SCOREGolf Top 100 Courses in Canada — Overrated, Underrated and The Missing

The closing hole at Tarandowah Golfer's Club, one of the new entries in SCOREGolf's Top 100 Courses in Canada

SCOREGolf unveiled their Top 100 Courses in Canada on TSN on Saturday, but don’t be heading to your local club in hope of picking up a copy of the magazine. This year the publication is only available on newsstands — and I’m not sure if the magazine is putting content up online. There are a couple of places online that have complete list up — but that’s only a small part of the magazine, which includes a short write-up on each course (longer for the Top 10) and a fine article on Stanley Thompson by yours truly.

Anyway, instead of posting the list, I’m going to concentrate on the hits and misses, those that are getting too much love and those which will feel the need to seek therapy after being spurned by course raters.

Overall I don’t have too much of a difficulty with the list — even if the opinions of the raters don’t exactly match my own. I think modern courses (those built after 1960) get too much love, and that mountain courses like those is Whistler are vastly overrated. In fact, any course set near mountains seems to get a big boost.

What is missing from the list? There are obvious ones — like Twin Rivers in Newfoundland, Chateau Montebello and Royal Ottawa in Quebec, and Kawartha in Ontario. Those are probably the biggest oversights.

Interesting to see the debate at centers on, once again, why the Top 10 is dominated by Ontario courses. Probably because Ontario is where a majority of the course are. But I’ve always wondered what the thought process on this accusation is. Do people really think someone goes to a B.C. course and says, “Man, this would be great if only it were in Toronto?” I somehow doubt it.

For the record, I’ve played the entire list minus a couple — both of which are in Edmonton (Northern Bear and Royal Mayfair).

With that, here’s my take:


1The National GC of Canada

Royal Montreal's Rees Jones Re-do

10Royal Montreal GC – Blue

23 Taboo

30 Kananaskis Country – Mt. Kidd

31 Georgian Bay Club

41 Glencoe

I know it is No. 1, so by definition some are going to think it is overrated. I’m among those that feel the National is one-dimensional. A very good golf course, without doubt, but what do people always talk about when discussing The National — that it is so hard. And it is easy to make a course hard — just look at Lionhead. Making a course interesting is another deal altogether.

The fact Royal Montreal’s Blue Course is so high is confounding. The work done by Rees Jones’ firm is largely awful, and the person responsible for signing off and shaping the new greens should not be allowed to touch another putting surface for the remainder of their life. I think this is an example of raters confusing a great club with a great course.

Taboo? What can I say. Not great nor bad — just a better than average course by Ron Garl. No. 23 in Canada? Forget it.

Kananaskis — Mt. Kidd. Has there ever been a more underwhelming golf course that is completel overwhelmed by its setting? Flat, pedestrian golf with great vistas.

Glencoe — Glencoe is flat and dull, but without the vistas. Doesn’t it say something that Stephen Ames, a Calgary resident, regularly says this course doesn’t have the stuff to hold a Canadian Open? It should be the prominent course in Calgary — but it is Flordia-flat and uninteresting.

The third hole at Devil's Paintbrush. Underrated at No. 11? You bet.


11 Devil’s Paintbrush

36 Greywolf

38 Humber Valley

49 Scarboro

64 St. Thomas

91 Cataraqui

Devil’s Paintbrush cracked the Top 10 for a little bit and now drops out. This is a fascinating course, with tons of options and ways to play it. I wouldn’t be uncomfortable if it were 10 spots higher.

Greywolf — sure it opens with 3 decidedly average holes, but after that it is a Doug Carrick mountain course that measures up to the scenery. Speaking of Carrick, how can the majestic Humber Valley be at 38?  The receivership of the property must have something to do with it, though I thought course raters measured golf and not financing. Are they a bond rating agency now? If so, I give this course a Triple-A rating.

Scarboro’s renovation makes it a solid, more interesting course. It should be 25 spots higher if just for the remarkable 7th hole. And has anyone ever said an unkind word about St. Thomas G &CC? Great golf in an out-0f-the-way setting. Cataraqui added an awful pond to a hole on the back nine, but its continued decline confounds me.

