(July 21, 2009) – The oldest national championship in golf and Jack Nicklaus’ first solo golf course design celebrate another reunion this week, when Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario, hosts the RBC Canadian Open.
Canada’s only PGA Tour stop, the Canadian Open, which started in 1904, is regarded as the most-established national championship, and no course has hosted more Canadian Opens than Glen Abbey. Opened in 1976, this Jack Nicklaus design has hosted 25 Opens and it is believed that only the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, with 27, has hosted more national opens.
Glen Abbey was designed in cooperation with the Royal Canadian Golf Association as a permanent home for the championship and it is considered one of the first courses designed with tournament play and gallery in mind. Jack’s goal was to create a challenging layout that provides vantage points for fans. Mounds and a clever routing continue to make the course one of the best in the world on which to watch a tournament.
“Glen Abbey was one of the first golf courses done with the spectator in mind,” Nicklaus said. “Actually, Glen Abbey might have been the second golf course done with the spectator in mind. Muirfield Village Golf Club was the first and it opened in 1974. Glen Abbey was ’76, but my first solo. Regardless, we did a wheel spoke design, where you had a central gallery, a halfway-out gallery and a following gallery where everybody could have a variety of ways to view the golf. It’s an idea that I came up with and it seemed to work.
“I thought Glen Abbey was, in theory, a very progressive golf course for that time. I think we as an organization worked very hard to come up with what we thought would work for that. That’s why we designed it so there was like these two- and three-hole spokes going back and forth, where people could fill the inner and the outer, or they could watch or walk the whole thing.”
A national open, and especially as the most accessible non-U.S. national open for American golfers, the event had a special status in the era before the professional tour system became dominant in golf. It was sometimes considered the third most prestigious tournament in the sport after The Open Championship and the U.S. Open. In 2000, Tiger Woods became the first man to win all three Opens in the same season since Lee Trevino in 1971.
Aside from Woods and Trevino, noted golfers who have won the tournament include: Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Bobby Locke, Arnold Palmer, Nick Price and Greg Norman. The Canadian Open is regarded as the most prestigious tournament never won by the great Jack Nicklaus, who was a seven-time runner-up, including three times at Glen Abbey.
“I did come close to winning there,” Nicklaus recalls. “There was 1984 when somebody removed the out-of-bounds stakes when (Greg) Norman won. If I remember correctly, Norman hit it over the green and out of bounds on 17, and they had removed the out-of-bounds stakes for some reason, so he got to play the ball and ended up getting back on the golf course and making a 5, or something like that, and won by a couple shots. But you have to give Greg credit. I believe he shot a 67 on Sunday to win it.”