Best of modern Canadian golf course design by non-resident designers

Yesterday I posted my (now much debated) list of the best courses in Canada by Canadian golf designers since 1981. Today’s list is the best Canadian golf courses by non-resident designers. Note the list doesn’t include The National (1975) or Glen Abbey (1976).

It is interesting to consider how these two lists would be amalgamated — would the American/British designers standout, or would the list be dominated by Carrick and McBroom courses?

The Best Modern Course by Non-Canadian Designers:

  1. Devil’s Paintbrush – Hurdzan/Fry — the most enjoyable,[photopress:devilpt_1.jpg,full,alignright] fun-filled course with the most options that has been built in Canada since the era of Stanley Thompson. Hurdzan/Fry don’t always get it right, but when they do it is a home run. The holes offer options, the course is a delight to walk and finishes strongly. The variety of holes is impressive. This is one of those four baggers.
  2. [photopress:coppinwood2.jpg,full,alignleft]2 .Coppinwood – Tom Fazio — perhaps a victim of its own expectations, Fazio’s Coppinwood is excellent from the 11th hole onwards. The best holes at Coppinwood have magnificent vistas and are exceptionally playable. Many might have expected more out of this one — but what they received was still quite strong.
  3. Redtail – Donald Steel — don’t listen to what anyone says — this is a solid golf course with intriguing greens. It might be made arbitrarily hard by its fairways that are limited by the single line irrigation.
  4. Dundarave — Hurdzan/Fry — Lots of Hurdzan/Fry on this list, [photopress:dundarave.jpg,full,alignright]and Dundarave is a good one. The best holes have spectacular river views and strong strategies; the average holes are still pretty to the eye. Yes, maybe elements of it are overdone, but it still rivals anything in PEI.
  5. Beacon Hall — Bob Cupp/Thomas McBroom* — I’m not crazy about the two differing styles in the nines, but Beacon Hall has matured nicely and there’s majesty in the setting.
  6. Bond Head (South)– Jason Straka for Hurdzan/Fry — Like Doug Carrick’s Osprey Valley Heathlands, Bond Head has a legitimate heathlands feel. Straka can’t help but being over the top sometimes — and that accounts for both the good and bad parts of the course.
  7. Devil’s Pulpit — Hurdzan/Fry — Some say it was “space age golf,” but the Pulpit isn’t nearly as weird or as modern as it was regarded when it first opened.
  8. Deerhurst Highlands — Bob Cupp/Thomas McBroom* — the original Muskoka course has all but been forgotten, but this is the one that set the stage for those that followed. What remains is a solid course.
  9. Chateau Whistler — Robert Trent Jones Jr. – Those heading the[photopress:chateauwhistlergolf.jpg,full,alignright] Whistler to play mountain golf will be disappointed by the other courses in the area. On the other hand, Chateau Whistler has a grand setting in the mountains. It is a remarkable setting, though there are one too many straight uphill or straight downhill holes for my liking.
  10. Taboo — Ron Garl — A solid, if slightly understated design that doesn’t hold up that well on repeated plays. The strategies are slightly redundant, but the highlights, like the par three 7th, are excellent.

*I’ve always run with the notion that Cupp was the lead architect on both these courses and assisted by McBroom. Rumours have long abounded that there was a significant difference of opinions on who contributed to each course, leading to the fact the pair never worked together again afterwards.

Note: I received a call from Tom about the above comment this afternoon. He asked to clarify his relationship with Bob Cupp: “Bob and I have a great relationship to this day,” McBroom said. “There is no acrimony at all.” He noted that he was the associate architect at Beacon Hall, while “Deerhurst was a 50/50 collaboration,” and it was “an excellent partnership.”

“We always talked about doing projects together, but we just got too busy,” he concluded.

+ I have not played Nicklaus’ Bear Mountain in Victoria or Eagle Creek near Kanata.

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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.

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I think my list would include Big Sky, 1994, Bob Cupp; Kananaskis (I can never remember which course is which), 1983, Robert Trent Jones,; and definitely Glencoe’s Glen Forest, 1984, RTJ Jr. Royal Oaks, 2000, Rees Jones, might also make it but I need to play that one again to make a final determination.

  • I think I rate this collection a bit higher than the Canadian born list, based on the courses i have played.

    Dundarave is a hugely underrated course in my opinion. Enjoyed it much more than Crowbush despite the much more plain landbase. I actually prefer the North Course at Bond Head but it’s an apples and oranges comparison. Deerhurst is one of my all-time favourites… has such a classic feel for a fairly new course.

    RT have you seen the Georgian Bay Club? Another Hurdzan/Fry design that I believe was headed by Straka. Didn’t get to play it yet but have toured the course and thought it looked amazing.

  • Another nice list. I think Beacon Hall is not as good as Mad River and considering BH wasted all the nice sand available, it is not as good as Summit (different era, similar glacial deposit). Taboo???
    I also like Kananaskis (RTJ and RTJ2), both courses. The operation is a bit suspect but that happens in publicly owned privately operated courses. Dundarave beats Crowbush 6 and 5, both have one unplayable hole for women. I may be the only person to prefer Devil’s Pulpit over the Paintbrush, except the first hole on Pulpit is a waste of millions. First round there, a 24 handicapper with me pushed his drive and hit 9 iron to a foot for eagle. one down!

  • You know what’s scarey? None on either list is as good as Jasper, or Banff, or St.George’s, or Capilano, or Ancaster or Highlands, or Weston or Westmount; none is as much fun as Islington or Lambton or Lakeview or Royal Quebec or Mount Bruno. Or is just I’m too old to appreciate all those new bent grass tight lies?

