After releasing our Top 100 in the spring of 2022, we heard numerous reactions: some good, some bad, others of intrigue and curiosity. But the most popular response? The desire to see our Top 100 Public; the best golf courses, coast-to-coast, that everyone can play.
Well, you asked, and we listened: on February 1, 2023, the first half of our Top 100 Public will go live at 9:00AM Eastern Standard Time, closely followed by the second half exactly a week later. Prior to that, though, we wanted to clarify some things, plus announce the “first 10” out of the Top 100 Public; the ones that just missed.
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Our list is built the same way we compiled our Top 100: voted on by seventeen of the most-well travelled panelists—some of whom are employed in the industry as professionals, superintendents, or architects; others of whom merely enjoy the game and study its craft when they can. To dive further into the process, click here, but the short of it is that we have no stone-set criteria, no categories, nor numbers crunched. Instead, we ask our panel to put the courses into the respective tiers of the list. So for example, if someone thinks Jasper Park Lodge is the 8th best public golf course in Canada, then they would rank it as such; if someone wanted Whitewater to be included, then they would rank it in the respective tier (i.e. top 30, top 50, top 75, etc) they see fit, based on their own interests and opinions. From there, each course is averaged against all the panellists who ranked it, and then further, more weight is given to panellists who have seen more across the country of our balloted courses.
How did we define public? This can be an interesting discussion, because among the 250-odd private clubs in the country, the majority of them do allow some sort of outside play, whether unaccompanied, or reciprocal. Those, however, do not make it onto this list. Our criteria for inclusion is simple: to be eligible, you must be able to book online, or call the shop and book a tee time on at least 4 of the 7 days of the week. We expect some restrictions, especially with many public courses allowing some sort of membership and “semi-private” tee time priority, but with a bit of flexibility on time, every course on our list is accessible. Simply put, if you can play a course the majority of the days of the week, then it makes the list here.
So who missed out? There will be no Rocky Crest, since you have to stay at the resort, and golfers are unable to simply show up, play, and go home. Likewise for Le Maitre, which is hardly public even if it is designated as a resort in a similar manner to Rocky Crest. Same goes Fox Harb’r, for similar reasons to Le Maitre or Rocky Crest. Nor will you see Royal Colwood, even if it is a fairly accommodating club that will accept public play at certain times by writing to the club professional or general manager. Similarly, Kawartha and Seymour both miss even though they allow outside play on various days: for Seymour, Monday sees public visitors; meanwhile, Kawartha’s policy is much more random following COVID-19, but they do allow play in some capacity. Kelowna has recently gone private after decades of allowing unaccompanied, public play on most days. All seven would have ranked inside the Top 100, had they met our public definition: Kawartha would be 12th, Royal Colwood would be 13th, Kelowna would be 22nd, Rocky Crest at 23rd, Le Maitre at 53rd, Seymour at 59th, and finally, Fox Harb’r at 65th.
So, how much is it to play a Top 100 calibre golf course?
- To play the ten courses ranked below that just missed: average price, $74.89 (highest $99.90, lowest $50)
- To play a course ranked between 51st & 100th: average price, $110.57 (highest $241, lowest $49.50)
- To play a course ranked in the top 50: average price, $156.85 (highest $475, lowest $45)
- To play a course ranked in the top 10: average price, $265.70 (highest $475, lowest $85)
If someone wanted to play the entire list, it would cost them $13,371.29, which would take them to all ten provinces (sorry, territories). The closest person to completing the list? On our panel, two people have seen 82 of the top 100.
Even with a Top 100, we are a greedy bunch and want to know which ones just missed (does this make it a top 110?). Which ones just missed out? Here are the ten close calls.
The Close Calls Of The Top 100 Public
Fort St. John
28th in British Columbia
Photo credit: Golf Ontario
Golf has been played since here 1958, but it was not until 1974 that Stanley Thompson associate Norman Woods would renovate the original nine and expand the club to eighteen holes, arriving at the layout we see and play today.
The golf course is mainly routed through the thick boreal forest near the Alaskan Highway, which proves to be a difficult climate in which to play golf, but nevertheless, a worthy addition to the list.
Those who venture this far into Northern BC will be treated with long views of Charlie Lake on numerous holes, but the rolling topography lays way for fun, creative golf in a tranquil setting in a rather unexpected region for golf.
109. Canal, Delacour
19th in Alberta
Photo credit: Trip Advisor
Unlike a majority of prairie golf, The Canals at Delacour highlights and celebrates the prairie landscape that has paved the way for some of the more notable layouts in North America’s heartland.
Using the rolling topography and irrigation ponds that dot the routing, architect Harold Pasechnik channels the spirit of the British Isles, with a low-key, enjoyable experience that unveils itself more and more upon repeat plays. Beginning with the cape-esque tee shot over the waste bunker to a well-contoured green on the 1st, the golfer knows they’re in for a great day on something unique to the area. If they are not sold by the introduction, the uphill par 3, 11th and rollicking par 5, 15th will continue to impress throughout.
108. L’Ile de Montreal
8th in Québec
Photo credit: courtesy
Irish architect Pat Ruddy has quitely established a tidy résumé across the pond, with golf courses like the European Club and Ballyliffin featuring the calling cards of an architect who likes to see golfers work for their score. Likewise at this Montréal public golf course, which is a bit of a brash, challenging layout through the faux-dunes meant to mimic Ruddy’s homeland.
