When it comes to golf, there are few places that can compare to the sheer amount of courses on offer than the London region. Searching for golf in London can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed – there are in truth too many options on display to be able to easily sort through them all. The locals all have their own favourites, as do those who grew up here and have since moved away. When my brother came down to visit he brought his clubs, stating that there were a few courses that he’d always wanted the chance to play but hadn’t ever gotten to. Among these courses were the ones that all the locals eventually get around to mentioning on their stories of golf carts and conquests: places like Echo Valley, Sunningdale, and West Haven. We decided to give West Haven a shot since the course always came up in the conversations we would have growing up with our father, grandfather, and uncle; our grandfather, especially, was a regular at both Echo Valley and Nilestown but had played West Haven as a guest with a member before and had nothing but good things to say. You have to be a member to play, of course (or, crucially, the guest of a member) but we luckily happened to know a member and decided to find out if we could twist his rubber arm and get a round of eighteen holes accomplished. Asking him if he wants to play a round of golf in the summer, as it turns out, is like asking him if he wants to breathe. West Haven Golf Course is located on the north-western side of London, on the edge of the neighbourhood of Hyde Park, between Hyde Park and the little village of Melrose. Hyde Park was, when my brother and I were young, a little village on the outskirts of London, a collection of a few houses and some rustic retail shops surrounded by the endless expanses of farmer’s fields that characterized life outside of the city in those days. Now, it’s a vibrant, growing part of the city of London itself, a neighbourhood of gorgeous new housing subdivisions and sprawling big-box retail complexes and all the restaurants, both chain and independent, that you could ever ask from one neighbourhood. On the western edge of the neighbourhood lies West Haven, on a rambling, stunningly beautiful expanse of greenery that is maintained to exacting professional standards.
The first impression one gets of West Haven as they drive up, park, and head into the club house is that West Haven is a well-built, well-maintained, classical type of course, where the staff and facilities are equally at home in hosting formal events as they are in hosting lineups of casual and executive golfers. Walking into the clubhouse has a strange feeling, akin to walking into a church. This isn’t necessarily because West Haven is some sacred golf destination like St. Andrews, of course; it has more to do with the fact that the Great Room of the West Haven club house features a gigantic vaulted ceiling, much like the main part of a cathedral and that the feeling that both evoke is that you are a small part of the greater whole that is the experience, be it religion or golfing. It’s an airy feeling and it gives the whole club house a feeling of class and sophistication over and above many other courses. Everything in that vaulted Great Room focuses on a classically built flagstone fireplace, a behemoth of elegance that lends its grace well to the rest of the room. It’s the sort of clubhouse where you can imagine holding a non-golf related banquet, or a wedding. In fact, there was a wedding there at the time. It was a sweltering weekend, the kind of summer day in Ontario where I can honestly phone up friends in Tupelo, Mississippi and tell them that it’s actually hotter here than there. The bride was resplendent, the white of her dress seeming to shimmer in the searing heat. The West Haven club house also features sizeable patios and a big deck, all of which were being put to good use despite the soaring humidex of the day. The staff on hand at West Haven are consummate professionals for any situation that presents itself at the course, and they are especially good at turning their golfing-oriented club house into a dream wedding venue. The view helps, of course. The view on the way into the club house is carefully manicured, with expertly placed stands of mature trees and professionally maintained gardens that mark West Haven out as a place of exceptional class. Inside, the windows of the club house look out onto a sweeping expanse of the course, juxtaposing the carefully wrested structure of the golf course with the wilder, rougher parts that lie between the fairways. It’s an amazing viewpoint and one that complements any sort of formal occasion that is taking place inside the club house proper. For such formal occasions, the club house can hold a maximum of 160 people, perfect for any type of mid-sized wedding. The staff isn’t just for simple serving, either; the West Haven team can handle nearly all of the planning and coordination that goes into putting together the best wedding possible. The staff can handle decorations, planning out seating arrangements, set up and display of wedding flowers, sound and lighting, and can even provide entertainment if required. They also provide full-service catering, including both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Their catering service extends to specified menu design as well; their catering staff will work with you to provide the exact special menu you request, regardless of what sort of meal plan is necessary for your wedding. Nearly every aspect of your wedding can be accounted for. Of course, one of the problems inherent in weddings is that inevitably either the bride or the groom will start getting the “wedding jitters”; that is, they’ll start getting nervous and need counselling before they can go through with the most important moment of their lives. While the staff on hand at West Haven isn’t licensed to provide that kind of counselling, that’s what the golf course is for. Once you start swinging a driver it’s hard to freak out about anything else that isn’t the fact that you sliced your ball into the rough and you now have to try to figure out how to best angle the next shot to make it to the green in two.
