The green of what will play as the par-4, 494-yard No. 3 hole of the RBC Canadian Open at Oakdale Golf and Country Club. Photos courtesy of Oakdale G&CC.
Click on Oakdale Golf & Country Club’s homepage. Immediately you notice — just below the sterling silver trophy inscribed with a who’s who of golf, from Nick Price and Tiger Woods to two-time defending champion Rory McIlroy —
a ticker counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the 2023 RBC Canadian Open. June 5-11, the lone Canadian date on the PGA Tour schedule will arrive at this private club in Toronto.
Catching up via Zoom with the club’s GCSAA Class A director of property management finds him relaxed, despite the fact the historic club soon will be hosting its inaugural PGA Tour event.
“It’s not as big as you might think it will be,” says Patrick Greenman, a 21-year association member, when asked about his nerves. “Sure, it is a baptism by fire since I arrived here only two years ago. But if you take a step back
and put it in perspective, in the grand scheme of things, we are still just maintaining a golf course.”
P.J. Ringenberger, competitions agronomist for the PGA Tour who visited Oakdale four times in the past two years in advance of the tournament, concurs. “All agronomists or supers at clubs strive to provide their members and guests with the best
product,” the GCSAA Class A superintendent and 28-year association member says. “When it comes to hosting a PGA Tour event, it’s just putting the icing on the cake for the players by enhancing the quality and the frequency of the
cut — mowing fairways every day or potentially twice a day, along with tees and approaches to get the surfaces as smooth as possible to hopefully hit all our targets from green speeds and firmness to moisture levels.
“I always joke that superintendents are like Keebler elves,” Ringenberger adds. “We are invisible … people just assume the golf course looks that good all the time.”
Despite its urban setting, Oakdale, until now, has been invisible to most in the golf community. That’s no surprise when you learn a one-time initiation fee costs well into six figures, making the club one of the most expensive to join in Canada.
The club was founded in 1926, with renowned Canadian golf course architect Stanley Thompson designing the original 18 holes. His disciple, Robbie Robinson, added nine holes in 1957. Today, the course features three distinct nines: the Thompson, the
Homenuik (the longest of the three nines named after the club’s longtime teaching professional Wilf Homenuik) and the Knudson, named in honor of eight-time PGA Tour winner George Knudson. Oakdale is the 37th course in the 117-year history of
the Canadian Open to host the tournament, the third oldest continuously run event on the PGA Tour.
Despite its setting in urban Toronto, Oakdale G&CC is a bit of an unknown since it is one of the most expensive Canadian clubs to join.
Rough and ready
Last fall, on Ringenberger’s suggestion, Greenman volunteered with the turf and maintenance team for the whole week at the PGA Tour’s CJ CUP, held at Congaree Golf Club in South Carolina. Over the course of seven days working on site, the
Canadian superintendent got a good feel for the daily agronomic preparation required to pull off a successful Tour event. In his previous role as assistant superintendent at The Raven Golf Club at Lora Bay in Collingwood, Ontario, Greenman also experienced
these increased expectations firsthand when The Raven hosted several professional events — the 2007 TELUS Skins Game and the Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic on the Nationwide Tour (now the Korn Ferry Tour).
Beyond his professional tournament experience, Greenman has learned how to prepare and maintain a high-end golf course by working for some of Canada’s top greenkeepers — first, as an assistant for 20 years under Mike Dermot, who retired in
2020 after a 43-year career at Oakdale G&CC. Later, Greenman spent a season-long mentorship at The Briars Golf Club with Paul White, before the 49-year GCSAA member retired and Greenman took over, staying at this Ontario resort property for another
When Dermot decided it was time to cut his last fairway, Greenman returned to Oakdale. Golf Canada and the PGA Tour only made it official that the course would host the 2023 tournament (and the 2026 event, the year of the club’s centennial) shortly
after Greenman arrived.
Patrick Greenman, Oakdale’s director of property management, took over at the storied course in 2020 when his former boss, Mike Dermot, retired.
“As soon as we knew we were hosting the event, the clock started ticking,” Greenman recalls. “It was hard at first because of COVID-19 just to get the PGA Tour reps on site. So, to get a head start, in the fall of 2021, we expedited
a couple of items on our master plan we knew would be on their list.”
Widening some fairways and narrowing others was part of that plan. “I already had a grassing plan before we learned the club was hosting the Canadian Open,” says Ian Andrew, the club’s consulting architect. “The fairway lines wiggle
back and forth. This was done in the 1990s for style to make everything look fancier, but I think it looks busy. I simplified the lines to give it an old-fashioned and more elegant look, so while they wandered, they did not meander.”
Drainage and irrigation were also to-do items the club tackled, upgrading a system that was past its prime. “We identified six low-lying areas on the tournament routing and installed larger headers to get water moving more efficiently,” Greenman
explains. “We also added multiple lateral lines on a few of these areas to collect smaller surface water.”
