Monday, July 28, 2014

ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014

This past weekend, I received an email from ScoreGolf Magazine, notifying me of an update to their bi-annual ranking of the top 100 golf courses in Canada.

Click on this link to be redirected to ScoreGolf's website and the full list of 100 courses on the 2014 ranking.

Alternatively, for in-depth analysis from my friend Robert Thompson, click here to read his blog at Going for the Green. Robert can likely offer the best perspective out of anyone in the country, as he's played 99 of the 100 courses on the list, with the only course missing being Windermere GC in Edmonton, which hadn't been rated within the top 100 in quite some time, if ever at all. Seeing it now listed as the 50th best course in the country is one of the biggest shocks on this year's ranking.

I had played 33 of the top 100 on the 2012 list and the new list sees two courses that I've played drop off the list (Angus Glen - South Course and Wooden Sticks) while two others I've played have been added (Grand Niagara GC and Club at Bond Head - South Course), so the net result is the same.

While I have no interest at all in "completing" this list, or any others for that matter, I will say that if I find myself travelling to a certain part of the country, I'll always refer to the ScoreGolf ranking to look at the good golf options available in that neck of the woods.

Lists like this always generate discussion and controversy so I'm going to go through the courses I've played on the list and give some updated thoughts on where they stand, the quality of the architecture and the overall experience playing at each one. I did a similar recap in 2012 and it was well-received so I thought I'd refresh things a bit for the 2014 list.

Here are the courses I've played, with rank and the 2012 rank in parenthesis - if I've written about the course, I've included a link to my review as well:

#1 National Golf Club of Canada, Woodbridge, ON, George & Tom Fazio, 1975 (2012 Ranking: #1)

The National GC of Canada - beautiful...but tougher than Chinese arithmetic!

I have played The National only one time (summer 2011) and lets just say that if the fish in their ponds like Titleists, they likely had enough food from me alone to last until the winter! It's certainly in the running for the toughest course I've ever played and I think that's a noteworthy comment from someone who has played Oakmont, Shinnecock and Bethpage Black from the tips. It's a course to be respected and I hope to get the chance to play it again when my game is in better shape, as it's about as fun as a trip to the dentist when you're spraying your driver all over the place. In my opinion, the National is a top five course in the country but #1? Not for me.

#3. Hamilton G&CC (West/South), Hamilton, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1914 (2012 Ranking: #3)

Standing on the 10th Green in May 2010

Hamilton most recently hosted the RBC Canadian Open in 2012 and the course is generally considered the best on the Open rotation along with St. George's, which falls below Hamilton into the #5 slot on this year's list. Hamilton is wonderful and if the club ever decides to rework their bunkers and improve their grassing/cutting lines, there is no doubt in my mind that they can eventually move up into the #1 spot. It's an incredible routing and features exquisite terrain for golf.

#5. St. George's G&CC, Etobicoke, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #2)

Gorgeous St. George's G&CC (Photo courtesy of Clive Barber)

St. George's falling from #2 in 2012 to #5 this year is very curious, to say the least. This classic Thompson design lies on a superb piece of land and in my opinion is the best course in the country that I've played. Like Hamilton, St. George's saw many of their Poa greens die off during a brutal winter and the club has hired Tom Doak's Renaissance Golf to work with Ian Andrew in an effort not only to rebuild some of the greens but also to bring back a few of Thompson's green sites and strategic concepts lost over time, with the work being done on hole #3 being of particular interest.

#9 Beacon Hall GC, Aurora, ON, Robert Cupp & Thomas McBroom, 1988 (2012 Ranking: #8)

Beacon Hall falls a spot to #9 and like I said in 2012, I think it will eventually find a place somewhere in the 10-20 region of courses. A splendid test of golf and likely a potential Canadian Open site in the future with a significant difference in character between the parkland-styled front nine and the faux-links back nine.

#10 Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club, Quilchena, BC, Rod Whitman, Armen Suny & Richard Zokol, 2008 (2012 Ranking: #11)

The spectacular 9th green at Sagebrush

Sagebrush debuted on the list at #28 in 2010, made a huge jump up to #11 in 2012 and now reaches the bottom of the top ten in the country. I wrote in 2012 about my surprise that Tobiano (located just an hour north in Kamloops) was ranked higher than Sagebrush but my prediction that it wouldn't be the case in 2014 came true. If you are looking for firm, fast and fun golf in Canada, I can't think of another course besides Sagebrush and perhaps Cabot Links that would qualify under all three criteria. It's no coincidence that both were designed by Rod Whitman! I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sagebrush may not be the 'best' course in the country but it is unquestionably my favourite.

