- Etobicoke, Ontario
- Stanley Thompson (1929)
- 5th in Canada (SCOREGolf)
There’s very few golf courses in Canada to stand next to St. George’s, face to face, and be able to live up with the history, architecture and pedigree of this Stanley Thompson design. Hosting the Canadian Open 5 times, as well as being a regular on any World Top 100 list, it’s a spectacular golf course in urban Toronto that is magnificently routed to take advantage of the (very) undulated land.
The opening hole is a short, 373 yard par 4 moving slightly to the right. What looks like a very simple golf hole is anything but. A tee shot up the left brings a very difficult approach to a difficult green over the bunkering complex, while anything longer off the tee faces a tough wedge in from a anything-but-flat lie.
You can see some of the crazy undulations at the property here from the fairway.
I’ll get this out of the way, and if you’ve played St. George’s you may have noticed this: the routing goes east out of the clubhouse, and comes back west. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, this is routing a golf course 101: you don’t want morning tee times hitting the first swings of the day right into the sun so you lose track of the ball, and you don’t want the final, twilight tee times of the day coming back east right into the sun yet again.
However, St. George’s gets a pass for this. Back when Thompson was building St. George’s in 1929, it was during the era of prohibition, with some counties in Toronto being dry and some areas being able to drink. Islington Road separates the clubhouse from the golf course, and also represented the county lines. On the east side of Islington Road, you couldn’t drink alcohol, but on the west, where the clubhouse still stands today, you could drink. The original routing would’ve had the final hole–the current 9th–finishing west, while the 10th–what would’ve been the 1st–heads north, so no worries about the sun. Can’t blame a guy for moving the routing to create profit.
The second is a really great long par 4, topping out at about 473 yards.
A good idea here is to keep the tee shot left, as right can get dicey and brings the front right bunker into play.
I won’t talk about Thompson’s green complexes too much because I feel like they’re best experienced versus being described, but the 2nd is one of my favorites, and should be closely looked at by anyone coming through.
The third is one of the world’s best par 3’s. Yes, world’s best par 3’s. At 208 yards, it’s on the longer side, but it plays slightly downhill.
Stanley Thompson was the master of deception, and here, the bunkers short are aways in front of the green, probably 50 yards from the middle of the green.
But from the tee, it feels like the green is an island engulfed in sand. It still requires your attention, but short is a good miss, and there’s a chance it could even hop on. Fantastic stuff.
After the long par 3, 3rd, the every day player gets a break with the short par 5, 4th, tipping out at 474 yards. For the RBC Canadian Open, which St. George’s hosts next year in 2020, it’s a long, a very long par 4.
Like a lot of the holes at St. George’s, there’s a lot of movement in the land, as shown above off the tee. But once you navigate the tough tee shot, you move up the hill to a green well-guarded by bunkering everywhere.
If you layup, it’s an uphill wedge.
The 5th is another relatively longer par 4 at 454 yards. Nothing too crazy because it plays back down the hill hole 4 climbed. It features a nice view of what I believe is downtown Toronto, or at least starting to get downtown.
The bunker isn’t in play for most, but you could hit 3 wood here. Up the left rockets the ball forward and gives you a bit more yardage.
The approach plays back up the hill ever-so-slightly, but this is one of the more inviting green complexes.
The 6th is the short par 3 at St. George’s, playing 4 yards under 150. A very wild green, and I mean crazy, defines this hole, and missing this green almost always results in bogey. As Jason Logan, editor of SCOREGolf & my playing partner that day cleverly pointed out, this is the “Bad Baby” of St. George’s.
The 7th is another mid to longer length par 4. A bunker down the right is the main issue here, and for the bigger hitters a bunker up the left as well makes this a sidewinding fairway. But at 449 yards, it’s still manageable.
The entire hole plays slightly up, but most of the journey up the hill comes on the approach. A nasty collection area short right is in play, and the green is two-tiered, playing a premium on the approach shot.
