The Worst Course Renovations in Canada

The original opening tee shot at Banff Springs.

Following up on my review of Edmonton’s Royal Mayfair, surely a fine club with a course that appears to have been altered with the same subtlety that Michael Jackson changed his face, I thought I’d write about some of the worst renovations (not all — but I’d love to hear of those I’ve missed) I’ve seen during my tours of some of Canada’s best. The shame with some on the list is they are excellent courses — and if someone had some foresight (and in some instances that is happening) they could be put back to their previous state. And yes some on the list, like Westmount, are already preparing to make some changes.

  • Banff Springs (Banff) — There have been two series of tweaks made to Banff Springs, one by designer Bill Robinson, who reworked things to create the Tunnel 9 (including the new first hole), and then later changes by Les Furber to the Thompson course. Furber’s work isn’t egregious, but by changing the routing (the old first hole is now in the middle of the back nine), the course’s flow has been fundamentally altered. It is a testament to how good a design Banff is that it is still considered one of the best in the country. Come on Fairmont, put it back and take some of the sand out of the bunkers!
  • Royal Mayfair (Edmonton) — As mentioned in my recent review, the clash of styles between the fine old school Stanley Thompson holes and the modern work by Ted Locke and Les Furber is jarring. Pete Dye is calling — he wants his 18th hole back!
  • Pine Ridge (Winnipeg) — Pine Ridge is, by and large, a terrific Donald Ross design. It has been a decade since I’ve been there, but the work to rebuild a couple of holes (particularly the 8th and 12th holes, if I recall correctly) was tremendously out of character with Ross’ conception of the course. Unless, that is, he envisioned holding ponds hidden blindly at the bottom of hills.
  • St. Charles (Winnpeg) — Interestingly, what is perhaps the best hole on the Alister MacKenzie nine (the short third hole) still had the original green sitting on the course. However, the hole had been moved, taking out a great risk-reward hole and replacing it with something bland and ordinary. Apparently Jack Nicklaus’ firm is there now — a very strange decision (he replaces the very capable Mike DeVries), though admittedly I haven’t been to St. Charles in years, so I can’t say what has happened there.

    Westmount’s soon to be renovated 12th.

  • Westmount (Kitchener) — The 11th and 12th greens at this fine Stanley Thompson design were rebuilt by Thomas McBroom. The 12th is universally despised — and the 11th just doesn’t work at current green speeds. The club plans to rebuild both.
  • The National Golf Club of Canada — the 16th at the National used to be a breather — a mid-length par four to a plateau green

    The renovated 16th at the National is a real blemish on an otherwise fine course.

    — before George and Tom Fazio hit you with the tough 17th and 18th holes. The rebuilt 16th, reconceived by Tom Fazio, takes that away and grades the fairway towards a massive overly busy bunker complex on the left side. Some would see this as akin to painting a wart on the Mona Lisa.

  • Ottawa Hunt (Ottawa) — Once again, McBroom was brought in to rework the greens at this Willie Park Jr. design. At the time golf writer was highly critical of the work, and time has not been kind to McBroom’s changes. In fact the club recently hired Jason Straka to change them again — let’s hope this modern change is better than the first.  Apparently they hired Michael Hurdzan, a strange choice to say the least. According to one commentator, the plan is to turn the course into a Mike Hurdzan design and give up on its Willie Park heritage. A strange decision if that’s the case.
  • Royal Montreal (Montreal) — Two words: Rees Jones. What was once a great driving course has been rendered repetitive and dull, with segmented greens throughout.
  • Montebello (Montebello, Que.) — John Watson, the son of designer Howard Watson, rebuilt several greens on this course, once again a fine design by Stanley Thompson. Those changes, along with some horrible cart paths that run precariously near to the greens, make this course a fine possibility for a solid restoration. It should be among the best in Canada — right now it isn’t in that discussion.

    Could this cart path get any closer? Montebello in Quebec is a prime candidate for a restoration.