On that note, of course, it bears stating that the main attraction at West Haven Golf Course is, in fact, the golf. This is the key measure of any golf course, after all, and in this respect West Haven certainly does not disappoint. It presents a stellar balance between giving experienced players a challenge and giving a lift up to players who are just starting out with regard to their level of play. The course starts off in exciting fashion, with a dog-leg fairway that hooks to the right and lays a series of sand traps on the left-hand approach to the green. Trying to overpower those bunkers with a one wood is a terrible idea, as it turns out, since there are also nasty bunkers on the other side of the green that will take some decent skill with the sand iron to chip out of. Once you’re through that, the second hole kicks it up a notch. If you have a slice in your shot you’re definitely going to want to cure it before taking on this hole, because there’s a bunker so deep on the right side of the fairway you’d think you’d actually spent the afternoon taking the family to the beach. Luckily I have a shot that stays more or less where I’d like it to go. My brother, as well, thankfully has a bit of a hook to his shot; instead of digging out the beach he spent some time kicking around the heavy rough on the left side of the fairway for his ball. There are three par 5’s on the course, and the second hole is one of them; you can easily run up the score by going to far to either side of the green, since there are bunkers guarding those areas. If you aren’t used to the particular approach on this hole I’d say you’re doing well to come out of it with a bogey. Luckily the pressure eases off a little on the third hole, a pretty straightforward par 3 where you can make up some ground on your score. The fourth is also easy enough to figure out, although if you’re like my brother and you have that hook you’re going to be taking your second shot through a heavy section of trees with no real indication of the exact position of the green. The fifth hole is also like this at first, until you get to the green and realize that chipping the ball to the wrong spot will leave your ball rolling severely straight off the green. It’s a tough one, a real challenge for an experienced golfer: you have to get your ball to the exact right spot below the hole, where there’s a flat area, and putt from there. Putting from anywhere else requires you to be able to read a green at a glance, which is a skill I for one have yet to acquire. I also apparently have yet to acquire the skills for the sixth hole, which requires a short game a little more advanced than mine; there is a little hill on the front left of the green and a plateau on the back that requires you to chip it just right in order to avoid three-putting the hole. If your driving game is on point, at least, the seventh hole shouldn’t be too bad; sure, you have to carry the ball nearly 200 yards over a water hazard but on the other hand you have to shoot it straight to avoid the rough. The eighth hole removes the water hazard but keeps the necessity of shooting it straight; having to play this hole more than a few times would be an effective inducement to cure any slice or hook your drive might be suffering from. Don’t worry, however, the ninth hole leaves little traps all over the place for you, including a hidden bunker that prevents you from making a useful approach from the right and several that make an approach from the left rather difficult as well. After a rest and a couple of discreet drinks in that gorgeous, expansive club house, the back half of the course feels a little easier, or at least more approachable. There is a more sedate pace to play here, right up until you get to the thirteenth hole, which is easily the most challenging hole of the entire eighteen. Your tee shot has to be dead on to avoid having to scrounge in the woods for the ball and your approach has to be just as careful, given the sheer amount of hidden bunkers near the fairway and bordering the green. It’s the sort of hole designed to run up the score, where getting par can feel like a major achievement. A close runner-up would be the seventeenth hole, a par 3 that feels much longer, the sort of par 3 where you need to make a fairway shot just to make it to the green without getting stuck in the sand. The course is challenging but fair; it’ll take all of your skills to make par but it never once feels like a frustrating experience. While membership is, again, a necessity to playing the course, the price is competitive with many other clubs in the region and if you plan on spending spring through fall golfing on a fairly regular basis then it’s well worth the outlay. The landscape of the club is expansive and breathtaking, the club house is easily one of the most comfortable and well-appointed in the province of Ontario, and even though you’ll never make par on the fifth without putting your time in, it’s still a worthy challenge for the experienced and a great learning situation for golfers looking to develop their skills.