Gordon on Golf

Underappreciated Glen Abbey

Glen Abbey's 18th hole (Bernard Brault/ Golf Canada)

I wasn’t there in 1976 when Jack Nicklaus proudly presided over the opening of his first solo design, Glen Abbey Golf Club, in Oakville, Ont. It was a purpose-built course, providing a test for the world’s best players but, innovatively for that era, putting the needs of the spectators right up there with those of the competitors.

“I sort of came up with the idea of putting the clubhouse in the centre of the property and then having like spokes of a wheel going out, playing holes out and having the gallery go out on those spokes,” Nicklaus has said.

Three years later, I covered my first RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey and have only missed a couple played there since.

During my tenure in the early 1990s as Golf Canada’s Director of Communications and Member Services, my office in Golf House overlooked the course. I delved into its genesis and design philosophy when I included it in the first volume of my Great Golf Courses of Canada books.

Over the years, I have played it dozens of times. The more I played it, as the course and I matured in a golfing sense, I increasingly appreciated it. Safe to say, I know Glen Abbey.

So it irks me somewhat when I hear the often uninformed criticism of Glen Abbey and the fact that since 1976, it has been the semi-permanent home of our Open championship. Next week, it will play host to our Open for the 28th time.

Focusing on the five holes in the valley is like focusing just on Amen Corner at Augusta National. There is no denying they are something special: The tee shot from on-high at 11, the tough par-3 12th, the do-or-die par-5 13th, the risk-reward 14th (often ranked as one of the toughest holes on the PGA TOUR) and the short but confounding par-3 15th.

But the holes “up top” on the tablelands, present their own challenges and to write them off is facile.

Subjectively, I love playing The Abbey, typically cruising (with any luck) through the first five holes before confronting two tough par-4s on 6 and 8, with the maddening par-3 7th tucked between them. Although the ninth presents water in front of the green, a short- to mid-iron gets you home. Hole 10 is a breather before heading down into the valley. Then up the hill and on to 16, a par-4 for the Open, and then 17 with its multiple fairway bunkers and its controversial amoeba-shaped green. On my second (more likely third) shot on 18, I always pause to look at the fairway bunker on the right from where Tiger Woods hit that astounding 6-iron to win in 2000. “The shot of the year,” according to Golf Channel.

I am no fan of course rankings. I prefer instead to evaluate each course’s overall experience.

In my estimation, Glen Abbey ranks right up there from a number of perspectives. When the rough is up, the greens are fast and the fairways are narrowed, it provides all the elements for a PGA TOUR venue. It welcomes spectators with a fan-friendly design. The site is logistically ideal for a TOUR event. Gate receipts and corporate sponsorships provide revenue for Golf Canada to underwrite its many “grow the game” initiatives.

I will not argue that Glen Abbey is the best, most difficult or most beautiful course in the country. But it is iconic nonetheless.

Like Nicklaus and Rod McIsaac and Dick Grimm and Bruce Forbes, whose vision gave birth to Glen Abbey, it deserves to be in the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, as the old saying goes.

Glen Abbey Golf Club will play host to the 2016 and 2017 RBC Canadian Opens. For more info, visit www.rbccanadianopen.com.