Course: National Golf Club of Canada (1976)
Architects: George and Tom Fazio
The scorecard:Long regarded as one of the “big three” courses in Canada, the National is also considered one of the toughest tests in golf –
anywhere. For me that last bit was always off-putting. After all, who would want to play a course that beats you up time and again on a regular basis. However, I was looking forward to my visit to the National this time, largely because my game was relatively consistent and I thought it would be interesting to tackle the course’s challenges with a decent handicap.
Truthfully I’ve always been intimidated by the National, and I always thought it was a bit one-dimensional. In other words, miss its greens with your approach and you’d be made to suffer like Job. I can’t say that isn’t still the case, but on this trip to the National I found it fair for the most part, though the greens can still be diabolical.
It isn’t perfect – there are plenty of spots that still bother me, though no where more than the 12th green, with its raised section in the middle of a slight, narrow putting surface. I watched one of my playing partners try to play a ball up to the slight flat area in the middle, only to have it roll back to his feet on three occasions. Struck me as lacking a clown’s mouth, and it is disappointing, because many of the other greens are excellent.
Still, there’s no denying holes like the par four seventh, the 11th, and the 16th are among the best in Canada.
• Width — The best holes at the National are excellent and difficult without being too narrow or tight. In all honesty, the National is a terrific driving course, wide enough to allow one to make the occasional mistake and get away with it.
• Greens – With the exception of the previously mentioned 12th, the greens at the National are uniformly among the best in Canada. And that’s not about the quality of turf – which rolls very nicely – but about the shaping and subtle rolls. They can be devious, but they are a lot of fun at the same time.
• Land – There is no doubt the National is built on some of the best land in Canada. The stretch from 7 through to the 14th hole is as good as it gets.
• Double hazard – Am I the only one that finds the bunker/willow combination on the 4th
hole to be overkill? A fairway bunker is one thing, but to put a tree in front of it seems silly. Why not let golfers try to advance the ball over the creek, a long difficult shot without worry about the tree stuck in front of you.
• Twelve – a terrific tee shot on a strong par 5 is ruined by a silly, overcooked green.
• Sixteen – For the record I birdied this hole, but I still prefer the previous version, which was a breather before you got kicked in the cojones on the 17th and 18th holes. The scale seems off here and the green, with its front now saved down, doesn’t really work from the angle to the right.
The Final Tally: It isn’t hard to see why people who love hard golf courses regard the National as the country’s best. It does have several of the best holes in the country (7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17) and even from the black tees is as solid a test as anything I’ve ever played. Truthfully it is a great second-shot golf course, one that gives you room off the tee, but forces you to carefully consider and hit your approaches. Missing in the wrong spot means a bogey – or far worse. I’ve never had a lot of affection for the National, but after my last visit, several holes revealed themselves to be truly great (I’m a big fan of 11, for instance, and 7 is one of the great fours in Canada). I’m still not convinced the National is truly great – I don’t see it as being Top 100 in the world as some have argued – but I do believe it to be the best course I’ve played that involved Tom Fazio. My respect for the National is intact, and my affection for the place has risen slightly.