Doug Breen, Vice President, Chief Agronomist
In 1998, GolfNorth purchased Orangeville Golf Club – an understated nine-hole golf course, just south of The Town of Orangeville, in the once thriving hamlet of Melville. It’s a classic parkland style course, with enough history for 10 properties.
In the late 1800’s, Melville was expected to become a serious urban centre. There were two competing railroads running through the village, along with several mills downstream from a high-volume dam on the Credit River. But as often happened with these things – when the Railroad decided to build their station in Orangeville (as opposed to what is now the 5th fairway) – one town exploded, while the other sank into obscurity.
Ironically, it was that same solitude, which allowed a far more interesting story to unfold. Vaudeville superstar Arthur Huston purchased the property, named it “River Holme”, and used it as a summer retreat for his family and friends. Since the Huston family were Hollywood royalty; their list of friends was impressive. Bob Hope would hop off the train for a visit. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton rented a cottage on the property. There is a picture in the Orangeville Clubhouse of Bing Crosby playing hole #7 while smoking his trademark pipe. There is a photo of Angelica Huston standing in River Holme, holding her academy award beside her father John, Grandfather Arthur and Uncle Walter (who won academy awards as well). In 1935, Arthur built the nine-hole golf course ‘as a lark’ and opened it up to the public that spring.
Conn Smythe, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs (who also owned nearby Caledon Sand and Gravel), was a member of the course for many years. When golf carts were invented, he was so eager to have one, that he offered to pave cart paths on the property, just so the owners would allow him to use one. To this day, the trophy for the Men’s Net Championship bears his name – it’s the lesser known Conn Smythe Trophy.
In 1958, the course was sold to a group of local business leaders, one of whom had his own plane. Once, as a result of an alcohol fueled bet, he landed that plane on the first fairway. When some said that he hadn’t really done it – he did it again – this time landing hard and cracking a wing. The FAA arrived before he could get it repaired and back into the air.
There’s also a lot of history on the golf course itself. For those interested in golf and landscape design, there are green sites that are nearly 100 years old, former cedar hedges which are now forty feet high, and the remnants of formal gardens left over from the days of I.O.D.E. picnics and Hollywood garden parties.
One unique feature; are the remains of two ‘penal’ or ‘hero carry’ bunkers on #6. It was common in the early 1900’s to make a short par 4 more difficult, by placing one or more sand traps across the fairway, perpendicular to the hole. A player would have to choose between laying up, or to be a hero and carry it. Subsequent redesigns of the hole have obscured most of this old-style hazard, but parts of two of them are clearly visible in front of the 6th green.
# 8 is a fantastic par 3, with dramatic views from the elevated tee deck, and #9 is a tricky par 4 which has destroyed many a good score, but my favourite hole at Orangeville is #5. It’s a dogleg right, with a tree line on the left, and the old mill pond on the right. The fairway slopes hard toward the water. The tee is perched on top of an old rail line, and each golfer is forced to decide how much mill pond they’re willing to bite off. The hole is relatively short, but the tiny green is tucked away on the side of the hill. The more of the mill pond you bite off, the better the angle for the second shot to the green. Playing too conservative off the tee, results in a nearly impossible blind shot. Putting is a challenge, because like all greens perched on a hillside, optical illusions make it difficult to get a read.
Orangeville Golf Club is a walk through the past. It has a truly unique human history, but the golf course is a great example of course design from the early part of the twentieth century and the golden age of Hollywood. If a nine-hole round doesn’t seem like enough to drive up to the Caledon Hills, why not pair it up with Calerin Golf Club and make a day of it? There’s lots to see and do in the villages of Alton, Belfountain, or Erin – all of which lie between the courses. There’s also a tourist train which goes through the golf course and on to the Forks of the Credit River Provincial Park. Last (and most important), the back bacon on a bun in the clubhouse, is not to be missed.
I like to think that the ghost of Arthur Huston is pleased with what he created in the Credit Valley. The locals say that on a clear night, you can still hear the singing and dancing of the Hollywood elite who used to hideout here.