Thursday, November 11, 2010

ScoreGolf Top 100 Courses in Canada 2010


ScoreGolf recently released their bi-annual ranking of the top 100 golf courses in Canada. Well, they released it in the late summer but I'm just getting to it now!

It has become such a popular issue that the editors of Score decided to market it as a "special edition", making it only available on newsstands as opposed to their normal strategy of sending it out gratis to public and private golf clubs for mass consumption.

No matter, as I love the issue and the inevitable controversy it generates so I picked up a copy recently at my local Chapters. As usual, there are some major surprises on the list along with some rather shocking moves compared to the 2008 list.

First, let's look at the top five courses in Canada:

1. The National Golf Club of Canada, G. Fazio/T. Fazio, 1975
2. Hamilton Golf & Country Club (West/South), H.S. Colt, 1914
3. St. Georges Golf & Country Club, S. Thompson, 1928
4. Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course, S. Thompson, 1925
5. Banff Springs Golf Course, S. Thompson, 1928

Not much change in the top five, as expected, with Jasper moving up one slot from 2008, Banff leaping up from 11th while Highlands Links in Nova Scotia drops from 4th to 6th.

It's pretty hard for me to comment on courses I haven't played so I'm going to go through all of the courses I've played on the list and make a couple comments on each and where they stand.

I had played 26 of the top 100 on the 2008 list and I'm happy to report that there are five new editions to the 2010 list that I've played, with none of the previous 26 falling out of the new top 100. So as of today, I've played 31 of the top 100 courses in the country.

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

#2. Hamilton G&CC (West/South), Hamilton, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1914 (2008 Ranking: #2)

A course I finally had the chance to play earlier this year and certainly one of the best courses in the world. Ancaster is blessed with incredible topography, a wonderful Colt routing and some of the best par threes in the land. Usually battles with the National and St. George's for top spot on this list.

#8 Beacon Hall GC, Aurora, ON, Robert Cupp & Thomas McBroom, 1988 (2008 Ranking: #6)

Beacon Hall falls a couple spots and I'd say it's still slightly overrated, likely deserving a spot in the 10-20 region of courses. A splendid test of golf with a jarring difference in character between the parkland-styled front nine and the faux-links back nine.

#9 Muskoka Bay Club, Gravenhurst, ON, Doug Carrick, 2006 (2008 Ranking: #26)

Easily the most shocking jump on the 2010 list is made by four year old Muskoka Bay, my favourite course in Muskoka but nowhere near deserving of such lofty status on this list. I find it hard to believe that the architecture at MB is better than places like Devil's Paintbrush, Crowbush Cove, Shaughnessy, Westmount and Toronto GC. Again, I loved Muskoka Bay but you can expect it to fall back into the teens in 2012.

#14 Westmount G&CC, Kitchener, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1931 (2008 Ranking: #17)

A nice little jump for one of my favourite courses in Canada. Just a treat to play with great variety in the holes and wonderful topography throughout. I think the Canadian Open could be played here and offer a great test as a par 71 or 70. 14th seems like a good spot for Westmount and I can see it even moving up a couple more slots in years to come.

#16 Tobiano, Kamloops, BC, Thomas McBroom, 2007 (2008 Ranking: Unranked)

I can't say I'm surprised that Tobiano is ranked so highly right out of the gates but I am disappointed that it sits higher than Sagebrush, another new gem of a course on the interior in British Columbia. 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. The vistas are spectacular and almost without peer in Canada but the architecture, while strong, may not be worthy of placement within the top 20 in the country.


#17 Devil's Pulpit, Caledon, ON, Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, 1990 (2008 Ranking: #22)

The Pulpit has aged gracefully and actually jumped five places in this year's ranking. Always known more for its difficulty, I can vouch for the strong strategic elements in the design. Even though I haven't yet played the Paintbrush, the Pulpit's younger sister, I think I can easily say that this is part of the best two-course complex in Canada.

