Friday, July 26, 2013

How to play The Canadian Open at Glen Abbey

The Right Way To Play 
The Canadian Open

A starter's perspective on 
the ins and outs of Glen Abbey

By Eric Kohanik
Special to The Hamilton Spectator 
Welcome to Glen Abbey. My name is Eric and I'm your Starter today. You're going to have a great time.” 
For five seasons, I've used those words to introduce countless guests to the first tee of the course that is home to this year's Canadian Open. And as the pros get down to serious competition in Oakville, it should be no surprise that any golfer following the action would get the urge to play the Jack Nicklaus-designed course that is hosting the Open for the 26th time.

As a starter and a play coordinator (that's what marshals are called at Glen Abbey), I've encountered players from around the world who have made the pilgrimage to “The Abbey.” Many are thrilled and even awestruck, as if they are standing on the most hallowed ground.

But there are a few things you need to know when you go to play Glen Abbey.

There are no white tees, for instance. The red tees play 5,346 yards. The blue tees, at 6,224 yards, are usually challenging enough for beginners and those with double-digit handicaps. The gold tees clock in at 6,622 yards, while the black (pro) tees add up to 7,273 yards.

As for the holes, there's a twist. As in 2009, the front nine holes have been reconfigured for the tournament, so things will look different when you play your version of the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey.

To help you out, here's a quick, starter's guide to the course and some of its most memorable (and difficult) holes:

No. 1 (No. 8 at the Open) – Par 5
This hole is simply memorable because it's the first hole you'll play at Glen Abbey. First-timers get excited just standing on the tee box, often snapping photos as souvenirs. The hole is often called an "easy" Par 5. The pros play it as a Par 4 during the Open.

No. 2 (No. 9 at the Open) – Par 4
The No. 1 handicap hole has a big tree that comes into play off the tee. It can be tough to reach the green in only two shots. An extra club is a good idea on the approach, thanks to a sand trap at the left front of the green. The green is also smaller than it appears from the fairway. 

No. 3 (No. 7 at the Open) – Par 3
Wind comes into play, while bunkers and pin placement on the narrow green can easily spell trouble. The hole doesn't look tough, but the pond between the tee and green gobbles up 15,000 golf balls a year. More than a few have been mine.

No. 7 (No. 4 at the Open) – Par 3
Another hole over water that looks easy but isn't. If the wind is brisk, it can mean a difference of two or even three clubs.

No. 9 (No. 6 at the Open)
A pretty finish to the front nine, this Par 4 is similar to the Par 5 that finishes the back. The fairway slopes toward a pond that is in front of the green, so a long drive can be trouble. The hole is ranked as the third toughest on the course. It's also rated as one of the toughest on the PGA Tour.

No. 11 – Par 4
The second-hardest hole is also Glen Abbey's signature hole, and one of the most picturesque golf holes around. An elevated tee leads you down to the first of five valley holes. From the gold tees, it's about a 220-yard carry reach to the fairway (although the elevation does give your shot extra distance). From the blue and red tees, the perfect shot is usually aimed over a large tree on the left side of the fairway. A wide section of 16 Mile Creek runs in front of the green, so your approach may need a lot of carry, too.

No. 13 – Par 5
The mid-way point of the valley, this hole crosses 16 Mile Creek not once but twice. Once you get to the green, things don't necessarily get easier. A deep swale to the left of the green can easily mess up your game. 

No. 14 – Par 4
Ranked as one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour, this hole plays completely different from the gold and black tees than from the blue and red tees. An undulating green adds to this hole's charm and challenge.

No. 15 Par 3
It's rated as the easiest hole on the course. Uh-huh. Sure. Depending on the pin placement, the elevated, two-tier green could leave you with one of the toughest putts you'll face. 

No. 17 Par 4
There are 17 sand traps adorning this hole. That's right, 17. Oddly enough, the tee shot from the golds actually seems easier than from the blues. A funky, U-shaped green can cap off this adventurous hole in a unique way. 

No. 18 – Par 5
This the home of the famed Tiger Trap, which led to a shot by Tiger Woods during the 2000 Canadian Open that still ranks as one of the most famous in golf history. No wonder a lot of first-time visitors throw a ball in there to try out their 6-irons. 

So, there you have it: a guide to your own version of the Canadian Open. Of course, there are a number of other things every starter will tell you when you play Glen Abbey – things like repairing ball marks on greens, replacing or filling divots on the fairways and always making sure you keep up with the group ahead of you. But then, we'll save those for when you actually get there. 

Eric Kohanik is a freelance writer and former Spectator reporter. 

(First published in The Hamilton Spectator - July 26, 2013.)