Course Review: St. Thomas Golf and Country Club (Union, Ont.) 1923
Architect(s): Stanley Thompson (alterations by Robbie Robinson, Ian Andrew)
The Scorecard: Long regarded as one of the best courses few go out of their way to see, St. Thomas G&CC is truly one of Canada’s gems, a course on meandering land that uses valleys to spectacular effect on several occasions. With holes redone by Robbie Robinson (as well as the 14th green, which was reworked by Ian Andrew a few years back), this is not a pure Thompson design, but is an exceptional course nonetheless with several great par fours, including the 3rd, 7th, 11th, 16th and 18th, which are the strength of the course.
• The two-shot holes at St. Thomas are terrific and really elevate the course. The 3rd reminds me of the 9th at Toronto Golf Club without the elevated tee shot and forces golfers to hit two excellent shots to a steep green. There are at least four par fours that are among the best in Canada.
• Greens. I’m sure some will be put off by the steep sloped greens at St. Thomas, but to me they are charming and exceptionally challenging. Greens like those on No. 3 or No. 16 are simply not built any more. Needless to say you don’t want to be above the hole much at St. Thomas or you’ll find yourself putting defensively all day. The main strategy at St. Thomas is to keep your approaches below the hole, but there are some truly fascinating putts to be tried when you fail to pull that off (take the putt from the back of 12 to the front left, for example). The surrounds, with their typical Thompson-style mounding, are also excellent.
• Conditions. For a course that doesn’t have an outstandingly large maintenance budget, St. Thomas has great turf.
• The second hole is a bit of a dog, a downhill par 4 to a blind green that is narrow and hard to hold. There’s been lots of discussion about moving the
green, but it stays in place. The hole comes early in the round, so it might be easy to forget it over the round.
• I’m not hugely enamoured of the 9-10 combo of par 3s. Back-to-back par 3s are tough to pull off. Both holes are solid, but neither are standouts. The 9th is a typical Thompson long one-shot hole, to a steep green. The 10th probably has more character, but is on the flattest part of the course., though salvaged by an excellent green. Similarly the 13th is just a long slog of a hole, though the elevated tee shot adds some drama.
• The fives are perhaps a little short now, though they are of interesting character.
• Trees and fairways. The super at St. Thomas has the course in terrific shape, but one has to wonder what he might accomplish with a slightly larger budget. Trees are an issue in several places, including down the left of 3, where they hang over the fairway, and 12, where they shade the entire tee. Removing some of these would open up the course and improve the already outstanding turf. It would also be nice to see fairway lines extended on some holes (6 to 8 come to mind), as they seem to have become awfully narrow. However, that’s would increase the need to maintain more turf, which is always an issue at smaller private clubs like Union.
The Final Tally:
St. Thomas remains an exceptional course, solidly in the second tier of designs Thompson created in his lifetime, right alongside Cataraqui and, for my money, Westmount. Many will argue that this is the best course in Southern Ontario, ahead of the likes of Redtail and London Hunt. I’d agree. It has character to burn and its shortcomings are perhaps more nitpicks than real issues. Perhaps with a little tree removal, St. Thomas would shine more brightly.
With a new range in place and an eager membership, St. Thomas should be better recognized than it is. A classic.