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Best Modern Canadian Courses

Late last month I compiled several lists on “modern Canadian golf courses.” By modern, my definition meant anything after 1981, so that removes the National and Glen Abbey from the equation. I wrote on the courses of Canadian designer Doug Carrick; a list of the best of Thomas McBroom; did a list of modern Canadian architects; and a list of non-resident Canadians who have designed in Canada over the last 26 years.

Now here is my take on the Top 10 Modern Canadian golf courses. Tomorrow I’ll wade into comparing these to the classic era Canadian courses, including all of Stanley Thompson’s work.

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  1. Devil’s Paintbrush (Dana Fry/Michael Hurdzan)- Beats Eagles Nest by a nose, largely because its natural setting is simply far superior. Solid throughout, though there are a handful of average holes. A course I could play again and again, which is really the highest accolade, isn’t it?
  2. [photopress:eaglesnest2.jpg,full,alignleft]2. Eagles Nest (Doug Carrick) – Yep, it is built next to a capped landfill. And yes, part of the course used to be an aggregate pit. But Eagles Nest is clever and well done. The highlights on the course — like the 4th, 7th, 11th — have few peers anywhere in Canadian golf.
  3. Blackhawk (Rod Whitman) – Whitman is Canada’s great design enigma. Blackhawk has a great natural looks and cops a lot from Whitman’s regular employer — Bill Coore. Interestingly, the front nine is superior, though the back nine has a stronger setting.
  4. Oviinbyrd (Thomas McBroom) – McBroom at his most sporty [photopress:Oviinbyrd2_1.jpg,full,alignright]and smart, using natural greensites and pushing little earth. This course would probably be held in higher regard if more people had seen it.
  5. Coppinwood (Tom Fazio) – The second course on this list by a non-Canadian was the most hotly tipped opening in Canada in several years. Fazio delivers nine stunning holes and nine average to good ones. That ratio doesn’t make it the best.
  6. Redtail (Donald Steel) – A true minimalist design, Redtail often splits the opinion of those that have seen it. Repeated plays reveal it to be understated but sharp; holes like the 8th are truly exceptional.
  7. Crowbush Cove (Thomas McBroom) – Yes, the 11th is ruined by an environmental area, and the short 17th has its detractors (I wonder if they would complain if the hole was in Scotland), but overall Crowbush has elements that are rarely touched by other courses in Canada.
  8. Cobble Beach (Doug Carrick) – Few have seen Carrick’s new [photopress:cobblebeach.jpg,full,alignright]course in Owen Sound, which doesn’t officially open until next year. But his homage to classic rumpled fairways with tremendous vistas, might actually move up this list in time. I don’t want to overplay this having only played it once, but Cobble Beach might be Carrick’s masterpiece.
  9. Osprey Valley Heathlands (Doug Carrick) – The opposite end of the spectrum from Eagles Nest, but still a faux British course. This one is done in heathlands style, with narrow fairways and few bunkers. Understated, this one remains a favourite of many who return to play it time and again. Its strongest facets are Carrick’s tendency to remain consistent to his theme.
  10. Dundarave (Jason Straka/Hurdzan-Fry) – A great setting, with wild flashed bunkers, Dundarave is solid throughout. Not the best course on PEI — but close.

Close but no cigar: Beacon Hall, Bond Head South, Bigwin Island, Dakota Dunes, Devil’s Pulpit.

Several thoughts on the list:

  1. Devil’s Paintbrush and Eagles Nest are very close in my mind, but DP is stronger by a slight margin. It would be interesting to see what Carrick could do utilizing a links theme on a piece of property that rivals the tremendous setting the Paintbrush calls homes.
  2. It seems to be that the work of Carrick, McBroom, and to a lesser extent, Rod Whitman, measures up nicely to the work of outside American designers. That said, I also think it is good for Canadian golf to have U.S. and British designers working in this country. We need variation and we need our domestic artists to be pushed to the limits. That only happens if there’s healthy competition.
  3. I probably shouldn’t have included Cobbe Beach on the list, but it was too good to ignore. Of new courses opening in the next few years, it is possible that Martin Ebert’s new Angus Glen private facility could crack this list, as could Richard Zokol’s project with Rod Whitman at Sagebrush in BC. And then there’s the much discussed Cabot Links, but that one isn’t as far along. Thomas McBroom’s Tobiano is also well regarded by those that have seen it. Then there’s Fazio’s new one at Terrebonne (more on this in coming days).
  4. Can anyone explain why people overpay to hire Greg Norman? I understand the brand, but wouldn’t you rather have Jack, who actually makes the occasional good course? There’s little positive buzz coming from Norman’s new project in Uxbridge.