  • Highlands Links (Ingonish, NS) — In the late 1990s, Graham Cooke and Steve Miller reworked this Canadian classic. Cooke’s work was average at best, but the cart paths the pair added were the worst part of the renovation. Cooke and Miller were the anti-Tom Fazio. Where Fazio is genius at hiding cart paths, Cooke and Miller ran them across fairways. Horrible — and still not fixed.

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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.

24 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Not a McBroom fan?

    What did you think of his work at Deer Ridge when you were out there this fall?

    There a quote from True Links that reads something like “the best clubs are the poorest.”

    Often wonder if clubs make changes because they can more so then because they are needed.

  • Robert I totally agree with Banff, it’s a terrible restructure of the course and totally unnecessary. The only possible explanation would be Parks Canada since the course is in a National Park but even if that was the only option for a new clubhouse I would still start the course where it’s suppose to start and live with the old 19th hole.

    I even mentioned the flaw on my report of the Banff Springs hotel. It starts about 40% down this page:

  • As much as I love Banff, I have to agree that the new routing really is annoying, the old first hole and last holes were perfect. And the sand in the bunkers is also very annoying, at least for the past 4 years! The only time you have a chance is if it’s raining and the sand is wet, otherwise it is unplayable.

    The new first hole also doesn’t fit, the left side looks corporate. Devil’s Cauldron looks odd with the second green site too. But the 18 hole course is still one of the best!

    Did you know that Stanley Thompson’s design was built over a Donald Ross course?

    The other renovations that you mention are relevant, as I remember Summit and Rosedale had some “inconvenient” renos in the late 80s, and I hear that Donalda’s and Toronto Golf’s were well received. Over the years Don Valley GC got the worst of renovations as the city stole parts for bridges etc.

  • I believe The Hunt Club is going forward with Michael Hudzan. I’ve seen some plans. Unfortunately, I don’t think the the new routing (and moving the practice facility) is going to sit well with Willie Park Jr fans. Better greens? That’s easy. But the changes to the routing are plentiful. The original course was a par 73, then 72-McBroom and now 71-Hurdzan. Its going to be a Hudzan course, not a restored Park course. Stay tuned… Construction should begin this August.

  • Some excellent examples listed. I think Summit could be in danger of joining this group…jury out until Carrick finishes his work there.

    Tremor, good point. Kawartha GCC (Peterborough) is considered one of the most intact Thompson courses mostly because the club has always been ‘blue collar’ and never had enough cash to even consider making substantial changes.

    After Highlands (hopefully) gets fully restored, next in line should be Montebello…tons of potential there.

    • Carrick has ruined the 7th hole at Summit and he is making changes to 1 and 9 I doubt they will resemble the holes as they were intended. He also made the 18th at Rosedale look out of place with the other 17 holes


  • The recent renovation of Toronto Golf would have scored a perfect 10 had it not been for the unusual pot bunkers they added on number 8 (which force you to hit away from the green). The green is designed to take shots from the right (or straight away), but not the left.
    The pot bunkers staright away and long grass staight and to the right) force your drive to the left, leaving any shot into this green ‘iffy’.
    They have tried to widen the left side by widening the fairway BUT the green is not set up to receive shots from the south side.
    Nothing a little dirt, shovel and sod couldn’t remedy.

  • Colin, good thinking. The last 10 years have produced some excellent restorations of courses with good architectural pedigree, and renovations of some courses that had little going for them to begin with.

  • Robert,

    Some fact checking on your behalf is in order:

    The decision to re-route Banff was made by Canadian Pacific and the reason was no parking, small clubhouse, 100-yard -long driving range. There really was no other option. Robinson was bought in at the same time to design the new Tunnel 9.

    The course was rerouted in 1989 and Les Furber was bought in a few years later to restore bunkers, greens, etc to their original design.

    So why are you trying to tie these two architects to the re-routing?

    And it’s “Fairmont” (not “Fairmount”)

    As you point out, sand has always been an issue at the Banff course, but again some research is in order. Banff is in a national park and they are not allowed to simply import into the park perfect sand that you may expect at top end courses.

