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More ScoreGolf Top 100 debate — and Tom Doak weighs in

So Tom Doak, the American architect who made his reputation publishing a critique of golf [photopress:score2.jpg,full,alignright]courses, has commented on the score list on GolfClubAtlas.com:

“That is such a strange list,” Doak posted. “It looks like they invited ten people to nominate one course each, and then drew the numbers out of a hat. Have any of our posters played Beacon Hall? How highly would you rank it? What’s distinctive about it?”

A debate about the list and the relative merits of Beacon Hall ensued. Read it here. Score editor Bob Weeks questions Doak’s comments on his blog. Full disclosure: I’m on the Score panel and write a golf architecture column for the magazine’s website.

In the meantime, readers have been flooding me with comments about the list. Everyone has a different take, so it would seem. So do I.

  1. I’m not a massive fan of the National, and it surprised me to see it end up so high on the list. That’s largely because Score’s voting criteria was weighed towards fun and beauty and I don’t think the National is particularly beautiful and, though it is a tough course, it is only fun if you’re idea of a good time is getting hit with socks stuffed with batteries. Oh, and when you get up, you enjoy getting hit again.
  2. Beacon Hall isn’t in my personal Top 20 and I don’t really understand the love affair with this course. Then again, the facility actively solicited raters to come and play, so I’m sure that helped (and there’s nothing wrong with this within the Score rules for those courses that think it might help their showing).
  3. Shaughnessy’s move back into the Top 10 isn’t an issue for me. I think it is a great course, with a terrific set of greens. I don’t put it in my Top 10, but it is close to my Top 20.
  4. Taboo is about 30 spots to high at #11.
  5. Nice to see Banff rebound. One wonders where the course would rate if they’d let players tackle it in order again and did a proper restoration.
  6. Anyone notice Rod Whitman’s courses (Blackhawk and Wolf Creek) are #21 and #22 respectively? Good for Rod.
  7. Wooden Sticks ahead of Summit and St. Thomas? Come on.
  8. Scarboro Golf and CC ends up well down the list. The club is now deciding how it should proceed with a “restoration.” Seems to me the panel — many of which saw the course late last year or again this spring at media events — have said the course, which features bland, dull bunkering, needs to be brought to life again. It would appear Graham Cooke, the current architect of record, isn’t the guy to pull that off.
  9. Some flavours of the month fall down the list: Magna, Fox Harb’r and Bigwin Island.
  10. Where was Tom McBroom’s Wildfire? Not on the best new or the main list?

Oh, and if you go to the ScoreGolf PDF that has the article as it will appear in the magazine, you’ll see a fair number of comments on courses. A lot of them (six, I think) are mine. Can you figure out which they are? One involves power tools….

I thought I’d give my readers time to jump into the fray:

Boyd says: St. Georges is NOT better than Hamilton. Glen Abbey should not be in the Top 20, Copper Creek should not be in the top 25 and what’s up with London Hunt? Much better course than Copper and Glen Abbey.

Of course, I think the reader might be a member at a club of some note in Ancaster. Boyd, get them to put your Colt bunkers back in the right style and you’ll be tops in this country in my mind. Until then, this is a course that has been tinkered with too much. That said, London Hunt should be 50 spots further up the list.

JL says:

I was a little surprised that Brantford was not in the top 15. It has 16 excellent holes and two solid ones (9 and 17 don’t quite compare with the rest of the course.) Also, Jasper is easily the best golfing experience in Canada and deserves its top-10 rating, if not higher. Haven’t played the National, but have played Hamilton and St. George’s. A toss-up for sure, but Hamilton gets the nod I think because it just gets better and better as you play and definitely has the best finishing hole anywhere. Taboo is a little high, but there isn’t a bad shot on that golf course. SilverTip is terrible. Did anyone else notice Stephen Ames proclaiming it as his home course during the Skins telecast? What’s up with that? As a great ball-striker, who always plays well at traditional tracks, I don’t know why Ames would want to spend any time at all at SilverTip.

