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A year of courses: Cabot, Calgary and Laval stand out

Cabot Cliffs

Course I’m most intrigued by: Cabot Cliffs

I toured all of Cabot Cliffs in July, walking with Bill Coore, one of the architects behind the project. I don’t think there’s ever been so much attention for a course in Canada prior to it opening. Heck, Matt Ginella, in a bit of Trumpian hyperbole, said it could be Top 10 in the world—before actually hitting a shot on it.

Is it that good? Sure appeared to be. My favourite holes included the intriguing Cape Hole (yeah, unlike Cabot Links, this one matches the name) fifth, and the punch bowl par three sixth. Oh, and that finishing stretch 16-18 will be awesome, but I quite liked the par five 15th, with its intriguing strategy.

Golf writers are going to be falling all over themselves to dish out enough superlatives for Cabot Cliffs. And yes, it will be that good.

Banff's initial closing hole, now its 14th. The drama is still there, but the timing feels wrong.

Banff’s initial closing hole, now its 14th.

Most enjoyable rounds of the year: Calgary G&CC and Banff Springs, Mount Bruno

I was in Calgary for the Shaw Charity Classic and took a quick trip out to Calgary G&CC, a super exclusive private club. Along with my friend, Kevin, we zipped around the course in a couple of hours. Calgary, btw, might have the best finishing hole in Canada, and if it weren’t for 1 and 10, it would be a truly exceptional course.

On the same trip I saw Banff Springs for the first time in a number of years. The course was in fine shape, though the bunkers (with enough sand to bury a body) are still a mess. But it is such an exceptional golf course, with such an incredible mix of holes. I played alongside three golf pros from the staff and have really fallen in love with a number of the holes that previously didn’t stand out to me.

Finally, on the Monday after the Canadian Open I tipped it up at Mount Bruno first off (at the startling hour of 830), and played this fine Willie Park course in three hours. More a sum of its parts than a course with true standout holes, there are still some great examples of stellar golf design, including the par four 13th, and the terrific mid-length 18th, with the clubhouse prominently residing in the background.

Laval 15

Worth another look: Laval Sur Le Lac (Weir/Andrew Course)

Also while at the Canadian Open, Laval sur le Lac, the 36-hole course minutes from Royal Montreal, hosted the Golf Journalists Association of Canada for an outing on the redesigned Weir/Andrew course. I’ve walked Laval numerous times with Ian, but this was my first time playing it. What struck me was the great greens and just how much fun the completely recreated holes (11-12 among others on the back nine) are. It would be a great place for the Canadian Open—if it happens.

goodwood golf club

Goodwood and Redtail: I played Goodwood and Redtail in the same week in September. Yes, they are two of the three most exclusive courses in Canada (Memphremagog in Quebec being the third). I find people underestimate the design at Redtail, though I’ll admit I’m not a fan of holes like the fourth (too tight, and I really question the design), there are plenty of great ones (3, 8, 10, 16). It is great not just because it is exclusive—the golf is solid as well.

Goodwood has a lot of mystery about it, largely because people are still not sure what the club is (no website, no clubhouse and finally some logoed hats and such this year). But it is the best of the courses in the area, more interesting than Coppinwood, for example, and the design continues to be tweaked. Top 10 in Canada in my estimation.

Gary Browning's Stewart Creek north of Calgary

Gary Browning’s Stewart Creek north of Calgary

New(ish): Credit Valley, Thames Valley, Stewart Creek

I hadn’t seen Credit Valley since Al Balding walked the earth. The upper holes, reworked by Graham Cooke, are better than they were, and there are some great holes that use the river well (I’m very fond of 9, and 12. Eleven would be better with a less modern green). Solid.

I hadn’t played London’s Thames Valley in two decades until my neighbor caught me on a quiet afternoon and asked if I wanted to join him for a game. Yes, this could be better with some changes (the 15th hole felt like playing between walls of trees), but there are great, classic holes there as well (9, 10, 12). How good could this be with an influx of cash to make the bunkers, well, play like something other than hard scrabble?

Stewart Creek has long been regarded as a solid course with one awful hole—the 9th, a par four that played like two lousy par threes. Well it has been turned into one exceptional par three by architect Gary Browning and will open that way next year. Nice.

tarandowah-18-green2-600x346

Tarandowah—My home course. The best value in Canada. Great mix of holes. You can walk and play it for less than $50 most days. How does it get better than this? Forget the rural location, and the fact that it is rough around the edges. This is where the game needs to get to and what golfers need to accept moving forward. It isn’t that hard.

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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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