With that, I’m done with lists for a while — though I’ll entertain any comments, retorts, nasty replies on the list. Where am I wrong/right? What would your list look like, remembering that this only takes in courses since 1981, thus missing other modern gems like The National, Glen Abbey and Shaughnessy.

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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.

23 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Rob,

    Interesting that you feel the front nine at Blackhawk is superior to the incoming holes. I spent 3 years helping build the place, and have played numerous rounds there. And, I don’t agree; which will make for an interesting debate sometime!

    I’m confident Sagebrush and Cabot will crack your list in the near future!

  • The 17th at Crowbush isn’t in Scotland and wasn’t designed in the 1800’s……therefore there is no excuse for it. Playing it is the only time I’ve been on a championship golf course and thought that the construction must have been done when the designer realized he was short a hole.

  • Chris:
    Guess you’ve never played the Postage Stamp hole, which is only a few yards longer than the 17th at Crowbush. I frankly don’t have a problem with it and have actually made bogey there more times than birdie. No one appreciates short holes any more.

  • Count me in as a fan of #17 at Crowbush. What’s wrong with a little whimsy. It was the most fun I had playing a shot there.

  • Cassandra: Half of the list is open to the public.

    Chris: I was mixed on the hole the first time, but my tastes in the matter have changed with the more I saw outside of Canada. Strange short holes are good for golf — and fun too.

  • Chris,

    I side with Mr. Weeks on this one. The 17th at Crowbush is a great hole. In fact, I’ve told Tom McBroom it’s easily one of the best holes he’s designed. (Not sure he agrees!)

    My sense is, McBroom simply uses the hole to get from the seaside 16th to the finisher(which is a strong par 4); it’s a link. What a result though: a little pitch shot, exposed to the elements; a sand wedge in a crosswind to a tiny target surrounded by trouble! As Bob points out above, such holes go unappreciated too often these days.

    The 17th is perhaps the best hole at Crowbush, in fact.

  • The shot you took at Greg Norman seemed to come from left field. Was it you that had that lousy interview experience with the man and if so, is it the bad taste from that encounter that produced this reflux?

    Never having seen a Greg Norman course, I can’t comment but I’d like to know what your issues are and what you have heard of his first course in this country – Wyndance.

  • I’ll pipe in with positive comments on the 17th at Crowbush. Length is so over-rated. The 17th has character.

  • So the Paintbrush is #1? I don’t get it. I’ll agree the course is fun and has some great bunkers, but I think it has too many of them. The opener is just too awkward, although it might have worked better later in the round. I think it used to be the 9th?, but can’t remember.

    While it doesn’t look like they moved a lot of earth when building the place, something just makes the place a little too contrived. I have always enjoyed my days there, but never have I felt the course is really that strong. Are there any great holes there? -None that I get excited about on the tee or think much about after the round is over.

  • HenryE: I can think of a number of exceptional holes, including #3, #4, #8, #10, #17, #18. All are terrific golf holes that offer a variety of ways in which they can be played. The only hole I don’t care for are the opener and #15, which seems out of place with the pond. You are right about #1– it would make better sense somewhere else in the round.