Glad to see JL notice SilverTip’s (rightful) tumble down the list. I guess two readers disagree with me that St. G should be ahead of Hamilton. But he brings up a good point — Ames is now a “member” at SilverTip? That’s just bad taste.

KC is far harsher on the list, and those involved:

This list is self serving for the people involved – both the golf course owners and the selection comittee. The golf course owners want their courses rated, thus pulling all stops to appease the media, while the golf writers are too happy to oblige since they will get some free golf on some exclusive golf courses.

Free golf indeed. I don’t want to sound ridiculous, but I was asked too often this summer to play golf courses I’d rather not have had to see (Thundering Waters anyone?). I don’t see how the list is self-serving and rarely do courses “appease the media,” whatever that means. That said, more and more courses are starting to have “Score raters days,” whereby the facility invites a bunch of the Score panel to their club. Bigwin Island apparently bused raters to their course from Toronto. Scarboro hired a flack and got a large crew out (not that it helped). Beacon Hall sent letters asking for raters to come to their course. I’m not sure where the line is on this one, but I’m sure it has been crossed a few times.

Golf writing is one of the few non-pro sports professions where the participants get to enjoy their jobs. Same can not be said about majority of the people.

Personally, I am interested to who what is the #101 golf coruses in Canada.

The 101st course should be London Highland Golf and CC or Firerock GC in London. I think Craigowan in Woodstock might also qualify. Any one want to send me their lists of best courses not on the Score list? I’ll gladly post them.

Reader Matt emails an extensive commentary:

-National at #1 would not be my pick, but it’s not ridiculous that it finds itself at the top…I have not seen it since the changes

-it appears The National, St. George’s, and Hamilton have entrenched themselves as the ‘Big 3’

-I would replace The National with Highlands in the ‘Big 3’, disappointing to see it drop to 7th

-Beacon is much too high…it is good, but not THAT good

-surprised (and pleased) that Paintbrush is so high…I would think it would be too quirky for many people’s taste

-Shaughnessy is a wee bit too high…merits top 25-30 IMO

-Taboo is much too high…we’ll see where this one goes in the next couple of rankings

-surprised to see Glen Abbey quite high considering recent backlash against conditioning and its out-of-fashion style…I would place it somewhere 25-30

-Bigwin is still a bit too high…lovely setting, but not a great golf course

-hopefully Blackhawk will buck the trend of new entries and actually move up…it is at least top 15, IMO

– Glen Arbour at 24?

King Valley at 28? – never understood why this course is held in high esteem…decent, solid track, but nothing more.

-Brantford continues to outpace St. Thomas, Cataraqui, Scarboro…???

-both Osprey courses should be higher on the list

-Deer Ridge is another one that I scratch my head at…tough as nails, but…

-St. Thomas, Cataraqui, Lookout, Scarboro, Mount Bruno are all much too low

-London Hunt should be higher, and will be next time around…but it’s not as good as everyone was going on about last week

-Cherry Hill has good enough greens to be in the top 50

I actually think London Hunt is better than I thought — and I felt that after playing it last month. Two of the last four holes are a bit of a letdown, but it is rock solid otherwise.

G4G reader WayneK takes apart the list and makes some astute observations:

NickNorth was #9 in 2000, #23 in 02 and is now gravitating towards its correct spot. Locating at past history new public courses seem to start high and then fall – it happened to Lake Jo, Predator Ridge was #17 in 00, Fairview Mountain was #18 in 00 and is now out of the top 100, Big Sky was #22 in 00 and is now 61. Fox Harb’r was #12 in 04 and is now down to 25.

Crowbush is too high as well – it is not one of the 10 best courses in the country. At least it is not ranked higher than Jasper as it has been for the last decade or so.

Copper Creek really stands out as an aberration. There is no way that it is better than Brantford, St. Thomas, Summit, Weston, etc.

Redtail’s fall is surprising since you would have thought they would be helped by holding the Ontario Am in 2005.

