Cataraqui Golf & Country Club: A Limestone City Classic
For more than ninety years the lakeside community of Kingston has looked to the Cataraqui Golf & Country Club as the pinnacle of golf facilities in their historic city. Founded in 1917, there have been plenty of changes at the golf course and in the clubhouse through the years but one thing remains; it has always been highly regarded by golfers, members, and guests alike.
Found on outer King Street just west of the village of Portsmouth, “Cat”, as it is known to locals, has long been regarded as one of the finest clubs in Eastern Ontario. Through the years it has hosted multiple amateur and professional championships and partly because of this it has earned the respect of many golfers.
In some sense the club is simply a continuation of the original Kingston Golf Club, founded in 1886 across town near the military camp at Barriefield. After the demise of that club, just after World War I, there was a need for a golf facility in one of Canada’s oldest cities.
This came in the form of Cataraqui.
Built on acreage marked by natural limestone ridges, the club had a simple start but quickly established itself as a place of great importance in the city set along Lake Ontario. Military and business leaders from the community shaped it early foundation and ushered it into a healthy existence.
The course itself came into its own with the arrival and renovation performed by Stanley Thompson in the early 1930’s. Thompson’s impact was profound in Canada and his influence on the shaping of Cataraqui is well chronicled by member John Smith. As a very active member with the Stanley Thompson Society he has documented the Thompson ties with the club.
The Thompson design endured and delighted for years but gradually it tired in some ways, which led to the 2003 project that the club undertook to restore the Thompson bunkering and usher in a period of renewal.
“The visual appeal on any Stanley Thompson course is so significant. Just seeing how striking the bunkers are, I think your enjoyment level just rises instantly,” says Cataraqui Chief Operating Officer Jay Gazeley. “Even though the members were playing on a course on beautiful property the bunker work took what was hidden a bit and really dressed it back up. Even the long-time members saw it invigorated again; with the big splashes of sand and the great tongues of the bunkers.”
Gazeley, also a CPGA Executive Professional, talks proudly about the transformation that has occurred in the last decade at the club. Also with a life-long history at Cataraqui, he brings with him a unique personal and professional perspective.
“We have always had a great course but the biggest thing over the last decade has been a pride of ownership by the members. Of how good the overall facility is and the investments we have been making to shepherd it into the future.”
Gazeley says that the investment has taken many forms, from new ways to perform maintenance in concert with the environment, updates to the golf course including irrigation, hole renovations, new forward tees for added enjoyment, and the bunker project – to the new clubhouse renovation that should be complete by the end of the year.
The club has a healthy membership that enjoys the core activities of curling (they have six sheets) and golf, while also having a strong calendar of social activities. The upstairs lounge is a busy place for lunch throughout the year. “We have a good mesh of club functions mixed with outside events, as we can accommodate them,” says Gazeley.
While curling is popular and clubhouse activities are a tradition, Jay says the focus for most people at Cataraqui is still the golf course.
Talented golfers, upon first arriving at the club, usually take notice of the length of the layout. At just over 6400 yards and playing to a par of 70, the standard reaction is to believe that the course can be mastered easily. A course record of 62 indicates that may be the case for some individuals, but it is the exception rather than the rule.
With maturity on its side Cataraqui has developed various defences to club wielding players. The ever present wind, mixed with plenty of trees and tilting lies test your ability round after round. Gazeley concurs. “Regardless of how many times you have played the hole or the shot, they continue to test your imagination as to how you need to play them.” This makes for a golf course that you can’t simply play from memory – from the 1st tee to the last putt on the 18th you have to pay attention to the shot at hand.”
He adds,” There are certainly some holes that jump out at you, particularly with their shot values. There are a number of tough tee shots and our par 3’s are always a test.”
Cataraqui is a testament to how a proper routing can really enhance a golf course. On a property of less than 150 acres the holes seem to explore every nuance of the land. Rarely do you find a hole void of an elevation change and the tumbling character also carries over to many of the putting surfaces.
The grades on the smallish putting greens force golfers to be wise on selecting an angle of approach – a common theme throughout the eighteen holes.
Their professional staff, lead by Head Professional Malcolm Trickey, will all tell you the same thing – to play Cataraqui you have to make some choices. You can hit driver off every tee but some days, depending on hole location or the wind, your better choice might be a long iron.
And when you hit into the green, it is often less about where you want to be and more about the potential trouble you have to avoid. Strategy is at a premium – likely a big factor in why this layout is timeless for everyone who plays it. And likely why so many fine amateurs and golf professionals have developed at the club.
Concludes Gazeley, “Our success has been in our history but we are planning for the future. We are proud of what we have been working on in the last number of years and with the clubhouse project we are excited about what we have had ahead of us.”
With a culture of excellence that has spanned more than 90 years, it is nice to see Cataraqui Golf & Country Club looking to extend that storied past with a few more chapters.