  • Cassandra
    in Ontario, the public courses are Eagles Nest, Cobble Beach, and Osprey Valley. Thank goodness for Doug Carrick (who designed all three) – a very fine designer, and one willing to work on sometimes mediocre sites and make the best he can out of them. We need more like him.
    Peter

  • Hey, I have no problem with short. The way I drive the ball I wish all par fours were capped at 360 yards. However a blind uphill tee shot to a green that has that much character seems ridiculous. If you only had one chance to play the course it could easily destroy your round without being able to see what hit you. Two pot bunkers in front and a couple wild undulations in the green are just not fair when you can’t see them or even where the pin is.

    In terms of short par 3’s check out the seventh at the Bond Head North course for what I prefer.

  • Golf fair? Are you kidding me?

    To judge a course based on only being able to play it once seems rather limiting. Try playing the Old Course only once without a caddy and see how you do…there would be many “round killers” from blind shots and other issues that one only knows about if they have played the course or had a trusted caddy. Blind shots are part of the game for some terrific tracts, both overseas and in Canada…including the 17th at Crowbush.

  • Chris,

    The 7th at Bond Head North Course, you have got to be kidding me! That is terrible design strategy. Those of you who haven’t seen it, it is a downhill par 3 about 175 yds from the back tee. If you hit it anywhere but short or on the green you are dead and if you hit it long you will likely kill someone on the 16th tee. All this and the prevailing wind is east to west. There is absolutly no comparison to the 17th at crowbush.

  • Jon, you’re right, I’d much rather rely on luck than skill while playing golf (facetious).

    I was not comparing the two holes rather pointing the differences. There is much trouble on both holes but the difference being you can see what your objective is at Bond Head. I know I’m not alone in my opinion (and it is just that…..an opinion), and I dare say the fact that blind uphill par 3’s are not popping up all over is a testament that designers see the inherent flaw as well.

  • My wife and I played Crowbush several times in 2001. The 17th was memorable because a fox was there twice, otherwise did not like the hole, or the course. Some dumb holes, indifferent staff, of course we had just spent a week at Keltic Lodge, playing the Highlands for a week makes any course look bad.
    Sorry Bob and Jeff, the postage stamp is a far better hole and I love short holes (more so every year). Dundarave has 17 good holes.

  • Sorry I forgot to add that Crowbush has one thing going for it, location! Great site and an evolving site as the course, like many around the world, is exposed to the restless sea and its erosive storms. Cabot Links looks higher and more protected, looking forward to seeing it develop.

  • You call this the Best Modern CanadianCourses? I see only eastern courses. Lets be honest, Ontario’s terrain is fairly flat. Paintbrush was a nice treat but there were a lot of forced holes. Great course and deserving to be in the top 50 in the country but not the greatest experience.
    Eagle’s Nest was average at best. Any course that you can see and hear the highways so much is not a great experience. It did have some good holes but nothing spectacular.
    Next your going to tell me Oslerbrook was a great design?

    Lists are tough and very subjective. But call a Canadian list Canadian when all parts of the country are considered.

  • Yes, I do call it a best of, Scott. As per our off-site exchange, there aren’t a ton of truly great golf courses that have been built in Western Canada in the last 15 years. I think that is poised to change.

    And no, Oslerbrook was largely very dull. The back nine wasn’t awful, but nothing to write home about.

    Eagles Nest? Average? I guess you needed to see it more often. And as for it being surrounded by roads, that never hurt the Old Course, or Carnoustie….

  • After playing Cobble Beach for the first time last week I can definetly say that it ranks in not only Canada’s top courses but also on the global stage. I visited South Africa and played some top layouts like the Lost City and Leopard Creek and Cobble Beach tops these layouts in both quality, aesthetics, and service. It is Canada’s number 1 modern golf course.

  • I can’t comment on many of the courses noted having played more often abroad recently, but like most golfers not often enough…
    However I played Cobble Beach a couple of weeks ago and as impressive as the course was, great water views throughout of the Sound, I was most impressed with the excellent service and truly interested staff.
    This game all too often is poorly serviced by course staff who treat you like your lucky to be allowed to spend several hundred dollars at their course.
    Little things like greeting you at your car and offering to take your bags, an apple from the starter while he gives you insights on the course… Great food as well, this is a course that will mature well and hopefully be well complemented by the future adjacent residential development. 2 thumbs up.

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