Women rule at Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto

A course of their own


 

A lot of clubs have Ladies’ Day once a week. At The Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto (simply known as Ladies’), it’s Ladies Day every day, including those sacred Saturday-morning slots.

Here, women have been ruling ever since the club was founded in 1924 by Ada Mackenzie, a world-class golfer with a raft of titles, including four-time winner of the Canadian women’s amateur championship.

In those days, play opportunities for women were limited, so Mackenzie thought it was about time women got prime-time tee access. Her solution: build a women’s-only club. She hired legendary Canadian golf architect Stanley Thompson (of Banff Springs and Jasper Park fame) to design the layout and, in an ironic twist, Thompson posed as her husband to expedite the purchase of a 130-acre farm in Thornhill north of Toronto, a place pretty much in the middle of nowhere, where Mackenzie envisioned her golf course taking shape. Since then, civilization has grown in around it.

“To find this piece of property inside a city is unbelievable; it’s an oasis,” says Julian Cusworth, the club’s general manager.

Today, after 88 years of shameless discrimination, Ladies’ policy stands fast: No men are allowed to become members. Even though iconic Augusta National (home of The Masters), a stronghold of male testosterone for 80 years, finally buckled—admitting two women in 2012—Ladies’ has no plans whatsoever to admit anyone with a Y chromosome.

Still, men love to play here. It is after all, one of the best courses in the area. Winding through a rolling valley, the meticulously groomed course is punctuated by magnificent flower gardens, trees, ponds and creeks and there’s a bonus: three more holes. After finishing the 6th hole, you can go on to the 7th and complete 18 holes. Or you can cut to 7a, 8a, and 9a then back to the clubhouse for just nine.

Set under towering trees, evoking Augusta, an impressive white mansion with green trim, gracious verandahs, tile roof and garden room. The members of Ladies’ live well—their lounge occupies almost the entire second floor. But, unlike all-male bastions such as Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, Md., where women are not even allowed inside the clubhouse and there are no women’s restrooms, Ladies’ has a softer side. Men are allowed to play as guests of a member, or they can become a member-sponsored guest cardholder. Still, they can only play before 8 a.m. or after noon, plus there are other restrictions.

Want to park near the clubhouse? Tough luck. The main parking lots are reserved for members. Want to unwind in a comfy men’s lounge? Sorry, old boys. The men’s locker room is about the size of a breadbox and is tucked behind the pro shop. There’s no shoeshine guy, no fireplace, no bar. Want to warm up or practise chipping on that cool short-game range? No way. Guys have to wait until after 4 p.m. for the range, while the short-game facility is off-limits.

Forget your collared shirt? You’ll be lucky to find anything your size. The merchandise is female-oriented; the shop also contains dressing areas and washrooms.

And gentlemen, you are allowed in the clubhouse—but be sure to take those hats off, and tuck in your shirts when you come in. Where do you think you are, anyway?

Ever notice how on many courses the reds (or Jades or whatever) are around 4,900 yards, while the next tee back can be close to 6,000 yards? You know you’re not that good, that long or that stupid, but you would like to play the course a bit longer, say 5,400 yards.

Then some guy holding a clipboard, wearing a faded blue golf hat with a Lost Lobo logo, khaki shorts and a turquoise-and-gold Hawaiian print shirt, his belly hanging a couple of inches over his belt, says, “You’re up there,” pointing to a tee almost out of eyesight. But, hey, you have your pride, so you ignore him and move back, consequently struggling a bit as you play.

Ladies’ is another story. Here tees are sensibly spaced at 6,002-, 5,621- and 5,012-yard increments, and all are rated for women.

“At Ladies’, you won’t get much better” says Cusworth. “Women have control of the club and the budget while the head pro, Lianne Ritchie, designs lesson packages for women as well, as taking members on annual golfing trips to places like California, Arizona, France and Bermuda.”

The perfect formula? A great golf course, easy to get to with superb facilities and a place where the guys crave to play. 

Designing the perfect course for Ladies

Designer: Alice Dye, who knows a thing or two about ladies golf and designing courses.

Layout: Three loops of six, all returning to clubhouse allowing play of six, 12 or 18 holes.

Parking: Prime lots for members.

Management: Ladies rule.

Staff: In addition to regular staff, hire women pros, a manicurist, massage therapist, personal trainer and beverage-cart (buff) male driver.

At the turn: Sushi, salads, wraps, smoothies, mojitos, bloodies and margaritas; in cooler weather, Irish coffee with whipped cream.

Ladies restrooms: Strategically located and secured with a combo lock known only to members. Stock with tissues, lotions, mouthwash and female necessities. Always keep it meticulously cleaned.

19th Hole: Two menus: “Naughty” (grease) and “Nice” (healthy)

Men: We like them, but play is permitted only before 8 a.m. or after lunch, and must be with another member.

Tees: Three sets ranging from 4,800 yards to 6,000 yards rated for women, each with benches, flowers, yardage signs and ball-washers.

Locker rooms: Spacious, with comfortable sitting area; flat-screen TV; Lindt chocolates, Champagne, fruits and nuts and tea; large showers; shoe-cleaning service; outdoor veranda; and fitness room with sauna and steam room.

Pro Shop: Selling sharp ladies apparel along with bling, bags, things for kids and other accessories. Lots of sales.

Carts: Solar-powered with GPS, heated seats, club-cleaners, ice compartment, shoe storage and available in pastels except for one bright yellow one—that would be for the head of the women’s golf committee to use for the year.

Men’s rules

  • Cellphones left in car.
  • Required to play from the tee box designated for their handicap. This means the guy with the 30-plus would tee off from the forward tees—no grumbling allowed.
  • One stroke penalty for each unsolicited bit of advice.
  • Loss of hole or two strokes penalty for each crude expletive.
  • Must play out the hole and record full and proper score. No mulligans.
  • No carping or snivelling. Losers pay up

Ladies’ nitty gritty

420 full playing members; 110 social. Initiation: $16,000; dues $4,200. Opens third week of April; closes mid-November. Green fees $90; $36 cart rental

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