park to have a its own golf course. It’s in reasonable shape, especially considering the fact that after the contract to run the course lapsed two years ago, it has been maintained solely by the provincial park staff.
Let’s get back to my first point – we were among very few golfers, but that, says Julie, was because we were on a weekday before high season in the provincial park. Summertime weekends are a very different story – the course is very popular with golfers who are camping with their families, and slip off for nine or 18 holes while other family members hit the other attractions in the area – the beaches, boating, wineries, craft breweries, shops, restaurants, and the Friday-the-thirteenth-famous nearby town of Port Dover.
In fact, one of our foursome was conspiring to tell his wife about the wonderful camping, but planning not to mention the golf until he lured her here. A true golfer. So attendance levels may vary, but what won’t change is the fact that the course is aptly described as “a naturalist’s paradise”. It’s part of southern Ontario’s Carolinian Forest, a unique eco-zone with trees, plants, animals and birds you are unlikely to find anywhere else in Canada.
While we played 18 holes (nine and then nine again), we were constantly noticing birds, animals like chipmunks, flowering shrubs humming with bees.
When it comes to the course itself, there are some unique features that may challenge golfers, even though the nine hold course measures only 2466 yards from the longer tees (par 68 for 18). For example, there are three long par 3’s, one of which stretches 220 yards – only three yards less than the par 4 ninth hole. But the ninth, with its gullies on both sides of the approach, and the raised green guarded by bunkers, is certainly difficult enough, short distance or no. Several holes have sharper-than expected dog legs – like the first, which also offers the opportunity to lose your ball in a gully. And the one par 5 holds its own secrets – the official measurement is 436 yards, and the distance stakes reflect that figure – but when we played, we were playing to a second, more distant green that added about 50 yards to the hole (and made us grateful for golfers’ GPS).
The maintenance is not pristine, but at the prices (between $10 and $20 for nine), you shouldn’t expect it. In fact, it’s a very playable course, once you adapt to slower greens; in truth, you get much more than you pay for.
The one caveat we had – and maybe because this is where the course bit back – is that the Carolinian trees so over-arch the fairways at times that there is almost no window for a drive. But then – who ever said golf was easy? We enjoyed our 18 holes, and then piled into our vehicles for the short drive to Port Dover where, inevitably, we found ourselves at the Erie Beach hotel where, inevitably, we feasted on perch and quaffed beer from the nearby Ramblin Road Brewery Farm in La Salette.
A perfect golf course? No, not quite. A perfect day? Damn straight.
Park Superintendent Julie Foster
By Paul Knowles
Do golf and business really mix, or is this simply a myth perpetrated by businesspeople who
would rather be playing golf than actually working? According to a significant number of
experts, the golf course is a great place to further your business interests. An article on
golf.com says, "Golf isn't merely a leisure sport. It's the martini lunch of the modern workforce,
the buoyant venue where business gets done."
American businessman George Souri is quoted in Forbes: “Remember that more often than not,
eople make investments in people. A round of golf is a great time to demonstrate you are a
smart, competent, and likeable person. If you are a thoughtful golfer who engages in good
conversation on the course, you will increase your chances for closing a deal.”
And in the Economist, an article outlines four business benefits of golf:
"As a form of corporate entertainment, golf's first virtue is that people of any age can play it.
"Thanks to the handicap system, people of widely differing abilities can compete against each
other. This makes the game more fun.
"You only spend a small portion of a four-hour game actually hitting the ball, so there is plenty of time to talk shop.
"Last, and most importantly, golf is a fine test of character."
So feel free to take your business out for a stroll on the links. In fact, perhaps it should be compulsory. However, golfers in Waterloo Region will be forgiven if they feel their sport has been, shall we say, consolidated a bit. There is no question that many of the area’s golf courses are operated by one specific company, and that some others, while excellent courses, are private operations, open only to members and the guests of members.
