The most recent issue of Golf Magazine published its Top 100 golf courses of the world and Top 100 in the U.S.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are only two Canadian courses on the list, namely St. Georges in Toronto and Highlands Links in Nova Scotia. The spiral of Highlands Links continues, with the course dropping to #86, down from #79 two years previously, and now below courses like the European Club in Ireland, which are simply not its equal. Conditioning issues have been one of the most significant issues at Canadas best public course and the government has still not committed to a full restoration. St. Georges rose slight to #89, and Hamilton G &CC, which had been on the last two lists (near the bottom), fell off entirely.
Highlands Links situation may be the most precarious of the bunch. While some tree removal has been accomplished, and more is expected, there are still questions about whether the federal government will commit to fully restoring the course, improving conditioning through changes to drainage, and a bunker job designed to wipe any element of Graham Cookes legacy from the historic course. Without these moves, I wonder whether Highlands Links will last on the prestigious Golf Mag list. It is clearly Canadas most remarkable golf course accomplishment, but like Banff Springs, it has been left far too long without some much-needed improvements. The routing at Highlands is almost without parallel “ surely within Canada “ but thats not going to keep it on the Top 100 for long.
Interestingly there are several Canadians on the Golf Mag panel, including Globe and Mail columnist Lorne Rubenstein, Cabot Links co-founder Ben Cowan-Dewar, architect Thomas McBroom, and Redtail co-owner Chris Goodwin. I know two of them “ Cowan-Dewar and Rubenstein “ are big Highlands Links fans, but am also aware that McBroom thinks it was stronger before the botched 1996 renovation.
Hamiltons fall isnt altogether surprising. It is an excellent course “ Id argue the third-best in Canada “ but has been lacking in any of the finer details from designer Harry Colt, with a number of badly rebuilt greens and bunkers that are plain to a fault. It too has a remarkable routing and is still a joy to play, but it is a question of what it could be. Members have sunk a lot of dough into the clubhouse, while ignoring the needs of the course. With two Canadian Opens now in the past, its reputation was likely at its peak in 2006.
That leaves St. Georges. Ian Andrews bunker restoration that is now more than a half-decade old moved the course up the list, and next years Canadian Open should allow it to hold its position. One has to wonder about the failure to fix the third green “ a par-3 that is only a clowns mouth away from being at home on a bad mini-putt course “ will come back to haunt the course, especially if the PGA Tour pros find fault with it, which they almost surely will. If they have forgotten about the green by the 18th (and players like Jim Furyk are on the Golf Mag list), then it could actually move up.
Anything missing from Canada? Some would argue The National Golf Club of Canada should have a spot and it has been close in the past. But I think its ultra-hard formula that endears it to some is easily replicated and fails to make it unique. Is it a very good golf course? Sure is. But great? Thats not quite as clear “ and there are versions of the National in the U.S. (like Butler National.)
Truth be told, without a change Highlands is on its way out, leaving Canada with one course on the list. Not a complete failure, but still a genuine disappointment.