Underrated Provinces for Golf in Canada

Underrated and underappreciated golf in Canada.

The simple fact is there is not a Cabot Cliffs or a Banff Springs in every province in Canada.  With respect to the quantity and quality of golf options, provinces across Canada are simply not the same.  The PGA of Canada and Golf Canada co-authored a report, Golf Facilities in Canada 2017, which provides data and information on golf facilities and development in Canada.  One thing that is interesting to this report is their provincial breakdown on the quantity and type of courses available – 6, 9, 12 and 18 hole courses, including resorts, public and private clubs.  http://golfcanada.ca/article/golf-canada-and-the-pga-of-canada-publish-golf-facilities-in-canada-2017-report

In late 2017 I had set up a Twitter poll asking followers to identify the province they feel is most underrated and underappreciated in terms of the quality of public golf available.  Results were modest and by no means provide any scientific data, but do provide insight to the hunch I had that a valid case can be made for all four of these provinces as being underrated and underappreciated.

 

Saskatchewan

With about 10% of Canada’s course offerings there is considerably more to choose here than one might think.  Saskatchewan is only second behind Ontario in 9-hole courses and the ratio is courses to the population base is quite high.  But add a qualitative component to it and only Dakota Dunes appears as a consensus top 100 course in the country.  Perhaps this just proves the point though, as courses like Waskesiu, Kenosee and Moon Lake (among others) are admired by those who play them.  I have a business trip this spring in Regina and will aim to get 2-3 rounds, so look for more insight.  I’ve played Waskesiu and as a Stanley Thompson design, it’s a sensational golfing experience.  Dakota Dunes is rightfully situated well within the country’s top 100 courses, it is fantastic.  It’s a region I would love to spend more time playing.

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Lobstick Tree at Waskesiu in the first fairway

Newfoundland and Labrador

Not exactly top of mind when one thinks golf in Canada and that alone can sway opinion.  But what they lack in terms of quantity they more than make up for in terms of quality.  With only 22 courses/facilities available in the province a focus on two will help make the case for those who voted NL.  Canadian Golf Magazine, in 2015, voted Humber Valley Resort as the 37th best course in the country.  Located on the western side of Newfoundland, south of Deer Lake and north of Corner Brook, this course is a must play for visitors to the Island. The course website has some of the most incredible visual images of the course which will make you want to book your travel for next year.  Within St. John’s, Graham Cooke designed Clovelly Golf Club has two courses but it is the Osprey Course which players will want to experience (likely more than once).  In a pinch for time in St. John’s?  Try Pippy Park which has 27 holes.  Admiral’s Green is their 18-hole course and the view from the par 3 7th is worth the green’s fees alone.  A long fall season will allow players chances to often play well into November.  But to me, Newfoundland will always be an underrated province for golf.  With a few strong, quality options it is certainly underappreciated.

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Minutes from the airport, Admiral’s Green at Pippy Park will give you some incredible views of St. John’s

 

New Brunswick

Here, the challenges seem to be the rather large shadow cast from the quality of golf in Nova Scotia (the Cabot courses alone are driving a boom) and the marketing machine and marriage of value and quality of golf in Prince Edward Island.  Yet that aside, New Brunswick with a population just over 750,000 has over 50 golf facilities available (54 to be exact).  The provinces geography is such that courses are likely no more than an hour away for anyone.  Algonquin holds the mantle of the best course in the province and rightfully so in my opinion.  Rated 77th in Canada in 2015 by CGM (and underrated at that), like Saskatchewan this is the only course cracking the top 100.  But other courses like Royal Oaks, Kingswood, Gowan Brae and unique Herring Cove all add merit to New Brunswick being high on this list.  Worthy of its own accolades, New Brunswick complements the quality of golf in the Maritimes and in so many ways merit its own unique praise.

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The signature hole at Algonquin is their par 3 12th.  Sensational and part of a fabulous stretch of golf holes.

Manitoba

I must confess, I have never golfed in Friendly Manitoba.  And while this is about to change this summer with a visit to Winnipeg.  No one better to connect with on this then Jeremy Kehler of Prairie Golf Magazine.  He was quick to point out that the omission of Granite Hills from top Canadian course rankings is confusing.  Just over an hour outside of Winnipeg it seems he is not underselling this based on my conversations and preliminary research on this course.  Other courses identified, like Minnewasta and Falcon Lake show a level of quality which should not be surprising given the province boasts 130 golf facilities.  Included in this is the country’s only 6-hole course!  After the summer is complete I will have an informed opinion to share but for now I will let Jeremy and others beat the drum for Manitoba.  Fact is it was tied for first with 30% of responses citing Manitoba most underrated and underappreciated.

