Don Valley Golf Course: A Run Back in Time

Back in high school, I played golf as often as I could. My family didn’t belong to a club, so I played the public courses and the one I liked best was the City’s Don Valley Golf Course. If I recall, the total fee for juniors under 18 starting before 11 am was $.95, of which $.75 was for playing and $.20 for insurance. Adults had to pay all of $2.95. That was quite a while ago. For example, the lowest rate for juniors is now $28.

I stopped playing golf in university; it just took too long and didn’t provide as much cardio as a good run or swim. What led me back to Don Valley was the interest of one of my sons in Toronto’s many ravines. He wanted to see the Hogg’s Hollow ravine, and the Don Valley Course was the best way. We went to have a look as the golf season was coming to an end. And this led me to revisit the course as a runner.

There’s a brief period of less than a month between the end of the golf season and the first snowfall of the year, which happens to be coming down as a write this post. The course is being used by runners and dog-walkers, but when the snow falls, the trails disappear.

I found four ways to access the course: the club house, the service yard on the west side of Yonge just north of York Mills, under the bridge over Wilson just west of Yonge, and through a gate from Earl Bales park on the northwest corner of the course (near the green on the third hole). The most daunting of these is the bridge, because there is a steep slope down from Wilson and because some homeless people have set up underneath it.

Instead of running through the course on the way to somewhere else, I decided to make the course the object of the run and retrace each of the 18 holes in the same order as a golfer would play them.

After the first hole, the course goes under Highway 401. I vividly recall from my earliest days there before the widening of the highway that the second hole was a long par five, with an elevated tee, and a double dogleg. As the highway was expanded and cut more and more of a gash through the course, the second continually diminished, even becoming a short par three. At least it has been restored to something approaching its former glory, and is now a long par four. The front nine is relatively flat, and what surprised me is that so many of the holes – the second, third, sixth, and eighth – are all long par fours or fives.

The back nine is to the south of the 401. The holes are quite a bit shorter – a total of 2700 yards compared to the front nine’s 3400 yards – but from the twelfth on they are much hillier, with elevated greens or tees on the valley wall abutting the 401. These holes run back and forth between the river and the valley wall. So I followed the holes, running up and down between tees and greens. This was a serious workout. My preference was to run the back nine first, get the hard slogging over first, and then coast on the more level ground.

Altogether, it was a great run, combining physical challenge with the mental effort of reconstructing how the course was configured. Thinking back to my acquaintance with Don Valley four decades ago, I was remembering playing rounds after I had completed the school year, with a sense of both achievement and expectation. The sun was so bright then, the sky so blue, and the grass so green. Put together the effort and the recollections, and I had quite a run.

With winter upon us, I’ll leave Don Valley for trails with surer footing, but I look forward to visiting it again in running shoes in the spring, in that brief window between snowmelt and the start of the golf season.

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