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Series Finale: Day Seventeen of Golf Digest Best New in Canada

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2007 Golf Digest Best New Course in Canada

1. MUSKOKA BAY C. ¢ Gravenhurst, Ont. ¢ Yards 7,367 ¢ Par 72 ¢ Fee: $155 ¢ Designers Doug Carrick ¢ 866-361-7529 ¢ muskokabay.com
2. COPPINWOOD ¢ Goodwood, Ont. ¢ Yards 7,536 ¢ Par 72 ¢ Fee: $80,000 ¢ Tom Fazio ¢ http://www.coppinwood.com/
3. HUMBER VALLEY RESORT (RIVER CSE.) ¢ Humber Valley, Newfoundland ¢ Yards 7,199 ¢ Par 72 ¢ Fee: $100 Doug Carrick and Steve Vanderploeg ¢ 709-686-1090 ¢ humbervalley.com

Since I wrote about the 2008 awards only a few months ago (you can find that post here), I thought I’d just take out a quote that summarized my perspective:

My No.1 course was also by Carrick, but it was Newfoundlands Humber Valley. With five downhill holes on the front reaching a climax at the par-3 along the water, a truly special hole, and Carricks smart routing that has the next four holes play largely uphill ” but not feel uphill ” Humber Valley starts with a bang. The back nine is almost equally as good, with my only criticism being that the par-5s seem to play shorter than their distance on the card. Thats a small criticism and I think in time the reputation of Humber Valley will grow. It would be close to the Top 10 courses in Canada in my book.

So what can one learn in looking at 17 years of awards heralding the next big thing? For starters, it proves the last two decades have been among the strongest in history for Canadian golf design, a renaissance after the period of the 1960s through the 1980s, when very little of note (with the exceptions of Shaughnessy in 1960, the National in 1975 and Glen Abbey in 1976) was built. Truthfully the new rise in Canadian golf design not surprisingly mirrors the rise of the two most popular designers in the country since 1990 — Doug Carrick and Thomas McBroom. Tom and Doug increasingly set the standard for courses over the era, with both winning Golf Digest’s Best New award numerous times. McBroom leads the charge, having taken the award five times to Carrick’s four wins. Not all of the prized courses are among the best (McBroom’s Timberwolf has been seen by few, and Lake Joe has its detractors, while Carrick’s Angus Glen is now hurt by its familiarity), but several, like the Links at Crowbush Cove, Bigwin Island and the Ridge at Manitou are surely among the Top 50 in Canadian history.

The era of GD awards was kicked off by back-to-back wins by the [photopress:paintbrush9and2_1_1.jpg,full,alignright]firm of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, and really ushered in their status as among the best design firms in the world. It also established the firm as one which would garner plenty of return Canadian business — though the pair would never again take the Best New award. However, their Devil’s Paintbrush remains the gold standard of golf design within all of the courses. It is the best of the best new — and is now regarded as among the top dozen courses in the country.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is what didn’t win, or even gain any notice. None of the Osprey Valley courses received a sniff at the award for example, and while many consider McBroom’s Rocky Crest to be among his best work, it didn’t receive any attention. When one examines the overall list, it is long on tough, challenging courses, and short on anything that actually brings out the fun inherent in the game. Sure there are anomalies like the Paintbrush, but for every selection of that nature, there is also The Rock.

Anyway, out of the list, here is my suggested awards:

Best of the Best of: Devil’s Paintbrush

Smart, quirky, weird and wonderful, it is surprising that the Paintbrush managed to convince Golf Digest’s panel that it was the right selection.

Worst of the Best of: The Rock. Hands down the worst course on the list, The Rock generated such apathy (and occasionally open dislike) among the public that it was blown up only a few years after taking the award.

[photopress:ospreytoot.jpg,full,alignleft]Most Overlooked: Osprey Valley. Three exceptional courses, none of which received as much as a Top 3 showing in any of the years in which they opened. A crime — all three are very strong.

Opulent doesn’t always take the prize: A grand clubhouse and a small membership don’t guarantee an award. Though places like Fox Harb’r did manage to steal an award, largely ostentatious clubs (Magna) or the most private (Redtail) didn’t actually win the award the year they were nominated.

Muskoka Takes It: A shocking number of wins — almost a third in total — came from the Muskoka region of Canada (Lake Joe, The Rock, Bigwin Island, Muskoka Bay, Ridge at Manitou. Interesting since two of them (Rock and Ridge at Manitou) have struggled to attract golfers, making one wonder about the benefits of winning.

Public v Private: Surprisingly GD panelists don’t lean towards private golf. Only 5 of the 17 courses were actually fully private, though a couple (Fox Harb’r, Bigwin) are semi-private. I’d have thought panelists would have been impressed by the exclusivity of private golf, but that wasn’t the case.

Relevency: The ongoing issue for the magazine is to be assured the award is still relevent in Canada. The win by the Rock raised serious questions about the awards and led at least one course (Oviinbyrd) to bypass the nominations. It’ll be interesting to see if the new Quebec course by the Desmarais family (Memphremagog Golf Club) simply skips the process, satisfied that having a great golf course and a full membership is rewarding enough.

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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.

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