At about 6:13PM, I slam a putt into the back of the cup on Laval-sur-le-Lac’s Blue course’s finishing hole from about 15 feet. The pace is firm and it hits the cup, bounces up, and finishes at the bottom: I was coming up the hill, but as the day went on the greens got quicker, and I sure wasn’t leaving this putt short. After all, it was to complete the Canadian Top 100—the 2022 SCOREGolf Top 100, to be specific.
Not that I am one to list chase for the sake of checking off golf courses, but it was a cool feeling to finish. The first Top 100 I played was in 2014, at 16 years old, during the McLennan Ross Junior Tour Championship at Wolf Creek’s Old course. Nine years later, I ended it in Laval, Quebec, 2900 kilometers away from Ponoka, Alberta.
Even so, my completion of the list feels a bit like cheating compared to what friends have had to do and go out of their way for. For example, Luke Steeden, who I first played with at Blackhawk in the fall of 2016, had to fly from Edmonton to the east multiple times, often finding a way to play 54 holes, or play Eagle Creek in Ottawa, Manoir Richelieu northeast of Quebec City, and Rosedale in the heart of Toronto in back-to-back-to-back days to complete it in about the same amount of time I did. Anthony Spagnoli, who I first played with at Bigwin Island in September 2019, has similar stories, but he goes west, which requires more driving between golf courses as the west tends to be spread out compared to the eastern counterpart. They have both completed the Top 100, and by my count, there are two or three others: all Ontario-based. In my case, I grew up in Alberta, which led to junior tournaments at Top 100’s and friends who were members at places like Royal Mayfair and Priddis Greens. In high school, I moved to British Columbia, and the same happened: I played events at places like Tower Ranch, Talking Rock, Big Sky, and more. In 2019, I moved to Toronto for a change of pace and scenery, which is the first time I can remember actively knowing or checking how many I had played after just trying to play everything in a new city. Over the years, I really only had to go out of my way for the three Top 100’s on Vancouver Island (Victoria, Colwood, and Bear Mountain’s Valley course), Manoir Richelieu, Humber Valley, and Crowbush Cove. I didn’t get rained out anywhere, and I did not have to do anything crazy from a travel perspective. There was a lot of luck involved… imagine getting rained out at a place like Humber Valley or Riverside in Saskatoon?
Even with finishing the list, I pride myself on the fact that I’ve gone to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Shawinigan, Quebec, and more in the search for the golf courses lost in the shuffle of modern media. I found what I was looking for at Cooke Municipal + Waskesiu in Prince Albert, Whitewater + Kenogamisis in Thunder Bay, and Grand-Mere in Shawinigan, but finishing the Top 100 was a fun milestone in a journey that has included over 300 golf courses played in Canada alone. These places provided a greater perspective whilst casually checking off a top 100 here or there: golf in Canada is bigger than Mont-Tremblant and Whistler, Toronto or Vancouver. There are great golf courses everywhere, and that is part of the fun of exploring.
There is, without a doubt, a large percentage of good-to-great golf courses in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, ad Ottawa, but the backbone of golf in Canada is found in rural neighbourhoods. For example, any course affiliated with either the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP), or Canadian National Railway (CNR), such as Banff Springs, Highlands Links, Waskesiu, and more, dots Canada’s diverse landscape with great golf courses. Modern examples, like Sagebrush, Cabot Cape Breton, Muskoka Bay, Greywolf and more are remote destinations that make going to these golf courses an adventure on its own. For me, some of my favourite travel stories are the ones that include Newfoundland, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, even if there are “better” golf courses in Tornoto or Vancouver. I love going to the large metro areas because I enjoy a good meal or a cool bar. Perhaps I even get to see friends and if I’m lucky, I get to play golf with them, but for some reason, the rural destinations, where the only place open is the A&W attached to the PetroCanada, stick with me all the same or more. Driving through the night from Saskatoon to Prince Albert National Park to go see Waskesiu is one, which wasn’t a Top 100 on the list when I played. Coming from Toronto and working a full time job here, I flew in late after an opening shift on one of the only flights to Saskatoon that day. It was delayed, as most things were post-COVID 19, and my friend who was picking me up got stuck in traffic or whatever the story was (I can’t remember), so things spiralled to the point where we just had to drive from the airport to our 6AM tee time at Waskesiu.
I have fond memories of going to Algonquin Resort before it re-entered the Top 100 following Rod Whitman’s renovation, which took place over the last week of their golf season—in early November, which is crazy looking back how lucky we got with weather. That, too, was not on any list when I played it, but I can remember Paul, one of my travel companions, showing up with shorts on a day where it was 7 degrees and 30KM/H winds. The nights at the stunning hotel after golf made the fridget temps go away, and honestly, I remember the golf course way more than the weather. Still, it was remote, and if I was checking out just the Top 100, I would be sour to have missed Algonquin, which now, thankfully, makes it comfortably.