It’s not surprising that a lot of golfers find their way to courses outside the region, teeing off in Stratford, Innerkip or Woodstock, for example.
All fine courses, by the way – but before you cart your clubs to courses farther afield, you really should experience the two local “munis” – the municipal golf courses owned and operated by the city of Kitchener. These two fine courses – Rockway and Doon Valley – are unique, interesting and entirely enjoyable courses. They’re also priced right.
Some golfers may not love Doon Valley at first sight, because it offers a disconcerting variety of challenges along the way. It plays like two – maybe three– different courses, with holes 8-15 having a wholly other character, compared to 1-7 and 16-18. The explanation of this is simple enough – 8-15 are south of the 401, located in an environmentally protected area, much more recently developed than the rest of the course.
And they are, in a word, terrific. Challenging, yes, and frustrating (hey, this is golf!) but well designed and highly rewarding when you find some success.
The other holes on the course follow a more “parkland” design, but they also offer some variety – especially holes 3 and 4, which sit in the flood plain of the Grand River, which punish any errant shot with a gentle “splash” and a penalty stroke.
If you are seeking consistency in course design, Doon Valley may cause a few yips in your game. But if you are up for adventure, and want to play a course that sometimes feels like a civilized parkland course, and then becomes St. Andrew’s younger cousin for a fairway or three, Doon Valley will be a terrific adventure. And probably, addictive.
There are two theories as to how to design the final hole of a course. One opts for an easy finish, probably to send people off with a smile and a desire to return. The other makes it hard, perhaps understanding that golfers are masochists, and that beating them up a bit at the end will insure their swift return to battle. Doon Valley goes for Plan B, with a par 5 that ends with a dogleg right to a very elevated green. Vanquish that hole, and you should buy the first round.
Doon Valley is a beautiful Par 72 course, with plenty of options from the tee blocks, from 6543 yards (black) to 5113 (red). Doon Valley’s facilities also include a separate, full-length nine-hole course, a pitch and putt course, a practice facility, and, like Rockway, a friendly and licensed club house.
Rockway, located in the heart of Kitchener, is a shorter course – Par 70 Men, 71 Women, from 5531 yards to 4973. But shorter doesn’t necessarily mean easier. And it certainly doesn’t mean uninteresting. This course was designed by legendary course architect Stanley Thompson and built as part of a Depression-era job creation program. It was beautiful then; it continues to be one of the finest municipal courses in Ontario. And for golfers with an appreciation of history, this was the home course to Moe Norman, one of the great golf characters in the history of the game, the man chosen as the first historic golfer to be featured in a new monthly illustrated biography piece in Golf Digest magazine.
Doon Valley players find themselves travelling through a tunnel under the 401; Rockway players walk or drive their carts on a crosswalk, across Queen Street, to reach the three holes on that side of the thoroughfare. Rockway’s clever design makes maximum use of the landscape; at least five holes find the creek that meanders through the course in play. Rockway’s other challenges include significant changes in elevation, and the need for accuracy imposed by a precise, tightly designed, heart-of-the-city course. For instance, golfers standing on the tee for the first time on Number 10 may be slightly disconcerted to learn that, not only does the fairway border a road, all the way down, the initial drive is right over a roadway – a certain amount of care is required, on the part of golfer and the other kind of driver, alike.
At Kitchener’s both Doon Valley and Rockway, there is great golf to be enjoyed - accompanied, of course, by the requisite number of flubbed shots and muttered imprecations - right in the heart of Waterloo Region.
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
By Paul Knowles
It was, in truth, a complete fluke. I was invited to visit San Diego by Robert Arends of the San
Diego Tourism Authority, part of a group of six Canadian writers spending four days in that
great city. When I received our itinerary, a few days before the trip, it included “tandem
It took just a few seconds, during which I imagined the look of abject horror on the face of
the professional hang glider as I approached – overweight, overage, and overwrought. Best
to give it a miss, I thought. So I asked if there were alternatives – a winery tour, perhaps,
or maybe golf.
