Review: St. George's Preps for Canadian Open


The stunning 14th at St. George's demonstrates the course's teeth

The stunning 14th at St. George's demonstrates the course's teeth

Course Review: St. George’s Golf and Country Club (Etobicoke, Ont.)

Designer: Stanley Thompson

On Friday, with the weather a little frosty for mid-October, I drove down to Etobicoke for a round at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, which will host next year’s RBC Canadian Open. Though I’ve written about it extensively (including a chapter in my book, Going for the Green that included designer and member Tom McBroom) and played it numerous times, I’ve never actually written a review about it.


The opener at St. George's isn't as simple as it appears

The opener at St. George's isn't as simple as it appears

The question about St. George’s is simply whether it is the best course in Canada. Many think it is; it typically ranks either #1 or #2 in most course rankings in the country and is in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 courses in the world. Tom Doak put it in his “gourmet’s choice” section of the Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. Its routing, where valleys are often traversed as opposed to played down, is a unique feature and one most architects think makes the course great. It isn’t an obvious way to route the course, but it creates several great holes (#2, #7, for example). The course actually plays harder than it looks and several of the par-4s are simply outstanding, including the previously mentioned second and seventh holes, as well as the 14th, and the closers, the long and challenging 17th and the dramatic and pretty 18th. Simply put, St. George’s has that fine mix of being a great members course and  a great course. That doesn’t often happen. Typically a great course becomes too difficult to be a great members course, but that isn’t the case with St. George’s.

The unusual second hole is one of the course's best designs.

The unusual second hole is one of the course's best designs.

The all-world holes start after the casual opener, a par-4 that plays downhill and then up to a raised green, protected by artistic bunkering that is full of fingers and noses. As previously mentioned, the second, a lengthy par-4, bucks convention by playing over a valley, leaving the golfer forced to hit a draw to avoid the right bunker and make it to the  top of the fairway, allowing for a look at the long, narrow green that is flanked by bunkers. There are alternate ways to play the hole, typical of Thompson, and the fairway is not particularly narrow. The difficulty is in the strategy of the hole, not some contrived method of tricking it up to make it a challenge.

At St. George’s, Thompson seems to have found the appropriate mix of length, strategy and playability. Such is the case with the fifth hole, a long par-4 with a bunker cut into the hillside just outside of the landing area. While the second plays across the valley, the fifth plays down into a valley, and emerges with an uphill approach shot, before one plays the sixth, which once again crosses over a valley to a green perched on a steep slope.

The 11th hole offers stunning long vistas

The 11th hole last week -- note the stakes indicating fairway lines.


The 11th as it was after the 2002 restoration.

The 11th as it was after the 2002 restoration.

The back nine doesn’t let up either. Though the 11th is a par-5 at only slightly more than 500 yards, will prove a pushover for the pros at the Canadian Open (and counter balance the third, a par-5 for members that will play as a long par-4 in the tournament), it is still a stunning hole, with long views and a tricky narrow green that falls off to the left. The 14th is often regarded as the toughest on the course, with a downhill tee shot to a wide fairway and an approach over a meandering creek to another narrow green. Interestingly, Thompson provides players with a way out — there is fairway short of the hole over the creek that provides an opportunity to lay up and still chip on for a possible one-putt par.

While the par-3s are (generally) terrific individually, as a whole they have similarities in length, certainly a drawback. The sixth, a brilliant par-3 over a valley to a steeply sloped green, is a great hole, there are back tees that stretch it to nearly 200 yards. Hopefully these aren’t employed often at the Canadian Open as the hole was meant to be short and there’s more excitement in seeing pros challenge a short three with a tough green than in watching them flail away from 200 yards.

The controversial third hole at St. George's

The controversial third hole at St. George's

Interestingly, the par-3s also indicate what could become a problem at St. Georges’s — the greens. The third hole, which I’ve written about elsewhere, has a green that was altered for the 1968 Open. The work was done by Robbie Robinson, Thompson’s lead architect. The third green is now an abomination, a putting surface that is only a clown’s mouth away from being at home on a miniture golf course. While most greens need flat areas in which to safely place flags, the third at St. George’s has two (center and left front) and both of those are questionable as well. Balls hit to the right back will come off the front of the green, as they did when I played — and the greens were aerated. The green should have been fixed prior to the course holding the Canadian Open, but for some reason that didn’t happen. Additionally members are said to “love” the green, though after playing the green that statement seems incredible. There are simply few ways to keep the ball from rolling back to the front of the green — and that was on a day when the greens were quick, but not fast.

The third isn’t the only green where the level of slope could become a problem (#7, #12, and #15 all have similar issues), but it is the one where the problem seems most obvious. I’m sure a solution has been considered, but I’m anxious to see what they’ve come up with.

