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:
Royal Montreal Blue
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.