#12 Westmount G&CC, Kitchener, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1931 (2012 Ranking: #15)

Great topography and stately trees are prevalent at Westmount

Westmount moves up a few spots to #12 and seems to have settled nicely in the middle teens on this list, an appropriate spot for this wonderful old Thompson design. Great land and excellent variety dominate but they will have to be mindful of tree growth in the years to come.

#13 Tobiano, Kamloops, BC, Thomas McBroom, 2007 (2012 Ranking: #10)

Ripping one off the picturesque 14th after a brief storm

Tobiano had a spectacular debut on this list in 2010, coming in at #16 in the country, made a quick move into the top 10 in 2012 and now falls back a few spots to #13. The "wow" factor may supersede the architecture here but I admit both are very strong. Tobiano is an unrelenting test of golf and not much fun from the back tees but is considerably more fair from the middle tees, where forced carries aren't as significant.

#17 Devil's Paintbrush, Caledon East, ON, Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, 1992 (2012 Ranking: #14)

The huge double green on the 9th hole at Devil's Paintbrush

The Paintbrush also falls a few spots this year to #17 and I finally got the opportunity to play the course last year. I must admit that I was slightly disappointed in my first go-around at "the Brush", widely considered to be among the best modern courses in Canada. Playability was lacking in my mind on the day I played, as there is no intermediate cut - you go right from fairway to lush, thick, knee-high fescue and if you miss the fairway, you'll be lucky to advance the ball 30 yards...and that's if you're fortunate enough to find the ball! The fine architecture is quite apparent but needless to say, I would like another look at this course just to be sure my eyes didn't deceive me the first time.

#19 Muskoka Bay Club, Gravenhurst, ON, Doug Carrick, 2006 (2012 Ranking: #9)

Muskoka Bay and Oviinbyrd are my two choices for the best Muskoka has to offer but I was very surprised to see it land in the top 10 in the country in the past two ranking periods. I expected it to fall somewhere into the teens and it's done just that, falling ten spots to #19.

#21 Oviinbyrd, Foot's Bay, ON, Thomas McBroom, 2005 (2012 Ranking: #24)

This very exclusive private club in Muskoka is my favourite Tom McBroom design and I was lucky enough to visit for a second time just last week. Subtle, strategic and a treat to play, with a number of spectacular vistas and superb use of the rolling topography.

#22 Devil's Pulpit, Caledon, ON, Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, 1990 (2012 Ranking: #20)

The downhill par four 1st at Devil's Pulpit

The Pulpit continues to hold its own with Canada's best and while it may not be as good as the sister course at the facility, the Devil's Paintbrush, it is unquestionably a great design in its own right. Tough but strategic and one half of the best two-course complex in Canada.

#25 Predator Ridge - Ridge Course, Vernon, BC, Doug Carrick, 2010 (2012 Ranking: #25)

The captivating 6th hole on the Ridge Course

The Ridge Course at Predator Ridge made a spectacular debut at #25 in 2012 after opening in the summer of 2010 and it holds onto that position two years later. I was fortunate to play the course just before it opened to the general public and it has all of Carrick's trademarks, most importantly width off the tee. The Ridge compares quite favourably to Carrick's design at Bigwin Island and is a heck of a lot of fun to play.

#26 Royal Colwood GC, Victoria, BC, A.V. Macan, 1913 (2012 Ranking: #31)

A family of deer graze near the 9th green at Royal Colwood

Royal Colwood was actually ranked 16th in Canada when I played it in 2009 and I felt it was overrated at that position. It fell to 26th in the 2010 ratings, dropped five more spots to #31 in 2012 and now is back to 26th this year. The club was in desperate need of a restoration when I played the course five years ago, especially with the bunkers, if it's to get back into the top 20 in the country.

#29 Bigwin Island GC, Lake of Bays, ON, Doug Carrick, 2001 (2012 Ranking: #28)

The glorious vista on the 18th at Bigwin Island

The experience of playing golf at Bigwin Island has to rank right up there with British Columbia's Sagebrush and Ontario's Redtail as one of the most unique Canada has to offer. The course itself, a Doug Carrick design built over an old Stanley Thompson nine-holer that hosted many of Hollywood's elite in the 40's and 50's, is quite strong and definitely worthy of placement within the top 30 in the country.

#32 Eagles Nest, Maple, ON, Doug Carrick, 2004 (2012 Ranking: #26)

Eagles Nest is a testament to the vision of Doug Carrick and his team, as he moved a ton of earth to make this faux-links just outside of Toronto. Big and brawny with Carrick's trademark width off the tee, Eagles Nest is a lot of fun to play and is ranked right around where it should be.

