Often, when I think of why I’m so enamored with the game of golf the same answer always rings eternal. It’s the sights, it’s the colours, and it’s the aromas like that sweet nectar of dew mixing with the clippings of freshly cut grass.
When I was a little boy, going back to when I was 4 or 5, I often travelled to the United States with my parents to visit family or go to the Buffalo Zoo. Along Highway #3 between Port Colborne, Ontario and Fort Erie, Ontario lies a golf course that I’ve always admired. I’d gaze out the window as we cruised by listening to ABBA in the 8-track. Thinking back, I remember peering through the pine trees that separated the highway from their property, just to capture a glimpse of the green ribbon that I would later learn was called a fairway. It was always a look of bright-eyed fascination.
I never knew it then but, this was called a golf course, nay, a golf club called Cherry Hill Club. This was the very first golf course that I’d ever see and ultimately, admire. Unbeknownst to me, I’d fall in love with the game of golf, nearly three decades later. Much of my affection for the game of golf came from those fleeting glances, all so many years ago. As a matter of fact, until September 21st, 2020, every time that I drove by the pristine grounds that is Cherry Hill Club, I’d gawk and wonder what the golf club was like. An ironic sidebar, I applied to work there in the back shop or as a starter a few seasons ago.
Cherry Hill Club is a golf club that’s located in Ridgeway, Ontario and is a club that is steep in history. The golf course was designed by legendary golf course architect Walter J. Travis and was founded in 1922 by affluent families that owned land along the north shore of Lake Erie. During the 1920’s the area was a summer playground for prominent families from Buffalo, NY and Southern Ontario. Families from Buffalo would take a steamship ride aboard a passenger ferry like the SS Canadiana to spend time at their summer homes or days at Crystal Beach which was the site of an amusement park.
Over the decades, an evolution has occurred at Cherry Hill Club as the club has matured over the last 98 years. Part of the history of this esteemed private club in the Niagara Region is that it has been a host venue for many notable championships. The great Canadian golfer George Knudson won the Ontario Open in 1960, which consequently, was Mr. Knudson’s first professional victory. Our national championship was hosted at Cherry Hill Club as well in 1972. Legends of the game like Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Sam Snead, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, and Johnny Miller all strolled the fairways of Cherry Hill Club during the 1972 Canadian Open, Gay Brewer emerged victorious. Most recently, in 2016, Cherry Hill Club hosted a Mackenzie Tour event after wildfires devastated Fort McMurray, Alberta, which of course eliminated all hopes of a planned event being played there that year. Acting like a foster home, Cherry Hill Club was approached to host the event, and that’s exactly what they did.
Quite honestly, having the opportunity to play Cherry Hill Club is a dream that I thought that would never come true. Not to be self-deprecating but I’m a very humble man, not necessarily refined and to be totally frank, I always inwardly felt like someone of my ilk never belonged at a place like Cherry Hill Club, for fear of almost contaminating it. Fears that would be dashed by the time I left Cherry Hill Club, with the setting sun riding as my wingman.
My day at Cherry Hill Club started by attending a meeting on the patio of the clubhouse. 2020, as we all know, has been a year which will “live in infamy” (to paraphrase President Franklin D. Roosevelt). The annual golf outing for the Golf Journalists Association of Canada was scrubbed earlier in the year due to COVID-19. In a manner similar to 2016, Cherry Hill Club accommodated our outing in these difficult and unprecedented times. As I walked up onto the patio to take part in a meeting, I actually stopped in my tracks to admire the view from the patio. It was at that moment, that I realized that I was at Cherry Hill Club. The fairway of the first hole runs parallel to the patio, and I just took in the view, watching as two golfers meandered their way down the first fairway walking towards their respective golf balls. I was in awe and in love. As the meeting wrapped up, it was time to get to the range and start warming up for the round.
The driving range is located across the street and kitty-corner from the clubhouse. Fully appointed with Titleist golf balls, your warm-up is with real golf balls so you get a good idea of how you’re clicking on any given day. The grass on the tee deck is pristine, and really does serve as a sign of things to come. A tee deck that has nothing but even lies and that has plenty of room for golfers, about to start their day. Speaking of signs of things to come, the practice green. The practice green is located by the halfway house and the Pro Shop. Prior to my round, I warmed up on the putting green, and I have to admit it, it was a struggle. Truthfully, I failed to make a single putt from any distance, but I noticed one thing. The greens had very subtle breaks that you may not be aware of.