A more extensive drainage project is part of the master plan. Oakdale also upgraded its irrigation control system and satellites. “Now, with better control of our watering processes, we are fine-tuning our usage and saving water,” he adds.
“We are fortunate that we draw water out of an on-site reservoir filled by wells.”
On a regular watering cycle, the club waters at a deficit — meaning, the wells do not generate as much as the irrigation system uses, so being as efficient as possible is extremely important during dry times.
The routing for this month’s RBC Canadian Open will be a composite of Oakdale G&CC’s three nine-hole courses.
Greenman relies on a trio of veteran assistants — six-year GCSAA member Mark Wiebe, Mike Jackson and Kevin Bishop — to help maintain the 27-hole property, along with an in-season staff of 50. During the tournament, that number will nearly
double. Volunteers are expected to come from superintendents at nearby facilities and from students in the turfgrass management program at the University of Guelph. Oakdale is also fortunate to have Andrew as part of its extended team. The architect
previously worked with St. George’s Golf & Country Club, host of the 2022 RBC Canadian Open, so he is familiar with PGA Tour expectations.
Oakdale features bentgrass fairways and greens with some Poa annua in the putting surfaces. Like many older, tree-lined courses, thick rough is one of the best defenses against unusually low scores, so the club was instructed to let the grass outside
the fairway grow as soon as the course opened to get it nice and thick for the tournament. Gnarly rough between 4 and 6 inches puts a premium on players hitting fairways or paying the price. The early June date for the tournament helps in that regard.
“The good thing about the June date is that by the end of May, usually everything is pretty consistent with lots of growth, and the turf can handle any weather stresses,” Greenman says.
While it was a mild winter in southern Ontario, Greenman was still leery about what Mother Nature had in store for the club when discussing tournament prep in March, despite Wiarton Willie and Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions for an early spring
on Groundhog Day. “It’s a waiting game,” Greenman says. “When is the grass going to pop and start growing and be ready for play?”
Starting in 2017, Andrew worked with Oakdale to give the course a face-lift. The facility is in the final stages of this multimillion-dollar revitalization. The biggest project was a modernization and cleaning up of the bunkers on all 27 holes, which
had strayed from Thompson’s original design over the years and required a lot of maintenance. Andrew also worked to match the feel of the Knudson Nine (designed by Robinson) with the aesthetic of Thompson’s original 18 holes by removing
hundreds of artificial mounds.
Oakdale’s large footprint makes it a good fit for spectator engagement, which will include a pair of concerts.
Composing the composite
In planning of the Canadian Open, the two biggest challenges facing Greenman, Andrew and the PGA Tour were where to place the driving range and which of the 27 holes to use for the tournament routing to make sure the course was as difficult a test as
possible for the pros. A temporary range was built using the fairways of the first and sixth holes on the Thompson Nine. Originally, this pair of holes was part of the composite routing, so two additional holes were added instead. Having nine extra
holes proved advantageous to creating the optimal layout. The driving range solution works well because it does not require a lot of disruption to these holes. Tees were built on both fairways, but they were constructed with the membership in mind
to allow for an easy transition to regular play once the tournament ends.
“That was one of the bigger construction pieces,” Greenman says. “My mandate when we were building those areas was, ‘Let’s make them flat and presentable as tees, but not stand out as tees so the members can drive over them
and not really realize they are there.’ We did not want to build these tees for the event, tear them down and then rebuild them again when the tournament returns in 2026.”
In the development of the composite routing, consulting architect Andrew worked with the PGA Tour to help determine the best mix of holes for the pros. Initially, COVID-19 prevented a site visit, so Andrew sent drone shots of all holes with his recommendations.
The resulting 7,460-yard composite championship routing will give players a mix of holes from the Thompson Nine and the Homenuik Nine, along with the full Knudson Nine.
With 27 holes plus a lot of extra space on the property, Oakdale is also a great site to host the tournament when it comes to spectator engagement and on-site experiences that Golf Canada plans, like the RBCxMusic Concert Series on the Friday and Saturday
nights of the tournament. This year, seven-time Grammy winner Alanis Morissette will play on Saturday, with six-time-Grammy-winning Black Eyed Peas headlining Friday.
Oakdale’s greens on the Thompson and Homenuik Nines are small in stature. They are marked by false fronts, lots of undulations and severe slopes, allowing for a variety of daily pin placements to choose from. The other good news is that since the
RBC Canadian Open returns to the club in 2026, the team can make improvements based on feedback from players and the Tour following this year’s tournament.
“It’s exciting,” Greenman concludes. “As it gets closer and closer, my crew is starting to get worked up. If my experience is any indication, the reality of us hosting a PGA Tour event won’t truly sink in until they see the
course on TV. That’s when they will look in amazement and say, ‘I cut that fairway!’ or ‘I put that pin there!’ That’s what I can’t wait for.”
David McPherson is a freelance writer based in Waterloo, Ontario, and a frequent GCM contributor.