Monday, August 13, 2012

ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2012

Every two years, ScoreGolf updates their ranking of the top 100 golf courses in Canada and the newest list was just released a couple weeks ago.

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 my thoughts on where they stand, the quality of the architecture and the overall experience playing at each one.

I had played 32 of the top 100 on the 2010 list and the new list sees three courses that I've played drop off the list while two have been added so the end result has me currently at 31 out of 100.

As I told a friend this weekend, I'm not at all interested in completing this list but 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.

Here are the courses I've played, with rank and the 2010 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 (2010 Ranking: #1)

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

I finally got the chance to play The National last summer 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 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.

#3. Hamilton G&CC (West/South), Hamilton, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1914 (2010 Ranking: #2)

Standing on the 10th Green in May 2010

Hamilton is coming off a great week of hosting the 2012 RBC Canadian Open and the course is generally considered the best on the Open rotation along with St. George's, which passes Hamilton into the #2 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.

#8 Beacon Hall GC, Aurora, ON, Robert Cupp & Thomas McBroom, 1988 (2010 Ranking: #8)

Beacon Hall maintains its position at #8 and 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.

#9 Muskoka Bay Club, Gravenhurst, ON, Doug Carrick, 2006 (2010 Ranking: #9)

Muskoka Bay and Oviinbyrd are my two choices for the best Muskoka has to offer but I'm still a bit surprised to see MB ranked this highly. I expected it to fall somewhere into the teens this year but it's holding strong for now.

#10 Tobiano, Kamloops, BC, Thomas McBroom, 2007 (2010 Ranking: #16)

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 and now makes a quick move into the top 10. The "wow" factor may supercede 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.

#11 The Club at Sagebrush, Quilchena, BC, Rod Whitman, Armen Suny & Richard Zokol, 2008 (2010 Ranking: #28)

The spectacular 9th green at Sagebrush

Sagebrush debuted on the list at #28 in 2010 and makes a huge jump up to #11 in 2012. I'm still surprised that Tobiano is ranked higher but I predict that won't be the case in 2014. If you are looking for firm, fast and fun golf in Canada, I can't think of another course besides Sagebrush and perhaps the newly opened Cabot Links that would qualify under all three criteria. It's no coincidence that both were designed by Rod Whitman! As I said in my 2010 report on the ScoreGolf list, Sagebrush may not be the 'best' course in the country but it is unquestionably my favourite.

#15 Westmount G&CC, Kitchener, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1931 (2010 Ranking: #14)

Great topography and stately trees are prevalent at Westmount

Westmount seems to have settled nicely in the middle teens on this list and it's 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.

#20 Devil's Pulpit, Caledon, ON, Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, 1990 (2010 Ranking: #17)

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.

#24 Oviinbyrd, Foot's Bay, ON, Thomas McBroom, 2005 (2010 Ranking: #18)

This very exclusive private club in Muskoka is among my favourite McBroom designs. Subtle, strategic and a treat to play.

#25 Predator Ridge - Ridge Course, Vernon, BC, Doug Carrick, 2010 (2010 Ranking: Not Ranked)

The captivating 6th hole on the Ridge Course

The Ridge Course at Predator Ridge makes a spectacular debut at #25 after opening in the summer of 2010. 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 Eagles Nest, Maple, ON, Doug Carrick, 2004 (2010 Ranking: #22)

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.

#28 Bigwin Island GC, Lake of Bays, ON, Doug Carrick, 2001 (2010 Ranking: #24)

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.

#31 Royal Colwood GC, Victoria, BC, A.V. Macan, 1913 (2010 Ranking: #26)

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 and now drops five more positions to #31. The club is in desperate need of a restoration, especially with the bunkers, in order to get back into the top 20 in the country.

#39 Osprey Valley - Heathlands, Alton, ON, Doug Carrick, 1992 (2010 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.

#41 Taboo, Gravenhurst, ON, Ron Garl, 2002 (2010 Ranking: #23)

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

Taboo suffered one of the biggest drops on this year's list, going from 23rd to 41st. That 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.

#43 Glen Abbey GC, Oakville, ON, Jack Nicklaus, 1976 (2010 Ranking: #29)

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 25 times in its 36 year existence and they will once again host the event in 2013. Glen Abbey continues its free-fall on this list, now down 43rd after being in the top 10 only 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.

#46 Rosedale G&CC, Toronto, ON, Donald Ross, 1893 (2010 Ranking: #51)

Uber-elite, old-school country club in the middle of Toronto. A pretty sporty course from my recollection and it has nudged up the list a little bit over the past four years.

#49 Bear Mountain - Mountain Course, Victoria, BC, Jack Nicklaus & Steve Nicklaus, 2005 (2010 Ranking: #60)

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 into the top 50 for the first time. 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.

#50 St. Thomas G&CC, Union, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2010 Ranking: #64)

St. Thomas makes a significant jump into the top 50 from 64th position. I finally played all 18 holes earlier this year and I must say the course is much quirkier than I imagined and I think repeat plays are necessary in order to understand the proper way to navigate each of the holes.

#57 Scarboro G&CC, Scarborough, ON, A.W. Tillinghast, 1924 (2010 Ranking: #49)

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

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. I still think Scarboro is criminally underrated and is worthy of a spot inside the top 30.

#58 Deerhurst Resort - Highlands Course, Huntsville, ON, Robert Cupp and Thomas McBroom, 1990 (2010 Ranking: #48)

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 for the first time in seven years just recently 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.

#61 Brantford G&CC, Brantford, ON, Stanley Thompson, Nicol Thompson & George Cumming, 1906 (2010 Ranking: #46)

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 despite falling 15 spots on the list.

#66 Heron Point GC, Alberton, ON, Thomas McBroom, 1992 (2010 Ranking: #65)

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.

#72 Osprey Valley - Hoot, Alton, ON, Doug Carrick, 2001 (2010 Ranking: #69)

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 very worthy of its standing inside the top 75.

#76 Angus Glen - South Course, Markham, ON, Doug Carrick, 1995 (2010 Ranking: #67)

The lovely par 3 12th on the South Course at Angus Glen

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.

#77 Cherry Hill Club, Ridgeway, ON, Walter Travis, 1922 (2010 Ranking: Not Ranked)

The diabolical 11th green at Cherry Hill

Cherry Hill jumps back into the top 100 in the country after an Ian Andrew-led restoration project. 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.

#84 Thornhill G&CC, Thornhill, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2010 Ranking: #89)

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.

#85 Lookout Point CC, Fonthill, ON, Walter Travis, 1922 (2010 Ranking: #88)

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 and while it did nudge up a few spots this year, it should likely be rated about 30 spots higher.

#87 Wooden Sticks, Uxbridge, ON, Ron Garl, 2000 (2010 Ranking: #76)

Does this look familiar?

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.

#90 Deer Ridge GC, Kitchener, ON, Thomas McBroom, 1990 (2010 Ranking: #70)

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. Critics obviously agree, as this course has fallen dramatically in the rankings, from #57 only four years ago to the 90th position on this year's list.

#100 Burlington G&CC, Burlington, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2010 Ranking: #90)

A real pleasant course to play, a bit short but with lots of character and some quirk as well. Definite top-100 material.

COURSES I'VE PLAYED THAT FELL OFF THE LIST
- Tarandowah Golfers Club, Avon, ON, Martin Hawtree, 2008 (2010 Ranking: #95)
- King's Forest GC, Hamilton, ON, Matt Broman, 1974 (2010 Ranking: #96)
- The Club at Bond Head - South Course, Bond Head, ON, Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry & Jason Straka, 2005 (2010 Ranking: #100)




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