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Canada's great hidden gems: Riverside and Kawartha

Course review:

Riverside Golf and CC, Saskatoon, Sask.

Kawartha Golf and CC, Peterborough, Ont.

Hidden gems is such an overused term these days that it is almost meaningless. Except in the case of Canadian courses like Saskatoon’s Riverside and Peterborough’s Kawartha, two courses that are rarely discussed, but are both among the most interesting in all of Canada.

Given Riverside’s location, it is not surprising few discuss it. Saskatoon isn’t a place many think of when it comes to golf, though it is actually one of the most affordable and intriguing cities for the sport in all of the country. Dakota Dunes, the course developed by Wayne Carleton that won last year’s Best New award in Golf Digest is probably now the best known in the city; but the best course is Riverside by a wide margin.

Designed by Bill Kinnear nearly 100 years ago (does anyone know anything about Kinnear?), Riverside rests on a flowing piece of property alongside a dramatic river valley. From the start, the first hole demonstrates the intriguing features of the course. Fairways are rumpled and roll with the lay of the land and the green is sloped severely from back to front. The course isn’t particularly long — only 6,964 from the tips — but what it lacks in length it makes up for in character.

Among the best holes are the 3rd, a 417-yard best with a huge crevice in the fairway just prior to the green. Similarly, the ninth, with its blind approach to a green site that simply rests on the side of a hill, demonstrates just how natural a golf hole can be while also offering all the strategy and challenge one comes to expect from a modern course.

Kawartha, which was done at the height of the Depression, is one of Stanley Thompson’s overlooked masterpieces. Built as a resort-style coures, it has all the hallmarks of a Thompson gem — great fairway contours, interesting use of a hilly piece of property and fascinating green sites. Though it starts of sedately with a generous uphill par four, followed by an equally forgiving downhill four, the course shows its teeth during the long, nasty 223-yard uphill par three sixth, followed by the solid par five seventh and the terrific, and difficult, long par four ninth.

The back nine seems even more exceptional, as Thompson’s routing rides up the hill on the 10th to a dramatic perch for the downhill par five 11th.

If there’s a disappointment in Kawartha, it is the sameness in the long threes. Thompson was known for using one 200+ par three in most of his routings, but long threes seem to abound at Kawartha. All said, it is only a slight issue.

Both Riverside and Kawartha have been significantly altered over time. At Riverside, Wayne Carleton has reworked the 17th and 18th, opening up the drama of the river valley and creating one of the best finishes in Canadian golf. It has been heralded as an improvement by all who are familiar with the earlier routing. Similarly, after abuse at the hands of past architects like David Moote, Ian Andrew has restored the brilliance of Thompson’s bunkering and brought Kawartha to life, as he has with other gems like Weston and St. George’s.

Many courses will be discussed ahead of both Riverside and Kawartha, which is probably just how the members at each club like it. Certainly Riverside with its full membership, and Kawartha, which does 40,000 rounds annually, aren’t in need of more play. But both clubs could use some — and are deserving of — greater recognition.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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