Tower Ranch – An Awe-Inspiring Mountain Golf Experience

Tower Ranch – An Awe-Inspiring Mountain Golf Experience

Course Reviews – Tower Ranch – An Awe-Inspiring Mountain Golf Experience

http://www.golftowerranch.com/

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My approach shot on the first hole at Tower Ranch.  Hard not to get distracted by the view.

For anyone who’s played golf in the Okanagan Valley in B.C., you may see some similarities to Tobiano when you visit Tower Ranch.  It is hard to avoid the comparisons; really, given the ruggedness of the landscape and the fact that Canadian course architect Thomas McBroom designed both Tower Ranch and Tobiano.  Journalist Robert Thompson has stated Tower Ranch is like Tobiano but without the majesty.  But having experienced them both now I would contest that Tower Ranch has its own unique majestic beauty and a brilliant back nine which allows the course to finish strong and leave players wanting more.

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Looking high up from the second green.

Set in the eastern hills of Kelowna, set very high over the city and Okanagan Lake, Tower Ranch was built in 2008 and is certainly one of the finer championship courses in the region.  Complementing the excellent golf options in the Okanagan, Tower Ranch is worthy of its place on Canadian course ranking lists.  Canadian Golf Magazine placed this in the Top 50 Public Courses in 2016 and it is certainly worthy of its place on that list.  I was fortunate to visit on a sunny spring morning, and feel McBroom was fortunate to have access to such a great piece of land to work with. The views of the opening holes and the city and lake below create a great first impression and I knew my golf game and my camera would get a good workout.

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Holding my finish on the par 3 5th hole.

As had been mentioned by other reviewers I read leading up to my visit, one critique is the lack of a practice range.  But working on the short game and getting used to the speed of the greens and the effect the slope has on the ball was worth the extra time.  Checking in was easy, as the staff were courteous and professional and made me feel most welcome.  My bag was loaded onto a cart – it is a course one needs to use a cart.  While I prefer walking I can appreciate the need for some courses to be cart only and this one certainly warrants that policy.

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The par 3 7th hole shows the challenges of this Tom McBroom design.

The layout is such that McBroom manages the significant elevation changes more directly on the opening nine with the first three holes playing significantly downhill.  Of course, heading back to the clubhouse at the turn, this makes the 8th and 9th even more challenging as stout, uphill holes to end the opening nine.  The course was in immaculate condition.  Even for early in the season the tall grasses which guard many of the holes set off from the generous fairways were high and thick.  Playing off an appropriate tee box will help make the round more enjoyable.  Make no mistake; this is a challenging championship layout.

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A tough set of bunkers short of the 9th green.

I felt the back nine was one the most enjoyable and challenging I have played in some time.  The mastery of McBroom’s work is seen a stretch from 11 to 15 where a stretch of 4-3-4-3-5 showcase the rugged landscape and his design brilliance.  The par 5 15th invites players to challenge the dogleg and bite off as much ground as possible; it is a stretch of holes I’d love play on a more regular basis.  And it certainly reinforces the need for a cart-only policy.

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The 11th tee starts off my favourite stretch of the course.  This is my favourite hole on the course.

The tee boxes were immaculate and very flat.  Greens were pristine and I stopped looking for ball marks after about 5 holes, not finding any; it is nice to see players and staff take such pride in their course.  The bunkering around the greens are demanding but fair.  The greens are not easy, with slope and in many cases false fronts which will make approach shots and greenside shots more challenging.  The pictures help tell the story and provide a compelling case for Tower Ranch as a must play when visiting Kelowna and the Okanagan region.

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The par 3 12th hole shows off the dramatic landscape and the rugged beauty of the area.

Aura – 9 out of 10 – The drive up to the course created that this was going to be a special experience.  The clubhouse is large and is located to provide convenient access and stunning views.  Having experience the course for myself it is possible it may even be somewhat underrated in its beauty.  I appreciated the solitude of the golf experience on the back nine.  Holes 12 and 13 were two of the most peaceful and enjoyable I have played, set at the farthest reaches of the course and away from any development.  It lacks the profile of some other excellent Canadian public courses more highly rated but holds its own as an excellent public course.

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Love the views from the back nine.

Value (cost / experience) – 7 out of 10.  Peak fees are $123 are not going to attract the highest marks as a value play, but value is defined relation to quality and this is where this course is strong.  Membership is $3250 for an individual with unlimited access and this includes cart access.  Make no mistake, this is a very high quality course and it’s well worth a visit.

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The par 5 15th was so exciting to experience.  A brilliant design and fun to play.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – In a word, exceptional.  The attention to detail from the superintendent and staff is seen throughout.  The course is well designed, exceptionally maintained and McBroom has added another gem to his course of Canadian designs.  While not a fan of tall grasses which can over penalize misses, the contouring on many holes help kick balls back to the fairway.  On the opening stretch of holes this was appreciated.

