Only Two Remain: Golf Mag List Dips to Highlands, St. George's

The 17th at Highlands -- Much improved with tree removal.

The 17th at Highlands -- Much improved with tree removal.

The most recent issue of Golf Magazine published its Top 100 golf courses of the world and Top 100 in the U.S.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are only two Canadian courses on the list, namely St. Georges in Toronto and Highlands Links in Nova Scotia. The spiral of Highlands Links continues, with the course dropping to #86, down from #79 two years previously, and now below courses like the European Club in Ireland, which are simply not its equal. Conditioning issues have been one of the most significant issues at Canadas best public course and the government has still not committed to a full restoration. St. Georges rose slight to #89, and Hamilton G &CC, which had been on the last two lists (near the bottom), fell off entirely.
Highlands Links situation may be the most precarious of the bunch. While some tree removal has been accomplished, and more is expected, there are still questions about whether the federal government will commit to fully restoring the course, improving conditioning through changes to drainage, and a bunker job designed to wipe any element of Graham Cookes legacy from the historic course. Without these moves, I wonder whether Highlands Links will last on the prestigious Golf Mag list. It is clearly Canadas most remarkable golf course accomplishment, but like Banff Springs, it has been left far too long without some much-needed improvements. The routing at Highlands is almost without parallel “ surely within Canada “ but thats not going to keep it on the Top 100 for long.
Interestingly there are several Canadians on the Golf Mag panel, including Globe and Mail columnist Lorne Rubenstein, Cabot Links co-founder Ben Cowan-Dewar, architect Thomas McBroom, and Redtail co-owner Chris Goodwin. I know two of them “ Cowan-Dewar and Rubenstein “ are big Highlands Links fans, but am also aware that McBroom thinks it was stronger before the botched 1996 renovation.
Hamiltons fall isnt altogether surprising. It is an excellent course “ Id argue the third-best in Canada “ but has been lacking in any of the finer details from designer Harry Colt, with a number of badly rebuilt greens and bunkers that are plain to a fault. It too has a remarkable routing and is still a joy to play, but it is a question of what it could be. Members have sunk a lot of dough into the clubhouse, while ignoring the needs of the course. With two Canadian Opens now in the past, its reputation was likely at its peak in 2006.

St. George's wonderfully restored 11th hole.

St. George's wonderfully restored 11th hole.

That leaves St. Georges. Ian Andrews bunker restoration that is now more than a half-decade old moved the course up the list, and next years Canadian Open should allow it to hold its position. One has to wonder about the failure to fix the third green “ a par-3 that is only a clowns mouth away from being at home on a bad mini-putt course “ will come back to haunt the course, especially if the PGA Tour pros find fault with it, which they almost surely will. If they have forgotten about the green by the 18th (and players like Jim Furyk are on the Golf Mag list), then it could actually move up.
Anything missing from Canada? Some would argue The National Golf Club of Canada should have a spot and it has been close in the past. But I think its ultra-hard formula that endears it to some  is easily replicated and fails to make it unique. Is it a very good golf course? Sure is. But great? Thats not quite as clear “ and there are versions of the National in the U.S. (like Butler National.)
Truth be told, without a change Highlands is on its way out, leaving Canada with one course on the list. Not a complete failure, but still a genuine disappointment.

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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.

13 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hamilton off the list????? Are you kidding me? God plays at HGCC and by god I mean Dave Short…..that list is a joke!

    Hamilton gone….you cannot be serious. It played super tough in the Slater bowl this year maybe those Golf Mag boys should play it that week.

    cancel my subsciption

  • Actually, St. George’s was up to number 89, from 92. I think the course will continue to work its way up the Golf rankings. Having played other courses on the list I think St. George’s has some room to move up the list.

    I agree that Highlands Links ‘grace period’ is coming to an end soon. The work that Ian is able to do over the next few years will be key to its success.

  • I don’t get this Ian Andrew thing with you. Doug Carrick did the bunker work at St. George’s period. Ian may have assisted but that’s all. Ian and you should only attach his name to work he’s completed on his own such as the tree removal at HL or the new 9 in Saskatoon.

  • Boris — As mentioned, I’d suggest you ask John Gall, super at the time, about who did the work. I think Doug is a terrific architect, but place credit where it is due.

  • Ian,

    You were employed by Doug Carrick. Any work you did was under his supervision and approval. It’s his firm and any assistance you gave him does not make it your work. If it was your work at St. George’s then why didn’t they retain you to do the renovations this past year instead of Carrick? From meeting Doug Carrick a couple of times my impression is that he’s a great guy. I think he empowered you and his other associates’ to work somewhat on your own but not independently. That would make for a good work environment in my opinion. I believe you worked for him 10 – 15 years?

    It bothers me when you and RT claim that courses like Ballantrae and Muskoka Bay are your work. It’s just not true and I don’t understand why you guys make those claims. I’m sure Carrick isn’t pleased about it. Like I said, promote Highland Links, Saskatoon and other renovation work you’ve done on your own. Make your mark with your solo work and give up misleading the public. Show a little class

  • Boris,

    Sorry you feel that way Boris, but I’m very proud of the work I did under Doug Carrick. RT is a friend and great supporter and Doug was a wonderful boss. As to the St. George’s job, my specific tasks were to research the course’s history, design the bunker renovation and supervise their construction. Of course all was overseen and approved by Doug and as you rightly point out he encouraged independent work. I am grateful for all his support.

    For clarification, as to Muskoka Bay & Ballentree I did a substantial amount of work at both courses, but they are both Doug Carrick designs.

  • Ian,
    Do you know who, if anyone other than staff, is overseeing the minor renovations at Ballantrae? I love the course and play there very often but they have been trying to grow in some rough (on wide fairways) for two years with little success, leaving these areas looking very shaggy, have been filling waste areas and moving around some tee boxes, which i feel is changing the character a little. It seems to me like the homes are winning and the course is losing.
    Thanks, Nick.

  • Nick,

    I don’t.

    The changes to the 11th and 12th holes were handled by Cam Tyers. Either Cam or Doug will be handling the changes.

  • Boris – I’d like you to point out where I said Ian designed Muskoka Bay. He was lead associate with Doug. I’ve never said otherwise. Ballantrae, to the best of my understanding, is a routing by Doug, with greens and bunkers by Ian. I’d call that a collaboration.

  • Robert,

    Why did you edit Ian’s first response where he suggested talking to John Gall along with Mike Chadsey and the shaper, plus you also replaced your name for Ian’s? You show little integrity doing something like that. Are you trying to protect Ian from himself? Were you concerned on Ian’s behalf that I’d give Mike a call at Essex and find Ian was overstating his contribution at St. George’s? You Robert, whether it is in your writing, your play on the course or how deal with industry people, show how little class you have. You will never come close to gaining the same respect a writer like Lorne Rubenstein has…….. Ever.

  • Boris — I added that comment yesterday, but apparently you didn’t notice. Ian clarified his remarks above and requested I remove his previous remark, something I’ll do for anyone willing to post under ther real name (ahem…). Please call Mr. Chadsey or John Gall — drop me a note and I’ll provide you with their numbers. Oh, but that would require your real name and email….

    As for the shots at me — I think you demonstrate your questionable character. I put myself out there under my own name every day — whereas you take shots at me anonymously and then lecture me on integrity.

    As for not having the same respect Lorne receives, well I feel I have Mr. Rubenstein’s respect, and that is a start. Getting the respect of anonymous Internet posters — now that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

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