Growing up in Lethbridge, I never got the chance to go out to see the original Crowsnest Pass, but when Gary Browning renovated the golf course, I jumped on the occasion. Granted, I have never really been a fan of his work. Most of his greens rise in the middle with a ridge to get water moving off in two places. Strategically, it gets a big too “textbook,” in that it lacks creativity and feels formuliac. Nevertheless, Coleman, Alberta is about 90 minutes from Lethbridge and I wanted to play. It was not on the list at the time, and isn’t still (if it doesn’t make it, it would be close but it’s in for me). It’s rural, and far-ish from Calgary. But that, along with Waterton Lakes, make for one of the best 1-2 course combinations that you might define as “off the beaten path.”
My biggest takeaway from completing the Top 100 wasn’t that I had just played the 100 best golf courses in Canada. Obviously places like Goodwood, Mount Bruno, Redtail, and more are among Canada’s best, but so is Riverside, a Donald Ross in Saint John, New Brunswick, or really any of the Donald Ross designs in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There is the feeling of true privilege (and perhaps the feeling of being out of place) walking through the doors of the clubhouse at Memphrémagog or Toronto Golf Club, but seeing a place like Kelowna Golf & Country Club continue to improve every year under Jeff Mingay, to the point that I now see it a sure-fire Top 100, is just as exciting from a true golf nerd perspective. Likewise, going to a place like Canmore, Alberta, where Banff Springs is one of my absolute favourites in the country, and stumbling upon Canmore Golf & Curling Club quite literally in the shadows of Silvertip and Stewart Creek. It maybe doesn’t have the chops to make the Top 100 list—Top 100 public, for sure—but if I had just checked off boxes instead of playing it, I would have missed out of a fun little golf course, and one I am happy to have seen. That sentiment rings true across the entire country: in fact, I’ve played at least 3 golf courses in all ten provinces. Some hidden gems, some contenders that just miss the list, some Top 100’s, but the moral of the story for completing the top 100, to me, is don’t just list chase: stop and smell the roses at some of the local favourites, and you might just find a course that you think should be on the list all the same. After all, if I went to Waskesiu or Humber Valley and never stopped for Cooke Municipal or Terra Nova and someone told me I should’ve gone, I would’ve felt like I missed out. Now, I’ve seen it and can comfortably say: anyone who goes and skips those two is missing out.
Those courses that are worth the stop that do not get the attention of their more-famous counterparts are part of the reason my personal Top 100 list is about 25% different from the 2022 SCOREGolf list, which admittedly is a lot better than the previous lists. Some of the usual competitors or those that often just miss (Le Diable is one, for example) make the cut, while others might be surprising: ends of the earth type golf courses that maybe only me and a few others have seen. There are other courses worth putting a spotlight on at another time—Twin Rivers, Crowsnest Pass, Whitewater, Lachute, Lakeview, and more—but these are the ten best not on the 2022 SCOREGolf top 100. There is no specific order, just courses I think people need to check out, and ones that I feel are undeserving of being snudded. For the record, these are all ~top 75: mandatory inclusions on the list, not apart from the last 25 that can, at any moment, be switched out with another golf course.
The combination of Walter J. Travis and C.H. Alison untouched for 100 years should excite just about anyone in Canada who knows anything about golf architecture, and luckily, it is still good. Canyons, heathlands, rock outcroppings and golden age charm.
Bizarrely dropping off the 2022 list after just making it in 2020, I wish Canada had 100 golf courses better than this one… we’d have a stacked lineup! Alas, we do not, but Kawartha is stellar nonetheless, only partially soured by losing two original Thompson holes recently.
Less polished than its next-door neighbour Elmhurst, but the quality is as good. Donald Ross on sand produces results that are always noteworthy, and the greens, in particular here, are riveting.
A bit of a hodgepodge of various architects, including A.V. Macan’s dramatic renovation in the 50s, Les Furber, and Graham Cooke & Wayne Carleton’s addition of three holes. Jeff Mingay has resurrected this golf course, which is now the best in proper or West Kelowna.
Heathland-ish, low-profile golf at the base of the Canadian Rocky Mountains: if that doesn’t make you excited, I don’t know what will. Thompson’s touch is evident, but low-key.
National Golf Club of Canada
Politics aside for why it isn’t on the list (it remains a Men’s Only club, which is why SCOREGolf decided to omit it from the 2022 list), it deserves to be on the list as there are not many golf courses in Canada better (this website’s Top 100 has it at 16th, for example).