  • Peter: Thanks for the help on the typo.

    As for the history lesson, I don’t buy it. The notion was to create the Tunnel nine, build another clubhouse and range and take pressure off the Thompson 18. I get that. In the process they replaced a hole in Thompson’s routing, jammed a driving range in between a couple of holes, and rerouted the golf course around a spaceship-like clubhouse that has aged very badly. Was Robinson responsible for the rerouting? I don’t know and don’t care. Banff should be played the way it was intended.

    As for the heads up that Banff is in a national park, thanks for clearing up the obvious. Does that mean the course’s bunkers should be able to fall into complete disrepair. There’s so much sand in them that you could bury a body in some of the worst examples.

  • Golfers have been complaining about the bunkers at Banff for as long as I’ve been a member (30 years). The common misconception is that they are in bad shape. My understanding is that as the course is within a national park the super is limited to a kind of sand that has a high silt content and just doesn’t stick together well so it tends to pool in the bottom of the bunker. The problem would be solved by eliminating slopes with the bunkers by replacing them with grass banks – but the people would complain that the original design had been changed.

    And you are right about the original rotation being preferable, but like the other poster wrote, the two architects you named had nothing to do with the re-routing. It was a decision made by the hotel. Seems a bit harsh that you sully an architect’s name and then say you don’t know and don’t care.

  • Carl: I didn’t say Les Furber redid the course — just that he did a renovation. Bill Robinson was involved in rerouting the course. I don’t care whether he led that initiative of the hotel did — the truth is that the reno messed up an otherwise great routing.

    As for the sand in the bunkers, Jasper is also in a national park and it doesn’t have the same problem.

  • You wrote “I didn’t say Les Furber redid the course — just that he did a renovation” under a page titled “Canada’s worst course renovations!

    Jasper bunkers are much more shallow than those in Banff and few have steep faces, plus they receive a lot more direct sunlight. Almost half the bunkers on the Banff course receive minimal direct sunlight and none at all in September. Are you suggesting current super Bob Burrows, one of the most experienced and respected supers in Canada, drove through the park gates to his new posting a few years and forgot everything he ever knew about bunker maintenence?

    • Robert,

      I think you missed the Hanse/Andrews efforts at Scarboro. The new fairway bunkers are anything but Tillinghast! New bunkers on #5, #6 and #9 do not (or should not) come into play and have no strategic advantage as does the replacement bunker that is out of play off the 10th tee (and likely yet to be hit by pros/amateurs alike). A few holes are actually much weaker after the reno: the removal of fairway bunkers on #3 and re-routing of the hole to the right has taken the driver out of the bag and made the hole less aesthetic pleasing. Removal of all green side bunkers on #8 have made the approach too easy and banal; the removal of fairway bunkers which framed the 17th tee shot and widening of the 17th fairway have made the hole softer and a a visual train wreck; and the removal of the bunkers on #15 have made the drive less penal. The opening par 5 is on balance an improvement, at least visually, albeit the green is now generally approached by most golfers from an unattractive angle. There were a few improvement- #13 was well done and #16 could be considered a better short par 4. Fortunately the signature holes #4 ( the suggested changes were not implemented), #7 and #18 (the road hole) were left alone. So is the course better ? The green side bunkers are now consistent. But strategically for better golfers? No, the course had lost some of its challenge. A great course made a little more genteel and a little less visually appealing. I guess Hansed, but not enhanced.

    • Deiter – is that a pseudonym for Graham Cooke?

      I agree that the bunkers on 5&10 don’t often come into play, but I disagree about 6&9. The bunkers on 6 make you think about the layup shot if you don’t crush your drive.

      On 3&15 the removal of bunkers makes the holes stronger, particularly 15. Those bunkers on the left where more for saving a shot that might go down the ravine. Being on the left side is now risky but gives the best angle to the green. On 3 pushing the fairway to the right and removing all of the fairway bunkers causing the ravine on the right to come into play much more than it used to. I disagree that the driver is taken out of your hand, that is not the case unless you drive 260+ and even then the renos don’t change the lenght of the hole. The trees on the left are no growing up as a hazard.