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The par 5 17th.  Exceptional sight lines off the tee.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8.5 out of 10 – Tower Ranch provides a unique and high quality golf experience that reinforces Kelowna and the Okanagan as an exceptional golf destination.  With a strong closing nine and a staff whose commitment to service and a quality golf experience, I look forward to when I can return and play again.  The round capped off a truly memorable 24 hours in Kelowna, having played Gallagher’s Canyon the afternoon before.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – I like the feel of the elevated tee shots on 1, 2 and 3.  But the experience on the 12th and 13th tee, feeling I have the course to myself and not seeing anyone else around was a feeling I won’t soon forget.  Add the countless views of the city and lake below and there is much that is great about Tower Ranch.

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The view from the 17th green over Kelowna and Okanagan Lake.  I’ll be back!

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I lost a number of balls in the tall rough on the front nine…but if you’re asking what I’d change, first, I’d say a straighter game for myself off the tee.  The course is fair and tough.  If pressed, I’d lower the rough along the mounding on the elevated holes on the front but Tom McBroom places a premium on accuracy and I wouldn’t change that.

My Best Shot – My approach on 15 was blind down to the green set below and I hit a wedge shot that I felt was good.  Well, as it turned out, it released and slowly rolled closer and closer to just outside of 4 feet but still on the high side.  Unable to get the delicate putt in for a birdie, my par on 15 (as with the few others I had) was one of satisfaction.

Gallagher’s Canyon – A Brilliant Championship Layout

Gallagher’s Canyon – A Brilliant Championship Layout

Course Reviews – Gallagher’s Canyon – A Brilliant Championship Layout

http://www.golfbc.com/courses/gallaghers_canyon

It is fitting that this review is being written as Kelowna and Gallagher’s Canyon are set to host the GolfBC Championship on the Mackenzie Tour (PGA TOUR Canada).  I had the pleasure of playing Gallagher’s Canyon in early May on a quiet afternoon, seemingly having the course to myself which allowed me ample time to appreciate this Les Furber and Doug Robinson designed gem.  The course was designed in 1980 and I actually played it over 25 years ago.  Staff were kind to point out there has been some routing changes but the prominence of the Canyon remains a focal point.

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Teeing off on the first hole.  Set for my own ‘championship’ experience.

This mountain course, which one article cited as “rugged yet refined” is walkable but does come with some significant elevation change in places.  The front nine begins with a bold start.  The Tour tees measure at over 6800 yards and I was able to tee off just behind the pro shop, set very high above the fairway below and providing a majestic view of the hole.  Stout, at over 430 yards, this hole will demand players’ attention.  However for me the course reflects the intelligence of its design on the next two holes.  A shorter par 4 provides an element of risk and reward for players.  And while not necessarily drivable, the options of how much of this hole to bite off from the tee provide players decisions to consider early.  The third hole is also an attention grabber.  Missing short and left is simply not an option as the elevation changes of Gallagher’s shows itself once again.

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Such a masterfully designed par 3, the third hole at Gallagher’s.

I love the routing of this course.  In fact, the only place where the course seems at all tight is off the first tee but it simply isn’t the case.  The layout is masterful and Furber and Robinson use the natural terrain to create appropriate vistas off the tee and subtle uphill holes for players to take on.  As one would expect with a Tour-caliber course, the greens were spectacular.  They rolled true and consistent.  As one may expect, uphill putts needed an aggressive hit whereas downhill putts required a delicate touch.  I loved the stretch of holes from 4 to 7; brilliant use of terrain to create a 4-4-5-4 combination which I place up against any public course in the country.  The ninth closes off the front with the canyon hole.  The drop off left is staggering but fortunately it does not really come into play as the fairway frames the hole nicely.

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The downhill 5th hole.  My only birdie of the day.

The course offers four unique tee blocks with a hybrid combination providing five play options.  Something which I did not experience back in the early 1990’s was a housing development running adjacent to many of the holes on the back nine.  I felt the back nine was not as challenging as the front but still brought the attention to design detail.  The subtle doglegs on 10 and the steady uphill challenge of 11 provided further appreciation to Furber and Robinson’s work.  I would have liked to have seen more from the closing two holes, but making providing birdie opportunities on a closing hole of a championship course will always create excitement, even from this 10 handicapper.

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Just left off the 9th tee is this sign…and this view.

Add to this courteous and professional staff, a fully stocked pro shop and a sensational clubhouse and my return experience at Gallagher’s Canyon proved to me I should not wait another 25 years to come back and experience this great course.  Also, combine the golf experience with a growing food culture, exceptional recreational opportunities off the course and one of Canada’s best wine regions and Gallagher’s reflects all that is excellent in Kelowna.

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On the tee on the par 4 11th.  A stout uphill hole.  Great to see the sun shining.

Aura – 8.5 out of 10 – Playing a course where professionals play is always a special experience.   This is one of the more unique and enjoyable courses I had played in some time.  Excellent conditions combined with the scenery – in and around the course – made more a memorable golf round.

