Following up on my review of Edmonton’s Royal Mayfair, surely a fine club with a course that appears to have been altered with the same subtlety that Michael Jackson changed his face, I thought I’d write about some of the worst renovations (not all — but I’d love to hear of those I’ve missed) I’ve seen during my tours of some of Canada’s best. The shame with some on the list is they are excellent courses — and if someone had some foresight (and in some instances that is happening) they could be put back to their previous state. And yes some on the list, like Westmount, are already preparing to make some changes.
- Banff Springs (Banff) — There have been two series of tweaks made to Banff Springs, one by designer Bill Robinson, who reworked things to create the Tunnel 9 (including the new first hole), and then later changes by Les Furber to the Thompson course. Furber’s work isn’t egregious, but by changing the routing (the old first hole is now in the middle of the back nine), the course’s flow has been fundamentally altered. It is a testament to how good a design Banff is that it is still considered one of the best in the country. Come on Fairmont, put it back and take some of the sand out of the bunkers!
- Royal Mayfair (Edmonton) — As mentioned in my recent review, the clash of styles between the fine old school Stanley Thompson holes and the modern work by Ted Locke and Les Furber is jarring. Pete Dye is calling — he wants his 18th hole back!
- Pine Ridge (Winnipeg) — Pine Ridge is, by and large, a terrific Donald Ross design. It has been a decade since I’ve been there, but the work to rebuild a couple of holes (particularly the 8th and 12th holes, if I recall correctly) was tremendously out of character with Ross’ conception of the course. Unless, that is, he envisioned holding ponds hidden blindly at the bottom of hills.
- St. Charles (Winnpeg) — Interestingly, what is perhaps the best hole on the Alister MacKenzie nine (the short third hole) still had the original green sitting on the course. However, the hole had been moved, taking out a great risk-reward hole and replacing it with something bland and ordinary. Apparently Jack Nicklaus’ firm is there now — a very strange decision (he replaces the very capable Mike DeVries), though admittedly I haven’t been to St. Charles in years, so I can’t say what has happened there.
- Westmount (Kitchener) — The 11th and 12th greens at this fine Stanley Thompson design were rebuilt by Thomas McBroom. The 12th is universally despised — and the 11th just doesn’t work at current green speeds. The club plans to rebuild both.
- The National Golf Club of Canada — the 16th at the National used to be a breather — a mid-length par four to a plateau green
— before George and Tom Fazio hit you with the tough 17th and 18th holes. The rebuilt 16th, reconceived by Tom Fazio, takes that away and grades the fairway towards a massive overly busy bunker complex on the left side. Some would see this as akin to painting a wart on the Mona Lisa.
- Ottawa Hunt (Ottawa) — Once again, McBroom was brought in to rework the greens at this Willie Park Jr. design. At the time golf writer was highly critical of the work, and time has not been kind to McBroom’s changes.
In fact the club recently hired Jason Straka to change them again — let’s hope this modern change is better than the first.Apparently they hired Michael Hurdzan, a strange choice to say the least. According to one commentator, the plan is to turn the course into a Mike Hurdzan design and give up on its Willie Park heritage. A strange decision if that’s the case.
- Royal Montreal (Montreal) — Two words: Rees Jones. What was once a great driving course has been rendered repetitive and dull, with segmented greens throughout.
- Montebello (Montebello, Que.) — John Watson, the son of designer Howard Watson, rebuilt several greens on this course, once again a fine design by Stanley Thompson. Those changes, along with some horrible cart paths that run precariously near to the greens, make this course a fine possibility for a solid restoration. It should be among the best in Canada — right now it isn’t in that discussion.
- Highlands Links (Ingonish, NS) — In the late 1990s, Graham Cooke and Steve Miller reworked this Canadian classic. Cooke’s work was average at best, but the cart paths the pair added were the worst part of the renovation. Cooke and Miller were the anti-Tom Fazio. Where Fazio is genius at hiding cart paths, Cooke and Miller ran them across fairways. Horrible — and still not fixed.