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Go Beyond The Course in Canada with Glen Abbey Golf Club and the RCGA Museum

Larry OlmstedBy Larry Olmsted,
Special Contributor
RCGA Museum at Glen Abbey Golf Club
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These principles were formed in the early years of competition especially amongst the amateur ranks. Men's amateur golf in Canada have been the victors in many international team events and these are paid tribute to here. (Courtesy of rcga.org)

Glen Abbey Golf Club outside Toronto is sort of Canada's answer to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. It is the home course and headquarters of the Royal Canadian Golf Association, just as Sawgrass, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is for the PGA Tour (okay, the RCGA is more comparable to the USGA than the PGA Tour, but the USGA does not have a home course, so I am stretching the comparison a bit). And just as Sawgrass hosts the so called "fifth major," the Players Championship every year, Glen Abbey hosts the Canadian Open, also called the RBC Championship, every year. Well not quite every year, but a lot of the time (another sketchy comparison).

Also, for you golf architecture buffs out there, the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass was the first ever Tournament Players Club purpose built to host tournaments and serve as a natural stadium, with bleacher seating and view points on grassy banks above the fairways. Well, sort of the first. It is definitely the first TPC, which is simply a brand name. But Pete Dye, who designed Sawgrass, told me Jack Nicklaus beat him the punch here at Glen Abbey by putting the center of the facility on a plateau so spectators could overlook several holes at once, a sort of fan friendly pre-stadium design. I'll defer to Dye, since he knows more about golf course design than I do, but I just visited Glen Abbey, and frankly, I didn't see what he was talking about.

Don't miss the Royal Canadian Golf Association Museum

But I did see the RCGA Museum, which is the real reason to come out here.

They may not have a world famous hole, like the island 17th at TPC Sawgrass, but they have the Masters Trophy won by Mike Weir. Again, news to me. I know the Claret Jug and the Ryder Cup, the two most famous trophies in golf, and I know Lord Stanley's Cup, the most famous thing, living or dead, in Canada. But I so associate winning the Masters with donning the green jacket that it never even occurred to me that they also have a trophy. I guess they have to, because the folks at Augusta National are so famously vehement that the green jackets never leave the premises that they have to give Tiger and Jack and Mike something to take home at the end of four days. But Canadians are famously nice, like Midwesterners, and they, or at least Meggan Gardner, the RCGA Museum's sultry curator, must have won the old guys over with her charms, because they have Weir's green jacket here too, something I never thought would be allowed out of Georgia.

The golf at Glen Abbey is perfectly fine, and I was lucky enough to play in the pro-am at the Canadian Open, which was a blast, pairing up with PGA Tour pro Kevin Sutherland and Canadian music legend Tom Cochrane (former Red Rider front man with hits "Lunatic Fringe" and "Life is a Highway"), who sports a well deserved 2 handicap.

The Glen Abbey layout does not have either the drama of TPC Sawgrass, where 17 and 18 bring grown men to their knees, nor the year in, year out TV recognition, but it is perfectly pleasant. The golf course is high on the rota for those visiting Toronto, which happens to be a very cool, clean, safe and user friendly city, with lots of great restaurants (I ate at one hot establishment called Conviction, which as its name sort of suggests, employs only ex-cons - really - though it doesn't have the prison theme one might expect but rather serves fancy French and Italian cuisine).

I was shocked to find out to how big the city is, North America's fifth largest, after only N.Y., L.A., Chicago and Mexico City, because it feels like a small town you stroll through.

So anyway, if you go to Toronto to play golf, you would probably end up at Glen Abbey anyway, but the museum pushes it over the edge and takes the facility Beyond the Course. On site golf museums are something I have only seen at Valderrama Golf Club, the town of St. Andrews, and less formally, in the hallways of Pinehurst, and at otherwise private places like the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse and Eastlake. The RCGA Museum costs about as much as one Titleist, $4 or $8 for a family, and that should be cheaper if the exchange rate ever goes back to normal.

I asked Meggan, over cocktails, of course, what visitors liked most about the place.

"Golfers and non-golfers are interested in why there are dimples on golf balls, how golf courses used to be groomed and designed, and of course, they want to see the major Canadian trophies," she said. "Not only do we celebrate great individuals who helped to grow golf in Canada through our Hall of Fame but the museum is a must see for any individual, adult or child, to learn about the rich history and traditions of golf in Canada.

"We are first and foremost a museum, trying to preserve Canadian heritage."

A mouthful, and not quite spontaneous, I had the feeling she's said that before (and for a total overdose of Canadian sports heritage, the Hockey Hall of Fame is in downtown Toronto).

Surprisingly, they also have stuff for Americans. The museum spans 10,000 square feet, and is divided into 18 exhibit areas (get it?), plus the Hall of Fame. It traces the history of golf, the history of golf in Canada, clubs, balls, golf course maintenance, pros and amateurs, men and women, and the last year in review. The Weir exhibition, Mementos of a Champion, is temporary and still going on right now, with all eight of his trophies, his President's Cup uniform, and of course, green jacket.

Perhaps the rarest item in the collection is the Olympic Trophy, from the very last time golf was an Olympic sport, 1904, conveniently won by the Canadians. This was another trophy that confused me: I thought in the Olympics they got medals, but maybe that's why they dropped golf.

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Larry Olmsted has written more than 1,000 articles on golf and golf travel, for the likes of Golf Magazine, T&L Golf, LINKS, Golf & Travel, Men's Health, Men's Journal, USA Today, and many others. He broke the Guinness World Record for golf travel and wrote Getting into Guinness, as well as Golf Travel by Design. He was the founding editor of The Golf Insider, and the golf columnist for both USA Today.com and US Airways Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at @TravelFoodGuy.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
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