      On 8 there was a bunker added back on the left. I don’t really think it is necessary since the hole is not easy unless you are a very low handicap.

      I also far prefer 17 in its current config – there is more room on the right for your drive but the approach to the green is far tougher given the new bunkers on the right and back. And getting in the fairway bunker is pretty much a one stroke penalty – framing bunkers are generally a waste IMHO.

  • Nope, Bob is a talented super. The problem is supers need budgets to make changes. If he doesn’t get the budget, the changes can’t be made.

    Regardless, the bunkers at Banff look okay, but playability is an issue. And Furber redid the bunkers at Banff, and frankly, those aren’t that far off the mark. The first hole, however, doesn’t fit with the remainder of the course.

  • “My understanding is that as the course is within a national park the super is limited to a kind of sand that has a high silt content and just doesn’t stick together well so it tends to pool in the bottom of the bunker. ”

    Carl, I’m curious, who told you this?

  • Routing – Rerouting- Bunkers- etc are all mute issues because nothing is going to change inside our National Parks.
    The prevailing problem with golf courses inside our National Parks is not the ability of the superintendents to maintain them but, the elitist attitude within Parks Canada itself. With the exception of Jasper (and it starting to deteriorate) , the Parks Canada courses all suffer from poor conditioning, over-growth of trees, excessive labour costs and low productivity.
    It would be a stretch to blame any Super for the their course conditions when they must deal with a Neanderthal bureaucracy that would prefer to have the National Parks closed to anyone who wants to do more than drive or bike through. ANY development is banned. The restrictions on what the Supers can do are very strict. ANY change within the Parks is viewed with suspicion by PC. The power the Parks Canada department wields is ridiculous, and they know it. The ‘employees’ all view the Parks are ‘their own’ and, the Canadians who fund them are mere uneducated rednecks who if left alone would destroy the parks. The attitude towards the owners (Canadians) from the PC department really sucks.
    One prime example of Parks Canada bureaucracy destroying a golf course is Highland Links. The GM has tried to bring the course into the 21st century (with the help of Ian Andrew) by culling the massive over growth that has entombed the course over the last 50 years. He has been given VERY limited approval to do so. This poor decision was not taken by a professional but by Parks Canada bureaucrats. Highlands, and the other courses in our National Parks, all suffer from high labours costs (unions), a staff that knows they have a job until they reach a fully indexed defined benefit pension (regardless of their productivity), local ‘golf bullies’ who pay a pittance for their annual memberships (as is the case at all courses inside the Parks) and act as if THEY are the owners and, a federal bureaucracy that scream ‘environmental destruction’ every time there is a proposal to alter any aspect of the Park.
    None of this will change until Ottawa (and Minister responsible) ‘grows a pair’ and manages these properties with a view to the future and takes into account the needs and desires of ALL Canadians. Whether its better conditioned golf courses, better developed ski resorts and accommodations or enhanced outward bound activities, nothing will change. If anything the PC staff would prefer to further restrict the activities in OUR parks. Folks, we own these parks! The only way we will get movement is to tackle government. We cannot boycott the Parks (because that’s exactly what the PC staff wants) nor can we get PC management into the 21st century.
    One symptom is poor golf conditions but, the disease is much broader. My hypothesis is that things will get worse and ALL facilities and activities within our National Parks will shrink-not grow.

  • For me the two most memorable tee shots on opening holes I have played were St. Andrews and the old banff number one. I can still remember pacing around the tee waiting to hit and how nervous I was……on both courses. And this was outside any competition.

  • Carl, the sand is OK at Banff, it’s simply a matter of too much in most bunkers now. Less sand would be better for better golf. The surplus could be added to the bunkers as wind etc. takes it away.

    JJ have you seen memos about how Parks Canada run their courses? How many do they actually run, with their employees? Is it 1 or 2?

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