What makes a good finishing hole? I reckon a single hole popped into your head, or perhaps an attribute a couple of your favourite finishing holes share. What about a par 3? Can a par 3 be a good finishing hole? A par 4 is a classic, and traditional in presentation. Modern times suggest par 5’s are a fun way to finish, usually involving some sort of gamble or risk/reward. Either way, in order to feature a good finishing hole, there has to be some drama, an element of potential catastrophe, and a chance to make shots up.
During the Golden Age (and especially early on), match play was far more popular than stroke play. As a result, finishing holes were typically an afterthought. Why would the architect want one of the great holes to more-likely-than-not count? Think about The Old Course. The 18th is a cool setting tucked into the village with a cool green complex, but the golf course really climaxes on the Road Hole par 4, 17th. In Canada, Toronto Golf Club often catches stray bullets in these sorts of discussions (ironically, that is happening right now) because the Harry Colt design finishes on a short par 4, rather than a long par 4 like St. George’s or National Golf Club of Canada (interestingly, both converted short par 5’s up the hill). For the record, I like Toronto Golf Club’s finishing holes, but it does suffer from an excellent, otherworldly middle stretch preceding it.
Another interesting aspect of a finishing hole is the cliché uphill hole back to the clubhouse, as mentioned with St. George’s and The National Golf Club of Canada. Truthfully, more courses than not feature the uphill hole, and as a result, that archetype becomes stale. How about a downhill finishing hole? Jasper Park and Highlands Links come to mind, likewise for Cabot Cliffs, but that is only three of Canada’s Top 10. Rounding out the top 10, Cabot Links the aforementioned St. George’s, Capilano, Sagebrush, and Hamilton are uphill, while Toronto and Banff are flat. Of the non-traditional top 100’s, Uplands, Lethbridge, University, and Brampton are among my favourite flat or slighty downhill finishing holes.
So, let’s get into it: what are Canada’s best finishing holes? For ease, it is split up by par 3, short par 4 (sub-420), long par 4 (421+), and par 5. For the purpose of the exercise, there is a single selection, plus five honourable mentions.
👑 Riverside Country Club, 204 yards
Riverside’s par 3, finishing hole is a little ‘Cleopatra,’ the famed par 3 at Jasper Park Lodge, and a little of the par 3, 3rd at St. George’s. Weirdly enough, elements of two of Stanley Thompson’s best one-shot holes make up this Donald Ross par 3, tumbling down the hillside over a bunker best used to dump the ball over and see it rush towards the hole. It helps the hole plays directly at the Kennebecasis Bay with some beautiful Maritime rocky landscape, but the strategic elements of this hole far outweigh the natural beauty. Together, they make Canada’s best finishing par 3.
Some other notable finishing holes are Kawartha’s stoutly 190+ finishing hole over water with beautiful Stanley Thompson’s bunkering, the City of Toronto’s uphill par 3, finishing hole at Humber Valley, Burlington’s beautiful one-shot hole over a depression short to mere steps from the patio, Oshawa’s finishing hole to the base of the clubhouse, and Rod Whitman/Dave Axland’s beastly finish to Cabot’s par 3 course.
Honourable mentions: Kawartha, Burlington, Humber Valley, The Nest at Cabot Cape Breton, Oshawa
Short Par 4’s
👑 Elk Island Golf Course, 397 yards
The finishing hole at Canada’s best nine hole golf course is arguably Stanley Thompson’s best finishing hole. Teeing off a mere handful of steps from the 8th green, the golfer heaves their tee shot over the ridge to a blind fairway. The entire fairways gentle rolls, rollicks, and pockets complicate the approach coming downhill to a green heavily tilted with the landscape at the base of the clubhouse.
Of the other short par 4 finishing holes in Canada, Lethbridge’s doglegs left around the Old Man River, Riverside plays up and out of the river valley on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River valley, Elmhurst’s funky Donald Ross closing hole, Marine Drive’s tumble down off the hillside, and Toronto Hunt’s closing hole on top of the Scarborough Bluffs just missed being crowned the best short 4 finishing hole.
Honourable mentions: Lethbridge, Riverside (SK), Elmhurst, Toronto Hunt, Marine Drive
Long Par 4’s
👑 Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course, 465 yards
It has to be this one, right? After all, Dr. Alister Mackenzie, the man behind Augusta National, Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, and more called the 18th at Jasper Park Lodge “The best finishing hole in the world of golf.” A swooping dogleg left par 4 bending down the hill, the aggressive line inside the dogleg welcomes players with an advantageous yardage gain. Those who bail out right have a longer second shot to a well-bunkered green at the base of the hill.
The long par 4 is my personal favourite finishing hole, and thus, some very difficult selections were made. Of the notable misses, Rod Whitman has two: Cabot Links, playing up to essentially the patio, and Blackhawk’s green site tucked into the hillside. Herbert Strong’s Lakeview just missed, as did Stanley Thompson’s closer at St. Thomas with its epic fairway. Any discussion on the best long 4 finisher in Canada is neglected without mention of Willie Park Jr.’s 18th at Calgary.
Honourable mentions: Cabot Links, Calgary, St. Thomas, Lakeview, Blackhawk
👑 Capilano Golf & Country Club, 574 yards
The uphill nature of Capilano’s 18th hole makes for an interesting decision on the layup: up, or down? The bunkering splits the fairway into two clear paths, meaning those who are aggressive can get it up top, but for those who cannot, left leaves a more difficult wedge coming back up hill with the clubhouse quite literally casting a shadow on the green makes this the best setting for a finishing hole, cross-country.
Another Stanley Thompson selection in Uplands, the nine hole course in Toronto, just missed, as well as modern designs by Doug Carrick (Bigwin Island on the lake), Thomas McBroom (Ridge at Manitou), and Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw (Cabot Cliffs on the Atlantic Ocean). Donald Steel’s short and strategic par 5 at the exclusive Redtail, playing around a singular tree and past the clubhouse, was the first-out choice.
Honourable mentions: Redtail, Uplands, Bigwin Island, Ridge at Manitou, Cabot Cliffs
What are your personal favourite closing holes in Canada (or elsewhere)? Let us know in the comments below!