Top 10 — The Best of Modern Canadian Golf Courses

After compiling lists of the the best courses by Canada’s three most popular designers — Doug Carrick, Thomas McBroom and Graham Cooke — I’ve taken the time to compile two more lists. The first is the best of modern golf design (I’m using the cut off date of 1981, or 25 years ago) from Canadian designers. Then I’ve done a second list of the best of modern golf design in this country from non-resident designers. I’ll be intereted in seeing how G4G readers feel these two lists stack up against one another.

  1. Eagles NestDoug Carrick — Carrick’s best work with [photopress:eaglesnest5_1.jpg,full,alignright]fascinating options and a great dunes look that was completely artificial. The greatness in this design comes from the fact the back nine — largely the most unappealing part of the property — has several of the best holes (#11, #12, #14). The only letdowns on the entire course are the 18th — a standard long four with water on the right — and the mixture of bunker styles.
  2. BlackhawkRod Whitman — Whitman is largely unknown outside of Alberta and has spent most of his career working as a shaper for other designers (Pete Dye, Bill Coore). At Blackhawk he demonstrated his talent, crafting a throwback to another era. Though this doesn’t exactly look like a Stanley Thompson course, it feels like one.
  3. OviinbyrdThomas McBroom — At the behest of owner [photopress:Oviinbyrd2.jpg,full,alignright]Peter Schwartz, McBroom pushed his limits at Oviinbyrd, creating a crafty, sporty course full of great shots and great views. With little dirt pushed around on this project, it might be considered minimalist by some. I just call it great.
  4. Cobble BeachDoug Carrick — This one is set to officially [photopress:cobblebeach6.jpg,full,alignleft]open next summer, but held a media event last fall. Filled with rolling, plunging fairways, great views of Georgian Bay, Cobble Beach is Carrick’s most consistently fun course since Osprey Valley Heathlands.
  5. 5. Crowbush CoveThomas McBroom — Sure everyone would like to have seen this course run more towards the ocean. But it doesn’t and it doesn’t really matter — McBroom has created a great golf experience and several of the holes, like #8 over the ocean inlet, are terrific.
  6. Osprey Valley HeathlandsDoug Carrick — There are few courses with lower profiles in Canada, but Carrick’s work at Osprey Valley’s three courses is a great example of an architect’s skills. The best is the first course — the Heathlands — with its Scotland-like appeal.
  7. Bigwin IslandDoug Carrick — Bigwin Island is more strategic than many give it credit for, though the most spectacular holes (#6, #18) are far from being the best. Give Carrick credit for building a smart course with a great mix of holes. The only letdown — the par threes.
  8. Dakota DunesWayne Carleton/Graham Cooke — In my[photopress:dakota1.jpg,full,alignright] estimation, the only Graham Cooke course with a chance at cracking the Top 10. A lay-of-the-land design on a great site. Too bad the course doesn’t quite match the setting.
  9. The Raven at Lora BayThomas McBroom/Tom Lehman — A course where McBroom nails a distinctive bunker look and created a course that has all the elements of a timeless track. Starts strong, with a terrific tough par four, and ends with a similar strong two-shot hole. In between there’s a great mix of long, hard holes, and smart short ones.
  10. Ridge at ManitouThomas McBroom — The second best of McBroom’s Muskoka work, Ridge at Manitou is solid all the way through. The best hole is the downhill par four 8th. Only marred by four par threes of similar length and with similar shot values.

Tomorrow — the best of modern Canadian golf by non-resident designers.

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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.

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Pretty solid list, Robert.

    I’d put Eagle’s Nest and Blackhawk 1 and 1A…Blackhawk is scary good and has a much prettier site.

    No Wolf Creek? The South 9 is fantastic and the West superb. This easily makes my top 10…can’t wait for the 4th nine.

    I put the Hoot course just behind the Heathland at Osprey Valley. The best holes at Hoot exceed the best holes at Heathland.