Coppinwood #12



This list shows the courses that moved up or down the list. I’d say the two big movers — Muskoka Bay, up 18 spots, and Coppinwood, up 13 spots, have gone too high. Coppinwood certainly benefited from the move of GM Kevin Thistle to the club. Thistle is much more media-friendly than previous management. Muskoka Bay, on the other hand, seems to get an inexplicable amount of love. Why? Can’t rightly say. It is a good golf course — but a great one? I think this course, like Rocky Crest before it, will decline over time. Nice to see Cobble Beach, which had issues with turf in its early going, jump up the list.

8Muskoka Bay Club (up 18 spots)

15 Coppinwood (up 13 spots)

18 Oviinbyrd (up 11 spots)

25 Blackhawk GC (down 10 spots)

26 Royal Colwood (down 10 spots)

29 Glen Abbey GC (down 10 spots)

34 Redtail GC (down 10 spots)

38 Humber Valley GC – River (down 13 spots)

44 Le Geant (down 13 spots)

52 Cobble Beach Golf Links (up 14 spots)

56 Nicklaus North GC (down 10 spots)

61 London Hunt and CC (up 10 spots)

62 Salmon Arm GC (down 13 spots)

64 St. Thomas (down 12 spots)

68 Heritage Pointe – Desert, Heritage (up 10)

70 Deer Ridge GC (down 13)
76 Wooden Sticks GC (down 15)

78 Marine Drive GC (down 14)

79 Summit G&CC (down 11)

82 Black Bear Ridge GC (down 10)

87 Royal Mayfair GC (down 12)

90 Burlington G&CC (not on list last time)

91 Cataraqui G&CC (down 11)

93 Radium Resort – Springs (down 10)

The 14th at Sagebrush: Is this the best modern course in Canada?


I’m very fond of both Sagebrush and Tobiano — though I think the pair are reversed in the great scheme of things. I’m tremendously thrilled to see Tarandowah on the list — this is a low-budget course that deserves the love it is getting and should be at least 30 spots higher on this list.

16 Tobiano

28 Sagebrush

95 Tarandowah Golfers Club

96 King’s Forest GC

92 Northern Bear GC

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26 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I agree 100% about Humber Valley being too low at 38. I played it last week and I would rank it way higher. I think it should be pushing top ten as I enjoyed it as much as Highland Links.

  • Anyone else annoyed with the fact that the magazine is only available on news stands! Come on! Score flubbed this one, a double bogey!

  • First comment, how much value in the rankings is the fact that you can walk? In my opinion, a lot of the courses that you can’t walk should drop 10-20 ranking spots in my opinion

    Over-rated, Hunt Club, Glen Abbey -both of these are half a good course, each have 9 solid holes and not much more. Glen Abbey is about 40-50. Hunt Club is in no way better than St.Thomas (Union) Hunt Club should be around 70, St. Thomas inside 50. Taboo and most of the Muskoka courses are way too high, there is no possible way I can walk you through all the holes at Taboo or others and have played them several times. Taboo should be around 75. It seems like a lot of the Muskoka/Mountain courses are good not great and have a lot of holes that are not memorable.

    Le Maitre, in Mont Tremblant is over-rated as well. I have never played Nicklaus North is it really that good?

    Under-rated, Angus Glen South is a great course and keeps dropping -wasn’t this inside the top 20 at one point. Still a fun course to play. Top 50 for sure.


    • I agree with you Chris, Golf was meant to be a walking game. This should be considered in the ranking. Many courses don’t flow that well and are dependent on having carts to drive you up hills to tee-boxes so that you can have 18 downhill shots.

  • Rob,

    Last year, the USGA and Golf Digest both significantly changed their standards in their respective position relating to golf courses. Right in the middle of an impoverished economic state in the industry, both the USGA and Golf Digest are doing something about it and have stepped up to the plate big-time. They are now leading by example with their influence in the game to correct an industry problem… primarily thanks to Ron Whitten at GD and Jim Hyler at the USGA.