Private courses seem to do worse in the ratings than the quality of the course would suggest. They also get less air time on the Score show – I guess this is because few people have the opportunities to play these courses.

If you compare this to the US rankings it looks like Canadians prefer new courses. In the Golf Mag rankings only 2 out of the top 20 were built after WWII (Sand Hils and Pac Dunes). In Canada 12 out of the top 20 are modern courses – I think votes are going for the sizzle rather than the steak.

IMHO there should be a minimum age of 25 for the panel. James Lepp and Richard Scott are good golfers but how many courses have they seen across the country? And why are Cory Woron and Rod Black on the panel? Do they know anything about golf course architecture?

Ottawa sticks out as having nothing on the list – is it really such a golf wasteland? Calgary also looks pretty weak – it now has 1 million people but no courses in the top 50, although there are some within a few hours drive.

The best bargain in the country is clearly Devil’s Pulpit/Paintbrush. Two courses within the top 15 in a beautiful setting for less than $50k.

Indeed, the Pulpit/Paintbrush is a great deal — too bad it is an hour from Toronto. Hard to imagine Royal Ottawa isn’t on the list. Eagles Creek, near Kanata, is on the list…

Weekend Ethusiast concludes:

To all the people above who suggested the ratings were incorrect, did any of you actually go and review the criteria for the ratings from Scoregolf before saying that say Hamilton should be higher than St Georges or that Glen Abby should be in the top 20? Doubt it.

Everyone has their favorite golf courses and opinions of who is worthy of a top ten ranking. But I salute outfits like Scoregolf and others who lay out their criteria and then ask their panelists to rank the courses accordingly. Now some panelists may not be following these guidelines but that is another topic.

Indeed that is another topic. Interesting tidbit: If you go to Scoregolf.com and search a course, you can see the comments and ratings done by readers of the site, as well as the panelists. Many panelists (to see full panel, go here) log in using their full name (I’m Robert, but others, like Ben Cowan-Dewar can be found as “Ben” and Grant Fraser and Garry McKay can also be easily located), so you can see how they voted. I was stunned by one panelist who seemed to vote everything as a 4.5 out of 5. I mean everything. Another panelist, a notable superintendent at a prominent Toronto course, said Devil’s Paintbrush had a great selection of beers. Man. That might be true, but if that’s the main comment you have on the architecture, I think it is time you moved along.

Let the debate continue.

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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.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Hamilton’s bunkers and I really don’t understand your comment on putting Colt bunkers back in the right style. The course has not been tinkered with at all. The added a few tee decks for the Open and narrowed a few fairways, which if anything, has enhanced the course. Why don’t we play a round and I will show you!!!! (bring your wallet):)

  • Robert,

    I very much respect yours and Lorne R.’s opinions in this matter. Same thing can’t be said about the likes of Coron Woron, Rod Black, plus other unfamiliar names.

    Why? because you guys know you have to back up what you say or write, not to mention credibility earned throughout the years.

  • How do you give a private course a value for money rating? Based on the guest fee? The initiation fee? How can Highland Links not get a 5 in value for money – it is top 10, arguably the #1 course, and it is less than $100?

  • This ranking continues to be the center of controversy and its nature will always present that. On the other hand, Score Golf has the #$@#’s to do this year in and year out. My advice for Score is to establish a more creditable panel. There are some strong members of the panel, however, it is evident that some of them have never left Ontario, unless they are convering a basketball game in Detroit. With all of the attention and advertising $$$ ScoreGolf draws from this issue, bring in some U.S. golf guys to play the top 10-20 courses before each rating and give their 2 cents. How can a course (highlands) drop from #1 to #7 within a 3 year stretch. It is ranked in the top 100 in the world by golf digest and has done so for over 10 years. (once at #57) I believe Hamilton deserves #1…just ask the Touring Professionals. Best venue for our Open, besides Royal Montreal. Stay away from the golf factory of Angus Glen….nothing personal Mr. Thistle.

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