#36 St. Thomas G&CC, Union, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #50)

St. Thomas continues to make significant moves within the top 100 list, going from 64th in 2010, to 50th in 2012 and now all the way up to 36th in the country. After a couple of false starts due to inclement weather, I finally played all 18 holes a couple of years ago and I must say the course is much quirkier than I imagined, with repeat plays being necessary in order to understand the proper way to navigate each of the holes. The club has been very aggressive in cutting down trees to open up playing corridors and allow sunlight to reach the turf to facilitate better growing conditions, a move that has been met with wide acclaim.

#43 Bear Mountain - Mountain Course, Victoria, BC, Jack Nicklaus & Steve Nicklaus, 2005 (2012 Ranking: #49)

Incredible vistas galore on the Mountain Course

Len Barrie spent a boatload of cash on his dream property on a mountain in Victoria and despite the Excess (with a capital 'E'), got a pretty solid golf course out of it in the Mountain Course. The course continues to rise in the rankings, moving up to 43rd after being 49th in 2012 and 60th in 2010. Other than the clich├ęd island green early on the back nine, I enjoyed most of the design quite a bit. Definitely a place to seek out if on Vancouver Island and the Valley Course at Bear Mountain is also well-regarded.

#51 Rosedale G&CC, Toronto, ON, Donald Ross, 1893 (2012 Ranking: #46)

Uber-elite, old-school country club in the middle of Toronto. A pretty sporty course from my recollection and after nudging up the list a little bit over the past four years, it falls five spots just outside the top fifty in 2014.

#52 Osprey Valley - Hoot, Alton, ON, Doug Carrick, 2001 (2012 Ranking: #72)

Doug Carrick's ode to Pine Valley? The strangely named 'Hoot' course at Osprey Valley is defined by sandy waste areas throughout the layout and offers a stark contrast to the parkland-style 'Toot' course and the aforementioned linksy 'Heathlands' course. I really enjoyed the Hoot course and it makes a HUGE jump in the ratings, moving up 20 spots from 2012 and it's now ahead of its older brother, the brawny Heathlands Course.

#53 Taboo, Gravenhurst, ON, Ron Garl, 2002 (2012 Ranking: #41)

The awesome uphill par three 7th through a tunnel of granite!

Taboo continues its free-fall on the ScoreGolf list, going from 23rd in 2010, to 41st in 2012 and now it's out of the top 50, settling in at 53rd. That all said, you'll be hard-pressed to find a course with as much visual stimulation as Taboo, with rock outcroppings from the Canadian Shield coming into play on almost every hole. The definition the granite provides is truly spectacular but repeated plays show some slight deficiencies and quirks in the design. The green fee is absolutely outrageous at almost $200.00 per round during high season.

#55 Glen Abbey GC, Oakville, ON, Jack Nicklaus, 1976 (2012 Ranking: #43)

The spectacular valley holes await once you reach the 11th tee

Perhaps the most famous course in Canada due to the fact it has hosted the Canadian Open an astonishing 26 times in its 38 year existence and they will once again host the event in 2015. Glen Abbey continues its free-fall on this list, now down to 55th after being in the top 10 a little over a decade ago. The generally inviting fairways are a favourite of the business golfers who make up the majority of the Abbey's clientele but tiny greens make the golf course challenging for every level of player. I've always enjoyed playing the course but I simply think it's overexposed and it's likely hurting, more than helping the course and its ranking.

#56 Osprey Valley - Heathlands, Alton, ON, Doug Carrick, 1992 (2012 Ranking: #39)

The pre-eminent "faux-links" in Canada, Carrick's first course at the 54 hole Osprey Valley Resort has offered inspiration for many other designs in this country. The off-course amenities are still lacking at Osprey almost 20 years after the Heathlands course opened but there is no debating that the quality of the golf is particularly strong. It suffers one of the more dramatic falls on this year's list and I'm not sure of the reason for the significant tumble.

#57 Brantford G&CC, Brantford, ON, Stanley Thompson, Nicol Thompson & George Cumming, 1906 (2012 Ranking: #61)

The classic architecture of Stanley Thompson at Brantford GCC

Things start slowly at Brantford, with a couple of vanilla holes out of the gates but things start getting interesting on the lovely par three 3rd hole. The wonderful topography reveals itself at last and the remaining holes are a delight to play and pack a heck of a lot of punch despite the lack of length. A treat to play.

