I like lists, most people like lists, so here’s a list. After having completed it, my general impression is that my god, we are an awful golf city, likely the worst of any major one in Canada (not that I hadn’t realized this years ago). I write “likely” simply because I haven’t yet travelled enough to safely say that we are the worst, although it is my strong suspicion. Perhaps Quebec City or Regina might challenge us for this crown of thorns (if these even are major cities).
So not only are we the city that fun forgot, we are also the city that good golf largely forgot. Add that to our awful infrastructure, our embarrassing hockey franchise and even worse fanbase (of which I am proudly not a part), our decade long struggle to build a rink that people can get to in a reasonable time, our inability to support minor league baseball, our useless city council and national capital commission, our disaster of a public transport system, our nondescript bar-scene, our middling restaurant selection, our grey and lifeless downtown core, our tendency to get over-run by truckers and bikers, and our positioning smack-dab in one of the world’s worst climates. Where do I sign up to become the new head of marketing for Ottawa Tourism?
Note: the numbers following the descriptions indicate the “Doak score” I would grant to each. See link for further information on the scale: https://golfcoursegurus.com/rankings/doakscale.php
1. Chateau Montebello (public): The best layout in Ottawa, and, if properly restored, one of the best in Canada. Just leave your expectations about service and conditioning back at the country club and you’ll have a great day, I promise. 6.
(Placement on my Top 100 ballot for B.T.C.: 50th-60th in Canada)
2. Ottawa Hunt, South-West (private): Even after a dozen plays, I am not quite sure if the latest renovation fully justified its hefty price tag (or why they selected Michael Hurdzan’s firm to undertake it), but I can safely say that Hurdzan’s work is an improvement over Mcbroom’s mid-1990s effort here. Where possible, I would have preferred a restoration rather than a renovation; after-all, there is plenty of documentation available to restore some of the elements of Willie Park Jr.’s original layout. Regardless, the new practice facility is good, the land is excellent, the South course is particularly strong, and the west still has a handful of good holes among the nine. I just believe that the end product could have been a lot better, and a great deal more memorable, if Dr. Hurdzan had bothered to look at an old aerial (or been allowed to). 6.
(Placement on my Top 100 ballot for B.T.C.: 60th-70th in Canada)
3. Rivermead (private): Although it seems as if Jeff Mingay’s renovation has been on-going for the last decade, the holes he already completed hint to its potential. I am especially fond of the downhill angled par 4, 3rd, the beefy par 4, 5th, which will become one of the best par 4s in Ottawa if the tree in front of the green is cut, the similarly beefy par 4, 12th, featuring a clever green complex, and the sharply uphill par 3, 16th. If Mr. Mingay is allowed to (or opts to) eliminate the out of place holding ponds on the 7th and 18th (both of which are unoriginal and hinder otherwise excellent par 4s), and if the green surrounds are all as detailed as the first few he completed, then I think that this is solidly the 3rd best course in Ottawa and in the top 75 or so of Canada. 5.
(Placement on my Top 100 ballot for B.T.C.: 100th-110th in Canada)
T-4. Camelot (private): Overall, Thomas Mcbroom did a commendable job of navigating what is a fairly harsh and challenging property. As I wrote in my review for our top 100, the highs are high (#2, 3, 9, 11, 13) and the lows are low (8, 14, 16!, 17, 18). The main issue is that there is little to be found here that you cannot find elsewhere in his catalogue, a catalogue that I am not particularly fond of. Mr. Mcbroom’s style (especially his early work) is just not my favourite cup of architectural tea, and, ultimately, this is a ranking of my favourite cups of architectural tea. However, having been a member for a while, I can say that this is pleasant course to play on a daily basis (apart from the walk). 5.
