Grand Niagara – Quality Course, Quality People
Once it reaches 38c the humidity index is irrelevant when you’re on the golf course in Canada in July. The hottest day of the summer (or so I’m convinced) was spent with a good friend playing as a guest at his home course in Niagara Falls. I had not heard of Grand Niagara – I’ll confess, I do not have much experience golfing in that part of the Ontario. With rain gloves on both hands to help keep a grip on the club, we ventured out for a memorable and very enjoyable round! My feelings afterward were a mix of gratitude, satisfaction and enjoyment.
Arriving early, the staff greeted me and set up my clubs in our cart and offered me a couple bottles of water. It also permitted me some time to enjoy Grand Niagara’s excellent practice facilities. However, as I always do before playing somewhere new I checked out the website. I was impressed with the level of information it provided me. I acknowledge a little sticker shock about the greens fees, but I was prepared and based on all I had heard from my friend and seen on the site, sensed this was going to be a special experience.
The condition of this course is a significant strength for Grand Niagara. Very few courses I’ve played on public courses are as well maintained. This included practice facilities. The pro shop was well stocked (well air conditioned, too!) and the change facilities appeared brand new and very clean. When it was time to play, the starter offered more water and advised that with the heat we should not be held up by any groups in front of us; seems the temperatures were keeping some people away. We were offered a cold cloth and more water. The drive to the first hole swings around a couple hundred meters and we arrived on the first tee.
The layout of the course is straightforward but does provide significant risk-reward opportunity. A Rees Jones design, I found the subtlety of the course layout – from bunkering, subtle greens elevation changes and overall green design – to provide the challenge. This is definitely a second shot course, meaning the approach shots are critical. There is very little elevation change here and while critics may argue it is a mundane layout, I disagree and felt there sufficient variety through subtlety of design elements, hazard positioning and a mix of targeted and generous landing areas. I was very pleased with the course but what truly impressed me on day where the humidity was over 40c was the care and commitment of the marshals and staff. They understood well their role was to care for the players on the course. We saw staff every two holes, minimum and were offered bottled water and a chance to cool our towels. At the turn they were insistent we take a 15 minute break and consider cooling down and getting refreshments (which we wisely did). I had not experienced this level of service on a golf course, and while I acknowledge the unique weather conditions, this seemed to be very sincere and genuine…a fact my friend reinforced to me.
There were only a couple holes I found to be ho-hum; 4 and 14 (despite its beauty on 14, I found the hole is rather pedestrian). All others I quite enjoyed, utilizing the landscape, hazards and subtle change in elevation (even if only around the greens) effectively. I would welcome a chance to play this immaculate course again, on a cooler day perhaps. Local knowledge is very helpful to score well. I did not make many mistakes but the ones I made were costly. In closing I can see why my friend is so proud to be a member here, the people are amazing and help place this course and a golf experience at Grand Niagara as a very special one!
Aura –7 out of 10 – Rees Jones brings a certain cache and having a testimonial from Bob Weeks about the conditioning was also something that piqued my curiosity. The website provided me good information in preparation. I expect continued positive publicity will help move this score up.
Value (cost / experience) – 6 out of 10. Regular rates during the summer are $95 or $110 but there are some options for early bird discounts and their shoulder season rates are $75 or $85. This is not going to rank as the greatest value I have experienced outside the GTA, but it is a quality golf experience. The value really shoots up if you’re a Niagara area resident, as my friend is, where for $3000 you get an unlimited membership. If I resided in Niagara Falls, I’d be very pleased to call myself a member and play this course every day!
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – There is very little to criticize about the layout and conditions. The subtlety of Jones’ design elements and the quality of the course do create a unique and very good golf experience. The greens were very approachable; they are fair in terms of slope and speed. The sand traps were well maintained (but no surprise, given the overall conditioning)
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8 out of 10 – I would like to get back and play here annually, bringing some other friends to join Member #1 for a casual round! A course of this quality, complemented by a caring and professional staff (especially you, @lubster83) makes the trip worthwhile. Travelling from the GTA, a chance to play one of SCORE Golf Top 59 public golf courses is worth the drive and expense. In fact, I feel this course should be higher on this list than it is.
Highlight (what is great about the course) – The first hole sets a great tone for the round with water left, generous areas right but a demanding green on your approach. Many of the par 3’s require a well struck shot to avoid hazards. The signature hole, #13, is an impressive par 5 but watch the winds. And after a great round in that heat, it was awesome to enjoy a pint and a bite to eat at Riverside Grill – full serviced restaurant with all the classic clubhouse food and drinks. Gabby and the girls took good care of us!
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I really loved the course and the need for such precision; any misplayed approach shots would be funneled off the green. As a value conscious golfer the fees are steeper than what I am used to paying, so if pressed on this, if I am waving my magic wand that may be it. But as mentioned the condition and the staff support are superb. It is worthy of its high rankings as a public play course!
Just So You Know – There are plans to build executive homes around the course and there is also consideration of making the course private in the future. For now, enjoy a tremendous golfing experience in a beautiful location. The lack of infrastructure around the course (for now) is a real treat.
My Best Shot – I’ll have to defer here. The downwind straight par 4 14th saw my friend hit a majestic drive which we measured to be well over 315 yards. I caught my ball on the centre of the club face; my best drive of the day, and I was still 25 yards behind him!! He got his birdie; I was not as fortunate settling for a tap in par.