#69 Scarboro G&CC, Scarborough, ON, A.W. Tillinghast, 1924 (2012 Ranking: #57)

The 18th green at Scarboro (Photo Courtesy of Clive Barber)

The only Tillinghast golf course in Canada, Scarboro had been shooting up this list over the past number of years, with a lot of the credit due to a recent Ian Andrew/Gil Hanse bunker restoration but now falls 12 spots on the 2012 list. The 18th hole is quirk personified, with a wild, blind tee shot over a major city street but that is the only oddity on this absolutely stunning golf course. The aforementioned bunker work is spectacular and this course truly is a treat to play. I am dumbfounded at the 12 spot fall and strongly feel Scarboro is criminally underrated and worthy of a spot inside the top 30.

#70 Deerhurst Resort - Highlands Course, Huntsville, ON, Robert Cupp and Thomas McBroom, 1990 (2012 Ranking: #58)

The elder stateswoman of top-level Muskoka golf. The Highlands Course at the Deerhurst Resort is still a fine test of golf twenty years after its opening. I visited the course again a couple of years ago and was very impressed once again by the variety of the design and the clever green complexes. It's also a heck of a bargain at twilight time. Highly recommended if you're in the area.

#73 Heron Point GC, Alberton, ON, Thomas McBroom, 1992 (2012 Ranking: #66)

Heron Point is a real tough test of golf with a particularly difficult finisher over a large man-made lake. Not particularly memorable and it continues to be a tad overrated but still a solid design.

#75 Deer Ridge GC, Kitchener, ON, Thomas McBroom, 1990 (2012 Ranking: #90)

Very private and immaculately conditioned golf course on the outskirts of Kitchener. Kind of similar in some respects to Heron Point in that the architecture is very sound but kind of bland - I think McBroom's work has been much more interesting as he's gotten older. That said, the course jumps up 15 spots on this year's list.

#83 Grand Niagara Golf Club, Niagara Falls, ON, Rees Jones, 2005 (2012 Ranking: Not Ranked)

The par 3 3rd at Grand Niagara GC

Grand Niagara makes its first ever appearance on ScoreGolf's list, debuting at 83rd in a bit of a shocker to me. The course is essentially in my backyard and while it's always in decent shape, it's just cookie-cutter golf to me, with a very bland Rees Jones design featuring a couple of neat holes in the woods on the back nine. The fact that it's rated higher than Lookout Point and Cherry Hill Club and now can call itself the best course in Niagara is absolute blasphemy.

#89 Thornhill G&CC, Thornhill, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #84)

A gem of a course that would likely sit higher on the list if not for the plethora of courses already ranked in Ontario. Quite short by modern standards, this course rolls up and down hills and features some tremendous green sites. A real treat and a great course to walk.

#90 Cherry Hill Club, Ridgeway, ON, Walter Travis, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #77)

The diabolical 11th green at Cherry Hill

Cherry Hill jumped back into the top 100 in the country in 2012 after an Ian Andrew-led restoration project but falls 13 spots to 90th on this year's list. I got to play Cherry Hill for the first time since that restoration and the results are sublime but I think it's a reach to place Cherry Hill higher than Lookout Point, which I still strongly believe is the best course in the Niagara Region.

#93 Lookout Point CC, Fonthill, ON, Walter Travis, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #85)

One of the most diabolical greens you'll ever see, the 18th at Lookout Point CC

Lookout Point sits on incredibly dramatic land right on the Niagara Escarpment and devilish putting surfaces abound. This golf course is criminally underrated - blasphemy coming from a St. Catharines GCC member but this is the must-play design in Niagara. It falls eight spots this year but in my mind, it should likely be rated about 30 spots higher. I just played the course yesterday and it continues to be an absolute delight.

#96 Club at Bond Head - South Course, Bond Head, ON, Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry & Jason Straka, 2005 (2012 Ranking: Not Ranked)

The Club at Bond Head's South Course makes a reappearance on the ScoreGolf list after debuting at #100 in 2010, then falling off the list in 2012. The South Course is on some dramatic land well north of Toronto and is the stronger of the two courses at the 36 hole complex.

#98 Burlington G&CC, Burlington, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #100)

A real pleasant course to play, a bit short but with lots of character and some quirk as well. Definite top-100 material. Like many of the old Toronto area courses, Burlington got hit hard by our harsh winter and had to do extensive work to their fairways and greens this spring to get things back into playing shape.


COURSES I'VE PLAYED THAT FELL OFF THE LIST
- Angus Glen GC - South Course, Markham, ON, Doug Carrick, 1995 (2012 Ranking: #76)
- Wooden Sticks, Uxbridge, ON, Ron Garl, 2000 (2012 Ranking: #87)