Remarkable as it seems, the golf boom in Canada over the last two decades is best chronicled by Golf Digest’s Best New Course in Canada award.
The award has been handed out since 1991 — the year Devil’s Pulpit took the first prize — and continues to this day, with Muskoka Bay taking the latest version. Along the way, the courses that have won the prize read like a list of the explosion in golf development in Canada, places like The Links at Crowbush Cover (which kick started PEI’s foray back into publicly funded golf in the 1990s following in the footsteps of Mill River and the like), Nicklaus North (the continued growth of golf in BC) to the Lake Joseph Club (which launched the Muskoka renaissance).
There have also been some real clunkers (The Rock, anyone). On the hand there have occasionally been courses didn’t even make the Top 3 in a particular year, but have gone on to some acclaim (the Osprey Valley courses spring to mind).
With that, I thought it would be interesting to do a series that reviews each year of the awards, investigating which courses have stood the test of time, which should never have won, and which were not even given a mention in their particula year.
Year One — 1991 — Winner: Devil’s Pulpit (Hurdzan/Fry)
Runner-up: King Valley GC (Doug Carrick)
The year 1991 saw the emergence of Devil’s Pulpit, the first of two courses created by Chris Haney and Scott Abbott. In hiring the newly formed team of Dr. Michael Hurdzan and former Tom Fazio associate Dana Fry, Haney and Abbott aimed at creating a bold new vision for Canadian golf. A ton of land was moved in the construction of the course, including the first hole, in which a reported $1 million (thought to be an astonomical price at the time) was spent moving land.
The Hurdzan/Fry website says this about the course:
Devil’s Pulpit was shaped by bulldozers, necessitating a land movement of huge proportions to create the contouring and movement of the course. It is modern course design at its limits.
Those limits, and the amount of earth one can move to create a golf course would be tested again and again by the likes of Doug Carrick (at Eagles Nest) and the Greg Norman (at the recently opened Wyndance).
Time Will Tell: The Pulpit hasn’t aged nearly as well as its sister course, the Paintbrush, though its modern style isn’t as over-the-top as some would suggest. Yes, some greens are too funky to receive the expected shots, and the shaping is excessive in places. The first hole, conceived as a par-5, has a green that doesn’t work in receiving shots as a par-4, and the Hurdzan/Fry firm demonstrate a knack for creating green surrounds that allow no room for error or recovery.
On the other hand, there are some exceptionally interesting holes, like the short par-4 second, and clever greens, like the 9th. It is a mixed bag.
Where It Ranks: 17th in Canada, according to ScoreGolf.com’s panel, though it has ranked higher in the past. It is still probably a little too high up the list for my tastes.
Should it Have Won?: King Valley is a fine course with a difficult past that included several owners (it is now in the hands of ClubLink). While it is a relatively natural design, I’m always left slightly underwhelmed by the course. The truth is Devil’s Pulpit was probably the right choice.
Overlooked: Carrick’s fine work at Twin Rivers might be called a renovation by some, but the course is largely a reworking on a Robbie Robinson nine-holer. These days it is one of the country’s true hidden gems, but if it had been nominated in 1991 the chances are few GD panelists would have seen it, a problem that faced Carrick’s Humber Valley last year.
The complete list of Golf Digest’s Best New Courses can be found here.