(Placement on my Top 100 ballot for B.T.C.: 110th-125th in Canada)
T-4. Royal Ottawa (private): A quirky golden-age course that has become somewhat of a victim to modern technology. There are some real standout holes, as well as a few that are downright awkward. In particular, I am referring to the 9th and 15th, both of which are bisected halfway by a deep ravine and thus require strange layups off the tee with less than driver. Most disconcerting, however, is the renovation that is currently underway. Now, I will say that I have not returned to the club since 2020, when the renovation was only half-done. Based on my initial look, though, Neil Haworth’s firm has replaced (due to safety concerns) the wonderful uphill par 3, 2nd, with a bland par 3 (which is now the 3rd), failed to improve (in fact, probably worsened) what used to be the awkward double dogleg par 5, 4th, inexplicably opted to leave a troublesome tree in the middle of an already tight driving corridor on the par 5, 5th, and, most troublesomely, left way, way, way too many trees in between the holes. To me, this seems the ideal kind of plateaued, rumbled, and tumbling property to emphasize by razing all of the trees and planting grasses of various lengths and colours to add texture. The Inverness Club in Ohio, whose property reminds me of the Royal’s, should be the example to follow here. Hopefully (for this is one of the great historical clubs in the country) the end product of the renovation redeems at least some of my initial concerns.
For those interested, Dr. Donald S. Childs, a professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa, has written a wonderful and thoroughly researched expose of Harry Colt’s involvement (or, influence) in the early history and development of the course, which is available here:
Considering that Mr. Colt is widely regarding as one of, if not the greatest architect of all time, the club’s reluctance to fully commit to a restoration of his vision (or at least his ethos) seems perplexing and head-scratching. Although the original blueprints were destroyed in a fire, there is plenty of documentation still available to, in the very least, recapture the essence of his work. 5.
(Placement on my Top 100 ballot for B.T.C.: 110th-125th in Canada)
6. The Marshes (public): Built with an eye towards hosting the 2007 President’s Cup, which ultimately went to the Royal Montreal instead, Terry Matthews’ vision for stadium golf was trusted to Trent Jones Sr. and Jr., in what turned out to be their last collaboration. What you get, then, between the massive and omnipresent containment mounding, is fairly standard to their catalogue: big, brawny, manufactured, and of limited strategic interest. There are a handful standout holes, such as the insanely hard 630 yard par 5, 2nd, the short driveable par 4, 11th, and the heroic, 500 yard par 4, 18th. However, there are also a few mediocre or downright forgettable ones among the eighteen. Furthermore, the course is essentially un-walkable because of its vast spread, which makes the routing feel extremely disjoined. 4.
7. Rideau View (private): Just here in Ontario, Donald Ross (at Essex and Roseland) and Walter Travis (at Cherry Hill) both demonstrated how to cleverly navigate a flat, featureless property; however, Robbie Robertson, who built the front, Howard Watson, who built the back, were not architects of such skill. There is nothing that is especially bad about the golf course, but nothing that really stands out either. In particular, the green complexes are underwhelming (apart from the controversial 9th that I love), which is the primary way of creating architectural interest on a non-descript piece of land. As a result, the course is of little interest off the tee, since challenging any of the handful of well-placed fairway bunkers provides only minimal advantage on the next shot. Furthermore, all of the par 3s (apart for maybe the 15th) feel as if they are merely connectors rather than key features of the layout. Like usual, consulting architect Ian Andrew has done much good work to the course, but I believe that the club would be wise to let him completely rebuild the putting surfaces and their surrounds. In short, this is solid golf course, one, however, that is probably seventy spots worse than what some in this fair city believe. 4.
Note: I’d say there’s a significant drop in quality here. In fact, I would group the first seven courses listed into a “top tier”, and these next eight into a “second tier”.
8. Hawkesbury (semi-private): To consider this an “Ottawa area” course is probably a stretch, since the town of Hawkesbury is located about an hour and fifteen to the east, right along the Quebec border. But I believe that it merits being mentioned—and is worth the drive—considering its reasonable rate and the overall lack of quality public golf in town. Built by amateur architects in the 1950s, it largely takes advantage of the good property on which it is built. I am especially fond of the long down and back up par 4, 5th, the opposite running par 5, 6th, which bends around a creek and features a clever multi-tiered green, and the strong closing stretch that weaves around the entrance drive. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is potential top 100 layout, but I believe that there are enough intriguing elements here (especially the severely pushed up greens) for a clever architect to quite easily make something noteworthy of it. 4.