The dunes are high and the greens are small, with pot bunkers looming. Sometimes, landing areas are narrow; other times, Ruddy wants you to feel too comfortable. Either way, the golf course hits its stride when it balances out the difficulty with playability, and holes like the Lion’s Mouth 12th and and the par 3, 15th, are excellent and individual highlights.
107. Brudenell River
4th in Prince Edward Island
Robbie Robinson, Graham Cooke
Following the construction and opening of Dr. Michael Hurdzan’s & Dana Fry’s Dundarave, Brudenell River has taken somewhat of a backseat, including in this ranking. Which is a bit of shame, as Brudenell River is comfortably in the discussion for architect Robbie Robinson’s best, who is arguably Stanley Thompson’s most accomplished protégé.
Like Dundarave downstream, the golf course takes advantage of the Brudenell River, although some might argue in a more effective manner, finding itself on the shore twice, rather than just once. As expected with greens designed by Robbie Robertson, there is a fair amount of undulation and movement—some you can see, others that come with more loops around—meaning that this is the perfect place to test the flat stick against the long bomber.
3rd in Newfoundland
Photo credit: Courtesy
The bigger golf course at the thirty-six hole Clovelly facility, the Osprey is a surprisingly demanding golf course even with its sub-6500 yard price tag. How, might you ask, was it able to keep the best junior golfers in Canada to only -5 in 2016 at the Canadian Junior? Because the routing navigates the wetlands and thick forest of Newfoundland’s terrain, including small, undulated greens with weaving fairways around hazards.
Golf architecture fans will be particularly fond of the volcano par 4, 3rd, as well as the demanding two holes to end the front nine. On the back, the golf course finishes on a high, with the “S” shaped par 5, 17th, and the dramatic, uphill drivable par 4, 18th, flush against the creek to the left.
105. Falcon Lake
3rd in Manitoba
Photo credit: Lakeland Properties
Like most of Manitoba, Falcon Lake is neither dramatic nor flashy, but those who know, know. Interesting greens through the thick forest of Falcon Lake Provincial Park are just what the doctor ordered, and a perfect atmosphere for architect Norman Woods—another one of Stanley Thompson’s trainees—to unleash what some argue is his finest design.
Of particular interest, the set of par 3s is noteworthy and certainly enjoyable: from the long 235 yard 5th, to the heavily tilted 12th over a stream, to the extremely narrow green at the 17th, there is a ton of variety to be found. Moreover, the par 4, 11th, is a “best in class” long two-shot hole.
104. Copetown Woods
28th in Ontario
Generally speaking, Dick Kirkpatrick developed a reputation in Southern Ontario for difficult, gruelling golf courses, but at Copetown Woods, he delivered one of the most enjoyable public-access golf courses in Southern Ontario. And the result is a near-miss from being included among our top 100 public courses, but that should not deter anyone from visiting.
In fact, the balancing act of an enjoyable, playable golf course with a challenging layout has been perfectly executed here, with devilish greens featuring a respectable of movement to keep things interesting, coupled with good width, provides a very pleasant mix. Notably, the par 5s at the 1st, 3rd, and 14th are excellent.
27th in British Columbia
A.V. Macan, Les Furber
Photo credit: courtesy
Arthur Vernon Macan dominated the Pacific Northwest, being responsible for Royal Colwood, Victoria, Shaughnessy, and Kelowna, all of which are included in our Top 100. On the public side, the same is true. At University—one of two golf courses in Canada on a college campus—Macan draws from Royal Colwood and Shaughnessy, playing among the towering pines with heavily undulated greens.
The par 4, 1st, is a noble start, high atop the fairway plunging down, while the 2nd, a devilish par 3, the 3rd, featuring a heavily tilted fairway and matching green, and the 4th, with a tight tee shot through the mighty Douglas Firs, provide a striking start to the golf course. On the back, the par 5, 10th, par 4, 14th, and par 3, 16th, are ample enough to make this one of the more enjoyable public golf experiences in Vancouver.
102. Legends, Niagara
27th in Ontario
Photo credit: Niagara Parks
Home to both a Doug Carrick and a Thomas McBroom golf course, Legends of the Niagara is a fine local facility, with the former just missing the top 100 public.
As expected with Carrick’s body of work, big, wide fairways allow the golfer to settle into the saddle nicely, although the green complexes and angles provide more than enough interest into and around the greens.
Although the matching holes on either side of the pond at the base of the clubhouse to close both nines get all the press—even if it is a slightly overused cliche—, our panel was fond of the holes among the wooded portion to the north, and subsequently close to the falls.
101. Desert Blume
18th in Alberta
Photo credit: Courtesy
A rather unconventional property, with some holes plunging down into the valley below, while others meander around the creeks in a fashion unlike anything else in Western Canada, Desert Blume is most enjoyable, if a little difficult for the average player.
The highlights come often, beginning with the short par 4, 6th, which playfully dances around the creek twice. The middle stretch of the back nine is unique and enjoyable, but the finishing three holes, beginning with the dramatic forced carry at the 16th and ending at the risk-reward par 5, 18th, is one of the best finishing stretches in the province.
Local Albertans know, but this is one of the better values for golf in the prairies, and close to the Saskatchewan border: Desert Blume is some of the most dramatic, and enjoyable golf you can have between the Rocky Mountains and the rolling hills of Ontario.
Stay tuned for the entire list, beginning with #51-100 on February 1, and #1-50 on February 8!