The winner of this debate is the public player.  Shining a light on the provinces (and great courses within) that don’t get enough golf love provide us chances to get off the beaten path and identify our own golf destinations and courses which we want to play.

Let me know if there is a course you know in any of these four provinces which should be on players and visitors radar.

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2016 in Pictures – Algonquin Golf Club

In an effort to step up my photo game this year I am pleased to share 10 of my favourite golf images over the past year.  With a healthy layer of snow already in southern Ontario I hope this brings back good memories from your 2016 golf season and stokes the fire of anticipation for 2017!

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The Story: Playing one of the Maritimes best courses is always a treat but teeing it up with Assistant Pro, Ryan O’Connell made it even more special.  Ryan traded in his pitching wedge for a camera on the feature hole, the 12th at Algonquin, to get this picture of me addressing the ball.  It was an amazing morning of golf and this picture really represents my bucket list pursuit – great courses, even better people.  Ryan shared so many stories of the rich history of this course and the great community of St. Andrews By The Sea.  I simply can’t wait to get back and experience this course again.  And yes, I hit the green and safely two-putted for par.  The pin set on the left had sucker pin written all over it!

Click here for my full review of Algonquin Golf Club

Bucket List Review – Part 3 – New Brunswick

Bucket List Review – Part 3 – New Brunswick

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The stunning 12th hole at Algonquin

This is the third of 10 posts that will look back on the current status of my bucket list.  Focusing on all 10 provinces, I’ll share links to courses played and remaining on my list, along with some new courses for consideration.  I’ll share some pictures, stories and wishes for future travel.  Canada is an amazing country for public golf, go play (once the snow is melted, of course).

Bucket List Courses PlayedAlgonquin

Bucket List Courses Remaining – none.

Other Courses PlayedMactaquac, Kingswood (quite some time ago for both)

Bucket List ContendersGowan Brae; Fox Creek; Royal Oaks;

Other Courses of NoteHerring Cove

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Opening hole at Algonquin

 

Overview

There may be no other place in Canada more underrated in terms of golf then New Brunswick.  I can appreciate people arguing otherwise.  And while a it is a strong statement it is really meant to shine a light on the richness of golf in this beautiful Maritime province.  My experiences in New Brunswick are diverse and go back many years but one common thread emerged as I reflect back, and it is that I need to get back there and explore more of it.  Same can be true in terms of NB golf.  Over the years I have played three of New Brunswick’s finer courses; Algonquin (a perennial Top 100 course in Canada); Kingswood (a course Golf Digest once placed as a Top 100 play outside of the US) and Mactaquac (a tree-lined, tranquil course set outside of Fredericton within a provincial park).

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Algonquin, set in picturesque St. Andrews-by-the-Sea and so close to the border of the United States you can see it from the 12th tee, receives the most accolades.  Canadian Golf Magazine placed it as their 77th best course in Canada in their 2015 Top 100 list.  An historic course, over 100 years old, Tom McBroom recently completed a redesign in the early 1990’s.  Some holes on the back nine are being redesigned today by Rod Whitman to maximize the layout and prominence of water which makes the back nine so majestic.  Wait until the 11th hole is completed in July 2017, it will give 12 a run for best hole on the course.  And perhaps it is that sense of adventure and discovery which make golf in New Brunswick so special.  From Fredericton, centrally located in the province, you’re never more than 3-4 hours away from most courses, many excellent courses considerably closer than that.

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Sneak peak at the work to rebuild the 11th hole at Algonquin

Sites like SCOREGolf and Golf NB have details on courses available in all geographic areas, price ranges and ranking.  For the adventurous type, New Brunswick would make an excellent golfing destination.  Explore and play would be my choice of motto for this underrated golfing destination.

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Algonquin hosts Canada’s Oldest Golf Clubhouse

 

Travel Notes

My first trip through New Brunswick was when I was 16.  An overnight stop enroute to Cape Breton allowed for a round of golf at the Mactaquac Golf Course.  Minutes from Fredericton and along the Saint John River, I was captivated by the area and the province itself.  New Brunswick has a population of about 750,000.  You can drive from the Quebec border to the Nova Scotia border in less than 5 hours.  The TransCanada in New Brunswick is efficient and well maintained. But I recommend you make time to get off the highway, explore a local course, try the Covered Bridge potato chips, maybe a pint or two of Picaroons, enjoy the scenic drives throughout the province and as I am always apt to do when in the Maritimes, enjoy the seafood.  In the summer, make time for a nice swim in the waters along the Northumberland Strait; it’s surprisingly warm.

