Ontario Golf's Top 100 — the hits and misses

The fourth hole at the National GC of Canada -- OG's top course

So Ontario Golf Magazine is no more, but the publication brought out its final list of the top courses in Ontario as selected by its panel of 60 members. I’ve been a member of the panel since then editor Ted McIntyre asked me to join a decade ago. I always enjoyed going through the process since there’s no set criteria for how you have to choose you courses. In other words, unlike say ScoreGolf or Golf Digest, you don’t have a point system to rate the courses by. You simply put them in your order of preference, which does yield some occasionally strange results (with one rater putting Weston GC at the top, for example, or Essex as No.2.)

I can’t say the results for this year are particularly startling. I don’t understand how the National GC (see CG review) moves from

Goodwood: has never officially opened

three to one – considering nothing changed in the top three courses (no renos, alterations, etc.), but I can only assume some OG members hadn’t seen it since Fazio reworked holes a few years back. Oviinbyrd continues to rise – coming in at a deserved No. 7 – but everything else in the Top 10 is pretty much static. The only exception is Goodwood (see CG review), the ultra-private course owned by Gordon Stollery that has never officially opened. Only three panellists – myself included – have seen it and therefore it didn’t have enough votes to qualify. I think it would be solidly in the Top 10 if it had enough eye balls.

Other interesting notes:
• Toronto GC (see CG review) rises five spots to #12 after a reno by Martin Hawtree. This was pretty much expected. Toronto now has more visual appeal, even if I don’t think all of the renos improved the course (see hole 16 as an example).
• Essex at 16? I like the course a lot and think it has great greens, but so does Cherry Hill and the courses are 30 spots apart. Essex is significantly too high in the ratings to my way of thinking.
• Is the bloom off Muskoka? Rocky Crest and Ridge at Manitou used to be courses that were considered in the elite. Now they rest in the twenties and are falling.
• Big changes. Magna is up four spots to 25, which is too high, while Oakdale (see CG review) rises 7 spots, which is closer to where it should be. Glen Abbey falls six spots. Any idea why? Rosedale comes in 9 spots higher – and well deserved. Scarboro falls three spots despite a solid restoration. That makes no sense to me. It should be at least 10 spots higher. Summit (see CG review) rises 8 spots to 32, which is nice to see, but still too low. Mad River jumps nine spots – the course has apparently let more raters see it. Thornhill jumps seven positions, while Cataraqui rises six. You’re trying to tell me there are 43 better courses in Ontario than Cataraqui? Come on. Wyndance moves up 12 places, while Copper Creek drops 11. Strange.  National Pines at 47? Really. Granite Golf drops 16 places.
• How the mighty have fallen. Angus Glen’s South course is now outside the Top 50, where once it was a staple of the Top 10. I think it is easy to argue it is a Top 40 course, just like Copper Creek should be.
• Nice to see Tarandowah (see CG review) in the Top 50. My affection for the course continues without question. Its greens, btw, were perfect this weekend.
• Cutten Fields falls seven spots? Not enough media days perhaps?
• Lambton (see CG review) jumps 22 spots, but still isn’t what I’d consider a great course.
• Hard to judge the final 50 – many are exchangeable to me – but what in the world is Kawartha doing outside of the Top 30? This is one of Stanley Thompson’s great designs and is the most underrated course in Canada. Maybe if the club did something to promote itself, it would help. Alas they’ve chosen to be very quiet.

For the record, my top five were: St. George’s, Hamilton, Devil’s Paintbrush, Eagles Nest and Westmount.

For a full list of Top 100 Ontario Courses click here.


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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.

17 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I don’t get Beacon Hall being so high in all the ratings. Back 9 is outstanding however the front has alot of strange quirks and nothing overly memorable from a design standpoint.

    Credit Valley is ranked too high, doesn’t belong on the list. Taboo, although dropping in rating, is another strange one that is always rated so high.

    Muskoka Lakes? Fantastic par 3’s but thats where it ends.

    Where is Oslerbrook. Recently played there and found it to be a solid track, should rate higher than 30 of the courses that made the list.

  • I agree were is Muskoka? I’d rate Grandview or Rockycrest way higher than London Highlands, or some of the other Southern courses? seems to be an effort to cover every region? maybe for marketing resons? or just Human Nature if you have a long drive then you have higher expectations.
    If all these course were lined up side by side like resorts on the Las Vegas strip. I think the rakings would look a lot different.

