Toronto, the Canadians are quick to point out, is home to more than just beer, the Hockey Hall of Fame and Wayne Gretzky, who was born in nearby Brantford.
They aren't kidding.Toronto has everything the five-day golf-tripper could want -- easy access by air or car, a wide variety of high-end courses and first-rate food and lodging. Plus, Canadian currency is very weak against the American dollar these days,which makes just about anything you buy in Canada a bargain.
Glen Abbey's $250 green fee? That's about $165 American -- not cheap, but not quite the beating Canadians take on their home turf. Any metropolitan area that can boast two immaculate public courses that have been sites of PGA Tour events in the past few years is a place worth visiting. Glen Abbey is the home of the Royal Canadian Golf Association, and the course has been the longtime site of the Bell Canadian Open.
The tournament is now rotating around Canada,and Angus Glen (in nearby Markham) will play host this year and in 2007. Those two courses get most of the publicity, but suburban Toronto is filled with mid-price courses worth a visit.
TOUR QUALITY Angus Glen G.C. 1/2 South Course; North Course (not yet rated) Markham (905-887-5157, $80-$115 U.S. dollars). The directions to Angus Glen from central Toronto are straightforward - a simple right turn off the 404 onto Major MacKenzie Drive. But until the low-slung fairways carved out of a working cattle ranch appear next to the road, you'll think you're lost.
Markham feels like a place Toronto hasn't gotten to yet, but it's coming fast. Once you reach the rows of luxury homes improbably shoehorned onto tiny lots in the middle of open fields, you're almost there.
The two courses at Angus Glen are the heart of all this, and they play like it. The Doug Carrick-designed South Course, which opened in 1995, is quite good -- good enough for the Bell Canadian Open this year -- but the new North Course, codesigned by Carrick and Jay Morrish, might be the best public course in Canada. The North is one of those rare new courses that looks as if it has been there for 20 years. But the greens, which are new course firm, give it away.
Maturing fescue frames most of the holes, blowing in the ever-present breeze. The jaw-dropping 11th is worth the trip by itself. The elevated tee gives you postcard views of the rolling countryside -- and the giant pond guarding the entire left side of this 536-yard par 5. With the wind in your face, you start to think there hasn't been a club built that can get you to the fairway.
The folks at Angus Glen aren't fooling around -- the facility (complete with 65,000 -- square-foot clubhouse) can accommodate outings of up to 500 people. 1/2 Glen Abbey G.C., Oakville (905-844-1800, $86-$155).
If Angus Glen is the Toronto area's splashy newcomer, Glen Abbey is the dignified, established veteran. The first course Jack Nicklaus designed on his own, Glen Abbey has been a fixture at the top of any Canadian best-courses list since it opened in 1976. It's a 20-minute drive from downtown Toronto. Giant, mature trees frame the road -- a preview of the first 10 holes. If your enthusiasm for hitting the driver is eclipsed only by your wildness with it, Glen Abbey's front nine was built for you. Spray away off the tee. Trees might block a clear shot to the green, but you can find your ball even after the most vicious slice.
Glen Abbey's 11th and 18th holes are the highlights. From the 11th tee, it's a 225-yard carry three stories down to the fairway. Look for the creek in front of the green, 396 yards away. John Daly hit it in there during a Canadian Open practice round. Then, on 18, drop one into the hourglass-shaped bunker on the right side of the fairway at the 508-yard 18th. Tiger Woods hit a 6-iron from that bunker -- 216 yards over the water and onto the green -- to win the 2000 Open. Don't try that at home.
GRAND BARGAINS Wooden Sticks G.C., Uxbridge (905-852-4379, $140). 1/2 Don Valley G. Cse., Toronto (416-392-2465, $45-$49). Wooden Sticks' architecture isn't unique, but its premise is. Most of its holes are reproductions(or "inspired by,"as it says on the card) of classic holes at Pine Valley, St. Andrews and even the TPC at Sawgrass. The holes are good reproductions, and the course is a pleasure to play, but Wooden Sticks excels at customer service. For a flat fee (about $140 U.S.), everything except the beer is included --breakfast and lunch (or lunch and dinner for afternoon players), the golf, and even a short lesson on the practice range. The course is, appropriately enough, owned by a group that includes current and former NHL players.
Torontans lovingly refer to Don Valley muny as "our Bethpage." That's a big stretch, since the Don, as it's called, is barely 6,100 yards and won't be host to an Open of any kind. But the Don's sporty design, reasonable fees and convenient location (at the apex of the 401, Yonge Street and a main subway line) make it the course of choice for a quick afternoon getaway.
TRAVEL NOTES Unlike, say, Myrtle Beach, Toronto isn't a place where you play 36 holes a day because the only dinner choice is Hooters. Toronto is one of the great food cities of the world -- combining the cosmopolitan choices of New York City with the easy-on-the-wallet neighborhood charm of Philadelphia. Experience how sublime a lowly $3 (Canadian!) breakfast sandwich can be at the Carousel Bakery (416-363-4247) in the downtown St. Lawrence Market. Peameal bacon on a Portuguese roll might be the national dish of Canada. Still squeamish about sushi? Put yourself in Hiro's hands at his eponymous storefront restaurant (416-304-0550). Hiro's expertly prepared mackerel and marinated tuna rival anything in New York.
Most major airlines serve the large and well-organized Pearson International Airport. Just be sure to get directions if you're driving from there. The signage outside the airport is poor. August and September are the best months to visit -- and in early September, leaves are at their peak colors. For more information, visit www.golfontario.com or www.torontogolf.com.
By Matthew Rudy