1998 Best New Canadian Courses
1. Bell Bay G.C., Baddeck, N.S., Tom McBroom.
2. Northlands G. Cse., North Vancouver, B.C., Les Furber.
Once Thomas McBroom caught the attention of Golf Digests judges, there was no stopping him. Including his win for Crowbush Cove, he’d take four of seven GD Best New in Canada awards.
In 1998 he made it back-to-back following his award for Lake Joseph Club by taking the top mark for Bell Bay, his course on Cape Breton Island. A project devised by a group of local businessmen, McBroom had an intriguing piece of property that sits high above the Bras d’Or Lakes. The land pitches and rolls, but is generally pitched towards the water, and an expansive range sits beneath the clubhouse with one of the more spectacular views on the property.
I dont actually know if there was a lot of hype or notoriety around Bell Bay. Its location is relatively remote, making it an unlikely candidate to win the award. The project is not a massive undertaking, and while well done, is well away from most of the key golf media. Certainly it benefited from its proximity to Highlands Links, Stanley Thompsons gem that sits on the coast about an hours drive north.
The course itself will not bowl you over. The land has interesting contours, and fairways are often graded with the natural slope of the ground, but also often away from the required shot (in other words the shot required might be a draw into a dogleg left, but the land slopes to the right, making for difficult tee balls). This likely makes Bell Bay tougher than it immediately appears.
This is a course that is again a collection of good “ but rarely great “ golf holes. Theres nothing that could be called bad architecture, though some of it may underwhelm, and it takes until the 16th hole for it to become truly impressive. Certainly the 17th is a grand par-3, with a tee shot that plays over a ravine to a green perched on the other side and surrounded by an amphitheatre of trees.
Too bad then that the string of terrific holes is broken by the 18th . The hole doesnt make greater advantage of the breathtaking lakes “ and instead plays parallel to the water, losing much of its visual impact.
Time Will Tell: Bell Bay still falls a distant second in the region to Highlands Links. Golfers may drive hours to get to what is arguably the best course in Canada “ but they wont drive that far to play a good McBroom design. Therefore it ends up being a course people play either heading to, or departing from, Highlands Links. It is also hurt by the lack of another good course in the region, something that will likely change when Cabot Links opens in late 2009 or early 2010. It has also benefited from the management of Ted Stonehouse, one of the best golf managers/pros in Canada.
Where It Ranks: 40 in Canada. My gut tells me this is too high, especially when Victoria GC trails it in the rankings. Probably safer in the 60 to 100 range.
Should It Have Won?: Yes, but only due to a weak year for new courses. Furbers Northlands, the runner-up, is another in a long line of average courses created by the designer.
What Was Overlooked? Le Diable (ranked 69 by Score Golf), by Hurdzan/Fry, gained some notoriety when it held the 1999 Skins Game, which was a bit of a coming out party for Mike Weir. The course opened in 1998, but did not make the GD list. I have not played in Tremblant, so perhaps G4G readers who have played it can give me their opinion. Photos make it look like pretty standard Hurdzan fare “ very visual, and on extremely hilly land.
Next: A One-shot Hole Takes the Title.