  • Too high:

    Beacon Hall
    Devil’s Pulpit
    London Hunt
    Georgian Bay Club
    King Valley
    Ladies Club

    Too Low:

    Toronto GC – the best Colt course in Canada, IMO
    St. Thomas
    Rocky Crest
    Lookout Point
    Cherry Hill
    Osprey Wasteland
    Lora Bay
    Maple Downs

    Should be on list:

    Dundas Valley

  • I echo the comment on OslerBrook. Not saying it is top 20 but how can it not be on the Top 100 list based on some of the tracks that are? Ontario Ladies Amateur players were impressed last year and the Men’s Amatuer is there in 2012….so would the OGA have these events at a course not in the Top 100? It doesn’t get much outside play and definitely does not try to influence jounalists so maybe it has just not had enough exposure. …. and to be clear, I am a member so I have a bias, but I was also a member of another club in the Top 100 that does not come anywhere close whether it is design, conditioning, practice facilities, or the overall experience.

  • As I am not a ranker, but work in the industry and have been at some of the courses listed as an employee, know rankers, I do have a familiarity with the ranking process. If a golf course doesn`t have as many rankers as another, it is going to be listed lower on the list or not at all. Many of the top courses are there as they have media days, tournaments, or rankers are invited to play. In addition to that, you have to assume that a ranker is more likely going to golf at The National. Hamilton, St. Georges, or Devil Paintbrush as opposed to Oslersbrook, Kawartha, King Valley etc, because every golfer wants to make sure they play the top courses when they get the chance.

    The higher ranked courses aren`t necessarily ranked high because they are the best, or in the best condition, but often are played by more people who rank it highly. Lower courses in the rankings could have had 10 of the 60 rankers play, it, and out of the 10, maybe 5 ranked it in there top 5. But it still might not be enought points to make the list. This is not to take away from any course as it is all a persons opinion and a highly ranked course is there because it is both good and well conditioned.

  • Course ratings make for great conversation of minimal substance. Everyone has an opinion which they express frequently but more often than not provide little backup or rationale. RT stands out from the crowd in that he identifies reasons for his view and perspective. Most do not. One example from a comment above is:

    “Back 9 is outstanding however the front has alot of strange quirks and nothing overly memorable from a design standpoint.” As I say…entertaining conversation based on no substance…

    Some people think strange quirks make a course outstanding while others (like the poster above) would disagree. Does a “fun” course equate to a great course? Why not? Should a hard course be a higher rated course than an easier course?

    Should a low handicap player who rates a course have more or less influence than a high handicapper? Is it fair that they carry the same weight. Would a low handicap see nuances that a high handicap may not? Is that relevant?

    Clearly, there are no right and wrong answers. Just opinions – most of which are about as useful as what you paid for them. Exactly.

  • Weekend Enthusiast

    “As I say…entertaining conversation based on no substance…” Tell me how my comment is based on no substance. There really is nothing there that stands out as being superior to its competition.

    Give me three outstanding holes on the front 9 at Beacon that standout from anything that any other high end course in the area has to offer.

    If its top ten then you should have no problem only coming up with 3 holes. If you can maybe that would be an interesting conversation.

  • Yahman:

    If you really need me to spell it out for you….

    “Back 9 is outstanding however the front has alot of strange quirks and nothing overly memorable from a design standpoint.”

    How is the back 9 outstanding? – Effective use of bunkering? Stunning vistas? Multiple strategies available for each hole? Just plain difficult? Creative routing / use of the land etc.. Each of the former could be used by someone to define outstanding to them. What’s yours? You do not provide that rationale or logic. That is why there is no substance. But there is plenty of descriptive words that make you sound like an authority. But the reader has no clue as to your credentials so why should the reader believe the back 9 is outstanding.

    You then state “…however the front has alot of strange quirks and nothing overly memorable from a design standpoint.” Being memorable is highly personal and there are many different variations on what is memorable. What’s yours? What is a strange quirk? Lahinch in Ireland has a par 3 called Dell. A mound stands in front of the green so you need to hit over the mound onto a blind green. That would appear to be a strange quirk but Dell is considered one of the world’s best par 3 (others have a far more negative view). What makes the difference between a strange quirk that is revered versus others that do not make the grade?

    Even those with expert knowledge on a subject will make subjective statements but back them up a rationale or substance clearly demonstrating their knowledge of the subject matter and logical thinking. You have done neither in your comments which is why your commentary is highly entertaining but with no substance.

  • Don’t understand all the hate for Beacon Hall. Full disclosure, I am a relatively new member and I just love the place. Also a member at Cataraqui so I can relate to that one as well and compare and contrast.