Value (cost / experience) – 7.5 out of 10.  Peak fees are $125 but include access to practice facilities and a cart.  However, there is greater value to be had with a later tee time or play in the shoulder season.  Membership for a single player requires annual dues of only $2400 after a one time initiation payment.  For one of the province’s best courses and a championship layout this is worth a visit.

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Fabulous green complexes at Gallagher’s Canyon.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – This is one of a handful of courses I could play every day.  The layout is exceptional and the designers utilize the terrain exceptionally well.  Tee boxes were fabulous and the fairways well framed off the tee.  As a public course, the rough was not too penal and the greens were in outstanding condition.  In rare form, I did not visit the bunkers at Gallagher’s so I cannot offer any comments on their condition.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – This is an excellent golf course and worthy of its high rankings for public play in Canada.  Following a 4.5 hour drive from Vancouver through snowy mountain passes, the chance to walk Gallagher’s and appreciate this mature layout started my quick visit to Kelowna perfectly well.  I certainly hope to return again soon – 8.5 out of 10

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Standing on the 17th tee and facing a sharp dog leg.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – Reminiscent of other courses in Canada which bring uniqueness, challenge and enjoyment, Gallagher’s Canyon is truly unique.  From the opening tee shot, to the awe of looking down from the 9th and a chance to enjoy time in this relaxed clubhouse following the round, the entire experience was a highlight.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – The abruptness of 17 and its strong dogleg design could benefit from some additional work.  But I feel I am splitting hairs here as the course is well designed and it is one round I have replayed in my head this year again and again.

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My round complete, looking back on the 18th fairway.

My Best Shot – Having spent the first four holes scrambling, the downhill 5th hole allowed me a chance to attack the pin on my approach.  My 8-iron almost hit the pin leaving a short four footer for birdie.  My only one on the day, mind you.  Let’s see the pros match that this week!

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Forest Golf Club and Inn – My greatest value play

Forest Golf Club and Inn

http://www.golfforest.ca/

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Back in 2010 – a much warmer weekend then 2017 – my Dad tees off on hole 1.

It’s a subtle re-brand, changing the name from Forest Golf and Country Hotel to Forest Golf Club and Inn.  New course ownership, under the GolfNorth consortium is bringing about some changes but what remains the same is 27 holes and some of Ontario’s best value in golf.  You won’t find Forest on top course listings; in fact their 18-hole course doesn’t have a hole over 400 yards.  As a par 66, this windswept course offers value, fun and enough challenge to bring golfers back.

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Looking off the 7th tee to the 6th green and the 4th fairway.

I play this course annually on the last weekend of April with a group of 24.  This year marked our 17th year visiting this rural farming community about 45 km east of Sarnia, Ontario and just south of Lake Huron.  Over the years we’ve experienced hot, summer-like conditions, late winter wet snow and pretty much everything in between.  In addition, Forest has a 9-hole course but it is set more in a valley and is prone to early season dampness or flooding.  This year all 27 holes were open and the course was lush and played long.

The course has a hotel on site along with a restaurant so it is possible for visitors to park their car and not start it back up until it’s time to leave.  The restaurant is not as lively as it once was, with other places in town (only 5 minutes away) providing some stiff competition.  However, despite this, Forest Golf Club and Inn remains one of the best value golf destinations I have experienced.  The shoulder season special of 2 days/2 nights unlimited golf is $140.00. Most of our players come a day before and their 3 day/3 night special is $190.00  They promote the “Unlimited Golf Package” year round so even in the peak season there is value to be had.  Now this does not include cart fees which for our group – given our collective age and skill level are mandatory but for a group of golfers of diverse skill who are all seeking two rounds a day, this is perfect for us.

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Bundled up and battling cold winds, the approach on the island green at 11 is even tougher.

The course starts in the valley for the first two holes with a straightaway par 4 and a par 3.  Moving up, the wind and water come into play.  Despite the 3rd hole being a short 124 yards (and often playing shorter) a crowned green and strong spring winds make it a tough hole.  The course is well protected by water on 8 holes.  Even at only 4600 yards, this provides the course some teeth.  Renovations over the past few years feature Lambton County’s only island green on the par 4 11th.  The approach, always into a strong breeze any time I have played it, makes the short iron approach much more challenging than that yardage would indicate.  The longest holes – 12 and 14 (368 yards and 380) are made tougher by the fact one of them is always directly into the wind.  One year, our group factored four extra clubs because of the wind and still came up short on the approach.

The conditions are consistently good but more attention to the greens would take this course to another level.  But make no mistake, this course is without pretense and provides relaxed, enjoyable golf for players of all skills levels.  Their second set of tees make the 18 hole course just under 3900 yards.  The nine hole course is a par 33, with 6 par 4’s and 3 par 3’s.  At 2057 yards, it uses elevation changes to create fun and challenge.

 

The hotel is clean and built to accommodate groups exceptionally well with one wing extending just adjacent to the 18th green making it convenient to leave the clubs in the cart over lunch before a second round.

