Glen Abbey golf champions worry about course's uncertain future

Oakville's Glen Abbey Golf Club has been synonymous with the Canadian Open. But this year's PGA event could be the last-ever at the famous course.

ClubLink Corp., the golf course's owner, wants to move forward with redevelopment plans

Some of the world's best golfers will soon tee off at the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club, but this year's tournament could mark the last time the fabled Oakville course hosts the tournament. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

For over four decades, the Glen Abbey Golf Club has been synonymous with the Canadian Open. When the lone Canadian stop on the PGA Tour gets underway next week, it will mark the 30th time the venerable course in suburban Toronto has hosted the event.

It might also be the last. Glen Abbey's owner, ClubLink Corp., announced plans to redevelop the site last year and the future of the venerable course — the first ever solo design project by the legendary Jack Niklaus — is in doubt.

The idea of the distinctive course in Oakville, Ont., with a parkland-style upper portion and an infamous 11th hole that leads into a steep drop into a valley, being bulldozed over for condos and offices does not sit well with some of Glen Abbey's past champions.

"It's a terrible idea," said Chez Reavie, who won the 2008 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey. "All the people spent all that money to live on a golf course and they should still be on a golf course. It's sad when you see pretty golf courses like that get torn up."

ClubLink plans to build more than 3,200 residential units on the site along with office space and  commercial/retail space. Officials from the Town of Oakville, which is fighting the development proposal, and ClubLink were in Toronto Superior Court this week arguing the property's future.

American golfing great Jack Nicklaus says he understands the business case for the residential redevelopment of Oakville's Glen Abbey, the first golf course he ever designed. (The Associated Press)

Built in the late 1970s, Glen Abbey first hosted the Canadian Open in 1977. Golf legend Lee Trevino, who won that tournament, said he's never been an advocate for plowing up a golf course to develop real estate, but understands its a business decision.

"There are dozens of golf courses that go under, but that would be a shame. It's a great spot," he said.

Nick Price, who won two Canadian Opens at Glen Abbey, said he can see both sides of the development argument. "Obviously as real estate becomes more valuable, and there is a need for people and housing, it's hard to hang on to a golf course," says Price. "But it would be very sad to see it go."

Glen Abbey has a long history of hosting the Canadian Open. (S. Badz/Getty Images/File)

With the future of Glen Abbey up in the air, Golf Canada and tournament sponsor RBC have decided to take the event on a rotation of clubs in the Greater Toronto Area. "From our standpoint, not knowing what that future was (of Glen Abbey) we had to retool and look at moving the Open around," says Bill Paul, Golf Canada's Chief Championship Officer.

Town still opposing redevelopment bid

Jane Clohecy, commissioner of community development for the Town of Oakville, said Glen Abbey is a cultural heritage landscape and that ClubLink's proposal doesn't fit in with the town's growth management policy.

Clohecy says Oakville has identified six primary areas where it wants to grow. Glen Abbey's location isn't on the town's radar.

This year will mark the 30th time Glen Abbey Golf Club has hosted the Canadian Open championship. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

"From a growth management perspective and a cultural heritage perspective, we didn't see it as an appropriate place to redevelop," she said.

The tournament will be played at Hamilton Golf and Country Club in 2019 and 2023. Paul said Glen Abbey will always be "part of the mix" in to deciding where to host the Canadian Open so long as the course remains intact.

But an official from Mississaugua Golf and Country Club told The Canadian Press the club has had discussions with Golf Canada about potentially hosting an upcoming Canadian Open, and a member of St. George's Golf and Country Club said discussions have taken place there as well.

"For 2020 and 2021 we've had really developed discussions with a number of phenomenal golf courses," Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum said in a recent press conference. "Hopefully in the short term we'll have some announcements in that regard."