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Top 10 Thomas McBroom courses

In honour of McBroom’s win for Best New Course in the annual Golf Digest awards this week, this week’s Top 10 list is a roundup of Tom’s best with quick comments. One has to wonder whether his next courses (Tobiano, Memphremagog) will eclipse his current work. (ed note: I reworked the listing after it was pointed out that I had overlooked Heron Point — clearly one of McBroom’s best. Glencairn now gets honorary mention.)

10. Firerock — To some, a minor McBroom effort. But with an intriguing piece of property that ranges from bad to great, the course gets better every time its played.

9. Wildfire — it hasn’t been a success as a private club, but this was a success as a golf course. Subtle and smart and fun to play.

8. Lake Joseph Club — The first of McBroom’s solo cracks at Muskoka is the most akin to Golden Era architecture. An interesting mix of modern holes and those with blind shots, it is a love it or hate it affair.

7. Bell Bay — Its best hole is its 17th, but there’s plenty to keep a player involved until then. Interesting for McBroom’s tendency to have fairways fall with the grade of the land.

6. Heron Point — an early McBroom design that uses its property well. The best holes are also the most heroic – namely the 9th and 18th.

5. Ridge at Manitou — solid without ever being exceptional. The best holes are finished by the 14th, and the closer, while pretty, is too short to be considered anything but a long par four. A failure as a business to date, the course has still received numerous accolades.

4. Rocky Crest — One has to wonder whether this course will be held in as high esteem in 20 years as it is now. Some great holes overshadowed by many average ones.

3. The Raven at Lora Bay — a collaboration with Tom Lehman, McBroom elevates his bunker style and created a fascinating routing.

2. Crowbush Cove — the course that put McBroom on the map, Crowbush Cove still has one of the most intriguing pieces of property McBroom has worked with to date. Now imagine if he’d been able to work more toward the seashore…

1. Oviinbyrd — One hardly anyone has seen, but sporty and smart, with an intriguing mix of hole, the best of which (like #2, #12, #13, and #14) are as strong as anything McBroom has done in his career. The course holds together nicely, making for a consistent experience. Its only clear flaw is the average closing hole.

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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.

33 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I’m surprised Glencairn made it on to your list. I found it nondescript and very “busy” in appearance. On the other hand I had the opportunity to play Wildfire in
    peterborough and I agree it is a wonderully understated golf course. It’s a shame that so few people have had the chance to see it.

  • Matt,

    I’m curious as to know why you would want to compare a list of Carrick’s courses to McBroom’s. Both are well respected within the industry and have different design methodolgies that are represented in their work.

  • I think the quality of golf to be found on Carrick’s top 10 would be very comparable to McBroom, but I suspect Carrick’s list would illicit more discussion.

    I think his portfolio is the more varied of the two.

    That said, I’ve really enjoyed McBrooms more recent work and echo Peter’s thoughts re: Wildfire.

  • We enjoyed Bell Bay and Crowbush but both have one hole that is almost impossible for a woman to play, 11 on Crowbush and maybe 16 at Bell Bay (can’t recall exactly)

  • I am surprised that Heron Point wasn’t on your list. I try not to be biased because I work there, but after speaking to members of Clublink for 10 years, alot regard Heron as one of his best. It doesn’t have a weak hole, plays different as the day goes on because of wind change. The par 3’s are very difficult,and lastly but not least, if a shot is missed to the left on the approach shot on
    half the holes you are cooked. The funny thing about Heron is it tries to get you to try a shot you know you shouldn’t try but try anyway becasue of the potential reward.

  • No mention of National Pines? Solid test of golf, always in great condition and deserves to be on this list, potentially in the top 5.

  • Rob. 2 out of your favourite 3 are new. With the Tobiano comment, I guess your inferring that McBroom is getting better at his craft. Just curious, do you think you have been seduced a bit by the new wow factor? It would be interesting to know how many times you’ve played each and if there is any relationship between the # of rounds and preference.

    I’m a Lake Joe fan and your comment on the Jekyll & Hyde factor is interesting, because that’s a long held belief by many. As you, yourself, rank it #7, I suspect, however, that you are in the minority and neither love it or hate it. Also, can a course have modern holes with Golden Era architecture?

