The West Coast Conundrum

As a converted Torontonian, I always enjoy the holiday season as it allows me to get back home west. I grew up in Lethbridge, Alberta, but moved to Kelowna, BC midway through high school with family staying in the Okanagan Valley. As a result, “home” feels like Kelowna, although I still say Lethbridge.

Coming back west always allows me to slowly pick off courses I have yet to see out west. I have been lucky to see pretty much everything I have wanted to, and other than Vancouver Island, there are very few big-name courses I need to see. There are the recommended courses from friends as avid as I, such as Lakepoint near Fort St. John, and Radium Resort’s Springs course is one of the few name-brand courses (at least out west) that I need to see. Other than a couple stragglers, I have seen everything from Shaughnessy in Vancouver to Essex in Windsor, at least the ones that people talk about.

This is following my maiden voyage to Eagle Ranch in Invermere, British Columbia over Thanksgiving 2022. I have been to Invermere quite a few times, mostly for Greywolf, and then as a result, checking off various other courses in the area like Copper Point and Fairmont Hot Springs. At one point, the opportunity arose to play Eagle Ranch after a first-off morning round at Greywolf, and we passed for a second spin around Doug Carrick’s modern marvel in the mountains. Looking back, Regretfully now: prior to Eagle Ranch, I had played 91 golf courses in Canada’s Top 100 on SCOREGolf, with Eagle Ranch being one I had to play still.

It becomes difficult to pass up any chance at a round at Greywolf

The Columbia Valley is a beautiful area of eastern BC, and luckily, we caught it on a bluebird day. 20 degrees Celsius and barely any clouds in the sky, the gamble of booking a Rocky Mountain golf course in October paid off. Eagle Ranch was in very good shape, and in particular, the greens rolled exceptionally smooth and the bunkering was firm, yet soft underneath. Ideal. Nevertheless, I felt slightly underwhelmed by Eagle Ranch’s architecture. Numerous holes features centreline trees (with the 10th even having a row of trees in the middle of a split fairway), mostly lifeless green complexes void of any purpose of strategy, and a wanderlust routing that never truly finds itself.

This is, of course, not the first time I have felt such emotions at a golf course in Canada, but it seems to be fairly common at a SCOREGolf Top 100 in BC or Alberta. The Banff’s, Jasper’s, Sagebrush’s, and other golf courses worthy of praise aside, I find the Whistler trio, Kananaskis double, Copper Point, Northern Bear, Predator Ridge’s Predator course, and more to be soulless. What is it about these golf courses that they continue to rank in SCORE‘s Top 100? Eagle Ranch is currently 85th… are there only 84 golf courses that are better in this country?

Eagle Ranch’s highlight comes at the par 3, 16th

Even outside of golf, there is a fairly heavy divide between eastern and western Canada. The east is far more populated, and as a result, they tend to have a larger say in issues (thinking: politics). The same rings true in golf. After all, Ontario has roughly 100 golf courses more than Scotland, so it makes sense it makes up a large portion of the Canadian Top 100 (from a westerner, as well). It helps that when architect’s came to Canada, they either got off the boat in Montreal, or up to Toronto from New York, Detroit or Chicago. Only Willie Park Jr., Stanley Thompson and Donald Ross made the journey out west. Even Harry Colt, who designed the now-gone Bowness in Calgary, mailed in the plan (he was not going all the way to Calgary in 1914).

With all that said, the west still feels as if it is under-represented in Canada. As much as I like Beyond The Contour’s Top 100, SCOREGolf is still the voice nationwide in golf, and as a result, they are the authority on such matters.

By my count, 34 golf courses west of Ontario are on the Top 100 on SCORE‘s list. Even with the arguments of the west being under-represented, 34% is a reasonable number given the four most western provinces make up 32% of Canada’s population. I tend to align more with our own panel: 38 of the top 100 golf courses are west of Ontario (including 3 in Manitoba), so either way, not under-represented by any means.

On the other hand, the east, or at least those around Toronto, cry that there is a “western bias” when discussing golf courses and rankings. If you live in Toronto, the opportunity to play Eagle Ranch, Copper Point, or Chateau Whistler in the mountains is an exceptional experience and a nice break from the concrete jungle no matter how underrated or overrated anyone feels they are. Nevertheless, it becomes difficult to argue against the so-called “western bias” when you play Goodwood (No. 29) and Stewart Creek (No. 30) and try and justify why they are back to back spots. Even Big Sky (No. 42) ahead of Mississaugua (No. 46) feels wrong, and there are a handful of other examples.

The west is neither under-represented nor over-represented. There is a “western bias,” although not quite like what you think. The bias comes from the west wanting to feel represented, so they prop up the courses that have dominated the list in years past to keep them there instead of the proper golf courses to make the list. Given the alternatives, it makes sense. It is far easier to rely on “ole faithful” than prop up various other golf courses, especially when a tourism market is already established around such courses. Other golf courses like Waterton Lakes and Waskesiu are not exactly easy to get to, while Winnipeg continues to be nonexistent on lists because, well, it is Winnipeg (the golf is shockingly good, however). Kelowna Golf & Country Club is private, and prefers to hide in the shadows of the mountain courses (quite literally, it is at the base of Dilworth Mountain). Likewise for Redwood Meadows, and distance from Calgary city centre could be a factor. There are various other examples as well.

Waskesiu Golf Course’s sneaky brilliant par 3, 2nd

The west is a celebration of the surrounding views and landscapes, but the pendulum has shifted so far that the west props up those courses that are solely unique for the setting, and no longer for the architecture and actual golf. Nicklaus North is a prime example of this, and truthfully, there are few golf courses in this country that benefit from the setting as much as Whistler’s solo Nicklaus golf course. Copper Point is another example, beautifully located in the Columbia Valley at the base of the mighty Rocky Mountains. A great place to play golf, even if the course feels slightly underwhelming.

The issue is, the setting overpowers the layout, to the point that the actual golf feels underwhelming. When it becomes less about the actual golf, and more about the scenery, we have lost what “good golf” is. When the setting dominates and the golf becomes a secondary thought, a visitor might as well go hike and experience the same bliss, for no money. The best golf courses out west not only rely on the elements of the site like mountain views, beautiful rivers, and nature, but also produce dramatic, noteworthy golf.

Banff Springs is perhaps the best example, as it has arguably the most iconic site in Canada, yet the golf continues to be riveting. Thompson’s scale matches that of the mountains, and never does it feel like the site is dragging along the architecture. Numerous other examples have both compelling architecture and a picturesque site, including Jasper Park Lodge, Sagebrush, Capilano, Shaughnessy, Greywolf, and more.

Kelowna Golf & Country Club’s par 3, 13th

The point being, if you judge the west on the Eagle Ranch’s, Northern Bear’s, and Stewart Creek’s, you might feel disappointed. However, if you visit those who might fly under the radar, such as the Waskesiu’s, Talking Rock’s, Waterton Lakes, or even places like the Derrick Club or Kelowna, the west is a joyful area for the weird, quirky, and fun golf—just the way we at Beyond The Contour like it.

Author

  • Andrew Harvie

    Based in Toronto, but having lived in Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Arizona, and Texas, I have been lucky enough to see over 400 golf courses and counting!

Leave a Reply

×