    The USGA launched the “Brown is the New Green” initiative which both improves playability in golf courses as well as bring a common sense approach and solution for maintaining course for sustainable business practices.

    It was fantastic to watch the “ground game” being played at the US Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay on NBC last week… the fact that Peter Uihlein won the US Am (son of Wally Uihlien, Chairman & CEO of Acushnet) didn’t hurt either.

    The USGA and Golf Digest are leading the attack in the battle in what is killing the game by redefining their own standards which is the first step of responsibility…. perhaps the RCGA and ScoreGolf should follow suit?

    ScoreGolf would do well by adopting Golf Digest’s new criteria for rating golf courses, particularly in the Shot Value category. By adopting a valuation standard that removes points for course rating that promote single-dimensional play (air game only) with lush and wet conditioning and adding points to courses having firm, fast conditioning and multidimensional options for the player to choose.

    FYI, Golf Digest’s new language in the golf course rating system:

    “We abandoned the idea that courses should have lush, green, perfectly uniform grass and adopted the position that dry, firm turf provides the best conditions for playing golf. Great conditioning is not striped mowing patterns in the rough or uniformed lies in bunkers. That’s overindulgent cosmetics. We think every club would benefit by adopting our definition as a standard for course conditioning.”

    This quote came from, Ron Whitten, Senior Editor, Architecture, Golf Digest Magazine

  • Other than The National GC buying a bunch of copies and distribute them to their members, I doubt people who are used to getting them up for free will shell out $ to buy the ‘special edition’ of Score Golf Magazine.

  • Rob,

    I always wonder why you always take the time to mention Glencoe in a negative light. There is no doubt it and Country club are the two best courses in the Calgary, with Glencoe being undoubtedly the toughest track in the city, and probably the province. Full disclosure, I am a member there, as is Stephen Ames – albeit an honorary member.

    Speaking of Stephen, he has nothing good to say about anything or anyone, why would Glencoe be any different? At one point he asked the Glencoe for $50,000 for the club to have the honor of it being his home course, to which Glencoe quickly told him to get lost. After a few years practicing elsewhere he asked to return given that Glencoe is home to arguably one of the best practice facilities in the country.

    Stephen also has other motives for saying Glencoe could never hold a tour event, and that is his desire to build a PGA tour capable course in Calgary. He is currently working on a course with Johny Miller who is known, at least in the US, for building courses designed to hold PGA tour events, that are never good enough to hold PGA tour events. I wish Stephen and Johny luck, but given the piece of land they are building on and those involved, I think Glencoe is still Alberta’s best chance of holding a PGA event, albeit with massive renovations – which by the way will begin in August of 2011. Hopefully the changes will make it tour worthy, although it doesn’t sound at this point like the membership is even interested in giving up the course for two weeks to hold a tour event.



    • Nolan,

      I have spent a fair bit of time at Glencoe (haven’t asked for $50K, but what do I have to lose?).

      You are right about the practice facility being top notch. I think Glencoe is an example of a facility where the club is better than the courses, and I don’t mean that as a slight. I like both courses, conditioning has never been an issue, and the two 18s provide nice variety. I wouldn’t call either great, but few courses are.

      As for being tour worthy, I would hope the membership avoids chasing that. It means nothing. As for being toughest, I think that is overrated. It is easier to build a tough course than a good course, as many mountain layouts show.

      Ames and Miller should make some sort of crapfest. Their efforts will only make Glencoe look better.

  • How did this madness start. Chasing a few spots higher so the clubs can use in their marketing. We have a number of so called experts that some of them don’t know a sand iron from a curling iron. We throw a big day for these people give them lunch, dinner, drinks or what ever on the nickle of the members. Great gig if you can get it.

    I would like to see my club (Scarboro) get off the ratings band wagon, tell them we don’t need the so called experts coming out for a great day, taking tee times away from the members.