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On the tee at Hole 10.  A longer straightaway par 4.

My favourite stretch on the course is holes 4-6 which wrap around a large pond and reflect the risk-reward aspect of Forest.  Driveable greens for sure, with holes 4 and 5 playing 264 and 267, but water and OB await any errant shots.  The 9th hole is also a fun one with players seeking to cut the corner on the dog leg par 4 over water and make their second shot as short as possible.

Forest Golf Club and Inn does not try to oversell itself; it is a shorter, fun and very approachable golf course.  With a focus on value yet possessing enough challenge for all players it remains the home of the Pitch, Putt and Gimme group based in Hamilton, Ontario and next year will be year 18.  Maybe next year I can finally get a birdie on the challenging downhill par 3 17th, only 109 yards but I have bogied that hole more than I’ve parred it and have yet to birdie it in 17 years!  Always good memories, good golf and exceptional value.

For this value conscious golfer looking for a relaxed, fun golf experience this is the place for you.

 

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With 40 km/h winds, approach shots need to carefully thought out.

Aura – 5 out of 10 – Perhaps too far removed from major golfing markets, but under the GolfNorth banner this may change over time.  It has a small but faithful following and focuses wisely on its golf value.

Value (cost / experience) – 10 out of 10.  The focus, given the location, is the stay and play deals and Forest is smart in its marketing efforts.   Even in the peak season, our group could enjoy 3 days accommodation and unlimited golf for $265 pp.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 6 out of 10 – I quite like the layout and appreciate the investments made over years (improvements to bridges and fairways).  The greens remain inconsistent and have been that way for many years now.  And while some feel a par 5 would help add to the course, I like that focus on shorter playability.  Our group includes several retirees who don’t play much golf yet everyone feels they can play this course and contribute in a scramble.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 7 out of 10 – This course is a fun way to kick off my golf season and after the Masters is done, I focus my attention to Forest and the start of my golf season.  I like the fact that the course mixes shorter, more forgiving holes with some challenge (water, design and wind).

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The 18th hole and its proximity to the hotel can provide a gallery at times.  For our group, add a couple drinks and the pressure of the approach or birdie putt on 18th becomes more pronounced.  Like the 16th at TPC Scottsdale, the 18th at Forest has taken on an enjoyable life of its own on late afternoon rounds.

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Spring 2016 – one of my favourite golf pictures. 14th tee at Forest, Dad and I.

Turnberry Golf Club – Short, but Mighty Indeed

Turnberry – Short, but Mighty Indeed

http://www.turnberrygolf.ca/home.htm

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The superb conditioning and layout of Turnberry is showcased here.

I have borrowed Turnberry’s own description, “call it short, but mighty” as it is most apt.  This short course is located in Brampton, Ontario and is the sister course to Eagles Nest (my review of Eagles Nest is here) which is located further east in Maple (Vaughan).  Playing on what was the last nice late fall weekend this past November, I was able to enjoy a sunshine filled and relaxed round on what was one of the more challenging shorter courses I have ever experienced.  Challenging and fun.  There is nothing that is cookie cutter about this course and it is a course I hope to get back to and experience again.

If you have played Eagles Nest then you will understand the strong similarities in look, condition and challenge.  But perhaps most notable is the fact that Turnberry is a par 56.  Yes, there are 16 par 3’s and these are sandwiched around two par 4’s – the first hole and the 18th.  The par 4’s are not exactly short (443 yards and 392) so make sure you pack all 14 clubs.

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The 12th hole.  One of the easier on the back, it reflects the demands on players off the tee.

My first impression was that this course is extremely well maintained.  For late season the tee decks were in fantastic shape, albeit well used after an extended stretch of mild fall weather.  However, they were flat, tightly mown and framed each hole exceptionally well.  The greens were terrific, just as good as Eagles Nest and the best of any short course I have experienced.  Players and staff certainly care for the course as while the tee boxes reflected the normal wear of par 3 play, the greens had very few ball marks.  An elevated tee on both holes one and two help the player ease into the round with some confidence standing over the ball.

The first of the 16 consecutive par 3’s may be one of the toughest however.  A giant shared green (the second shares a green with hole 8) with several undulations means that simply hitting the green is not enough to secure par.  And with trouble short and right this hole will demand your attention.  But one could say that is one of the real strengths of Turnberry, this is no pushover of a short course.

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The 16th is my favourite of all the par 3’s on the course.  It looks like absolutely anything short will fall back into the pond.

The 4th hole is reminiscent of the ‘postage stamp’ green at Royal Troon.  The 7th is only 102 yards but the 11th is more than twice that long and is a somewhat blind tee shot, as the green is tucked behind a knoll.  The 13th sees a unique green feature, a Biarritz green.  The 16th is a gorgeous hole with a long sliver of a green situated just beyond a large pond.  The course offers an excellent hole by hole description on its website

Mounding, fescue, excellent bunkering and demanding greens will force players to bring strong ball striking and an excellent short game to score well here.

