Monday, March 11, 2013

The National Golf Club of Canada

The National Golf Club of Canada
Woodbridge, Ontario, CANADA


7235 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 76.3/152
COURSE ARCHITECT: George Fazio and Tom Fazio (1975)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://nationalgolf.ca/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: June 21, 2011.
LOW SCORE: 88 (+17)

ACCOLADES -
- Golf Digest World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2016: #66
- Golf Digest Top 30 in Canada 2015: #2
- Golfweek Best Canadian Modern Courses 2015: #6
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014: #1
- Canadian Golf Magazine Top 100 in Canada 2015: #3


"If you can play four rounds in a row on The National at par or better, you can play The TOUR."
- George Knudson, iconic Canadian Touring Professional

The National, which opened in 1975, was designed by George Fazio and his nephew Tom, who was relatively unknown at the time but would eventually become one of the most famous architects in the modern era. The course has a well-deserved reputation as being one of the toughest tests of golf in the world. To prove the point, the course record score of 67 was shot by Lee Trevino in 1979 at the Canadian PGA Championship and astonishingly, that record still stands 34 years later, a testament to the difficulty of the course.

Through the years, the National has received near universal praise for its layout and design and currently sits at the top of ScoreGolf's list of top Canadian golf courses.

The course opens with a dogleg right par four and thankfully, it's a relatively gentle opener. The second is a longer hole but relatively straight forward as well but things start to get interesting on the 3rd, a mid-length dogleg right par four. The tee shot is relatively blind for the first-timer, with the green finally revealing itself once you crest the hill at the top of the fairway. The second shot is slightly downhill to a green flanked by bunkers on the right and water on the left.

The par five 4th hole will raise the blood pressure of even the most lucid player. At 600 yards, this is a true three shot hole for all but the longest hitters in the game and the drive itself demands supreme accuracy, as there are bunkers and large willow trees left of the tight fairway and a creek that runs down the entire right side. Even if you successfully find the short grass off the tee, a challenging layup lies ahead. The aforementioned creek winds its way across the fairway and over to the left side right around the natural landing area, forcing you to attempt a heroic carry to the other side or alternatively, laying well back. Even the third shot offers significant challenges, as the green sits elevated from the fairway and is surrounded on both sides by deep bunkers. A very unique and extremely difficult par five.

The excellent par three 5th is up next and that is followed by the 531 yard par five 6th, which offers a rare birdie opportunity for those that keep the ball in play off the tee.

The par four 7th is an outstanding par four. 460 yards and slightly uphill, the hole bends well to the left, with bunkers to the right and a native area and ravine to the left. The approach demands a mid to long iron or even a fairway metal and it's almost all carry over the ravine to an angled green that best accepts a draw. Great golf hole.

The 8th is another strong par three, with a mammoth bunker protecting the entire front portion of the green. Good luck to low-ball hitters here! The last hole on the outgoing nine is a mid-length par four that bends right to left, with the driving range coming into play off the tee on the right side.

The 10th is calendar material: a significantly downhill and pretty par three over water. Equally as beautiful is the par four 11th, which shows off the tremendous topography available to the Fazio's at the National. This stellar hole demands a draw off the right fairway bunker off the tee then follows up by asking for a fade approach over a depression area to an angled green protected by bunkers front right and back left.

The par five 12th is another interesting hole. At only 503 yards, it looks like a breather hole on the scorecard but diabolical challenges await, especially near the green. The tee shot is a tight one and there is a bunker ready to gobble up shots that run too far through the fairway. At the landing area, the hole shifts about 45 degrees to the left and you finally get a look at the sliver...and I mean sliver of a green. Perhaps Jack Nicklaus in his prime had the requisite high fade needed to hold a long iron or fairway metal to hit this green in two but not this writer! Even hitting a wedge third shot is a challenge, as the green is extremely narrow, angled from front left to back right and features a large ridge that runs right through the middle. I was really proud of my par here and I believe this is one of the toughest short par fives I've ever played.

The 13th is a pretty dogleg left par four, with a creek causing issues down the left side in the landing area off the tee while the 14th is a long but relatively routine par four that features one of the very few open-in-front greensites, allowing for a ground approach.

The 15th is yet another tough par three, this one measuring 221 yards from the back tees, with a large native area and deep bunkers all needing to be successfully navigated in order to hit the angled green. The 16th is a shorter par four that was being worked on when I visited in 2011 - I believe they were lengthening the hole and making it more difficult - perhaps that's the reason why I was able to make my only birdie of the day here!

