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Examining SCOREGolf’s 2016 Top 100 courses list

The incredible second hole at Cabot Cliffs features a remarkable green site.

The incredible second hole at Cabot Cliffs features a remarkable green site.

SCOREGolf has issued its biennial Top 100 of courses in Canada. As always it is a good conversation starter, and Editor Jason Logan puts a lot of time into trying to create the best list. However, like any list, there are some peculiarities, generally based on the fact that different raters clearly have their own odd perspectives on what a good golf course is.

The Good:

Cabot Cliffs debuts at number one, despite not officially opening until last month, and with greens that were being babied. However, there’s no doubt this is the best golf course in Canada, and it is hard to imagine anything eclipsing it. This isn’t just the best course in Canada, it is among the best in the world. Yes, it is that good. Expect it to have a strangle hold on the top spot for years to come.

The 15th at Blackhawk is a great hole on a course with several standouts.

The 15th at Blackhawk is a great hole on a course with several standouts.

The rest of the Top 10 is about what I’d expect. Maybe I’m a bit surprised at Blackhawk breaking the Top 10, even though that’s where I usually have it. Why such a big jump? I have no idea. That said, St. George’s, with newly rebuilt greens, didn’t rise, but it seems pretty firmly a few spots from the top, and destined to stay there. Cabot Links drops four spots, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s because of the challenges the club had with conditioning last year, or just a natural decline that most new (and strongly hyped) courses get. It happened on other lists for Cabot Links as well, though I’d have it higher in my list.

Courses 10-20 aren’t far off where I’d have them, with Oviinbyrd getting the love it deserves. I continue to think it is Tom McBroom’s best work.

Other notes:

Gary Browning's Stewart Creek north of Calgary

Gary Browning’s Stewart Creek north of Calgary

Stewart Creek jumps from 35 to 21. Could it be the rebuilt par three ninth, which was previously an awful par four and now is a solid drop-shot par three?

 

There are some head shakers on the list–as there always are—which makes one question what some Score rankers think is a good course, or perhaps they just aren’t well traveled. Of note, Eagle Creek (wouldn’t be in my Top 250), Le Geant (average, awkward routing).

 

I’ve played 98 of the Top 100 on the list, missing Wildstone, a Gary Player course in BC that struggled financially when it opened, and Manoir Richelieu, which was rebuilt by Darrell Huxham.

My Top 5: Cabot Cliffs, Cabot Links, St. George’s, Highlands Links, Jasper

Drops and gains: Few explanations for why a course like Tobiano, Brantford or Beaconsfield would have big drops. I have long thought Wolf Creek’s old course wasn’t nearly as strong as others felt, and Glen Abbey’s prestige continues to fall as it moves from a course to housing and swimming pools.

Tobiano's Intriguing Opener

Tobiano’s Intriguing Opener

Big drops:

Crowbush Cove (19 spots)

Tobiano (25 spots)

Wolf Creek (Old – 30 spots)

Wildfire (22 spots)

Beaconsfield (22 spots)

Brantford (31 spots)

Taboo (30 spots)

Bear Mountain (original course – 31 spots)

Glen Abbey (30 spots)

Georgian Bay Club (26 spots)

Ian Andrew's work at Laval with Mike Weir

Ian Andrew’s work at Laval with Mike Weir

Gains: I’m a big fan of Ian Andrew’s work at Laval, where he worked with Mike Weir to create a walkable, fun course with great greens. Summit rebuilt its greens, but since they just opened all of them, it is hard to determine why it has made such a big jump. I actually liked Black Bear Ridge. Could it be better? Sure. But it had a number of interesting holes. Wonder how good it could have been with a golf architect designing it?

Big Jumps

Laval (Weir course – 33 spots)

Stewart Creek (14 spots)

Summit (14 spots)

Predator Ridge (Furber – 29 spots)

Black Bear Ridge (32 spots)

Magna (20 spots)

The dramatic downhill 10th at Goodwood measuring 443-yards.

The dramatic downhill 10th at Goodwood measuring 443-yards.

Debuts:

Goodwood debuts at 29

Glencoe Forest 35

Gallagher’s Canyon 49

Wolf Creek Links 56

Port Carling 66

Camelot 63

Manoir Richelieu 76

Lake Joseph 79

Edmonton 90

Wildstone 93

Elm Ridge 94

Beverly 99

Comment: Goodwood is likely a little low. It has an elegant routing and a great mix of holes. Gallagher’s Canyon? Really? Lake Joe only surprises me because it went from Top 10 to off the list. Wolf Creek Links is an excellent piece of design by Rod Whitman, though it would be nice to see the two nines (which were built years apart) become a touch more cohesive. I wasn’t a fan of Glencoe’s Forest course, and it wouldn’t crack my Top 100. Camelot’s debut is interesting since it isn’t new. What suddenly moves it up?

Kawartha-- a continued miss on the SCORE list.

Kawartha– a continued miss on the SCORE list.

Missing: What happened to Sagebrush? The course, which closed for some time, was No. 10 last time. That said, there’s no website (despite apparent new owners) and no indication that it has reopened, and its Facebook page hasn’t been updated. I assume it was excluded from the list. The continued failure of Peterborough’s Kawartha G&CC to make the list is a huge miss. It is one of Stanley Thompson’s best and it makes most other Canadian lists—sometimes high up those lists. Vancouver GC should be on the list. Memphremagog, an ultra-exclusive course, isn’t on the list, though it has cracked other similar lists.

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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.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Sagebrush does indeed have a website (http://www.sagebrushlife.com) and the rankings couldn’t figure out what’s going on why not make a simple phone call? Not even a couple seconds of digging and one would find they just have a new domain that doesn’t come up as quick in search results.

    If Sagebrush didn’t qualify because it was closed why did Cliffs qualify when it wasn’t even open? My understanding was it was preview play only…that’s what they told me when I tried to book and they said no.

    Kawartha missing from this list puts this list in serious question and so do some of the moves like Camelot. It seems any course that held any sort of event or were announced to hold an event last year jumped a bunch of spots (Camelot, Gallagher’s Canyon) and that’s quite laughable.

    • It’s relatively easy to explain “some” of these big jumps. As Robert indicated, if the majority of a particular panelist’s ratings are in a regional market without a lot of likely Top 100 candidates – say Alberta, Quebec, or New Brunswick for instance – it wouldn’t take too many of these regionally isolated ratings to dramatically sway an overall number. With only 10 ratings as the minimum in order to be considered for the Top 100 it only takes a couple of tee times worth of panelists – who haven’t seen a lot of courses across the whole country – to make a course move up or down considerably. Call that a vulnerability with Score Golf’s system but unless you want a Top 100 list based exclusively on the opinions of 25 or so golf industry insiders you’re going to have to live with some pretty significant variability.

      And is that all bad? Like most golfers I fall into the trap of seeking out courses that are found on these types of lists and tend to ignore or not dig too deeply looking for those “hidden gems” that are not commonly talked about in these discussions. No doubt the next time I’m Alberta I will seek out an invite to the Edmonton Country Club and that probably wouldn’t have been the case with them on this list.

      Andrew

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