As I made my way out to the starting hole, I took in all of the views that were afforded to me. Everywhere that I looked, Cherry Hill Club appeared to be flawless. It seemed that nary a blade of grass was out of place and the water hazards just glistened under the clear, bright blue late-September sky. My starting hole was #15, which is a dogleg left Par 4 hole. A water hazard awaits any errant tee shot struck too far to the left, which coincidentally sits at the entrance of a dogleg. A bunker sits across from the water hazard down the right side of the fairway. This hole was so aesthetically pleasing that I just took in the hues of green and blue, finding myself immersed, infatuated, and distracted. I was “in the moment”.
As the round wore on, the aesthetic beauty and charm of Cherry Hill Club never ceased. Tee box after tee box, I was captivated by the beauty of this Walter J. Travis masterpiece. I had a sensation that in a way, transcended time, seemingly taking me back to 1922. There was a feeling, one in which you felt the quaint charm of the design. Generally speaking, when I think about golf courses that I’ve played, there’s always a golf hole that sticks out in my mind. Or there’s the gauche, almost derogatory terminology that is the proverbial “Signature Hole”. Neither of these applied at Cherry Hill Club. Across this great nation of ours that is Canada, we’re blessed with a wide scope of geographical features. At Cherry Hill Club, there are no golf holes that are lakeside, there are no golf holes that have dramatic cliffs dropping off into an abyss that is the ocean, nor are there majestic vistas with rugged mountains in the background. Cherry Hill Club doesn’t need it, Walter J. Travis made a masterpiece out of a piece of canvas that was once two farms.
The greens alone are special and very noteworthy. Without a doubt, the greens at Cherry Hill Club are nothing short of spectacular. Spectacular in the sense that they were in fantastic condition and quick (they were running 12’11” on the Stimpmeter) but that’s not the true beauty or genius of them. The true beauty lies in the undulations, both obvious and subtle, that were Travis’ vision. More times, often than not, I chuckled both to myself and out loud. Not because the greens were unfair or demonic, it’s not like that at all. I chuckled because I loved them so much. Subtlety is an art form and in comparison, the greens are a Mona Lisa of subtlety. I’ve often said that to enjoy this game you have to have a “near sadomasochistic quality” and the greens at Cherry Hill Club brings that quality out of you. Out of the changes that have taken place over the years at Cherry Hill Club, the greens remain the same. Unchanged and designed to withstand the “tests of time”.
“The best set of greens in Canada.” – Ian Andrew (Canadian Golf Architect)Ian Andrew on the putting surfaces at Cherry Hill Club
As mentioned, Cherry Hill Club has seen an evolution. Changes to a golf course in what has been nearly a century. Among these changes are the bunkers in terms of numbers, mounding, and the manner in which the golf course has been mowed by it’s dedicated Golf Course Superintendent and his professional staff. The mowing of the turf showing more contrast and depth from tee to green and around the periphery. The changes allow for more creativity to the golfer around the green where greens in regulation are missed. Putts, “Texas Wedges”, and “Bump and Runs” all can be executed depending on the situation, instead of executing the standard lob shot. The topography of the golf course itself makes it a very walkable golf course. If I have any regrets about my day at Cherry Hill Club, it was that I never walked the golf course. A diabetic foot ulcer prevented that enjoyable walk in Utopia from happening. But, I digress.
Everything about Cherry Hill Club is first class. From Head Professional Walker Arnott and his staff of Assistant Professional’s. Golf Course Superintendent Jeremy Krueger and his staff of unsung heroes to the Food and Beverage Staff. Everyone is there to assist you, to make you feel welcomed, comfortable, and to make your day enjoyable and memorable.
Cherry Hill Club makes you feel like you’re in a bubble, which in a way is sort of ironic, considering the circumstances around the globe right now. Cherry Hill Club is a place where, once upon the grounds you feel like everything in the world is okay. I don’t know what the future holds for me and I don’t know if I’ll ever get the privilege, distinction, and honour to play Cherry Hill Club again. It took me 48 years to play Cherry Hill Club and the wait was worth every second.
Until The Next Tee!!