  • I’ve only played three of these – Coppinwood, Deerhurst and Taboo. And I’ve played Bear Mountain which I believe is more beatuful and fun to play than any of these (although I agree on your order and Coppinwood is pretty special). Get out to Victoria for some winter golf (they claim they never close but this December we have the weather bragging rights here).

  • Interesting point Gary — and that’s what I’ll raise when I return to posting in the New Year. Do any of the modern courses match the great works of Thompson? I don’t think so — though I do think Blackhawk, Devil’s PB and Eagles Nest are pretty special.

    Brian: I don’t doubt Bear Mountain is fun — but the site looked pretty severe and I do have my doubts about moutain golf. Not surprised you liked Coppinwood, though.

    Mr. Weeks: Big Sky? Ugh. Am I the only one that thought it was widely overrated? I do like Glencoe though.

    Chris: Georgian Bay Club is fine, and a good members course. I hadn’t actually thought of it, but it might make the end of the list. Then again, I didn’t think of it, which might say something.

  • coppinwood #2? even when (paraphrasing here…) the first 10 holes are less than special?

    honestly, i was disappointed by coppinwood. i thought faz et al. missed a huge opportunity around the greens by shaping all the fun out. some of the back 9 holes ARE naturally great… but mediocre holes abound.

    this is inoffensive architecture to a “T” (insert pun here – cough)… no one will complain about it, but did they get the most of a pretty darn good site? jury’s out, in my mind.

  • These lists are, of course, always interesting.

    Sure, older courses like Hamilton and Capilano are great.
    But, to suggest that courses like Coppinwood and Devil’s Paint Brush aren’t prettier, more enjoyable and flat out better than Weston, Islington or Lambton is, um, just wrong.

    It is exceedingly trite and simplistic, but we are entitled to our own views. After all, I am not a big fan of St. George’s. Always thought that this is the most overrated course in the country. Sure, there are a few fine holes, but there are a bunch of clunkers.

    And RT, why no The National? Not a huge fan either, but curious.

    Finally, Coppinwood is much more than the last 8 holes. To dismiss the first 10 holes is unduly harsh and more consistent with RT’s comments that expectations are so high given that this is a Fazio course. I dare say that if this were designed by anyone else, the entire course would be revered. In any event, holes such as 1, 2, 6, 9 and 10 are all rather special holes as well, in my opinion.

  • Bill: I used a cut off date of 1981 — which means no National or Glen Abbey, both of which would have been on the list otherwise. Interestingly, I think you could have stretched the list to 1961 and the only other addition would have been Shaughnessy.

    I do think the opening hole is strong at Coppinwood, and I like the short four on the front. The rest leaves me a bit flat.

  • I disagree most strongly with Dundarave’s placement, the course pales next to Bond Head and Georgian Bay club, in terms of land, routing and features. One hole on the river is special, but otherwise the course is bland.

    I agree with Gary that Mad River deserves a spot, certainly ahead of Beacon Hall.

    I think the Pulpit could be higher and I would probably have the Kidd course at Kananaskis could compete for the bottom of that list.

    Great exercise Robert.

  • bill,

    re: coppinwood…

    i’ll give you the first… upon reflection, i had forgotten that it is a great starter.

    I’ll disagree with 2, 6, 10 and most emphatically with 9. I feel it was forced, unmemorable, and there only to get you back to the clubhouse. very little special about that.

    yes, perhaps dismissing the first 10 is a bit harsh… maybe i wasn’t clear, but i dont think its a BAD course.. not even close. its actually quite good. its just not GREAT – and it could have been. that may come back to expectations (though, i personally didn’t have any).

    i thought the greens were actually quite thoughtfully designed for the most part, but the surrounds were beige at best… it left me wanting more, regardless of who the architect was.

  • If you played Coppinwood once or just a few times, you are missing out big time. The course the kind of course that will be appreciated more and more just like a successful marriage relationship. This was well put by the editor of Fairway magazine.

    Coppinwood #1 is one of the top starting holes. #9 will be so much tougher and interesting to play when framing is completed by way of fescue around the green and on the side of fairways. Mind you, the course is only one year old and because the back nine were completed first, first nine has yet to grow to its potential both in terms of appearance and playability. When the grass and fescue neighbouring the fairways and greens of the first nine grows the way they are supposed to, it wil be that muc more stronger and exciting course to play. Furhermore, 3 practice holes will be completed and they will add drama to a golfing experience….

    Also, the quality of the care and maintenace of the course at Coppinwood is second to none, in my opinion. I played National(#1 in Canada) several times this year and could not help noticing how well Coppinwood is maintained compare to #1 course. C was so much ahead of N period.

  • John K,
    Would Coppinwood having less than 15000 rounds annually and The National at over 35000 rounds have something to do with that. How difficult is it to have a well manicured course with under 20000 rounds played anually?
    When we are talking about ratings, conditioning should not be a primary factor. I’ll take a excellent layout in poor condition over a lousy one in great condition every day.
    RT, Deerhurst? Some fine holes but a few lack any options and the combination of parkland and faux links just does not work for me.
    Surprised Oviingbird is not there, of course I’ll take Wildfire.
    I cannot understand the appreciation for Kananaskis, a good value for the locals and beautiful but it has some bland holes and a few that are outright bad (#4, #9). Overrated.

  • john k,

    agreed that the super at coppinwood is umm… super (forgive me). like i said before its a very good golf course. i just think with more attention to detail in design and construction it could have been great…

    also, how do 3 practice holes add to “drama”?

  • Gents: I rarely, if ever, consider conditioning when it comes to evaluating a course. The National v. Coppinwood? The National was in terrific shape, as was Coppinwood. Hard to distinguish between the two. The best greens I played all year — either Coppinwood or Oviinbyrd.

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