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Review: Hamilton G&CC (Ancaster, Ont.)

A brilliant landscape: The third green looking back at the tee shot, with the seventh hole fairway to the left.

A brilliant landscape: The third green looking back at the tee shot, with the seventh hole fairway to the left.

Course Review: Hamilton G&CC

Designer: Harry Colt

Note: A previous review of Hamilton appeared before the 2006 Canadian Open.

I had the good fortune to make my now annual fall trip to play Hamilton G&CC in Ancaster. I love the golf course — it is among my Top 5 in Canada and I was intrigued at seeing the changes to the clubhouse. Here are some random thoughts on the course, which differs from an actual review.

  • Does Hamilton have the best selection of tough par-3s in Canada? I can see the drawback being that they are all 180+, but it is hard to imagine a better group of holes. The sixth is all-world good, with its tee shot over the valley to a green perched on a hillside that falls off hard to the right. The 8th might be a little plain, but has a very sophisticated and cool green, and the 13th is another tough long-3. The 16th, partially blind and uphill, is also fascinating.
  • The use of the land at Hamilton is almost unrivaled in Canadian golf. Hard to imagine a better walking course that still has tons of shifts in elevation throughout. The third hole, a downhill par-4 to a green cut into the hillside, is among the best two-shot holes in Canada.
  • Is it just me, or are the par-5s a bit of a letdown? The fourth is fine, but not extraordinary and #17 is just plain. Interesting that while the 4th has some interesting bunkering nearer the green, the 17th is just plain. That is in contrast to the overdone bunkering on the 15th, which is apparently being altered next year.
The regrassed 18th loses some of its options.

The regrassed 18th loses some of its options.

  • The grassing lines, altered for the 2003 Canadian Open, are silly. The bluegrass colour doesn’t match the older grass, indicating exactly where the fairways were narrowed. And to what end? For example, the appropriate strategy for playing the 18th, a downhill par-4, is to hug the left edge of the fairway to improve your angle into the green. The safe play is out to the right. But the left side was all grassed in meaning if you try for the angle you’ll likely be on the receiving end of a hanging lie to a difficult uphill green. Hamilton should be about options — not making the course one-dimensional.
  • The short par-4 fifth hole is intriguing in the number of ways in which it can be played — exactly as a good short four should be.
  • The old clubhouse was gloomy and dull. The newly renovated clubhouse is bright and inviting while maintaining the outside appeal of the old version. Took two years longer, but club members insist it was on budget. Might be the case, but it also sounds like the club is much more open to holding the Canadian Open again. Can you say 2013?
Details for the reworked short course using Colt concepts.

Details for the reworked short course using Colt concepts.

  • Hamilton is prepping a renovation of its short course, creating a new one based around Colt’s great one-shot holes at places like Pine Valley and Portrush. Tom Clark is doing the work. He’s an American architect most won’t recognize. Raises the question of why someone like Tom Doak, Ian Andrew or Gil Hanse aren’t working at Hamilton. Any of the three would have a more sympathetic historical approach to the course.

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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.

13 CommentsLeave a comment

  • RT:

    you say that any of Doak, friend of the blog I.A. or Hanse would “have a more sympathetic historical approach to the course.”

    what makes you say this? are you familiar with Ault Clarks’ work/approach to historical courses? Support your rather bold statement please.

  • Phil:

    1) I checked the Ault/Clark website and can’t find a classic course that they’ve restored. I’ll ask about further, but certainly nothing by Colt or Charles Allison, Colt’s associate.
    2) Doak clearly knows his Colt, as any reading of the Confidential Guide would demonstrate, and has a proven record of restoration. Hanse studied with the Hawtree family when he started in the business and has a wonderful knowledge of Colt. Ian Andrew has also studied Colt, worked at Toronto GC, and is currently working at Charles Allison’s Park Club in Buffalo. I would say any of the three would be a a good fit for HGCC. Just my thoughts — the club obviously thinks otherwise. I also find it interesting that Tom Clark is doing a sorta replica course for the short course based on Colt holes. Can he replicate Colt architecture? I’ve seen plenty of the holes being referenced (like Calamity at Portrush), and it’ll be interesting to see how he pulls it off.

  • thanks rt… i too thought it was odd that Ault Clark scored this work, especially understanding the the potential competitions’ qualifications (doak et al.). were these other firms interviewed?

    i would think HGCC might stray away from branding the short course as a “replica” – an awful term when considering anything remotely artistic (see: Wooden Sticks). perhaps “inspired by” or “in the spirit of” as an alternative… but hey, i guess thats why Tom Clark is doing the work and we’re writing on blogs. (or worse, COMMENTING on blogs)

  • Phil — Tom Clark has worked with the club for a long time — it must be a legacy thing. Doesn’t make much sense otherwise.

  • easy Phil – its a short course not a new 18….for 75 to 150 yard holes its not really a big idea. I am sure you haven’t even see the property.

  • Considering your remarks regarding Tom Clark’s abilities, it seems odd to me that you would give such generous comments regarding two of the greens that he has built there, namely the 3rd green, which you describe as a magnificent landscape, and the 6th hole, which you describe as stunning

    I agree with you regarding the grassing lines, but they were mandated by the PGA tour people.
    They are presently doing the same thing at St. Georges..

    Also, one of the recognized “experts” besides the ones you named, Martin Hawtree, who is responsible for the reworking of Toronto Golf Club, worked with Tom Clark at Ault Clark before going back to England to work with his father.

  • I think favoring the left side of the fairway on the 18th hole brings the left greenside bunkers more into play and therefore is not the best angle into the green. It may be the shortest distance as the hole doglegs slightly to the left and as is most often the case the highest risk is in the shortest approach. The angle into the green that has the widest entry without needing to flirt with the bunkers is from the right side.

  • slammer:

    what? tell me what having “see (sic) the property” has anything to do with commenting on the concept for the design? or more accurately, commenting on the branding of the concept?

    you’re right, by the way, i haven’t seen the property, and clearly, you have. nice one-up-manship. give yourself a high-5. I can guarantee that you (or Tom Clark) didn’t walk out there and say “whoa! this screams Colt!” and if you did, you’re full of it.

    my seemingly innocuous comment was noting that “replication” rarely works – see: square pegs, round holes – rather, using existing styles/concepts/templates as inspiration or precedent, and massaging them into what your holy property gives you would likely produce better results, on a short course or long. perhaps too subtle. my bad.

    and maybe thats what Tom Clark is planning to do. if so, good on him. however, if thats the case he’s likely underselling his own talent by referring to it as a replica course.

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