    Perhaps you considered it, but I think you missed the Algonquin in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. The setting may be its strongest attribute, but it’s still a fine course. I also have to agree with Peter in that I don’t have any real affinity for Glencairn.

  • I have had the pleasure of playing a few McBroom designs. FireRock I enjoy more each time I play it. The Ridge is an exquisite setting but caters to “average” golfers with far above average incomes. Crowbush rates an A+ for location, an A for the golf itself and an F for #17. They should blow that hole up and never speak of it again.

    I would also vote for Deerhurst, Deer Ridge and Ussher’s Creek.

  • Slappy Re: Glencairn — an honest oversight.

    Not a Fan — I moderate this thing — I can do whatever I like. Now take that 9-iron out of your butt and mellow….

  • Henry: I’ll go through a couple of your remarks:

    “Rob. 2 out of your favourite 3 are new. With the Tobiano comment, I guess your inferring that McBroom is getting better at his craft.”

    That is indeed what I think is happening with Tom. I think some of his new work is head and shoulders above his earlier work — he is getting better, and is attempting interesting elements in his new work.

    “Just curious, do you think you have been seduced a bit by the new wow factor? It would be interesting to know how many times you’ve played each and if there is any relationship between the # of rounds and preference.”

    I’ve played the Raven a couple of times, and Oviinbyrd a handful of times now. I thought both were better the more times I played them… I’ve only played Crowbush once and would like to get back to see it again.

    “I’m a Lake Joe fan and your comment on the Jekyll & Hyde factor is interesting, because that’s a long held belief by many. As you, yourself, rank it #7, I suspect, however, that you are in the minority and neither love it or hate it. Also, can a course have modern holes with Golden Era architecture?”

    I have no particular fondness for Lake Joe, but I didn’t dislike it either (other than the greens that day, which were rock hard). I thought the course had a modern look, but since they didn’t blast a lot and have a few blind shots, I thought it had that throwback appeal. Does that make sense?

    “Perhaps you considered it, but I think you missed the Algonquin in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. The setting may be its strongest attribute, but it’s still a fine course. I also have to agree with Peter in that I don’t have any real affinity for Glencairn.”

    I actually think there’s a lot of strong elements to Glencairn (which I removed from my list once I realized I’d overlooked Heron). I’ve only walked Algonquin and it struck me as a nice resort course, but nothing particularly special.

  • Thanks Rob for all the comments. For my taste, I actually think they are maintaining the greens and fairways too soft these days at Lake Joe.

  • Deer Ridge is definitively one of McBroom’s best. But what about Domaine Laforest??? Should have clarified the best “you’ve” played. And Beacon Hall should get an honorable mention for best nine holes. Crowbush is overrated but still worth playing. The Ridge might not be his best but it is the one I’d want to be a member at the most – except for the fact that it is in the middle of nowhere. One of the most enjoyable courses I’ve played in years. I can play the back tees without the need to hit a wood in on every hole. Great members track – unlike the overrated Rocky Crest.

  • Sales Guru: If you’ve played Domaine, which I doubt, tell us about it. Otherwise, there’s no point in discussing it — I’ve only met one person in all my travels that has played it and our discussion on the matter was brief.

  • Rob,

    I recently visited the Tobiano project and went hole by hole through all 18 on a cart. The property is spectacular and every hole has an incredible vista. I am concerned about some of the bunkering as many of the fairway bunkers look too deep to get to the green out of, but touring the course it was difficult to determine. The one thing about Tobiano that you may not like, and I say this because I believe I saw it on one of your top 10 lists, is that it is being marketed under “master planned community”.

    A few of the holes from the Championship tees look very difficult, but I would imagine that not too many people would play from there.

    Is it better than his previous stuff, only time and play will tell.

  • What about Deer Ridge and National Pines? I’ll admit I considered both of them and then reconsidered them. Deer Ridge is plain, in my mind, with man-made ponds creating the bulk of what little drama there is, while National Pines is not nearly as good as many think. The opening holes are plain and the only hole, in my mind, that truly distinguishes itself is the par four with the split fairway. Both courses have McBroom’s more interesting early greens, but that’s not enough to set them apart. I’d say both are overrated.