Robert emailed back: “Would you like to play Torrey Pines?”
Would I? Torrey Pines, home of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open. Torrey Pines,
location of the 2008 U.S. Open, won by Tiger Woods in a sudden-death playoff over Rocco
Mediate? Torrey Pines, one of San Diego native Phil Mickelson’s favourite courses (he’s won
here three times). Yes, I would.
There wasn’t a lot of time free, so I knew I would be playing nine holes. Torrey Pines has two 18’s – both in play during the Farmer Insurance
Open – so wherever they put me, I would definitely be playing fairways and greens (one hopes) played by Tiger and Phil and Jason (who won
here in 2015) and Bubba (2011) and Tom Watson (1977) and Jack Nicklaus (1969) and Gary Player (1963) and… oh yes… Arnold
Palmer, in 1957.
Perhaps you can tell, I was pumped.
I arrived just I time (travel media trips tend to be tightly scheduled affairs), got my rental clubs and car, and asked who I was playing with… I
assumed I would be joining a two- or three-some already booked.
“No,” said Frank, the starter, “We closed the course half an hour ago. It’s just you.”
Just me. Just me and my clubs and my golf balls and the front nine of Torrey Pine’s north course. I was speechless – quite an unusual
situation, believe me.
Torrey Pines is a unique golf course. It is described as “surely the most accessible public facility for the die-hard enthusiast wishing to play at
a world-renown facility that nearly all golfers know by name.” It’s a municipal course, owned and operated by the city of San Diego. That
doesn’t mean it’s inexpensive – 18 holes cost somewhere in the $150US range, depending on when you play. But it’s in terrific shape, kept
that way by the annual demand of PGA championship play.
It’s also tough – the greens undulate like a belly dancer (I won't forget you, Number 7) – but average players who chose their tee blocks wisely can enjoy the round.
The North Course – which was renovated prior to this year’s Farmers, in January – is simply beautiful. You can play distances ranging from 7258 to 5197 yards (although the longest, the blacks, demand special permission). I opted for the gold tees, which play 5851 yards (acting on the advice – not offered to me personally, mind you – of Jack Nicklaus, who says golfers of my age and ability should never take on anything over 6000 yards). The golds were a great choice – every shot was makeable (if not necessarily made).
The course offers views of the ocean, stark ravines, rolling fairways, and of course the scruffy, iconic Torrey Pine trees.
One thing I loved about the course – quite unexpectedly – was the condition and the texture of the bunkers. I visited several – and, unlike my normal experience – I exited them precisely and accurately. Loved those bunkers, for a change!
The North course gives you lots of chance to ease into the game – the first hole is a straight-away Par 4, slightly uphill, with three bunkers that can be avoided. The signature third hole (Par 3) offers a wonderful view of the ocean; it demands a tee shot that clears a bunker guarding the front – and when you make it (can you hear the brag, here), it’s a great feeling.
The North Course is Par 72, so there are two Par 5s and two Par 3s on each nine. The second Par 3 I played was the 8th – usually 161 yards but shortened by the tee block placement on the day. I found the right-side bunker, but again came to appreciate the consistent quality of the sand, popping it out to beside the pin, for a very welcome par.
The South Course, also Par 72, doesn’t offer a 5900 yard option, but players of moderate experience should go for the gold again here, at 6153 yards. This is the course always used for the final days of the Farmers, again with at least half the holes laying alongside the impressive ravines.
Torrey Pines is definitely one of those iconic courses on every golfer’s wish list. It was on mine – still is, actually, since nine holes only served to whet my appetite, and to convince me that I can conquer the ninth, which beat me up a bit.
But I doubt I will ever again have the Tigeresque opportunity to play Torrey Pines alone with my clubs, my thoughts – and my absolute delight.
For more information, check out www.torreypinesgolfcourse.com.