Great Canada Golf Courses

Friday February 16th, 2007

After Walter Hagen captured the 1931 Canadian Open, he wired his hotel, "Fill the bathtub with champagne." Now there's a guy who knew how to celebrate a big win. As late as the 1980s, the Canadian Open was considered just a whisker below the four majors in importance. It had tradition, dating to 1904, a legacy of great champions (Hagen, Sam Snead, Tommy Armour, Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer, to name five) and was historically played on outstanding courses (Hamilton, St. George's and Royal Montreal all have logged time on GOLF Magazine's Top 100 Courses in the World list.

These days, it's undeniable that the Canadian Open has lost some of its luster. However, as long as Mike Weir continues his quest to win, there will always be heavy drama when he's close to the lead. This year's event returns to Hamilton Golf & Country Club, which ranks No. 84 in GOLF Magazine's current Top 100 Courses in the World. Hamilton is a strictly private club, but Canada is full of superb public-access courses. Here are five north-of-the-border favorites to sample.

Jasper Park, Alberta
Equally rustic and elegant, the Jasper Park course was laid out in 1925 by Canada's preeminent architect, Stanley Thompson. Not long by modern standards, at 6,663 yards, par 71, Jasper nevertheless challenges the strong player with excellent routing, wonderful variety and waves of serpentine bunkers etched into slopes and mounds. Holes 14 through 16 skirt the clear green waters of Lac Beauvert, while the 18th is a sturdy par-4 of more than 460 yards. Pines and mountain peaks dominate the visuals.

Banff Springs, Alberta
When folks speak of golf at Banff, they're mostly referring to the 18 original holes here designed by Stanley Thompson in 1928. Unfolding in the shadows of the towering, castle-like Banff Springs Hotel, the original 18 features Thompson's artfully designed mounds and bunkers that mimic the mountain shapes in the distance. Memorable holes include the 14th, a 429-yard par 4 that begins from a high, elevated tee and plays adjacent to the confluence of the Spray and Bow Rivers. Mountain scenery practically overpowers the golfer at Banff, notably at the par-3 fourth, called "Devil's Cauldron," that demands a carry over a glacial lake to a plateau green banked on all sides.

Kananaskis, Alberta
Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed both courses at Kananaskis, the Mt. Kidd and the Mt. Lorette. Each is outrageously gorgeous, with rivers, pine forests, mountains and huge white sand bunkers spicing the play. Mt. Lorette is tighter and has more water hazards, while Mt. Kidd offers more dramatic bunkering and more striking mountain views.

Glen Abbey, Ontario
With his first solo design, Jack Nicklaus successfully executed one of golf's earliest attempts at building a spectator friendly tournament course. As a result, Glen Abbey has played host to 23 Canadian Opens. The most scenic stretch is called the "Valley holes," numbers 11-16, through which Sixteen Mile Creek flows, but what Nicklaus likes most is the par-5 finish. "People tend to focus on the water at 18," says Nicklaus. "I would suggest you pay as much attention to the bunkering that runs behind the 18th green as you do to the water that stands in front. The two have a cause-and-effect relationship. The water forces players to bail out long or left. And if you catch one of those bunkers, you're faced with a downhill shot out of a bunker with water staring you in the face. It's a tough shot."

Highlands Links, Nova Scotia
Ranked No. 71 on GOLF Magazine's list of the Top 100 Courses in the World and situated near the outermost tip of Cape Breton Island, this may be Canada's most remote great test. Within sight of the Atlantic Ocean and Mount Franey, Highlands is a mid-1930s, walking-only Stanley Thompson design that boasts a dazzling array of dips and rolls, forested fairways and ocean views.

Joe Passov is the Architecture and Course Ratings Editor of GOLF MAGAZINE. E-mail him your questions and thoughts at askjoe@golfonline.com

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