The 8th is another world-class long par 3 at 215 yards. What’s unbelievable about Stanley Thompson is usually, when an architect builds a longer par 3 it’s boring. A slog to get through and sometimes to connect two holes together. But the long par 3’s I’ve played from Thompson, whether that be at Banff, Jasper, Capilano, or even here, are usually very, very good and sometimes the best hole on the course.
The green is magnificently cut into the hill, but yet again the bunker short leaves a bit of room until the green for a little bit of leniency. It’s not quite as much as hole 3, but still a bit of room.
The 9th is a mid length par 5 to end the front nine, maxing out at about 540 yards.
Certainly not an easy tee shot, you work probably a yard or two up the hill after finding the fairway to the green.
The 10th was an interesting hole. The land it moves over is brilliant, but I think the yardage and the hole plays too similar to hole 1 for me. At 372 yards, it’s probably not driver off the tee.
A gully is about 100 yards from the green, so about 270 from the tee. Laying up short of this is key to leave you a relatively flat lie.
The 11th is a 528 yard par 5 playing downhill. This is definitely a birdie hole, but there’s a few bunkers on this hole (!) to navigate.
The hole narrows to the green, demanding accuracy for players as they approach the green.
This green is really cool, and quite long. A back pin probably makes this hole play close to 550, while a front pin is around 510 or so.
The 12th is an absolutely ridiculous 394 yard par 4 that I honestly love. Some of Thompson’s best shaping is on this hole with the bunkering.
A tee shot up the left is blind from the bunker on the left, but down the right leaves you an unobstructed view of the pushed up green complex.
The 13th is another long par 3 at 205 yards, but plays downhill again. With so many pin locations, it’ll play quite different than the last couple long ones. This one also plays slightly downhill, but no relief short; there’s a hazard ready to catch mishit shots.
The 14th is a long par 4 playing 475 yards, downhill. Up the left catches a speed slot, and down the right, if you’re really right, is hazard.
The approach crosses the creek that 13 plays over, and that runs down the right. A demanding iron on one of the longest par 4’s (even with the 4th being converted to a par 4!).
The 15th is an absolutely crazy par 5 with some of the most severe movement I’ve ever seen, especially considering you’re right in the thick of Toronto.
It’s a longer par 5 at 560 yards, especially considering the land makes it play tighter, and it’s uphill for the last 100 yards or so.
Once you get past the bunkers, the hole still plays tight, but it’s bunker-less for the rest of the hole.
You get a sample of the scale here on the approach shot up the hill.
And looking back:
The final par 3 on the course is 204 yards, playing slightly up. To me, this is the hole that plays the longest of the collection of one shotters, with bunkering everywhere to catch mishits.
The 17th is a monster par 4 at 486 yards. I would assume this would be a par 5 back in the day, especially considering St. George’s is a par 71.
The green is by far the hardest part here though, and my vote for the best on the green. Tapering towards the back, a running shot in is key as the front is the widest (something Thompson also utilized on the back nine at Banff).
A closer look at the green complex below, which falls off on the right into some bunkering.
Coming home, St. George’s plays slightly up the hill on the long, 465 yard par 4, 18th.
The tee shot is relatively simple and allows you to hit a good one, but the key here is the approach shot and not getting above the hole, which is absolute death anywhere at St. George’s, but especially on the 18th with a fantastic green complex yet again.
One of the coolest things about St. George’s is the clubhouse in the back is across the road, which you don’t notice until you realize where the clubhouse actually is. It’s across Islington Road, a busy street in Toronto, but it feels like it just watches directly over the 18th.
So there you have it. One of Canada’s most storied courses, and one of the best clubs you can visit. St. George’s is world-class in every respect, and deserving of every recognition. While I personally think Capilano in Vancouver and Jasper in the Rocky Mountains are better in Canada (and Thompson designs!), I can see and respect the argument that Thompson’s best in St. George’s. There’s so many good holes here that it’s tough to pick a favorite!
My only issue, well I guess not issue, but why I think Cap and JPL are better is variety. St. George’s is built for championships now, which is great, but it lacks some of the variety in yardages JPL and Capilano have. But that doesn’t discredit how damn good St. George’s really is, and I’m thinking about the next time I can go!