12 Canadian courses in Top 100 outside of the U.S.: Golf Digest

Interesting to see Golf Digest update its “best courses outside of the U.S.” list.

Having participated in Golf Digest’s ratings panel — and apparently there’s a Canadian list forthcoming — it was interesting to see the courses that made the list:

St. George’s

National GC



Highlands Links


Devil’s Paintbrush

Royal Montreal Blue

Beacon Hall





This in itself isn’t that intriguing. The National is generally ranked among the Top 3 in Canada, though there are plenty of courses like it in the U.S. (Butler National for one), by which I mean penal and difficult. The National is a good course, and by Golf Digest’s ranking — where difficulty is a factor — it’ll always come out very high. But it is hard to imagine St. George’s ahead of  Sunningdale Old. Ballybunion, or Casa De Campo and the National (and Hamilton!) ahead of the likes Kingsbarns or Lahinch. Frankly it is those kind of oddities that essentially nullify the results to me.

However, I can understand how it happens under Golf Digest’s criteria. Three categories — design variety, shot values and the top dog — resistance to scoring — will always set apart difficult courses on the GD list. That said, on the other hand I don’t understand how a course like the National or St. George’s holds up against a links when it comes to Ambiance or Esthetics, two categories that are very similar in nature.

Regardless, the Canadian courses appearing on the list are intriguing. I, for one, can’t rank Capilano ahead of Highlands (on Thompson’s “great five” list I have Capilano as the designer’s fifth-best effort), but since conditioning is a factor in the GD list, I can see where it might happen. It is also likely that more American panelists would get to Vancouver to see Capilano than to the north of Cape Breton Island to see Highlands (that might change with Cabot Links, however). Beyond that, few of the Canadian courses surprise me. Royal Montreal gets love for being a hard, historic course rather than a great design, the Paintbrush deserves its nod, and Beacon Hall, Sagebrush and Shaughnessy all seem like sensible decisions that could be defended.

Are there too many Canadian courses on the list? One thing is clear — the GD list demonstrates just how many truly great American courses there are in the world, and outside of that, how many of the rest are in England, Scotland, and Ireland. I’ve played 40 of the 100 on this list, but there are plenty of courses that make this group that I wouldn’t go out of my way to play.


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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.

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  • The country that has surprisingly few high ranked courses is South Africa. Look at all the great players that they have produced since Bobby Locke about 70 years ago.

    There also aren’t many high ranked courses in Asia outside of Japan. I wonder if that will change in the near future?

  • Love the ‘goal-post’ bushes in the photo…geesh.

    St. G, Highlands, Toronto, and maybe Hamilton and Jasper are the only courses absolutely deserving of top 100 outside USA.

  • Matt,

    Horse jumps left over from past use.

    There should not be more than four or five courses on this list.

  • Let’s start with some facts:
    1) The National is all most always rated #1 and, while it is difficult, it is fair-Rewards good shots-Penal for bad shots! If you want to ‘wack-it’ around and shoot 80 you will be disappointed. The National is a GREAT course and your hate-on for it clouds your judgement and seriously undermines your credibility when it comes to objective comments and ratings.
    2) The first 5 holes at Ballybunion are really poor and, it is one of the most overrated golf courses in Ireland- Just ask the Irish.
    3) Both the ambiance and aesthetics at St Geroges and The National are sensational. You cannot compare them to a sea-side venue. We have all played links course with beautiful vistas but the course was a dud. You’re trying to compare apples to trees RT.
    4) Royal Montreal, Beacon Hall and Retail are NOT in Canada’s top 10 but are clearly very good marketing to the raters at GD. The others are defendable.
    5) I have played the majority of the courses in England, Scotland and Ireland and do agree that some the Canadian courses are ranked too high against those listed. However, I would be very interested to get the locals (Scotland and Ireland) to rate their best courses. You would find several you’ve never heard of on the list and several of the ‘usual suspects would be absent.
    6) To place Highland Links ahead of Jasper is just wrong! First and foremost HL is NOT a links course; it is overgrown, doesn’t drain properly and is in desperate need of a Course Superintendent. It could be spectacular but as it stands now it is not. Period full stop.

  • JJ, I agree that great settings for golf need not be exclusively the domain of seaside courses. Walking St. George’s on a crisp fall day, for example, is as good as it gets.

    Re: The National…it’s a very, very good golf course but RT is certainly not alone in his assessment, particularly amongst those who have played many of the world’s best courses.

  • John: I’m not saying you can compare them — I’m telling you Golf Digest asks you to grade the aesthetics and ambiance of links and parkland as if they were the same.

    Oh, and no hate on for the National. To suggest because I don’t regard it as highly as you do is comparable to “hating” it would be wrong. I just don’t like it as much as you do. I “hate” other courses — the National isn’t one of them.

  • Ask any of the 156 players what they thought of our course during the 2012 Canadian Men’s Senior Amateur this past August. One competitor, who happens to be a member at Merion and Oakmont (his father is a member at Pine Valley too), said that our course is a fantastic championship golf course and deserving of a write-up in Golf Digest. Check us out at or look us up on Facebook! You may see us on that list one day to we hope.


    Alan Morton, B.Sc. (Agr.)
    Golf Course Superintendent
    Golf Griffon Des Sources

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