    I would like to change the ranking days and invite members of the military out for a great day, who do you think is more deserving.

    This is scam put on but the magazine world, I for one could care less if we are ranked 49, 4 or 400 the most important number is we are number one with our members.

    Stop the madness and tell the rankers to pay green fees, they would be dropping like like a 12 inch put. That is the way I see it now and have for a long time!

    • Since you are on the high horse….

      Why don’t you give up your membership and donate the money to the families of the military instead?

  • Cy: Scarboro is an excellent course and deserving of a higher placement. Be proud of what your super and your GM have done to create a great facility to be a member at.

    I know you don’t care about the ranking but there are viable reasons to play the “game” and get ranked. Utmost reason is the marketing to NEW members. Potential members do care.

    I do like the idea that rankers should pay their guest fees or be invited to play by a member only. At no time should MEDIA day events be counted for ranking purposes. Maybe to just get them out to see the course, but the officially ranking of the course should not be on this “media day” and should be at a later date.

  • Just wanted to comment on Zokel’s whole strategy to re-invent golf into what “he” and a small group of fellow minimalists think should be the new standards in archetecture/maintenance practices, as well as influence in the re-design of existing golf courses. In my mind this is nothing new and in fact many people have tried (and failed) to impose a particular style of golf, that is very successful in its original geographical and environmental location, on to a piece of property that the environment (ie. weather, soil, elevation change)just doesn’t match, and the result is never the same. I don’t think anyone would argue that the ground game was developed out of necessity and/or circumstance back on the orgional “seaside links” style courses in Scotland because the prevailing winds that blow off the ocean will manipulate a ball struck high in the air, as well as dry the surface of a non-irrigated putting surface, making a ball that flew into a firm dry green bounce off the back. Having hickory shafts and lack of “square gooved” wedges didn’t help either I suppose. This is where the term “bump and run” was coined and I would say that those conditions would be considered “firm and fast”. Having been to Scotland and seen the original courses like Royal Troon and Turnberry as well as Bandon Dunes in the US where this type of golf course has been successfully re-created, there are obvious reasons for the success. The reason it works on the coast of Oregon is that the environment in both locations is practicly identical. Both have plenty of rainfall so irrigation is pretty much optional. The soil is basically pure sand that will drain well when the heavy rains fall ,is easy to shape, does not compact and grass roots well in . The climate in both locations is also perfect for growing Fescue year round. The topography is also similar and with very little elevation change is conducive to a layout that favors a ground game. To take this kind of golf course away from the ocean, where the climate is colder or drier, soil is tight and compactable, land is hilly,rocky or steep making it difficult to make gently rolling fairways and greens is risky at best. Unlike Bandon or Troon you will require a cart to make your way around, which will have a huge impact on the fragile fescue that will be struggling to grow in tight, compact soils resulting in the fescue being taken over by non-desirable grasses that may not be able to handle the cold winters. Conversly, turning the irrigation system off at an existing golf course (like in rainy Vancouver) that now favors the “air only” game to make the conditions firmer and faster to keep the new USGA and GD raters happy, will likely result in many upset club members and eventually, Greenskeepers kicking their lunch bucket down the road! My opinion is that there should be many different varieties of golf courses (like there are today) and each one should look at getting the most out of the piece of property, within their environmental limitations, so that they can to make it “unique”, while keeping the spirit and fundamentals of the game intact. Saying that one type of layout is superior to another seems self-serving, expecially coming from an aspiring architect or golf course owner. BTW, Erin Hills (Ron Whitten’s minimalist co-design in Wisconsin, home to the 2017 US open) just went through a $4 million renovation just a few years after opening, mainly because the minimalist (firm and fast or “a little rough, a little thin” that they call it) conditions were not acceptable to the majority of golfers. Could the “attack in the battle in what is killing the game” (quoted from Zokel above) actually be golf courses that require $25,000 memberships?

  • Nolan,

    Since when does being the toughest(highly debatable) and closest to hosting the PGA make a course great?

