By Adam Stanley – The city of Toronto is a busy metropolis. The hustle and bustle of the downtown core is inspiring for some, frightening for others. When you think of Toronto, you likely think of subways and skyscrapers.
But, at the corner of Yonge Street and York Mills, winding past the Don River, underneath Highway 401, lays Don Valley: the jewel in the City’s crown of municipal golf courses.
Don Valley has been a staple in Toronto’s golfing community for 57 years. It has seen generations of golfers traverse its layout. It’s welcoming to all players, but especially to junior golfers – something that former long-time head professional Dave Richardson was well known for promoting.
Now, Keith Chung is at the helm. He – along with his business partner Darren Gooden – manage the operation of all five of the City’s courses. The others being Tam O’Shanter, Humber Valley, Dentonia Park, and Scarlett Woods.
The attractiveness of Don Valley lays in it’s accessibility, one of the key pillars of success for municipal golf in Toronto – the other being affordability.
It’s there for the taking; 18 holes in the middle of the city.
A safari in the concrete jungle.
I’ve played Don Valley since I was 14 years old. It was easy to get to, a subway ride and a walk. And when I bought the City’s junior membership for the season it was the perfect place to spend most summer days.
My opening round for the 2013 season was nine holes at Don Valley. The course is about one month behind where it was in 2012, but no matter. It was golf in the city, finally.
With an official opening day of April 15, Don Valley’s links were hard and the trees were bare, a far cry from the greenery in the summer months.
The experience at Don Valley begins before arriving at the pro shop. Up a hill to the parking lot, past two large practice greens – one for chipping and one for putting – and two hitting stations, well worn by Toronto’s golf community over the years.
A voice comes over a loud speaker, “Good afternoon golfers…” and your group’s name is announced as either being on the tee, or on deck. It’s friendly, inviting.
You purchase your green fee ticket from the pro shop – pink, green, orange, yellow, or blue, depending on your age and time of day – and then hand it to the starter.
Even if you’re late for your tee-time, which the norm at Don Valley, many golfers pause at the top of the hill by the starter’s hut. One of the purest images in Toronto is the view down to the first hole.
It’s a juxtaposition. There’s green grass, a small creek, and a forest. And yet, cars fly past on the 401, not even realizing what lies beneath.
Noises from the city’s cars still ring loudly as you reach the first hole. It’s a short par 4, a mere 329 yards from the back tees, with trouble to the right, and the ninth fairway to the left.
Space is at a premium at Don Valley.
It’s distracting, the noise of the highway. But after emerging onto the other side, through an opening in the trees, and onto the second tee – about a two-minute walk from the first green – it’s mostly silent. It’s you and the golf course.
The most difficult hole on the front side is the par-5 third, formerly a par 4. It underwent a dramatic change the last couple of years from a fairly straightforward hole – albeit long, by Don Valley’s standards – to one of the most challenging in the city, and making the outward nine have a par of 37.
While having a fairly open landing area off the tee, the approach shot is delicate. A brand new, large, man-made pond greets golfers if they choose to lay-up, or tease golfers who try to go for the green in two shots.
The rest of the front-9 has stayed the same since I began playing the course.
There is a dogleg par 4, and then you go back-and-forth between two par 3s and two par 5s before getting to the closing hole of the front side, a 292-yard par 4. Reachable for some, but taunting for all, the elevated tee gives you a glimmer of hope that you can reach the green in one. But, the same creek that may have devoured a rushed tee shot off No.1, awaits the balls that don’t quite make it to the green of No.9.
After making the turn, a much shorter and manageable par 35 inward nine awaits.
The stand out stretch of holes includes the par-5 12th, the par-3 13th, and the par-4 14th. They are all very different in design: manageable for the average golfer, a challenge for the better player.
The 12th is a short par 5, the signature hole on the golf course. You face an uphill tee-shot, but if you make it over the ridge in the middle of the fairway, about 240 yards from the tee, you’ll be able to catch some favourable roll. The approach is over water, but there is a bail-out area to the left. The green is wide but skinny, and slopped severely from back to front.
Many a chip from behind the green has rolled off the front, precariously close to the water.
The 13th is a par 3 from an elevated tee to a large, undulating green across the same water that guards the 12th green, and, the 14th is a medium-length par 4 uphill and doglegged left.
A pedestrian stretch of holes awaits you coming in. The 18th is a near carbon copy of the ninth, for example.
The criticisms, though, are few and far between.
Don Valley has a charm to it because it’s friendly, generational golf. It’s inspired fathers to bring sons and mothers to bring daughters. And, just like your favourite local tavern, it will always be there for you when you need it.
Cities need golf courses like Don Valley, because it’s about more than golf.
It’s about feeling like you’ve left the city, without going very far. It’s about taking your clubs with you on the subway. It’s about walking underneath the busiest highway in Canada, and laughing it spite of the moment as cars roar past.
It’s golf in the city. Hard to beat.
City Of Toronto
Golf Course Superintendent
Tees,Course Yardage, Slope, Rating
Blue – 6163 Yards, 124, 70.0
White- 5625 Yards, 121, 67.5
Red – 4988 Yards, 120, 69.0
Average Hole Lengths (Blue Tees)
Par 3’s – 158 Yards
Par 4’s – 348 Yards
Par 5’s – 514 Yards
Don Valley Golf Course
4200 Yonge Street,