The finish is enough to make anyone a bit queasy. The 17th is a true beast - 458 yards to a ridiculously tight landing area flanked on the left by trees and the right by a large holding pond. If you're somehow able to hit a straight ball here, something that elluded me, you still have a challenging uphill approach over bunkers to a very small green. A round killer!

That's followed by the difficult 18th, a 460 yard par four that starts from an elevated tee but requires a nerve-rattling drive over the same pond you were forced to avoid on the previous hole. The landing area is wide but looks like it's only ten yards wide from the tee, especially if you were driving it as crooked as I was on the day I played! From the fairway, the approach is straight uphill to a long and multi-tiered green flanked on both sides by deep bunkers.

The National is, quite simply, a ball-buster and perhaps the most difficult driving course I've ever played.

The fairways, for the most part, have enough width but the penalty for missing is almost always severe, whether it's a 1/2 stroke penalty for hitting a fairway bunker or a full shot penalty for hitting in a creek or pond. Even if you have your driver working, one could argue that the National is, at heart, a second shot golf course. Most of the holes feature challenging uphill approaches, many of them to well-bunkered and undulating greens.

The land at the National is superb and the Fazio's did a fine job of routing the golf course. The green to tee transfers are all reasonable and while the walk would be a challenge for many players, it's certainly doable. Conditioning is superb for the most part - I played after an aeration, so green speeds were down somewhat from the norm but the course itself played firm and fast, just how I like it.

This would really be an interesting course to hold a Canadian Open on but it likely won't happen anytime soon. The National is one of the very few courses left that has a male-only membership, something that's an absolute no-no for anyplace that would like to host a PGA Tour event. Despite its modest length, I'd bet the National would hold up quite well to the touring professionals.

To sum up, the National Golf Club of Canada ranks up there with the likes of Oakmont and Bethpage Black as being one of the toughest golf courses I've played. It's an unrelenting test and I wonder how much fun this course is for the bogey golfer - I played with three very strong players that day but I'd be interested to watch an average player try to navigate his/her way through the course. I wonder about playability a bit for the lesser player, with all of the demanding tee shots and approaches necessary and that's saying nothing about getting the ball into the hole, a daunting challenge for sure on the incredibly fast and undulating greens.

While it may be tough to love, the National GC of Canada is a course to be respected. As my 88 would attest, it certainly can be a humbling experience trying to score here but I'd love the opportunity to give it another shot when my game is in a better place.

The approach on the par four 1st hole

Looking back toward the fairway from behind the 1st green

The long par four 2nd hole

The approach into the 2nd

The large greenside bunker on the 2nd hole

The partially blind drive on the 3rd, with the green completely out of site from the tee

The lovely greensite for the 3rd hole

A look back toward the 3rd green from the 4th tee

Nerves of steel are required on the incredibly intimidating par five 4th hole

The par five 4th hole from the landing area off the tee

The layup at the 4th is no bargain: do you lay back in front of the creek or take the aggressive approach and challenge it to give a better opportunity for a wedge approach?

The very strong par three 5th hole

Greenside at the par three 5th

Tee shot on the par five 6th hole

The approach on the 6th

The very challenging dogleg left 7th hole, a long par four

A nervous approach awaits at the 7th

Tee shot on the par three 8th

The visually-striking downhill par three 10th hole

The National occupies a great piece of land and that is in evidence on the lovely par four 11th hole

The approach into the 11th hole

A daunting challenge awaits on the serpentine par five 12th hole

The uniquely shaped green at the par five 12th: angled, long and very narrow

Yet another challenging approach shot awaits on the 13th hole, a mid-length par four

Whereas the second shot on the 14th is open and inviting in front, a necessity on the 461 yard par four

The tee shot on the 221 yard par three 15th

The tee shot on the par four 16th, a hole that was being toughened up when I visited

The extremely intimidating tee shot on the long par four 17th, with trees left and water right

The uphill approach on 17

A lovely vista awaits on the elevated 18th tee but you have yet another teeth-clenching drive ahead!

A look at the 18th green from the approach area just left of the fairway



3 comments:

  1. I just looked at my old scorecard from my round and realized that I had an incredible EIGHT penalty strokes during my round!!!

    Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And I thought you said it had plenty of width ;)

    Once a year at National is about perfect for me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. playing the course for the first time in a couple of days. Great to see such a great review with great pics.

    ReplyDelete