St. George's closing hole

St. George's closing hole

Overall St. George’s is magnificent, a mix of lengths and holes that are almost without rival in Canada. However, there’s one other consideration worth mentioning. Like Hamilton, which hosted the 2003 and 2006 Canadian Opens, St. George’s in now narrowing fairways, adding blue grass to what was previously fairway. Often this has been done on slopes on the edges of fairways that were designed to move the ball back into the fairway (see this on #1, #5 etc.). I find this odd since it will have little impact on the pros, but makes the course more enjoyable for members. But if members like the green on #3, perhaps they are big fans of getting tangled in blue grass rough just off the fairway as well. No accounting for taste, apparently, but I find these changes make the holes more one-dimensional. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Prepping for the open -- work on the 17th hole.

Prepping for the open -- work on the 17th hole.

Overall, as a Canadian Open course, St. George’s is a fascinating experiment, and a challenging one at that. But as a members golf course, it is as good as it comes in Canada.

(see below for video of the third green at St. George’s)


Related Articles

About author View all posts Author website

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

  • Interesting video, Rob.

    Looks like the green had just been aerated and topdressed, too, which is amazing! That surface will really be something at “Tour speed”, during the Canadian Open!

  • Hey Rob,

    Is it just me, or the eleventh seems to be totally transformed with new bunkers and what appear to be a break in the fairway about 100 yards from the green?

    The two new tiny bunkers on the left side of the fairway appear lost in a sea of bluegrass…. What a shame, the hole now looks like a maze of bunkers and bluegrass. It looked so good before…. How did the previous architect react to these changes?


  • i agree with Nick – restore in 2002 and then ANOTHER set of changes? and did those changes include some sexy white sand too?? wow.

  • Regarding your video Rob and as Mingay pointed out its clear the 3rd green had just been aerated and top-dressed. To be fair you really should add in for your readers benefit that all greens have less surface friction after top-dressing and as such can be significantly faster at that point. It’s unreasonable to think the 3rd green will be “that” speed indicated on your video during the 2010 RBCCO.
    Having too much slope on putting surfaces for anything above 11 on the stimpmeter to work effectively is not an unusual problem for many courses in PGA Tour events…. the first 80% of the 18th green at Southern Hills comes to mind which has a far more significant slope than the 3rd at St. Georges needed to be slowed down in order to make it work effectively. St. Georges’s greenkeeper is with out a doubt on top of this and PGA Tour officials will not allow it to get out-of-hand.
    The average percentage of slope of the 3rd green at St. Georges is higher than 3%. The powers that be will simply make that green whatever speed needed to make it work… there shouldn’t be any significant problem at all.

  • That video is a joke. I’ve seen 90 year old men and women stick the 3rd green numerous times. Sorry you had a bad round at St. Georges Robert and decided you would post a video that shows a green that is obviously heavily topdressed.

  • My immediate reaction was – wow, it’s that fast AND it’s been aerated and top-dressed. After reading subsequent comments, it appears that my own personal experience with aerated greens might differ from those who play at (extremely) high-end facilities.

    In my neck of the woods, aeration and top-dressing means shaggy, pock-marked greens and a ball & putter face covered in sand. Needless to say, it can be difficult to get downhill putts to the hole in those conditions.

  • St. George’s is a great golf course, that is for sure but the new bunkering is much too chaotic in my opinion. The golf course is built on a fine piece of property that it doesn’t need nor suit such complicated and exagerated bunkers. The updated 11th hole is garish by comparison with the 2002 version.

  • Garish? That’s interesting considering the reconstructed bunkers were built using images of Thompson’s original work and the same construction techniques.

  • wait RT – i’m confused.

    your photo caption says “The 11th as it was after the 2002 restoration.” Key on AFTER. or was this actually BEFORE?

  • Phil — both are after the restoration. The bottom picture is a couple of years ago, the top is two weeks ago showing the change in the grassing lines.

  • Yes, garish as in “tastelessly showy or flashy”. I found them overdone and needlessly busy. As far as Stanley Thompson being the original architect… I don’t think who originally designed the bunkers or who ultimately updated them has anything to do with my point. The bunkers stick out like a sore thumb where I would like to see them blended in to the hole more. There is no subtlety in the first picture of hole #11. Just lots of white sand.

  • RT: thanks – i haven’t been there since umm.. 1992 (?) so my memory is not that good… it looks though that at least 2 or 3 MORE bunkers were added after the initial 2002 restoration – i’m thinking the 3 down the left side – 2 at the turning point, and then 1 bigger one post cart path crossing…

    were these original thompson locations? if so, why weren’t they added in the 2002 restore?

    they’ve obviously replaced the sand too… the white IS garish, i hate to admit. i find the white sand makes everything look very flat, while the near-natives (ie/ the 2002 pic) look a bit more subtle, perhaps adding a bit more depth and texture. aesthetics, sure, but thats part of the battle whether we like it or not.

Leave a Reply