9. Equinelle (public): Some in local circles might have this Darrell Huxham design ranked higher than I do. I assume that this view is mostly based on service and conditioning (both of which are quite good) because the architecture of the course is pretty pedestrian. Seriously, did Mr. Huxham think it was still 1992 when he started construction here in 2009? Take your typical Florida housing development and drop it in Kemptville. Aside from the 1st hole, which is quite strong, there is absolutely zero strategic interest off the tee, apart from trying to avoid the countless holding ponds and flanking bunkers cut into the omnipresent containment mounding. The approaches aren’t much better, and the greens are vanilla. For a peak rate of 100$, this is not worth it in my opinion. 0-4.
10. Rockland, South-West (semi-private): Although the club has fallen on hard times of late, I don’t believe that there is a better value in the city, specifically the South and West nines – the East nine, which was built in 2004 by Paul Takahashi, is significantly weaker. I am especially fond of the West, which features some lowkey, bunker-less holes that rely solely on the ground for interest. The South nine, apart from the truly awful closing hole, is also strong, with the narrow uphill par 5, 3rd, the hog’s backed par 4, 5th, and the downhill par 4, 7th, featuring a clever green bisected by a spine being the highlights. Ten years ago, when it co-hosted the Canadian Amateur with Camelot, and played almost a full two strokes tougher than it on average, I would have had it ranked on the cusp of the top 5. 3.
11. Brockville (semi-private): Located an hour and a bit west of Ottawa, along the 401, this is certainly not among Stanley Thompson’s most noteworthy efforts. Frankly, I played here only once in a tournament about fifteen years ago, and likely won’t return until their ongoing (or upcoming) renovation is complete, so my recollection of it is quite hazy. However, I do clearly remember the comical par 4, 2nd, which plays right up the massive ridge that bisects the property, as well as a few other holes that were solid if unspectacular. Take this ranking with a grain of salt, though. 3.
12. Smith Falls (semi-private): Another frills-free small town golf course that takes advantage of the good land upon which it is built. As is typical to such homegrown efforts, there are some good holes, there are some bad holes, there are way too many trees, but, overall, I think it is worth the drive and a good value. 3.
13. Carleton Yacht (private): Built amidst a housing development from the 1970s, this is a claustrophobic golf course on which you won’t hit many drivers, even if you are Fred Funk accurate. It’s not great; it’s not bad. I particularly like some of the longer par 4s such as the 4th, 9th, 13th, and 17th. Once again, with some tree removal and a renovation of the greens and their surrounds, I believe that a clever architect could make something of it. 3.
14. Kanata Lakes (clublink): I despise playing here, as does just about everyone I know. Engulfed in housing, this is a golf course that grades low on the “fun-factor scale”. Seriously, you miss the majority of the fairways here by any more than, say, five yards and you’re reloading. At a par of 70, pound for pound, this is probably the hardest course in the city. Perhaps twenty-five years ago, the rugged nature of Mcbroom’s layout, which features some Muskoka-esque features, could have been better appreciated in a more natural setting. There are a still handful of good holes here, such as the 2nd, 6th, 11th, and the 17th, but the housing completely sucks the charm away from the golf, as does ClubLink’s neglect of it. Surely, this is the worst course in McBroom’s catalogue? 0-3.
15. Loch March (public): Your typical early 1990s golf course: holding ponds, mounding, and tiered greens. It’s not a great value, all things considered, but you can do worse. 2.
Note: No, I did not forget to rank Eagle Creek, that main-stay of ScoreGolf’s Top 100 list for decades now. Frankly, there are only a few legitimate Doak 0s in this country, and this is one. Perhaps it was half-tolerable back in its heyday when the conditioning was still half-adequate, but ClubLink has taken care of that.