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Score and the Value of Public Golf; Highlands Links on the Rebound

I was playing Firerock Golf Club near London on the weekend when I saw a copy of the latest ScoreGolf perched on the counter in the pro shop. This is the so-called “public golf issue,” one where Score ranks the top public golf courses in each region.

Why an issue on public golf, especially one coming a year after Score’s last Top 100? Good question. I think it has something to do with the feedback the fine folks at Score get after doing the Top 100 in Canada. There’s a lot of push back that many of the courses are inaccessible by the public and many ask why they bother ranking them. Of course the response is that, as I quote editor Bob Weeks, “our Top 100 ranking is not and has never been a course guide.” (The issue doesn’t appear to be online yet, BTW)

With that Score asked its panel of raters (which could be larger, but is growing in the right direction) to rate public courses, while also using the ratings that were already in its system. Instead of rating them based on an overall Canadian tally, the publication broke them down by region. I’m sure that was an attempt to keep dozens of Ontario courses — which make up a bulk of the golf in the country — from dominating the list.

I usually have issues with most ratings list. Surprisingly, I don’t have too many problems with this one. In B.C. Tobiano took the top spot, a bit unexpected because it is so new, while Banff and Jasper were in the top spots in Alberta, which makes perfect sense. Dakota Dunes is the best course in Saskatoon, and nice to see Waskesiu, probably one of the most overlooked courses in the country, get its due. Ontario is led by Muskoka Bay — not my fave Doug Carrick course, but a good one nonetheless, and Eagles Nest is the highest non-Muskoka Course at #3. Tarandowah gets a nod as best value, though I fail to understand the continued love affair with Taboo. In Quebec Le Maitre takes top spot (love seeing Fred Couples’ name on this one. What did he do exactly?), while Montebello, a terrific Stanley Thompson design in need of some TLC goes in at #4. Hard to argue with Atlantic Canada either, where Highlands Links is the top pick, followed by the excellent Humber Valley in Newfoundland, a course that almost didn’t open this year.

Best new course for 2009 — will there be a 2010 version of this award? — went to Sagebrush, Richard Zokol’s design with Rod Whitman in BC. By all accounts it is excellent — and I’ll be there this week to check it out. Lots of people loved the second Bear Mountain course, perhaps a surprise since the first was good, but far from great. The Rise in Vernon was #5, and there have been some nasty remarks made about this new Fred Couples/Gene Bates design. And yes, it is awful.

With all of that in mind, the magazine also has a feature I wrote about the work ongoing at Highlands Links, a course I consider to be the most significant and important public course in Canada. The article highlights the work at bringing the conditions of the course up to standard after years of neglect.

Finally, last week I taped an episode of ScoreGolf TV that will air on Saturday on TSN. Working alongside Score’s Jason Logan, we discuss the public course rating. It was a fun taping, especially since Jason and I have played many of the same course and had an interesting discouse on places like Humber Valley…

Tomorrow I’m off to Vancouver. I’ll be updating the site a couple of times and be tweeting along the way.

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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.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • The article is entitled – “The Best Courses You can Play!”

    Doesn’t that depend on the definition of “You”

    If “You” are a member of a private club you can probably play pretty much any other private club in the country. If “You” are a rater or a golf writer you can also probably play any course in the country. If “You” are in the golf industry you can probably play pretty much any course.

  • Ian — what will open in 2010 beyond Predator Ridge? Could it be the only new course in Canada next year? Maybe. Interesting to see what happens to these best new awards….

    Wayne — i think they mean “you” as in Joe Public. Certainly not “you,” a successful financial exec or me as a golf writer. The people who complained were people who thought they’d never see St. George’s — ever. However, unlike some U.S. courses, I think there are few Canadian courses, even private ones, that can’t be played if you have an active social network or are persistent.

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