The first golf course that impressed me was Wolf Run Golf Clublocated 15 minutes from my childhood home of Blackstock, Ontario, a rural community one hour northeast of Toronto.
Wolf Run opened when I was 13 and had three qualities that the two courses I played regularly until then did not have: level tee decks, well-conditioned greens, and variety in its holes. . The course starts with a 601 yard par 5 from the tips, which my buddies and I thought was cool. We played from there sometimes just because.
Oh, we loved Wolf Run. He felt designed. As if someone really thought about the routing. I didn’t know what the word routing meant in golf at the time, but you don’t have to read every course architecture book written to form an opinion on what he likes.
I also had no idea at the time of the amazing places my career would take me, and it’s no secret that your tastes in golf course architecture change with the prettiest tracks you play.
One of my first missions when I joined SCOREGolf was a trip to Jamaica. Travel, play, live, write. One day my old boss, Bob Weeks, walked into my office and said, “Hey, can you go to Jamaica in a couple weeks?” I thought he had plenty. Even though I had only been on the job for two months, I knew that Bob would stop at nothing trying to pull one on someone. The man loves a good got-ya.
But he was serious and I was delighted. At this point in my life, I had never played golf outside of Ontario. I sent a friend of mine a link to the Rose Hall Resort in Montego Bay where I was going to stay. He then worked at General Motors and responded with an all-time line: “Good for you. It says here that I will be driving a forklift that week.
In Jamaica, I played Cinnamon Hill, which was superb, and White Witch, which was stunning. It was golf like I had never experienced and not just because of the ocean view. The heroic tee shots, the diving property, the drama. Compared to all the golf I had played before, it was like going from Bunny Hill to a double black diamond.
That same year I went to North Carolina and played Mi Pins. This was long before the restoration work that Kyle Franz did on the course, which I think is great. I had a lesson in hole framing there. I stood on each starting deck and felt like I knew exactly what the original architect Donald Ross was tempting me to do. The safety line and the aggressive line to the curved fairways that played on its back-to-back sloping greens. Man, that was good.
I was able to play in some of the big private clubs in Toronto: St. George’s, Weston, Scarboro. I was an outsider when I started in this business. Before I moved to the city and really explored it, Toronto was all highways and skyscrapers to me. The dome and the tower. I had no idea there was such a movement towards the land of his quarters, much of it formed by the valleys and ravines of the Humber and Don rivers. The beauty of the inflated fairways of these clubs is astonishing. Some people can’t believe golf in the bustling big city of Toronto, which takes up a lot of real estate on the SCOREGolf Top 100 ranking is so good. It really is though.
But it’s not my favorite. If you could put me on any first tee in Canada tomorrow, my top three picks would be Jasper Park in Alberta, Cabot Links in Cape Breton and Capilano in Vancouver. Oh Jasper. I first went there in 2004 and again with my wife in 2012. My colleague Lorne Rubenstein has written that Royal Dornoch is his spiritual home of golf. That’s Jasper to me. I knew from the moment I left 18 that this was my #1. It still is.
I also know this: golf is great wherever it is played. Is it more exciting at a place like Jasper or Cabot Cliffs, Canada’s #1 golf course? Sure. Is the feel of the ball coming out of the center of the driver’s face different? No.
Top 100 track or not, golf courses are the best places. There is beauty in each of them. Memories and discoveries. I may have seen some of the best players in Canada and I can give my opinion on what elevates them above the other, but do you know where I really want to play again soon? Wolf race.