I loved the diversity of golf holes and the layout is exceptional.  Having played both Eagles Nest and Turnberry there is no denying they’re outstanding courses.  Eagles Nest is a worthy of its position on many top course ranking lists.  But I think Turnberry is worthy of its own due as an exceptional course in the GTA.  While it fills an important place as a shorter course it doesn’t do this as the price of quality, challenge and exceptional experience.

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Aura – 8.5 out of 10 – The relationship between Eagles Nest and Turnberry allows for some strong marketing efforts between the two.  Turnberry has made a strong name for itself and this course lived up to the hype.  The website is terrific and showcases the course very well.

Value (cost / experience) –7.5 out of 10.  Peak summer rates of $47 are not cheap but there are so many opportunities to explore value options.  In the shoulder seasons, if you’re a cold weather player they market all day play for $20 if the weather is under 6c (an excellent marketing move, in my opinion).  I play in that weather regularly.  Safe to say there are options to play this course at a strong value rate.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10.  I actually give Turnberry the nod here over its sister course.  The diversity of golf holes, exceptional condition and a terrific layout which has players feel they are part of a more expansive layout then it really is creates a sense of quality that you notice as soon as you arrive and appreciate walking up to the clubhouse from 18.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – It was my last round of 2016 and it felt great to end the season experiencing a course of this quality and uniqueness.  I loved it and look forward to coming back. – 9 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The clubhouse is clean, spacious and inviting.  The view down over the course is inviting.  I loved the feeling I got on the first and second tee looking over the entire golf hole and feeling like the course belonged to me.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – Perhaps a third par 4 somewhere in the middle of the round would break up the stretch of 16 par 3’s nicely, but really I am just splitting hairs.  I am not a fan of the Biarritz green design feature so if pressed to change anything that would be it.

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The demanding 15th hole, where the miss right is no easy up and down (as I can attest to).

Just So You Know – At the The Toronto Golf and Travel Show these courses offer excellent opening season specials, providing excellent value and access to two great courses.  If you’re attending the show in the future make a point of exploring their offers.

 

Algonquin Golf Club – Play New Brunswick’s Best

Algonquin Golf Club – Play New Brunswick’s Best

Course Reviews – Algonquin Golf Club – Play New Brunswick’s Best

http://algonquinresort.com/golf/

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Arriving at sunrise and anticipating a great golfing experience

The drive in from Fredericton was scenic and easy; very consistent with my experiences in maritime Canada.  Traveling a little over 90 minutes to the resort town of St. Andrews By-the-Sea I was fortunate to have time to enjoy this town before and after my round at Algonquin.  The drive along the Bay of Fundy shore was quicker than I anticipated but I was excited to arrive so I welcomed the efficiency.  A quiet seafood dinner at a local pub set along the water stirred my excitement for the early morning round.

 

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The seaside views in town can complement your golfing experience.

 

I had the pleasure of teeing it up with Assistant Professional, Ryan O’Connell.  Being first group off on a cool and sunny day, my expectations were high.  After all, the drive into the course and the views from the clubhouse set the tone – the views were spectacular.  The course offers five tee decks, and as a resort course this helps to accommodate players of all skill levels.  Ryan and I chose a relaxed round off tees just under 6100 yards (Silver).  Ryan was a great host, sharing great insights on the course and layout, its history and details on current renovations which are focused on the back nine.  We walked the course in just under 4 hours, playing at a leisurely pace and allowing me time for questions and pictures.  Being mid-September it was no longer peak travel season and after my round I took time for lunch at the clubhouse.  They offered a limited menu given the time of year but their soup and sandwich were outstanding.  Add to it the views over Passamaquoddy Bay and it was a great way to celebrate a great round of golf.

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The beauty of the first hole set the tone for a relaxed round at Algonquin.

The back nine gets considerable accolades, and rightfully so, as all holes after the 10th offer a water view.  The renovation efforts led by Rod Whitman (of Cabot and Sagebrush fame) were well underway and Head Professional Jason Porter shared that they expect a launch of the renovated course for July 2017.  That said, despite the full renovation efforts, the impact on play was minimal.  The 11th is where the most significant change will take place and based on the construction and green placement, the signature hole on 12 will have a stout competitor.  I predict 11 will become many peoples favourite.  Also, work is planned on 13, a par 5, which will see work move the tee box alongside the water.  Ryan said it well; that Rod is seeking to create an Amen Corner feel.  Using the assets of the Bay and its stunning views, this will be one of the strongest three hole stretches in Atlantic Canada.  The par 3 12th is a downhill par 3 and wind is a great protector for this hole.  But I really like the intelligent design of the par 4 15th, which doglegs left and demands two great shots to reach in regulation.  Beyond the 15th is a unique landmark and reflects the rich and long history of Algonquin; Canada’s oldest Clubhouse.

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Conditions were ideal, as evident from this view from behind the 5th.

