First off, let’s tell you what hasn’t happened.
Glen Abbey Golf Club has not been designated as a heritage site. Not yet, anyway. Despite a lot of stories and tweets to the contrary, what happened on Monday night in Oakville, Ont., was that the town council voted unanimously in favour of passing a notice of intention to seek a heritage designation from the province.
It’s the latest step in an effort to keep Glen Abbey’s owner, ClubLink, from changing the fairways into driveways – a lot of driveways. The company has plans to turn the land on which Jack Nicklaus designed his first golf course into 3,200 homes and additional commercial sites.
Local groups have been trying to thwart that effort and the latest tool being used is Ontario’s Heritage Designation Act, which the provincial government describes as “a way of publically acknowledging a property’s value to a community.”
Most of the speakers at the meeting on Monday were locals who espoused the benefits the golf course brings to the community. They ranged from the green space serving as a home for animals, to the course, which has hosted 29 Canadian Opens, being akin to “Canada’s St. Andrews.”
There was definitely a lot of passion in the words presented, but, with the exception of a few very eloquent presenters, it seemed most weren’t so much interested in the heritage designation as they were in preventing development. The heritage act, then, was more a tool than an honour.
Whether Glen Abbey is really worthy of a heritage designation is certainly debatable. A detailed report prepared for the heritage committee listed some notable attributes that the course possesses, such as spectator mounding for tournament viewing and Nicklaus’s use of the “spoke-and-wheel” design style, which has the course returning to the clubhouse a number of times throughout the 18 holes.
And there are other parts of the course that seem notable, such as the bunker on the 18th hole where Tiger Woods hit one of his most famous shots (Of note is that in ClubLink’s proposal for development, that bunker was to be preserved amid all the construction).
In my opinion, Glen Abbey is not the most famous course in Canada or the best. But under the Heritage Act, a case can be made that it is deserving. In other words, it’s not the golf course that should be faulted but the criteria of the act. They are so vague and generic that any golf course, anywhere, could qualify.
The next step in this winding road is that ClubLink will, in all likelihood, appeal the notice, which sends the matter to the Conservation Review Board, an independent body. It will hear both sides and issue a report to town council. That could take months.
If, after that, a bylaw is enacted that proclaims Glen Abbey a heritage property, ClubLink still has options. For instance, there’s nothing forcing the company to continue operating it as a golf course. It could simply turn off the sprinklers and put away the mowers and let the area go wild.
Meanwhile, in September, another hearing will be held at Oakville’s planning and development committee, at which ClubLink will attempt to get a zoning amendment to allow it to build on the course property. This is a pathway independent of the one the heritage designation is following.
No matter what happens with all the legal matters, the days of Glen Abbey hosting the Canadian Open are coming to an end. The 2018 RBC Canadian Open will be held there and possibly 2019 as well, but Golf Canada has let it be known that the Abbey really can’t handle the needs of the tournament any more.
That’s not so much because of the course itself (although it has been manhandled by PGA Tour pros in recent years) but because the area around it has grown to the extent that the ancillary needs of the traveling road show that is the PGA Tour – parking, corporate tents, a television compound – are becoming difficult to handle.
The governing body is already well on its way to identifying a new site that could be the next home of the tournament. To that end, it has had Nicklaus up on several occasions to look at properties for a future home.
What will happen to Glen Abbey won’t be known for some time. No matter how it turns out, there will definitely be a lot of memories on that property, whether it’s a course our housing.