Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto has something that no other golf club in North America can boast – it is the only private golf club in North America owned and governed by women. Here, women of all ages have priority access to the tee and can play, learn and enjoy the game in an encouraging and friendly atmosphere. Men are also welcome as seasonal players and as guests.
Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto, affectionately known as “Ladies’,” was founded in 1924 by Ada Mackenzie, businesswoman and five-time Canadian golf champion, now in the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. This was no mean feat, when you think back almost 100 years when women were generally excluded from public life, could not own property, and were fighting for the right to vote. Despite this, and the limited practice opportunities, Ada Mackenzie achieved success as a world-class golfer. In addition to winning many international titles, she was determined enough to embark on an ambitious plan to build a course for women in Canada. “I started golfing when women were supposed to know more about a cook stove than a niblick (old name for a 9-iron). That was during World War I. And what a time women golfers had getting any place to play in those days,” explained Mackenzie*.
She enlisted the help of renowned Canadian golf course architect Stanley Thompson to design a course. In order for her to be taken seriously as a potential buyer, she often had to pose as Thompson’s wife when they were looking for a suitable property. Today, Ladies’ is conveniently located close to four highways in the northern part of Toronto, formerly the Village of Thornhill.
Stanley Thompson designed the 18-hole course (now 21 holes) with women in mind – narrow fairways and small greens to favor accuracy rather than power. It is challenging for any golfer, but easy to walk. Trying to determine the ‘best’ hole at Ladies’ is an ongoing toss-up. The six Par 3s (two more than usual) are equally as beautiful as the six Par 5s which are long and narrow with four of them on the front nine. There are five sets of tees to accommodate all levels of players. The 6,002 yard total course length (Blue Tees) for experienced players is as inviting as the newest tee decks of 3,879 yards (Purple/Scoring Tees) that have been installed to support the recent golfing trend of the USGA’s “TEE IT FORWARD” program for new and senior golfers and for those who simply don’t have time to play a long course.
According to head golf professional Padraig Kelly: “Our most memorable holes are our spectacular downhill Par 3s. Number 7 offers a great view (especially in the fall) and has tee boxes ranging from 195 to 80 yards. There is also a fairway to accept shots that don’t reach the green, allowing the golfer to use all of his/her course management techniques. This is a unique feature of all the Par 3s at Ladies’. There are never any forced carries over hazards, and the golfer always has the option of choosing the safer shot of playing short of the water and then hitting an approach into the green. This is also very evident on the 16th hole.”
“Stanley Thompson (renowned Canadian Architect) loved elevated tees, which provide players with a visual treat and boost of confidence that comes with hitting to a target below. The course was designed with six par three holes, two more than is usually found at most courses, but it’s a bonus for women because it gives players of average ability and distance more chances to hit a green in regulation and putt for birdie.” – The Ladies’ 1924-1999, Tim O’Connor.
Paddy continues: “Ladies’ also offers many other challenges most notably the Par 4 seventeenth. It’s a perfect example of a risk/reward hole – a short Par 4 that requires two excellent shots to reach the green. If your tee shot strays to the right, you are blocked out from going for the green by trees, a common experience throughout the course.”
Marlene Stewart Streit (World Golf Hall of Fame) offered her advice on playing Ladies’ in Tim O’Connor’s book: “It’s got lots of shots you have to hit, and little itty bitty greens. Everyone thinks it’s a pushover because it’s a ladies’ course, but it’s nice and tight and interesting. To score around here, you have to keep your thinking cap on.”
The Ladies’ Golf Academy is one of the largest women’s golf schools in Ontario with programs designed for non-member beginners through to competitive players. The team of five full-time golf professionals, all knowledgeable in understanding a woman’s game, are led by the club’s female head teaching professional, Jaime Steedman. “The sport has historically had an intimidation factor for women and hasn’t always been the most welcoming to beginners. That is precisely what makes Ladies’ different. It is THE premier place for women to learn the game of golf,” says Steedman. A popular Winter Golf Academy now runs from mid-December through mid-April for both members and non-members.
Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto has many notable highlights. Amongst several honorary members are Gayle Borthwick, Sandra Post, Marlene Streit, and Ladies’ now-retired head professional for 33 years Mary Jane Hall, the first female head golf professional in Ontario. Member Elizabeth Tong, who began playing as a junior member in 2003, earned a golf scholarship, turned professional in 2015, and was recognized by Golf Canada as #2 on the National Order of Merit for 2015. Ladies’ is also proud of its head chef Anthony Martelli who was invited three years in a row (2012-14) to The Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta Georgia as a celebrity chef. And just this past summer, Ladies’ proudly achieved designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, one of only 910 golf courses worldwide.
Ladies’ is indeed a very special place. And specialness comes in many forms. In addition to the golf activities, Ladies’ has a beautiful clubhouse that has been maintained in the original style of the 1920s estate home where one can have a casual lunch or barbecue, post-game refreshment or elegant dinner while enjoying a view of the 18th green and the beautifully maintained gardens. The Club is also special for its unconditional welcoming environment to ladies of all ages – including those beginning their ‘Second Act’ (a transition point in their lives when they are looking for something more), and those ‘Third Act’ ladies who join the club at age 80! Members can also expand their horizons through numerous “clubs within a club” – wine club, book club, bridge club and speaker events – adding to its specialness.
Visitors and guests are always welcome at Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto primarily as guests of Members and of Guest Card Holders. International guests are welcome as reciprocal members of their home clubs and if interested in experiencing Ladies’, should have their Head Professional contact Paddy Kelly, Head Professional at Ladies’ Golf Club, to arrange playing privileges.
Lynn McGregor, Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto
* “The Ladies’ 1924-1999 A History of the Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto” by Tim O’Connor, 1999).
Featured Photo Credit: Member/Photographer, Margaret Auld.