Those who appreciate golf history will love Algonquin.  The course was first built in the 1890’s and in the 1920’s Donald Ross designed an expanded course layout.  Canadian, Tom McBroom was brought in during the 1990’s to renovate the course.  Evidence of the history of Algonquin is present throughout the course, including evidence of an early tee box complete with an old stone retaining wall.  The course provides historical information on their site but like other courses in Canada, I feel they could bolster this greatly with more images, stories and detail of the changes over the years.

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Evidence of the rich history at Algonquin Golf Club with this old stone retaining wall to support an original tee deck. no longer in play but still prominent.

The front nine routes inland and is, in my opinion, a very strong nine.  I felt holes 5, 6 and 7 all provided great scoring opportunity and intelligent design features with the tee shot on 5, a risk-reward par 4 6th and a beautiful and challenging approach on 7.  Ryan shared that the course has been hard at work over several years to remove trees to open up the holes off the tee and provide a more generous landing area for players.  On 5, a par 5, he shared evidence of an expanded fairway and new rough on the right side off the tee.  The par 3 8th is an underrated golf hole, while lacking the water view of 12, brings the natural beauty of the area prominently into play.  The course played firm and fast and reflects an emerging commitment of some courses to not commit to over watering and allow for a more natural playing experience.  But make no mistake; conditions for late season were consistently great.

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Renovations led by Rod Whitman make the 11th look like it may rival the signature 12th

The course is walkable and allows players time to fully appreciate the beauty of the course and area.  The tee boxes were well kept and course conditions, as stated, were consistent and very good.  The greens were consistent and the effect of the Bay on balls was noticeable (balls on the green break toward the water).  The bunkers were in great condition, allowing for consistent shot making.  The course prides itself on excellent service and ensuring the playing experience is enjoyable.  With five tee decks it is course which you could play over and over again and not get bored with.

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Ryan O’Connell on the 12th tee.

Aura – 9 out of 10 – The 12th hole is an iconic par 3 with views of Maine off to your right and the water all around.  It reflects well the enjoyment which players will have at Algonquin.  The strength of design in the front allows for a transition to wind swept sea views throughout the back nine.  The course markets itself well and does not oversell itself.

Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10.  With a peak season fee over $90 this is a bucket list experience but value enhances in the fall where fees range from $45-65.  Add to this the fall colours and fewer tourists, and the value in the fall is sensational.  For me, to have what amounted to a guided tour of the course including an update on the renovations and a history lesson on Algonquin and I can’t believe my good fortune.

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More evidence of the historical assets at Algonquin Golf Club

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10.  – The layout of the course is a true strength.  I appreciated the intelligent design of the front nine and it complemented the jaw-dropping beauty of the back nine.  The course transitioned on the back to more expansive feel but not once did I feel that holes were on top of one another.  The greens were in very good condition, bunkers were flawless and the tee boxes and fairways consistent and strong.  Again, I applaud Algonquin for a firm and fast approach to the course.

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The par 3 8th hole.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – If it is possible for a top 100 course in Canada to be underrated, this may be it.  The course leverages its assets exceptionally well – both people and property.  I felt a genuine welcome and experienced a course which brought a pleasant and relaxed layout with intelligent design.  I’d be proud to be a member here.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – Just stand on the tee of 12 and you’ll understand what is great about this course.  But then, talk to any member or staff person and you will know another thing that is great about Algonquin.  The people are amazing; very friendly and passionate about their course.

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Two eagle chances on 13!

 

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – this is emerging as a theme for me in my experiences playing golf across the country but many courses do not leverage the history and the stories of their course and community as well as they could.  I would love to see Algonquin build a more robust section on their website about the history of this course complete with pictures and stories.

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Made time to visit the resort, only minutes away, after my round.

My Best Shot – My approach on the par 5 13th was only from 165 yards.  But with a slight breeze in my face and the ball below my feet I put a smooth swing with a 6 hybrid and the ball looked like it may hit the pin.  It ended up about 4 feet from the pin.  And sadly no, I missed the eagle putt.  But I will never apologize for tap in birdies.  This helped me to an even par 36 on the back and a sub 80 round.  A great score on a great course!041

Stewart Creek – Mining for Birdies in Canmore

Course Reviews – Stewart Creek – Mining for Birdies in Canmore

http://www.stewartcreekgolf.com/

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A strong opening hole.  Love the elevation change to the fairway below.

The drive from Banff is a surprisingly short one – only about 15 minutes – so quick that I was extremely early for my afternoon tee time.  Following a hospitable reception, easy check in process and a light lunch I decided to pack the cart and tee off early as a single in hope of avoiding some inclement weather which was forecast.  First impressions at Stewart Creek are impressive.  The course is easy to locate off the Trans Canada and the clubhouse and pro shop are beautiful and very well stocked.  While I did not make the time to enjoy the patio, it shows off the facilities and the natural setting most beautifully.  Stewart Creek is recognized within Canadian Golf Magazine as a Top 100 Course in the country (ranked 57th in 2015) and rightfully so.  However, amidst the riches of great golf in the Canadian Rockies it is, dare I say, somewhat understated.  What I experienced is mountain golf which was playable for people of all skill levels, possessing the natural beauty which one would expect from golf in the Rockies and some strong design features which make for a memorable, challenging and very enjoyable golfing experience.

