Breaking Bad – What Makes a Golf Course Bad?

Great golf courses, like beauty, are really in the eyes of the beholder.  There are some who loath golf course rankings, feeling they are subjective and breaking down individual components of a course can detract from the overall experience.  Fact is, I can’t disagree with these sentiments.  The context of my love for golf course rankings and the conversation over quality courses is this very subjectivity.  I enjoy them but don’t take them too seriously.  I acknowledge that there are significant ramifications from being on a top 100 list or a top 59 list.  For courses 101 or 60, they miss out on the publicity and promotion and potential benefit.   But now look what I have done, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of quality.

I understand why publications won’t shine a light on bad courses.  Perhaps over a beer after a round players will lament on a course they’ve played and characteristics they didn’t like.  Maybe it is the frustration of getting beat up on a tough design, or the pro shop staff who in an effort to multi task were short, or outright rude.  For some, its dropping over $100 to play a course they feel is merely marginally better than their $35 muni, or, the horror of a course where the greens and tee boxes resemble shag carpeting or the number of divots on the fairway make you feel you’re playing on the moon.   I set a poll on Twitter asking which matters most in making a course ‘bad’?  The criteria were conditions, layout, people or value.


The worst course I ever played was a local 9 hole course in Ontario.  The course no longer exists, having been sold for development.  I doubt many tears were shed, though as players perhaps we romanticize the idea of playing on a goat track which had little to no redeeming characteristics save the space for us to drag our clubs out and swing.  Sure, we hated it when we played there, struggling for a patch of grass on the fairway to avoid the hardpan lie we drew.  Acknowledging that reading the greens was fruitless since the ball would inevitably bound around on its own unique path that could never be replicated if you tried.  The argument for the ultra low-end, entry level course is perfectly valid…give a father and his daughter a place where they can spend two hours, learn the game and enjoy each other’s time.  I’d argue we need more courses like this, good or bad.


Playing on Christmas Eve (as I did in 2015), the bar for bad golf simply doesn’t exist for me!


The poll was meant to identify the unexpectedly bad.  The ‘hey, everyone else loves this course but me’ bad.  And back to John Gordon’s argument of subjectivity, bad courses, like good courses will be identified for uniquely different reasons.

One of favourite golf writers is Robert Thompson.  Robert has a gift of writing with clarity and incredible honesty.  His critique of courses – many found on the same top 100 or 59 lists which I speak of – is clear and intelligent in its rationale.  It is refreshing to read someone with conviction admonishing courses for perceived shortcomings.  And this is not to say, by any means, he feels these courses are bad.  More that, in his opinion, they are not as great as the accolades they’re received.  He simply shines a light on aspects of the course and the golfing experience that he didn’t enjoy.

So to be completely honest, I acknowledge that is one of my drivers in this whole exercise.  By engaging on Twitter with golfers and other golf writers to ask and discuss, what makes a course bad I am hoping to build on my critical thought of golf course quality.   As for my poll a slight majority of responses were around conditioning and that makes sense.  I was intrigued that almost 50% of responses were split in areas of layout, people and value.   Bad golf, like great golf, is highly subjective.

I am not advocating for a list of bad courses in Canada.  I am merely seeking greater understanding around the complexities of this issue and to continue to engage around all that is great…and perhaps less than great, in golf in Canada.  I’ll be one of the first to crack open publications or view sites that share their ‘best of’ lists.  I’ll be active on social media with people, always happy to discuss and share favourite courses.   I welcome your stories, thoughts and comments.


The Official Start to Golf Season

Today, April 15, is the official start of golf season in Ontario, and for many parts of Canada. Provincial golf associations set dates for which recorded golf scores will count toward a players’ index. For me this is the last and final step toward the start of the golf season (there are many incremental steps which take place all winter and early spring).

Of the millions of people who golf in Canada I have read a surprising small percentage actually are members or are registered with their provincial golf associations. I respect that. There are many casual golfers out there. I also acknowledge it is an issue which Golf Canada and associations across the country struggle with; that being an articulation of a value proposition which will make golfers feel compelled to join their provincial association. But that is another topic for another day.

I will share my main motivators which make me join the Golf Association of Ontario (GAO) as a Public Player each winter:
1. Integrity – I was very pleased with this piece from John Gordon who discussed sandbagging in golf. I suspect it is a real and serious issue but my golfing circles are not as expansive (yet) and the issue of integrity is more a personal one for me. That said the time and resources spent around this issue are significant. Golf Canada even employs a Director of Handicap and Course Rating in support of this.

2. Improvement –this is most important for me. Golf is fun, but I also play to play my best and to improve. Through the GAO I can track my performance over the years which I have been a member. I’ve been able to track my handicap peak and valley from a high of almost 15 to its current low now, just below 9. As someone who is drawn to numbers and statistics, GAO/Golf Canada offers expanded functions around statistics which I do not use but appreciate (I simply track my own data).

3. Competition – this is a newer application for me but one I am increasingly appreciating and is closely connected to number one on this list. Having participated in a couple competitive events over the years there is a level of assurance that I will be flighted with golfers of a similar skill set as me. This has been my experience. In fact, the only outlier of this is my incredibly poor play one day at Bear Mountain with members where I was a 12 and played more like a 21 handicapper. Safe to say it was clear who was buying the first round that afternoon.

Opening dates across Canada for tracking your handicap index are as follows:
British Columbia – March 1
Alberta – March 1
Newfoundland – April 1
Saskatchewan – April 15
Manitoba – April 15
Ontario – April 15
Nova Scotia – April 15
Prince Edward Island – April 16
New Brunswick – May 1

Enjoy the season. Have fun and play well.  Check Golf Canada here to learn about your provincial association and how you can join.

Chipping in for a birdie at Batteaux Creek, Nottawa, Ontario

Chipping in for a birdie at Batteaux Creek, Nottawa, Ontario