I remember my first time around Lookout Point like it was yesterday. In my first fall in Toronto, and I was looking for a game in late October. By this point, I luckily played Hamilton, Toronto, St. George’s, National, Westmount, Pulpit & Paintbrush, Islington, Öviinbyrd, Bigwin Island, and more, so Lookout Point, my first trip to the Niagara region, seemed like a nice way to end the golf season. Granted, I was skeptical. I’m a westerner at heart and by birth, so I had not heard of Lookout, even with its SCOREGolf top 100 placement. Most people I talked to mentioned Cherry Hill in Niagara, and still to this day, it remains the highest ranked golf course in the Niagara Region on SCORE‘s list, but little mention of Lookout.
From the opening tee ball, I was immediately enchanted. High atop the Niagara Escarpment with long views of downtown Niagara Falls, Lake Ontario, and on a clear day, downtown Toronto (some 70KM away!), the 1st tumbles downhill to a Walter Travis green, though tame for his standards and what’s to come. A consistent, but properly utilized back to front green aggressively falls off in the back half, but more than manageable, and completely open in front.
Those who have been to Lookout know, but for those who do not: the 1st is really just the trailer for the movie that is to come. Truthfully, the only way to describe Lookout’s golf course is pure ecstasy. Perhaps better than any other facility in Canada, Lookout Point embraces weird, wacky, and unusual. It is not a perfect comparison, and the styles are vastly different, but Lookout makes me uncomfortable in ways only Tobacco Road in North Carolina has.
Part of that formula comes from Travis’ routing heaving up and down the Escarpment, dancing on the side slopes, and subtly using features only revealed on a second, third, or even fourth round. The aforementioned 1st (and its sibling the 10th) toboggan off the hill, while the 8th, 14th, and 18th fight the hill. The 6th, rollicking over its sandy soils like an angry sea, positions the golfer as the captain of a ship having to get his cargo to the other side. The reality? Full steam ahead, no avoiding it now; you are already here.
The holes fighting and working off of the Escarpment are certainly dramatic, but what really stands out are the holes that use the escarpment to create side hill lies. On the 3rd, for example, a hanging long iron (or short iron if you lay up) to a skinny green perched high above makes for one of Canada’s single best short par 5’s. The 7th, wrapping around the upper portion of the 3rd for a longer par 5, insinuates a draw is best, although the slopes further accentuates the shot shape, bringing trouble in on the low left. Like ketchup to the Big Mac Secret Sauce, funky lies are the first ingredient to the fun at Lookout, and perhaps none better illustrated than the blind up-and-over tee shot to a Hog’s Back fairway on the 13th.
If the ketchup is uncommon lies, the mustard is certainly Walter Travis’ magnificent green complexes. Like Cherry Hill and Grand-Mére, these greens are in a class of their own, but more-so the actual surrounds than the internal contour. At nearby Cherry Hill, the actual surfaces feature internal contour unlike anything in Canada. At Lookout, the greens are undulating, yes, but what really provides drama is the surrounds when a golfer misses the greens. From there, negotiations start with the various humps, bumps, grass and sand bunkers, run-offs, backstops, chipping areas, false fronts, and more. Missing a green at Lookout provides a challenge rarely seen in Canada, and the randomness in what the golfer might get and what stance they could see, brings a feeling of the Old World.
The aforementioned third is perhaps Lookout’s best mascot for the quality found around, and just like the secret sauce for the Big Mac, golf courses need the sum of all parts, otherwise it falls flat. The sub-500 yard par 5 is the perfect metaphor for such whimsical writing because it already has the terrain (“ketchup”), whilst the mustard is the green surrounds. Devilish and cruel, the golfer perhaps never learns to play this hole. Truth be told, there might not be a good way to play this hole on a daily basis, and we love it for that. To me, a great hole is many things, but one that gets mentally more difficult with each play as you learn the hole, while also giving you the ability to score with the correct shots, is the sign of a hole deserving of a “best in class” label.
This is not just a one-off example. On the 4rd, wicked grass hummocks and hollows essentially wrap the green, minus the front portion. Where the 3rd tumbles down to the right, the 4th now favours the righty hook, bringing in the massive burial grounds for lions, tigers, and bears—or at least that’s the way it seems. Back to back holes, and a wide variety of shots even without the par 9 asked.
Here, the variety is a mastery in creativity. The aforementioned 3rd and 4th bring terror into play by using the Escarpment, while the 14th playfully sits directly behind a chocolate drop mound. The 10th and 18th are perched high above the respective surrounds, while the 1st, 8th, 9th, and 17th sit close to on-grade. The variance in what the golfer might find when they miss a green is the ideal way to keep members and guests alike engaged from start to finish.
Lookout is not without its issues. Mowing lines have been brought in over time, and the routing is different than when it opened. Holes like the 15th and 18th no longer can claim a Walter J. Travis original, and as a result, feel out of place with the rest of the golf course (though you might not argue they are bad holes, just out of character). With all that being said, Lookout is much better than it gets credit for. Sandy soils provide ideal playing conditions, leading to creative golf both from the fairway and around the greens. A rowdy four hours of golf provides a golfing experience unlike any other in this country, and the combination of its terrain and green surrounds make this one of my personal favourite spots. I was happy when Beyond The Contour‘s panel ranked Lookout Point 25th in Canada… a more deserving spot than other lists.
For now, Lookout continues to remain hidden—although being a hidden gem is not an issue when you have a thriving membership and have a reputation locally. But on the grand scale, Lookout sits in the shadows of the Niagara Escarpment. Perhaps that changes when Beyond The Contour starts our 2023 events calendar at Lookout. We are looking forward to showing this place off!