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The front nine presents so much beauty

Playing as a single and with a healthy gap between groups the starter took some extra time to impart some local knowledge, let me know when to have my camera ready and also to remind me I am in bear country.  He also shared a little of the history of the area and its mining history which I would see evidence of later on the course.  The first hole will grab player’s attention as this medium length par 4 plays to a dramatic drop to a wide landing area.  I made a smart decision to play a relaxed tee box of just under 6200 yards.  The front nine is more expansive that the back and I quickly appreciated having a cart as the climb between some holes is more than I’d care to experience on foot, following a morning 18 and set in bear country.

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Stewart Creek demonstrates a commitment to engage players of all skill levels with Family Tee options, making the game playable for all ages

I was very impressed that Stewart Creek invokes a Family Tee system which essentially allows player’s opportunity to access the course from yardages ranging from 100 – 250 for each hole.  You will not see this on the scorecard but it does add a unique way to engage players – young and old.  I’ve experienced this before and applaud courses for their efforts with alternative tee boxes to make the game more inclusive.

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An impressive close to the opening nine.

The course is designed by Canadian, Gary Browning.  He did add some impressive design features to create some memorable golf holes.  I was quite struck with the par 5 6th hole, which has the green set lower left from the fairway and broken off from the fairway with grasses and a couple trees.  The 9th hole, a majestic par 3 drops players down from the steady ascent throughout the front.  In researching the course, this is a change from the original design which had the 9th hole as a par 4, and one seemingly well received by players.  The green is guarded by a solitary shallow bunker and water on either side.  The course has very few bunkers, actually and uses subtle changes in terrain to protect the greens.  This again, in my opinion, makes the course more playable and enjoyable.

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Stewart Creek shows how playable mountain golf can be.

The back nine is less extreme in terms of elevation changes and continues to provide players stunning vistas to the surrounding mountains and the course itself, which has been recognized as a certified Audubon sanctuary back in 2004.  The course provides a feel of solitude and is not at all crowded in its design.  I was impressed with the consistently excellent condition of the course.  Greens were fair and rolled true.  The most difficult green is located on my favourite hole, the par 4, 14th.  On this short, drivable par 4, the long, multi-tiered green brings significant slope. Avoiding three putts if you’re on the wrong tier is challenging.  Set to the left of the 14th fairway is an abandoned coal mine entrance with a plaque to recognize its history.

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My favourite hole, the short par 4, 14th.

If I had two recommendations, it would be for Stewart Creek to dedicate a page on its website to telling more of the history of mining in this region and the story of transformation from mining to golf (which I understand required some significant work by the course to reinforce parts which had mining tunnels set below).  The second recommendation mirrors the first, in that Stewart Creek can speak more to its environmental stewardship and leadership.  Audubon certification is significant and represents a commitment to the environment which many players appreciate.  Both provide a unique story to engage golfers and I certainly wanted to learn more – both before and after playing there.

 

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The history of this region comes alive with this abandoned mine entrance.

The course ends on an enjoyable par 4-3-5 stretch and my round ended far too quickly for my liking.  Stewart Creek is nestled in a part of Canada which boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to publicly accessible golf.  I enjoyed my experience at Stewart Creek.  For a mountain course, it brings a high playability factor to it and with multiple tee decks offers access and enjoyment for all golfers.  I look forward to my next visit!

Aura – 7.5 out of 10 – Perhaps it is being part of a regional cluster of nationally recognized great courses, perhaps it is simply a humble and modest approach to communication.  Whatever it is, it deserves a higher score.

Value (cost / experience) – 7.5 out of 10 – I really enjoyed my golfing experience and would happily come back and pay the peak fee.  But make no mistake; golfing in the Rockies is not for the frugal golfer.  The website offers fees which range based on the time of year and time of day you play and within these there are greater value options on their website.  But for a top 100 course in the country, set in the Rocky Mountains, and with a strong layout, the value here is more than fair.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – The course is exceptionally maintained.  Tee boxes, fairways, and greens are all consistent and outstanding. There are very few bunkers but they are consistent in how they play.  The quality of the course allows the player to enjoy themselves and focus on their game…and the stunning vistas.  It was my first experience with a Browning design and I was impressed.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Hitting it straight off the tee is not a hallmark of my game.  Making a decision to play off a shorter tee deck allowed me to focus more on my first experience playing golf in Canmore.  But the course is very playable; not too tight or penal.  I really enjoyed the course.  Add to it the people, who were very friendly and helpful, and it capped off a memorable round of golf. – 8.5 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – With consistently quality golf throughout, I like the boldness of the design.  The first hole is impressive in its drop off and reflects the vastness and impressive mountain range to the north.  As discussed, the 6th hole is so unique and the 9th, like the first, is great to experience.  But boldness like the family tees, the solitary tree on the 13th fairway, and the great challenge of my favourite hole, the 14th, helps to captivate golfers and bring them back.  And make no mistake, I plan to be back.

