The 2019 RBC Canadian Open was a sensational and successful affair.
Hosted by Hamilton Golf and Country Club, it was the first Open contested on its new date preceding the U.S. Open, a big shift — and improvement — from immediately following the British Open, which it had done since 2007.
Rory McIlroy, playing the national championship for the first time, made a spirited run at a Sunday 59, falling short but winning comfortably in front of tens of thousands of rabid fans, many of whom were sporting Toronto Raptors apparel with the team playing in the NBA Finals at the time. McIlroy even donned a Kyle Lowry jersey during the trophy ceremony.
Watching on television from their respective homes and chatting on the phone were good pals Mark Laurie and Jordan Klein. They are both members at Toronto’s Oakdale Golf and Country Club, with Laurie having been the club captain for more than 10 years and Klein, at the time, a board member and the chair of the golf committee.
“We should be holding the Canadian Open at Oakdale,” Laurie told Klein as McIlroy was tearing apart the well-regarded Hamilton.
“Which course are they going to play?” Klein responded, somewhat dismissively. “The Thompson nine is too short, and they’ll kill (the) Homenuik and Knudson (nines).”
But Laurie had been to Australia to play Royal Melbourne and spoken to its club manager about the composite course created of its 36 holes to host the Presidents Cup and other big tournaments.
“So I said to Jordan, ‘I don’t think Golf Canada cares about our course. I think they care about our holes. They can make an 18-hole track that meets their requirements. We’re the only golf club that basically has subway access. We are close to Yorkdale (station), we are close to Downsview. Now they are doing rock concerts. Think about how cool that would be in the middle of the city,’” Laure related. “And Jordan said, ‘You know what? I’m going to reach out to Golf Canada.’”
Convinced, Klein messaged Laurence Applebaum, Golf Canada’s CEO, via LinkedIn. Applebaum, in turn, sent Ryan Logan, the association’s regional membership director, to meet with Klein to better understand Oakdale’s interest. Satisfied by that, the next step was to arrange a site visit by Bryan Crawford, the RBC Canadian Open’s tournament director. Then one with the PGA Tour, which occurred during a surprise November snowstorm. This was four months before COVID hit.
“I’m losing the ability to say this, but I still consider myself a bit of a golf outsider, and I didn’t have any preconceived notions or ideas about any of these properties,” said Crawford, who was hired in 2018.
“It was just another property to go look at and being there on site and seeing everything it had to offer, the location of central Toronto, being able to draw from so many places, the size of the property with the extra nine, which is becoming more and more important to us as this event has grown, it had all of those elements that we needed.”
By preconceived notions, Crawford meant the secrecy that has long shrouded Oakdale. When industry whispers of the club as an Open host began circulating in early 2020, many were surprised. While it was well-known that Golf Canada had looked at pretty much every course with ample acreage near Toronto in its search for future tournament venues, Oakdale, with 27 holes in the heart of the city, was not among its targets. Hiding in plain sight, the club has always been purposely private in both policy and reputation.
“A lot of people were not very familiar with Oakdale,” noted Crawford. “Even people within Golf Canada’s walls had not been there in a long time or maybe had never been there and weren’t familiar with it either. And people outside of the industry were like, ‘Oakdale? Where is that?’”
The where — west of Jane Street, not far north of Highway 401 — was easier to answer than the why. Yes, the club is stepping forward for the membership and staff pride that comes with hosting a national championship. And yes, this is a chance to showcase the extensive renovation work done to the Stanley Thompson/Robbie Robinson course over the years by consulting architect Ian Andrew. But another reason for Oakdale’s hosting of the RBC Canadian Open — both this year and in 2026, its centennial — is the opportunity it provides to tell its story.
“It’s time,” said Molly Jagroop, Oakdale’s general manager. “Yes, we’ve flown under the radar for a long time because that’s just the way we’ve done business. Our Jewish roots, if you will, we haven’t always been in the limelight because we like it that way. Anybody who knows how this club came about, we’ve always been very quiet in how we do things. This is a generational club. You see people coming together here every day having a great time. It has a really, really rich history. Plus, in three years we are celebrating our centenary year, so when we say it’s time, it was, ‘Why not let the world know who we are?’”
Oakdale was founded in 1926 by a group of Jewish golfers denied membership at other Toronto clubs. There is a perception, then, that it remains a Jewish-only club to this day. It is not. It is predominately Jewish because of the club’s history, and as Jagroop pointed out, the generational nature of its membership. But people of all religions are welcome, whether they’ve married a Jewish person who is a member or not. Nowhere on Oakdale’s membership application form does it say, “Are you Jewish?”
“That wasn’t even part of our charter,” noted Mark Sadowski, the club’s immediate past president who is heavily involved with the tournament.
Fans who attend this year’s Open won’t see it, but Oakdale is a family orientated country club with a diverse — and increasingly younger — membership and staff. Located in a part of Toronto with a high population of racialized and new Canadians, the club hires within the community.
It is not a walled-off place on which neighbours can never step foot; instead, many have made their livelihoods there. Jagroop, a native of Guyana who came to Canada in her early 20s in search of a better life, has been at Oakdale for 12 years. A certified accountant (CPA) and now club manager (CCM), she started as the club’s chief financial officer before being promoted to assistant general manager and then the top job. A woman of colour in such a position in the golf industry speaks to Oakdale’s DNA. It is not a club that strives to be inclusive, it is a club that is.
“It’s a given,” said Jagroop. “It is part of the culture of this club.”
Oakdale can also stand with other clubs when it comes to connections to greats of the game. For instance, it was a group of Oakdale members who originally financed then-employee George Knudson’s quest to play on the PGA Tour. It was the first club at which Al Balding worked and it has been a home for Canadian Golf Hall of Famer Wilf Homenuik for decades, with the 87-year-old still helping members with their games on the range to this day. And its longtime teaching pro, Bob Beauchemin, was inducted into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame this year. Those men are in addition to the celebrated Thompson, Oakdale’s original architect, and Robinson, another Canadian Golf Hall of Famer.
All of this is important to the club, but what matters most to Golf Canada is what Oakdale’s property provides. In the eyes of many, it is not a course on par with Hamilton or 2022 host St. George’s Golf and Country Club, at least architecturally. But it is a historic course in Toronto with space. While St. George’s produced as compelling a tournament as there was on the PGA Tour last year, logistically, it was a massive challenge to pull off. Oakdale will be far easier. It will also be longer. In fact, at 7,264 yards, its composite course will be the longest in Canadian Open history, and while it’s a small sample size, last year’s Monday qualifier at Oakdale produced a winning score of 3 under.
“It took some time to get them to come around to the idea that they could do it. That their club could do it,” said Crawford. “It isn’t necessarily an issue of courses thinking they could do it and us having to tell them no, that they can’t. It’s as much been a case of, ‘Yeah, you could do this. This is how it would look.’”
Once Golf Canada formulated a plan with the PGA Tour — much of which had to be done virtually with photos and drone footage because of border restrictions related to COVID — any angst that skeptical Oakdale members had largely diminished. In the end, the club voted 73 per cent in favour of becoming a Canadian Open host for the first time in its nearly 100-year history. That’s a larger membership mandate than both Hamilton and St. George’s provided.
Summarized Sadowski, the past president: “We’re all hopeful that members will say, ‘You know, I was nervous about this. I’m so glad we did it.’ That would be the nicest compliment that we could have when this is over.”
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