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St. Andrews by-the-Sea

My most recent trip to New Brunswick had me rent a car and drive from Fredericton to St. Andrews.  The drive was quicker and easier than expected and the seafood in town better than I hoped.  The remarkable Bay of Fundy tides over my 24 hour stay had ample time to show itself and a cool, sunny round of golf at Algonquin capped off a great stay in a part of the country I simply need to get back to more regularly.  I regret not being able to have the time to visit and play Herring Cove which from all accounts is a stunning 9-hole course nearby.

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The Algonquin Resort

All three of the courses I’ve played over the years had unique elements and a real underrated nature to them.  Learning more about the scope of quality golf options in the province, it only piques my interest to get back, explore and play.  I expect there are hidden golfing gems set throughout the province.  If you know of any please do pass them along to me.  From shore to shore to shore, New Brunswick is a unique mix of natural beauty, hospitality and surprisingly golf quality.

 

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The view over the harbour is amazing.  So are their Fish and Chips.

 

 

 

 

Updating my Canadian Bucket List

Updating my Canadian Bucket List

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Jaw-dropping views of the Rocky Mountains await golfers at Banff Springs.

Many golfers have one; a list of courses they want to play.  My list, all Canadian publicly accessible courses, is the reason I started this blog.  And three seasons in now it is worth a critical look.  After all, lists like these deserve to be viewed and reviewed regularly.  I have to give credit to my late cousin who passed too young but had a penchant for calling me following rounds at courses all over the United States.  Whistling Straits was a memorable call, but the most excited he ever was when he called me was following 36 holes at Bandon Dunes.  The resort was relatively new and he sounded like a kid who sneaked out of bed and saw Santa Claus.  That call, and his passing a couple years later, really spurned me on to make my own list and adopt a ‘make it happen’ approach to play as many great courses as I can in Canada.  Thanks for the inspiration Paul, you’ll never be forgotten…and more than just a shared passion for golf but I hope my pursuits are well aligned to your travels across the USA playing great courses every chance you could.

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Tobiano, even on a cloudy day, is nothing short of spectacular.

My list covers all ten provinces and is set at 73 courses as of today.  Looking back in three seasons of play I am proud I have been able to make it to 9 out of the 10 provinces.  Only Manitoba is left and my GJAC friend and colleague Jeremy Kehler would not be happy to know that.  This year has been an odd year for me in terms of golf and a late summer move had everything to do with that.  Of course, I continued my odd trend of playing better at the early and tail end of the season.  Specific to my bucket list I have knocked off another five courses in three provinces.  Breathtaking Tobiano and underrated Salmon Arm in BC; iconic Banff Springs and stunning Stewart Creek in Alberta and an enjoyable and beautiful Algonquin in New Brunswick.  In fact, my home province of Ontario was not covered this year.  Overall actually I have only played 8 of 24 courses I’ve listed here at ‘home’.

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The opening tee shot at Stewart Creek sets the tone for breathtaking beauty and great golf.

The Maritimes have been covered off best, with only 4 courses left in Nova Scotia on my original list.  Quebec has five courses left to play.  Ontario has 16.  Jeremy would tell me my list of two Manitoba courses is woefully underrepresented and the same could be same for Saskatchewan where I’ve played both courses on my original list.  Alberta has four left and BC has 11 remaining.

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Seaside golf at its relaxed finest at Algonquin Golf Club in New Brunswick.

I will spend time over the fall and winter months previewing each province and sharing more detail over my bucket list memories, aspirations and tips for travel if you’re fortunate enough to visit any of these courses.

I am enjoying the aspiration of completing my Bucket List and I am open to suggestions to help move this list closer to 100 courses.  The only caveat is that they cannot be a private course.  9 hole (or 6 or 12) are ok, but they need to be public courses.  Send me your recommendations, I’ll check it out and add them to my list.  Canada has over 2000 courses so hitting 100 of the best public courses in time sounds more than realistic.

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Salmon Arm Golf Club is a throwback; accuracy wins over distance.  Your game will be tested, but take the time to enjoy the natural beauty of the course and the area.

Thanks for reading and thank you for your help in expanding this list for me.  I hope it helps to inspire you to consider your own list!

 

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