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My experience at Stewart Creek ended too quickly.  It’s a mountain golf experience I look forward to experiencing again.

 

 

Banff Springs – Breathtaking Golf in the Rockies

Banff Springs – Breathtaking Golf in the Rockies

http://www.fairmont.com/banff-springs/golf/

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Another beautiful morning at Banff Springs

One does not have to look very far to locate Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course on top course ranking lists in Canada.  Arguably one of Stanley Thompson’s finest works, this course set adjacent to the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and the majestic Bow River.  The golf course is majestic, the views expansive and powerful with the river and the mountains providing a stunning backdrop.  It may well feature the greatest opening nine I have experienced and possesses signature hole after signature hole.  Both Canadian Golf Magazine and SCOREGolf place this course well within their top 10 in Canada.

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Looking back from behind the second green

On a cold spring morning, I was fortunate to tee off as a single where I could take my time, take lots of pictures and enjoy a true, unique golf experience.  The starter advised me holes which I should have my camera ready – 4 and 14.  He may well have said all 18 of them.  After the opening hole, the course faces the mountains and holes 2, 3 and 4 build in magnitude.  The 3rd hole is an underrated par 5, and if not for Thompson’s genius design of the 7th hole at Highlands Links, I would state this to be my favourite par 5 of any I’ve played.   However, the 4th hole is a breathtaking beauty, unlike any I’ve played.  A downhill par 3, aptly named Devil’s Cauldron, this hole is guarded by water in the front and classic Thompson bunkering protecting short and left of the green.  While admiring this bowl shaped design and readying to take my shot, a golf cart pulled up.  They were a touring the course, not golfers.  In asking if they would take my picture following my swing, the gentleman stated he’d be delighted and that he was a photographer.  I marveled at my fortune.  And to close off; my shot – witnessed by tourists both behind me as well as behind the green, the shot landed softly beyond the green and avoiding the traps.  I’ll never forget that.

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A picture I will always cherish – holding the finish on the famous 4th hole.

The course returns to the relatively new clubhouse after nine than moves toward the hotel where it loops around and back, allowing for a stretch of tree lined holes and stout par 3’s before returning back in a more expansive stretch alongside the mountains.  The effort it must have taken back in the 1920’s to build this course is staggering to imagine.  The course offers something for so many; historians, nature lovers and of course, golfers.

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Hard not to get distracted by the scenery

The tranquility of my clear, cold morning allowed me to play a relaxed round and appreciate the genius of Thompson who, once again, used the land exceedingly well.  There are no holes which are too close in proximity to others.  The back nine provides challenge in terms of length and demands a level of accuracy which is less prominent on the front nine.

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The 9th hole runs alongside the Bow River.

The conditioning of the course is fantastic, complementing the exceptional layout and natural setting.  A true bucket list course, this will not be your most inexpensive round.  But it is entirely possible that it may be your most memorable.

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The 14th hole shows the best view of the Banff Springs Hotel

Aura – 9.5 out of 10 – This is a national top 10 course and top 5 public course.  For many, it is their favourite course in the country and is entirely worthy of planning a trip around.  If blessed with a sunny day, your camera will get a strong workout.

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Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10 – Peak fees are $239 + tax.  There are afternoon and shoulder season rates but this will set back many players.  However, I acknowledge value is in the eyes of the beholder.  And for the quality and natural beauty of this course, the chance to play it once (in the shoulder season for me) makes this a solid value pick, not exceptional.  Understand, it’s a golfing experience and a true bucket list course.

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Even the practice facilities are stunning.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 –  Course staff were hard at work on the fairways, greens and even the bunkers while I was there in late May. The layout is brilliant, one of Thompson’s strengths, but the conditioning of the course complements the quality setting.  The tee boxes were in exceptional condition.  Greens rolled true and consistent, not too fast for a public resort course which helps ensure good pace of play.  The greenside protection was diverse and penal at times but never unfair.  Fairways were superb.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 9.5 out of 10 – I would return in a heartbeat.  Understand that you’re in Banff and there is much else to do – hot springs, the town, the hotel – but the golf course stands on as an experience worthy of the investment and complements the scenery of this gorgeous town.

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Highlight (what is great about the course) – For the purposes of managing space, I’ll let the pictures speak to this.  Safe to say practically everything is great about it.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – aside from moving to Alberta to take advantage of a residents discount, there really isn’t anything specific I would change.  This is a truly special course and well worthy of its prominent places in national course rankings.  As a public play, it is on my top 3 list.

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One of my favourite images is this view of the par 5 3rd hole.

Just So You Know – Practice facilities are very strong.  There is also a 9 hole ‘Tunnel Mountain’ course available to complement the 18 hole Stanley Thompson course.