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  • Alistair Tait

Don't Doom Don Valley

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

Don Valley Golf Course was just seven stops on the Toronto Subway system from where I lived on Asquith Avenue near the busy intersection at Yonge and Bloor Streets in Toronto. I probably looked a little conspicuous as I stood among the morning commuters with my small golf bag.

I didn’t care. They were heading into work to spend eight hours chained to a desk, while I was heading for the freedom of the links.

Okay, not quite links. In fact, not even close. However, I remember Don Valley as a wee piece of parkland paradise just a short ride from my doorstep.

To think it might go the way of so many other municipal courses and be converted for other uses besides golf saddens my heart.

The Walter Mitty side of me liked to imagine myself recreating Bernard Darwin’s trips on the London & North Eastern Railway to exotic sounding places like Aberdovey, Brancaster, Hunstanton, Cruden Bay. Trips I’d read about Darwin taking while I was sitting daydreaming about golf in the Toronto Public Library at Yonge and Bloor when I was supposed to be writing my Masters thesis.

With my small pencil bag containing seven clubs – driver, 3-wood, 3-iron, 5-iron, 7-iron, 9-iron and putter – 15 TopFlite balls I’d picked up at The Bay for the price of a dozen, my khaki trousers and ludicrously large-collared Jack Nicklaus shirt, I probably looked more like Maurice Flitcroft than Bernard Darwin.

I didn’t care. I was off to play golf not far from the heart of Toronto and that was all that mattered. I always went alone and was happy to join up with other muni players like me who didn’t know the rules and couldn’t play for toffee. So what if you had to hit a 7-iron on the sharp dog leg left par-4 opening hole, and the busy 401 ran over the course? We didn’t care. We were just happy to be able to play golf not far from the centre of Canada’s biggest city. It was our wee heaven, if only for a few hours.

That wee bit of heaven could soon become another casualty in the constant fight municipal courses face against other interests.

As friend and colleague Rick Young chronicles on, the City of Toronto is considering the future of Toronto’s five municipal golf courses. Golf at Don Valley could soon come to a complete halt in the near future. That would be a shame because, as I’ve stated previously, municipal golf is a pathway into this game. I know ­– I travelled that pathway. Muni courses Rockway Golf Club in Kitchener and Don Valley, along with Merry Hill Golf Club with its three short 9-hole courses just outside Kitchener were my playgrounds, where I learnt to play this great game.

Don Valley, like the so many other muni courses around the world has been providing a pathway into the game for decades. Unfortunately, many of them are under threat. Cash strapped town councils often look at the expense of running these layouts, hire switched on consultants who couldn't care less about golf to crunch numbers and usually see a more lucrative way to make money. That’s perhaps understandable considering the pressure local councils are under, but we in the game need to fight like hell to keep these courses so future golfers can find a pathway into this great game as I did.

Non golfers no doubt look at the land set aside for golfers and moan about privilege. That’s the case in Melbourne, Australia, where municipal golf course Northcote was seen during Covid-19 as an enclave for the rich and privileged, when it was anything but.

That view of golf as a game for the elite is all too prevalent. The irony is, get rid of public courses like Don Valley and golf really will become a game for the elite.

I’m planning a trip back to Canada when this Covid-19 mess comes to an end. I hope Don Valley Golf Course is waiting for me when I return. I hope it continues to provide an important pathway into the game for fellow Canadians like me for a long time to come.

#JustSaying: “His real home was Rockway Golf Club.” From The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story by Tim O’Conner

Picture courtesy of Don Valley and ScoreGolf

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