    Also being top 2 or 3 in Calgary is a useless fact as Calgary golf is very average at best.

    Like Tighthead said it’s a great club with good golf

  • Defender,

    Private clubs that require $25,000 memberships are niche, niche products survive/perish on their own individual strength/weakness in the market. This down market is now acting to cull out those that don’t work… which is a good for the market… typical private clubs are struggling big time for the most part too, but that’s not what I am talking about.

    The “attack in the battle in what is killing the game” that I spoke of are the typical costs associated with conventionally designed, constructed, maintenance and operational cost of the majority of golf courses including most public resort courses who cater the average golfers … what adds insult to injury is the consistently uninspiring single-dimensional products that have been built over the past three decades in North America.

    Would be happy to consider your other points further if you were comfortable to step out of anonymity… btw, the correct spelling is, Z.O.K.O.L.


  • Sorry about the miss-spelling of your last name Dick. I will remain anonymous and this will be my last posting. I feel I will have made my point and to go on debating personal opinions on the best direction for golf only brings out the Ego’s. You must realise that statements you make like “uninspiring, single dimensional designs” and “attack in the battle in what is killing the game” are going to raise eyebrows among the other qualified, talented and most importantly “experienced” people involved in the golf industry, no? If the only way for golf courses to succeed financially in the future is to convince the average golfer that brown, firm golf courses are the only acceptable playing conditions then I think you have a pretty big challenge ahead of you. Dermatologists have been preaching that the sun is bad for our skin for years, yet the beaches are still extremely popular, and those that go to the beach are proud to sport a suntan. With the backing of a single Golf Digest writer and USGA representative, somehow I don’t think we will be seeing the “brown is the new green” look at Augusta National any time soon. We won’t know for many years if your “industry changing” design(s) and construction techniques, maintenance practices will actually stand the test of time so I think I will sit back and watch from a distance, like most people I expect. Best of luck to you ZokOl!

  • Anonymous,

    Thank you for your cordial reply…a book worth reading, “It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For”… being anonymous stands for zilch my friend.

    The whole purpose of my statements were designed to raise eyebrows, encourage debate, and question those status quo qualified people in the industry… as a professional player one quickly learns the very nature of golf exposes both talent and flaw. There is no reason this shouldn’t also be applied to the design, construction, maintenance and operational aspect of golf business… do you actually think it’s healthy to not question status quo??…the essence of the game is that nobody is above reproach.

    Admittedly, you and most people sit back and watch from a distance… life is too short… and unfortunately that’s an ailment in our culture which adds to our problem. Are you an industry guy… a superintendent or designer perhaps… maybe we know each other? If so, we should have a coffee?

    It is a difficult path to stand in there and periodically go against the industry grain. I believe there are definite widespread flaws in the industry which should be challenged for the betterment of the game… it’s definitely not for the faint of heart and please do not interpret that I have all the answers… I do not. But I do believe in challenges status quo…. if you think Augusta National is good model to use you should reconsider your thinking.

    Conventional golf design & maintenance philosophies & practices over the past few decades have been anything but common sense based. You are an excellent example of your “Augusta” comments that the majority of people are influenced by what they see on TV at Augusta National and the PGA Tour which has contributed to the “overindulgence” and perception in the game.

    My backing is not just a Golf Digest writer… Ron Whitten is the Senior Editor, Architecture for Golf Digest and an extremely knowledgeable/responsible person in the game that oversees the architecture aspect of the largest golf magazine publication in the industry. The “USGA representative” happens to be the President of the USGA. There are a few more credible people in the “minimalist camp” that I am proud to be of the same mind.

