Canadian architect Mingay recreating Hugh Alison’s style at York Downs

Canadian architect Mingay recreating Hugh Alison’s style at York Downs
By Adam Lawrence

Canadian designer Jeff Mingay has begun an extensive renovation at the York Downs club outside Toronto.

Founded in 1922, York Downsʼ original course was designed by British architect Hugh Alison, the long-time partner of Harry Colt, and, according to historic materials, was regarded as one of Canadaʼs best. In 1968, the club sold its property to the city of Toronto, and, three years later, moved to a new 27-hole facility in Unionville, designed by Geoffrey Cornish. Parts of the old Alison-designed course can still be seen in what is now Earl Bales Public Park.

In September 2011, York Downs requested proposals from three golf course architects for potential changes to three holes on the South nine that would accommodate the sale of a portion of the clubʼs property. Jeff Mingay was selected to lead this project.

Mingay satisfied club members that effective change could be made to the second, third and fourth holes on the South nine without compromising the quality of golf at York Downs and the property sale was completed. New greens will be constructed at the second and third holes, turning the former, a mid-length par four into a 320-yard affair. The short par five third will become a demanding, 470-yard par four, while new tees will be built at the fourth hole, converting it from another mid-length par four to a 535-yard par five.

Throughout the process of devising design changes on the South nine specific to accommodating this land sale, club directors and management were soon led to consider and deeply appreciate that more was required to ensure the long-term sustainability of York Downs as a premier golf course in the Greater Toronto Area. No significant improvements have been made to the golf course since 1996, when a new irrigation system was installed and a comprehensive bunker renovation project completed.

After working with Mingay for several months and listening to his preliminary evaluations of the course, the club decided to his Mingay's mandate, requesting an overall design concept for all 27-holes which will unify all necessary work and establish and preserve a consistent look and feel throughout the entire course.

“York Downs has a very interesting heritage,” said Mingay. “I'm trying to bring together this unique architectural history by jazzing up the Cornish foundation with an Alison style. I was fortunate to know Mr Cornish. He was a great man, and a very successful golf course designer. His golf courses are highly regarded for their practicality, but he wasn't revered as a superior stylist, like Hugh Alison. Taking this approach, I think we're going to create a lot more visual appeal at York Downs.”

Bunkers are the most visual features on a golf course. Along with the changes on the South nine, new bunker schemes and style will introduced at all 27 holes. Taking inspiration from Alison's general style of golf architecture, Mingay aims to create bunkers with a bold and natural appearance. A number of new forward tees will be installed as well, to create a more accommodating course for golfers who play from the forward markers. Mingay also plans to make significant changes around the many of the green surfaces on the course.

“Most of the greens at York Downs are elevated above the surrounding terrain,” he said. “But most of the greens are surround by mounds that are higher than the putting surfaces. This presents a really interesting opportunity. By removing the mounds, we’re going to create fall-off slopes that will be cut at fairway height. These short grass areas around the greens will enhance the diversity and interest of recovery play. And, aesthetically, the greens will then look like they’re perched on plateaus. This is more of an old-fashion classic look, consistent with Hugh Alison's work.”

Work began in September, and is scheduled to be complete next July.

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