  • Those “man-made” ponds at Deer Ridge contribute to make the par five #12, McBroom’s favourite par 5 among his designs (I read it somewhere but can’t find the link right now). Also that same pond figures into a very strong par 4 #10. I’m not sure the tern “man-made” should have that strong a negative conotation.

  • Robert,
    I can only assume that after playing the weak opening holes (your description) at National Pines you must have packed it and went home. If you had continued your round I think you would have played three of the strongest par fours around! Holes #3, #4 and #5 are probably three of the strongest par fours I have ever played. If you don’t mind my asking Robert what did you score on those holes or even further what was your total for the day and can you honestly say you did not enjoy the course?
    I guess we are all entitled to our opinions and only you are blessed with a platform such as this to express yours.

    Signed,

    Another over rated opinion.

  • Further to KGB, I can only assume that Robert remembers #15 at National Pines (split fairway) because he must found his ball as well as 15 others in the environmental area. Hey, read the signs!! Entry is Prohibited!!

  • KGB: What did I score? I’ve played the course twice — once well, if I can recall rounds from four years ago accurately. I don’t actually recall any issue with the opening holes, but I also think that making a course difficult for all types of players is relatively easy to do. Is National Pines difficult? Yes. Does that make it great? Hardly.

    That said, blogs offer comments and I rarely, if ever, remove comments. So you are welcome to say you think National Pines is better than Pine Valley, for what it is worth. While the holes you mention are difficult, they aren’t really awe inspiring. Designing difficulty isn’t hard — designing options is. My thoughts are that those holes present a fairly one-dimensional view of the game — that is, hit it long and straight and then hit it high into the greens and hope you hit the correct segment. Nothing wrong with that type of golf — but it isn’t my idea of a great golf course.

    Why don’t you explain to me what makes National Pines — and those three holes specifically — so great? I’m willing to listen.

  • Agree that Crowbush should be at the top of the list. Played it for the first time this summer. The holes with views along the shore are amazing, especially the 16th. Agree that the first 4 holes through the woods are alittle boring , but love 5 -18 (even 17th….).
    Le Geant in Tremblant should be on the list. McBroom did a great job on this mountain course with the views of the Mountain, and the terrific finishing 18th of a drive over the lake/ravine and a hidden green with a fantastic view of the Lake Tremblant as a backdrop.

  • No mention by anybody of his recent work at Emerald Hills in Stouffville. Why does this not surprise me. Not too long ago, this course ranked in Score’s top 100. Many Clublink members were hoping that 10 new (plus 2 significantly redesigned) McBroom holes would bring it back.

    When called upon to convert Emerald Hills to a 27-hole facility, McBroom was given a difficult if not impossible task in that the needs of the housing development left him with little space to work and no decent routing. Yet he accepted the no-win job, probably out of obligation to Clublink. Bad move. He played it on the opening men’s night 2005 and admitted it needed tweaking. Understatement of the year.

    Tellingly, this project does not even appear on the McBroom web site. Is he ashamed?

  • I understand McBroom doesn’t talk about it much, but one of my favorite courses is Parry Sound, great fun to play. I also liked Port Carling, although only played it once. My home course is the Pulpit, so I am used to great golf.

  • Who is this Robert Thompson, anyone important? To say DeerRidge is overrated probably means he couldn’t break 100 or no one would invite him to play.

  • Interesting…

    Sadly missing from this list in Port Carling G and CC. In it’s original state it ought to be there and once current renovations are completed, it will surely challenge for #1. I agree that St. Andrews in NB ought to be given consideration as well given the current contents of the list. Finally, Tobiano, given my recent tour of duty, is indeed spectacular. The only negative and by no means a criticism, would have seen a reduction in the number of bunkers…they are over the top! The design would have been better served by this and allowing both the surroundings and the other softer features of the golf course to be the true highlights.

  • Almost four years after this article was written…

    Tobiano is a very good course rated highly in SCORE’s top 100. I would consider is a great course if it was walkable.

    FYI- “Tower Ranch” by McBroom, just outside of Kelowna has some spectacular views but is a little too goofy for me. On the other hand, Tom’s recen renovation of Country Hills “Talons Course” (formerly the Links Course), is terrific. I look forward to more of Tom McBroom’s creations in western Canada.

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