    Coore & Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Mike Kaiser, Gil Hanse, Tom Lehman, Graham Marsh, Rod Whitman, Bruce Charlton, Armen Suny, etc. are a few others that have brought back rational thinking and better playability, in the classic sense, back into the game in their cost effective work. This is not only a philosophy that I fully endorse, but have also committed to in my business… here are a few interesting words from others in the business that I enthusiastically respect:

    “A majority of people still think familiar names and big budgets translate to great golf, no matter how many examples there are saying otherwise. It’s why the game is in the mess it’s in and why so many of those courses are being redone within 10 to 15 years after opening. We are so far from realizing the game’s true potential through architecture that inspires.” – GEOFF SHACKELFORD

    “Twenty years ago, if you wanted to build a notable golf course, you hired a big-name architect and gave him a big budget. Conventional wisdom said the more expensive the project, the better it must be. Today’s market is more sophisticated. The most noteworthy courses of the past decade have been among the least expensive to build. “ – TOM DOAK

    “Coore & Crenshaw, given the right terrain, have shown the courage and imagination it takes to turn back the clock to an earlier era of course design.” – NICK FALDO

    Thanks for getting the spelling my name right.


    • I believe it was the great golf course architect Donald Ross who said, “God gave you the golf course. You just have to find the holes”.

  • Robert – I totally agree with you that Twin Rivers in NFLD should be on the list. Beautiful layout with views of the Atlantic Ocean.
    Cataraqui should be higher for sure….can’t beleive it is almost off the list.
    Also agree with Chris that St. Thomas should be ranked higher than the London Hunt.
    Glen Abbey and Redtail are still ranked too high.
    I am glad Otter Creek did not make the list. Nice new course but has 2 hokey holes that are impossible for even scratch golfers.


  • Glencoe’s 45 holes do not come close to being as good as Priddis Greens’ 36 holes – and that’s before you talk about the coniditoning of the greens at Glencoe the last few years. Priddis would love to have Glencoe’s practice facility, but that’s not what this ranking is about.


  • Defender,

    Why don’t you come out to Sagebrush to experience first hand what Dick is referring to. I’ll be there next weekend (Sept. 10th through 12th) and would be happy to have you as a guest to see first hand what an incredible product Dick and his team have created.


    • That is a sweet weekend SG. Sagebrush is a special place. Golfwise it only ranks behind Bandon for me, but is is a very different experience. Incredibly welcoming for a private facility, and it really feels like a retreat. The world could be going to hell, but if you are in the Hideout you wouldn’t know or care.

  • KC,

    “Since you are on the high horse….

    Why don’t you give up your membership and donate the money to the families of the military instead?”

    I don’t own a horse, how long have you been ranking golf courses and how do I get you job? Better still why don’t you give up your ranking job or media job and let a member of the military rank golf courses they might be able to give a fair opinion.

  • The Calgary region top Ten (my opinion)…

    1) Priddis – Hawk & Raven… Two terrific layouts, good conditions, great setting.
    2) Country Hills – Talons Course (formerly Links) new McBroom redesign. Maybe the best course in Alberta if you can ignore the surroundings (airplanes, car traffic, houses). 7300 yards from the tips is a great challenge!
    3) Calgary G&CC – A true classic in the heart of the city.
    4) Glencoe – Forest Course… Nice layout, but nothing memorable. POOR conditions the last several years.
    5) Earl Grey – Another classic, but nothing too memorable.
    6) Heritage Pointe – Nice Area, Great Conditions, always fun to play!
    7) Bearspaw – Good solid course, nothing goofy, usually in good shape.
    8) Hamptons – Yes it is little snobby, but a very good golf course, well manicured!
    9) Silver Springs – Nothing spectacular, but a course I could play every day.
    10) Willow Park – Not much need to bring out the driver on most holes, but you have to hit it straight or you will have to chip the ball out sideways

  • Nice Courses in Canada:

    #1 country hills Golf club-it is in very good shape and i am glad i have a mebership there!
    #2 Herritige Pointe -very nice and beautiful. In very good shape.No noise around it very clam…
    #3 Bear Mountian-very beautiful, and has good greens.Has alot of different elevations to shot from.It is very fun!!!
    #4 Banff golf course – very nice people, breath taking views and a nice good solid course.
    #5 Valley Ridge-preatty nice,usualy in good shape……………………………..would not go there if bringing someone seacial…………..

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