    Yahman: 3 good holes on the front nine? How about the 9th? A dramatic par four requiring a demanding tee shot over well placed fairway bunkers, then tough second shot into a really neat green site well protected by bunkers front and back. How about 4 – a unique three shot par 5 with strategically located fairway bunkers that make players think about laying up in front of them and having a long approach or hitting over them and leaving a short wedge to the tight green? How about 5, another challenging par 4 with a really interesting approach shot to the green down the hill? I am even warming up to the “quirky” 6th hole when you consider the high risk option of driving the green or the low risk option of playing to the right side. How about 8? Gorgeous par 3 protected by a pond left and a hill right and subject to swirling winds? Surprising how that tee shot tends to shorten your swing. Those holes are all pretty memorable to me.

    From 13 through 18 I am not aware of a stronger set of finishing holes in Ontario. Great variety of holes, many options and they just keep getting progressively better (and tougher). Personally, I smile every time I get to the 13th tee thinking of playing those holes – they are fun to play even though they are tough and demanding.

    And those are just comments on the design. In every other area – conditions, atmosphere, service, access to the tee, time required to play the round, camaraderie, club house – Beacon Hall is definitely top 10. Overall, in my biased (but first hand) opinion, a world class golf facility.

  • Ok, Weekman. See Thompsons comments from above. Not much substance to most of his comments, but you indicate that he “stands out from the crowd”.

    I did not realise you needed to be an “authority” to post your comments on a blog. Nor did I realise I needed to back my comments up with a lengthy description of why I don’t think a course belongs where it ranks on the list.

    If it makes you happy, you win the debate. I conceed. I am no “authority”.

    BC, I don’t think that the front is terrible its just not “top ten” in my opinion. It reminds me alot of the Pulpit. A solid track but without the atmosphere its just “good” solid golf, nothing that makes it stand out as belonging near the top.

    I do agree with your description of the back 9.

    • RT stands out from the crowd as he more often than not provides a rationale for his comments on course ratings and designs. Granted in this column, there is less of that but he is also the author of this blog with a significant following so I think he has earned the right to do so.

      One need not be an authority to comment on a blog. My original comment on this column made reference to the fact that course ratings make for great conversation with minimal substance. I used your post (although did not single you out by your handle) as an example. You seemed to take offence to that with “Tell me how my comment is based on no substance” response. So I provided that detail although I thought it was pretty obvious.

      My personal opinion is that the conversations about course ratings can have substance but the writer needs to provide a rationale so people can argue on the merits of their perspective rather than a chest pounding discourse along the lines of “This or that course should be in the top ten”. But posters can write what they wish – I was simply offering up a perspective on the silliness of those kinds of comments.

      But just to be clear – I was not saying you need to be an authority to comment on a blog. I was saying that IF you are an authority, you can get away with not necessarily having to provide a rationale for your view. If you are not a recognized authority, then simply providing an opinion without a rationale or logic is “entertaining conversation with no substance”.

  • Weekend and Yahman: I didn’t feel the need to go into too much detail in my remarks as I’ve already written 1,000 word reviews on most of the courses.

    I do think there are too many people on posting boards, blogs, etc. who don’t think about a golf course beyond “it had great conditions,” or “it is awesome.” I do believe one needs a rationale for their opinions or they border on pointless.

    For what it is worth, I still think Beacon Hall has a great back nine and an average front nine.

    As for what “turfguy” says, there is likely some truth in the fact that most raters don’t actually get out to see enough of the courses they are supposed to rate. I haven’t seen four or five of the 100 on Ontario Golf’s list, but I’ve been to most. I think these panels should request that raters see a certain number of courses each year to hold their position on the panel. How hard would that be? I can see the complaint now — “You want me to play more free golf?”

    Golf Digest, for example, expects raters to see certain courses in their area and I see no reason why a magazine like ScoreGolf wouldn’t do the same, especially now that it is the only magazine ranking courses in Canada.

    • What I find these “lists” accomplish is a stupid debate between people who do not golf enough at different courses to have a proper opinion. They also rarely undertand a lot of the things that would go into making one golf course better then another. Routhing, strategy, course conditions, how the course is set up. It is all very subjective and a matter of personal opinon.

      Most of the time its just a morale boost for the Turf Department when they are ranked higher then the previous ranking, and puts a Superintendent under pressure when there ranking slips.

      Enjoy them for what they are.

  • i like Greystone in milton, gets you to use more clubs in your bag than most pound-em- out courses. the criteria for ranking these courses must be quite vast if you consider the number of things to consider,and which things would be weighed more than others? does course condition matter as much as strategy?
    to me it should not. the top 30 courses seem to be held for the clubs with the most money to spend on maintenance, and as a former superintendent who liked to play around ( not that kind) it is my opinion that, many of those top rated courses where not that tough,exciting or memorable.
    my other favorite is bigwin island in huntsville. ya i’m a carrick fan

  • I tought this was Ontario best courses.No mention of any northern Ontario courses which in my opinion rate much higher than many of those chosen.Just to mention one, Timberwolf in Sudbury, Ontario.

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