Oakville's Glen Abbey golf course could get heritage protection

Oakville town council is preparing for a high-profile vote that could give Glen Abbey golf course heritage status, possibly blocking its owner from building thousands of houses on the site.

Course's owners want to build thousands of residences, park on site

The owners of Oakville's historic Glen Abbey golf course have been working for years to redevelop the prime real estate into housing and park space. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Oakville town council is preparing for a high-profile vote that could give Glen Abbey golf course heritage status, possibly blocking its owner from building thousands of houses on the site.

ClubLink Corp. owns and operates the course off Dorval Drive, just north of the QEW, and has been working for years to win approval to build some 3,000 homes as well as park land, office and residential buildings on the 200-plus acres site. The company issued a statement ahead of the vote calling the potential heritage designation "unfortunate."

But Fraser Damoff of the group Save Glen Abbey and more than 7,000 people who have signed the group's online petition don't want to see the redevelopment of the site, which was designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1977.

"To me, Glen Abbey stands for a lot more than just a parcel of land that happens to be a golf course," he told CBC Toronto,

"Glen Abbey represents the heart of Oakville."

Damoff says he sees two problems with ClubLink's plans. First, it would be getting rid of what he, and the Heritage Oakville Municipal Advisory Committee, which advises the town council on facilities and features worth preserving, believe is a site of historical significance. Second, he doesn't believe the proposed development fits the city's planning goals.

Glen Abbey, designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus, has been open since 1977 in the heart of Oakville. (Google)

The Town of Oakville and ClubLink have been going back and forth over the proposal since it was brought forward in late 2015, and the Ontario Municipal Board has also gotten involved.

CBC Toronto contacted two Oakville councillors who sit on the heritage committee, which approved the designation at its meeting last week. Both declined an interview on Friday. Mayor Rob Burton was also unavailable.

Owners warn heritage designation may send Canadian Open elsewhere

In an email statement, ClubLink Senior Vice President Robert Visentin said he's concerned about how the potentially "complex" heritage designation would affect the daily operations of the course.

"The notice to designate does not include an operating plan which would confirm which activities would be exempt," he said.

Visentin wants the town to work with ClubLink and Golf Canada to come up with an operating plan before going ahead with the designation. Without that plan, he warns Glen Abbey may not be able to host the Canadian Open — the PGA Tour event that the course is set to welcome for the 30th time in 2018.

"Our view is it may actually accelerate the end of championship golf on the site," Visentin's statement said.

Glen Abbey's operators and Golf Canada say without a clear idea of the heritage designation's rules, it could be hard to host the 2018 Canadian Open at the course. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Golf Canada's chief championship officer Bill Paul suggested the same thing in a letter to town officials. The organization has also announced it's already looking for a long-term home for the Canadian Open.

Nicklaus previously said the while it saddens him to think of the first course he designed by himself being repurposed, he understands that business is business.

Council debates matters Monday night

The course cost $2 million when it was first built. Since then, GTA land prices have skyrocketed.

While Damoff does golf — "teeing off, and looking over the big ravine at Glen Abbey is one of those things that you don't ever forget," he says the site is historic enough to warrant protection.

"Designating it heritage is not a knee-jerk reaction to try and stop the development. Glen Abbey on its own deserves to be protected," he said, adding he's confident that will happen.

Oakville's council debates the issue at 7 p.m. Monday. 


John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.


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