#18 Oviinbyrd, Foot's Bay, ON, Thomas McBroom, 2005 (2008 Ranking: #29)

Oviinbyrd may be one of the most exclusive courses in the country along with places like Redtail. It is likely my favourite McBroom design and I feel it is just as strong as Muskoka Bay for the top spot in Ontario's cottage country. Very subtle but strong design with a great caddy program.

#22 Eagles Nest, Maple, ON, Doug Carrick, 2004 (2008 Ranking: #23)

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 where it should be.

#23 Taboo, Gravenhurst, ON, Ron Garl, 2002 (2008 Ranking: #18)

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. That all said, Taboo is a course worth seeking out if in the Muskoka region.

#24 Bigwin Island GC, Lake of Bays, ON, Doug Carrick, 2001 (2008 Ranking: #21)

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.

#26 Royal Colwood GC, Victoria, BC, A.V. Macan, 1913 (2008 Ranking: #16)

I felt Colwood was overrated as the 16th best course in Canada when I played it in 2009 and it's now fallen ten spots in the 2010 rankings, a spot that is just about right. It's a gorgeous walk in the park, with 100 foot trees lining all the fairways but there are some very vanilla holes, especially at the start of the round. This course could benefit greatly from a restoration project, one that is in the works from what I've heard.

#28 Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club, Quilchena, BC, Rod Whitman, Armen Suny & Richard Zokol, 2008 (2008 Ranking: Unranked)

I'm sure all my readers are aware of my love for Sagebrush so it's kind of hard to be objective about its placement on this list. That said, it's my blog so you'll just have to deal with it! 28th isn't a bad spot right out of the gates for Sagebrush but this is simply a much better golf course than Tobiano. Firm, fast and the most fun you can have with jean shorts on (Dick Zokol's occasional choice of attire), I strongly believe that Sagebrush will move up towards the top ten when the list comes out again in 2012. It might not be the 'best' course in the country but it is unquestionably my favourite.

#29 Glen Abbey GC, Oakville, ON, Jack Nicklaus, 1976 (2008 Ranking: #19)

Perhaps the most famous course in Canada due to the fact it has hosted the Canadian Open an astonishing 25 times in its 34 year existence. Glen Abbey continues its free-fall on this list, now down to a very appropriate spot just inside the top 30. 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. Shoot me for saying it but I always enjoy my yearly (scramble) round at the Abbey.

#39 Osprey Valley - Heathlands, Alton, ON, Doug Carrick, 1992 (2008 Ranking: #36)

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.

#46 Brantford G&CC, Brantford, ON, Stanley Thompson, Nicol Thompson & George Cumming, 1906 (2008 Ranking: #41)

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 and slightly underrated on this list.

#48 Deerhurst Resort - Highlands Course, Huntsville, ON, Robert Cupp and Thomas McBroom, 1990 (2008 Ranking: #50)

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 but suffers somewhat with the strange foray into links golf for three holes on the front nine. Maybe this is part of the Cupp/McBroom stock template after seeing something similar at Beacon Hall. Still, a lovely course and in a pretty reasonable spot on the list.

#49 Scarboro G&CC, Scarborough, ON, A.W. Tillinghast, 1924 (2008 Ranking: #53)

The only Tillinghast golf course in Canada, Scarboro has 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. 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. Even at #49, Scarboro is drastically underrated and is in my mind worthy of a spot inside the top 30.

#51 Rosedale G&CC, Toronto, ON, Donald Ross, 1893 (2008 Ranking: #54)

Uber-elite, old-school country club in the middle of Toronto. A pretty sporty course from my recollection and ranked about where it should be.

#60 Bear Mountain - Mountain Course, Victoria, BC, Jack Nicklaus & Steve Nicklaus, 2005 (2008 Ranking: #62)

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. In fact, it might be blasphemous for me to say but I liked the golf course better than Royal Colwood! Admittedly, I played the Mountain on a rainy day with literally no one on the course so the round went by much quicker than it normally would but 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 new Valley Course is getting great publicity as well.

#64 St. Thomas G&CC, Union, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2008 Ranking: #52)

I've still yet to finish a round at St. Thomas, getting thwarted twice two years in a row due to heavy rains. We got seven holes in last time and I'm dying to play the entire course after seeing the quality of the architecture in my brief glimpse. By all accounts, St. Thomas is one of the most underrated golf courses in this country.