St. Charles (Ross/Mackenzie)
In 1929, Alister Mackenzie added nine holes to 18 Donald Ross ones. Only nine of Ross’ exist to this day, but the combination between the Good Doctor’s only Canadian contribution and Ross’ usual quality makes this a shoe-in. The ongoing restoration is exciting.
Riverside (New Brunswick)
Donald Ross heaves the golfer up and down the New Brunswick mountainside, concluding with this version of Jasper Park Lodge’s famed Cleopatra par 3… what’s not to like?
Like Pine Ridge, Elmhurst sits on rolling sand northeast of Winnipeg, Manitoba. As a result, Donald Ross shines yet again, with a more thorough bunkering scheme than Pine Ridge. The recent restorative work from Riley Johns, Dan Philcox, and Trev Dormer is excellent.
I get that this one is a bit more rugged than most, but Stanley Thompson’s layout among the rock and hilly Québécois terrain is invigorating. A true architectural gem in my mind.
Other courses for consideration, whether or not they should make it or not, include:
- Crowsnest Pass
- Dakota Dunes
- Lachute (Thompson)
- Terra Nova (Twin Rivers)
- Fairview Mountain
- Cooke Municpal
- King Links by-the-sea
- Muskoka Lakes
- Le Diable
- Bond Head (South)
- Lambton (Championship)
- Oakdale (Thompson/Homenuik)
- Clear Lake
- Crimson Ridge
Given the boom in golf post-COVID-19, it only makes sense private clubs have a surplus of money to invest back into their facilities, and public courses are looking to separate themselves from their competitors. TPC Toronto, for example, is targeting a Canadian Open on their North course with architect Ian Andrew. The golf course is currently closed, with plans to re-open in the new year with a new look. Brantford, Cutten Fields, and St. Charles in Winnipeg are all about to debut their new, reinvigorated classic layouts, Brantford hired Whitman, Axland, Cutten and the results are stunning (I played recently, and it is a major player in Canada yet again); St. Charles, the historic collaboration between Donald Ross and Alister Mackenzie, will open sometime in the back half of 2024 after Jim Urbina’s restoration back to the original plans from both architects; Cutten Fields, a Jeff Mingay renovation, takes inspiration from Chick Evans, who handled a lot of design work on property before Stanley Thompson. Only Cutten Fields, pictured below, wouldn’t of made my personal Top 100 prior to the work, but they are all deserving to be included now… where will they rank? My guess is high.
Other exciting projects on the go that have me excited for the future are Ian Andrew’s work at Edmonton Country Club, Jeff Mingay’s work at Rivermead, which should open sometime in 2024, and of course, WAC’s slate of projects, including Cabot Pacific, which will get going soon and Hillsdale, an aggressive overhaul of the Montreal-area club. Further, American Andy Staples will look to take Weston, an already-excellent Willie Park Jr. in Toronto, to the promise land of excellence, as well as Mount Bruno, another Park in Montreal that could be Canada’s Somerset Hills if it wants to be (I’ve played both and there are a lot of parallel’s). Plus, he rounds out his Canadian trio art Grand-Mere, which has already begun.
The Next Ten
There is lots of golf left to explore, and it continues to get a little better, or perhaps, more interesting to dig into the history of golf in Canada and uncover some places. For example, Willie Park Jr. built an astounding 25 golf courses in the country. Of that, ten still survive to this day. I stumbled onto Sainte-Agathe, a very hilariously awesome golf course on the way to Mont-Tremblant from Montreal a couple years ago, so I’m curious to seek out the rest. Numerous examples of this exist, and then there’s the mega private golf courses, like Frog’s Breath, James Island, Domaine LaForest, etc. These are the next ten courses that have piqued my interest.
- Storey Creek, BC
- Idlewylde, ON
- Brightwood, NS
- Saguenay Arvida, QC
- Purcell, BC
- Edmonton, AB
- Ashburn (Old), NS
- Rosetown, SK
- Boises Des Joly, QC
- Lakepoint, BC
The good news: I’m 25 years old, with a (hopefully) long life ahead of me and lots to explore, both Canadian and international. I want to go to Northern Ontario & Quebec, northern BC, and of course, the territories soon. Nonetheless, finishing the top 100 at such a young age is a rather cool thing to do, and I’m happy to be able to say I’ve done that. Perhaps my own personal list will never be published publicly, but, I’ll continue to share opinions, perspectives, hidden gems and more here. After all, this website—drewharvie.com into Beyond The Contour—is a massive driver for the desire to continue to explore, expand, and learn, and as long as this continues to be a thing, I’ll continue to attempt to find cool spots worth playing.