    Dakota Dunes, for the site alone, might be placed higher up the list…but it could have been soooo much better. Put Whitman on that site and it would be Top 5 in Canada.

  • I feel there are more let downs at Eagles Nest, 6, 7, 16 and 17, as well as 18.

    16 is the only one that has strategy and it is due only to the water on the right, which is duplicated on 18. 17 looks great, but there is no reason anyone would play to the lower fairway.

    If there is a course that looks better than it plays, Eagles Nest is it.

    Surprised to see Crowbush higher than Lora Bay or Manitou as there are a lot of weaknesses there. What is the truly great hole at Crowbush?

  • That’s interesting you mention those holes, J. Here’s my take:

    6, with its very cool turtleback driving area, asks the player whether to play safe with an iron or risk driver…a miss means an awkward lie and semi-blind approach shot, but not tree-jail like so many clausterphobic layouts.

    7 is another good risk/reward drive (although 7 is not among my favourites at EN, either)

    I agree that the alterenate fairway on 17 is useless, but it’s still an excellent 3 shot par 5.

    Agree with Robert that 18 is a real downer.

  • Good list, I’d leave Crowbush off my list. I think the list of Older Classic courses (pre 1945) will win a match play 6 up with 4 to go over this list. Rene and Charley Muylaert did some good work in the 70s and 80s, more like early Ron Garl they made 18 fairly good holes instead of 4 or 5 great ones and the rest fillers. Looking forward to addingt the new courses to my “list”. Speaking of lists we have a Ross goose on our course in the Bahamas, the first one ever known to be this far south, we’re getting more bird watchers than golfers, all flying in to take a picture of our special bird. If I’d only known I’d have brought one in sooner!

  • I think the list is good but it’s difficult to judge because I haven’t been blessed with the opportunity to play Oviinbyrd, Cobblestone or Dakota Dunes.

    I agree with the thoughts on Eagle’s Nest; a great golf course but the 17th hole is poor. The first two shots are pointless and, in my opinion, it is the second shot that determines a great par 5. I think they could fix 18 quickly if they just shortened the hole. Just move the tees up so it’s possible to carry the lake with a bomb off the tee. The shot in is a good one, it’s the tee shot that is weak. As long as we are suggesting additional sites… the Wasteland course is absolutely terrific… refreshing visually and a great test of golf.

  • I also have issues with Crowbush. There are quite a few solid holes, a couple of lights out holes and the site is pretty much second to none…….however you cannot convince me that a 110 yard par 3 with a straight uphill blind tee-shot has any place on a championship golf course.

    I’ll be looking for a few Hurdzan/Fry courses on the non-resident list.

  • Interesting — I don’t actually think there’s any issue with the 17th at Eagles Nest and those like so-called “J, ahem, Ben” should note that from the 7,000 yard tees, the hole is actually much more accesible from the right fairway. From the upper fairway, the bunkers in the landing zone are often in play, but not visible, making the approach — especially to around 100 yards — much tougher. No strategy? Come on.

    I don’t care for 6 at Eagles Nest, but seven is a great hole with several ways to play it.

  • Crowbush underwhelmed me as well. Of course my expectations were high. The 17th is possibly the worst golf hole I’ve ever played.

    Finally someone pays tribute to the Muylaert brothers. Not you Robert but Gary Slatter. When I was playing golf in the 80’s and 90’s I wasn’t all that interested in the architects. But then when they became brand names I was curious who had built the courses I was enjoying most at the time. I was very surprised that most of them were designed by the same person – Rene Muylaert. The no-name of GTA golf architechture was a purist who created fine courses with little movement of earth allowing for affordable quality golf. Who hasn’t played more than one of: DiamondBack (Chestnut Hill), St. Andrew’s Valley, Nobleton Lakes, Pheasant Run, Emerald Hills, Peninsula Lakes Kleinburg, Pheasant Run, Indian Wells or Glen Eagles? Most are still public and under $100.

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