#65 Heron Point GC, Alberton, ON, Thomas McBroom, 1992 (2008 Ranking: #73)

One of Harris' favourite golf courses, Heron Point is a real tough test of golf with a particularly difficult finisher over a large man-made lake. Not particularly memorable and a tad overrated but still a solid design.

#67 Angus Glen - South Course, Markham, ON, Doug Carrick, 1995 (2008 Ranking: #69)

Perhaps the most popular 'corporate' golf course in Ontario, Angus Glen is home to two courses with the original South Course still the most decorated and architecturally significant. Carrick's customary wide fairways and undulating greens are definitely prevalent here and I'd say that the course is ranked appropriately.

#69 Osprey Valley - Hoot, Alton, ON, Doug Carrick, 2001 (2008 Ranking: #77)

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 is a very worthy of its standing inside the top 75.

#70 Deer Ridge GC, Kitchener, ON, Thomas McBroom, 1990 (2008 Ranking: #57)

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.

#76 Wooden Sticks, Uxbridge, ON, Ron Garl, 2000 (2008 Ranking: #61)

Wooden Sticks is, at heart, a replica course with a few original Garl holes sprinkled in. While most will come for the opportunity to play replicas of the 17th at Sawgrass (shown above) or perhaps the Road Hole at St. Andrews, the interesting thing is that the Garl originals may be the best on the course. Lots of fun to play but it is what it is - more of a gimmick than a cohesive design.

#88 Lookout Point CC, Fonthill, ON, Walter Travis, 1922 (2008 Ranking: #86)

The only Niagara Region golf course to make this list, Lookout Point sits on incredibly dramatic land right on the Niagara Escarpment. Devilish putting surfaces abound and this golf course is criminally underrated - more blasphemy coming from a St. Catharines GCC member but this is the must-play design in Niagara and should likely be rated about 30 spots higher.

#89 Thornhill G&CC, Thornhill, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2008 Ranking: #94)

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 Burlington G&CC, Burlington, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2008 Ranking: Unranked)

Burlington was notable for its absence on the ScoreGolf list for many years, something that has finally been rectified in 2010. A real pleasant course to play, a bit short but with lots of character and some quirk as well. Definite top-100 material.

#95 Tarandowah Golfers Club, Avon, ON, Martin Hawtree, 2008 (2008 Ranking: Unranked)

Tarandowah is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, stuck between Woodstock and St. Thomas in the middle of farm country. It is out of the way but perhaps the best value in Ontario. Hawtree's first Canadian golf course, this links-styled course has some passionate supporters, most notably Robert Thompson, the highly-esteemed Canadian golf writer. I was only able to play a partial round at Tarandowah due to an oncoming tornado (!) but I enjoyed the time I spent there and hope to return someday.

#96 King's Forest GC, Hamilton, ON, Matt Broman, 1974 (2008 Ranking: Unranked)

Seeing King's Forest make the top 100 was a very pleasant surprise, as it's the first municipally-run golf course to make the list in the 22 years ScoreGolf has been doing rankings. Sitting on spectacular rolling topography with towering trees throughout, King's Forest is a very tough test of golf and definitely worth seeking out if you're in the Hamilton area.

#100 The Club at Bond Head - South Course, Bond Head, ON, Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry & Jason Straka, 2005 (2008 Ranking: #99)

Solid course on interesting land but largely unremarkable overall. It's tough to get to and I'm frankly surprised it's still on the list.

To be honest, there's likely not enough spectacular golf in our country to warrant a top 100 list but it's still fun to debate these compilations. I can't really think of any courses that deserve inclusion on this list that aren't there so the panel is doing a pretty decent job in my opinion. Admittedly, the majority of my golf has been played in Ontario so I'm not exactly an expert on courses outside my home province but I'm certainly travelling much more frequently these days and hope one day to see as many of the great courses of Canada as I can.

Hey, if ScoreGolf is ever looking for another panelist, I just want to say that I'm ready to go to work!

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