6915 YARDS (PAR 70)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 74.1/136
COURSE ARCHITECT: Harry S. Colt (1915)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://hgcc.ca
ROUNDS PLAYED: 2
LAST PLAYED: August 30, 2017.
LOW SCORE: 79 (+9)
– Golf Digest World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses (Outside USA) 2018: #60
– Golf Digest Best 30 Courses in Canada 2020: #6
– Golfweek Best Classic Courses Canada 2019: #5
– Top100GolfCourses.com Canada’s Top 100 2019: #8
– ScoreGolf Top 110 in Canada 2018: #7
“H.S. Colt came up with a wonderful routing for Hamilton. He created a course with large elevation changes and wonderful rolling fairways, all framed by large oaks and pines. The golf course proved during the last Canadian Open that it still has the strength to test the pros, while it remains a perfect golf course for membership play. Hamilton would be the best course in Canada if it still had its original bunkering by Colt.”
– Ian Andrew, Golf Course Architect, Weir Golf Design
I finally got the opportunity to play this highly-esteemed Harry Colt course, ranked #2 in Canada, on a cold, dreary day in mid-May.
Colt visited Ancaster in May 1914 and designed the course for a fee of about $1,533. The work of clearing the grounds and laying out the holes began immediately and the seeding was completed by the fall. The planting of what would become many thousands of trees and shrubs was also started. The total cost of the project over the years 1914-1917, including that of the land, was $108,000.
The club has hosted many international events, including six Canadian Amateur Championships and four Canadian Opens.
I was fortunate enough to get the chance to play all 27 holes at Hamilton on this day. After a short session on the range, shown below, we got to play the Robbie Robinson-designed East Course as a warmup, an experience I’ve already written about in a previous post.
After finishing the East nine, we checked in with the pro and he gave us the go-ahead to start on the West nine, giving us the ability to play the Colt Course from one to eighteen, just like the pros during the Open! The course sits on a dramatic piece of property on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment and is a classic, parkland design.
The first hole is a 404 yard par four with the tee blocks right in front of the clubhouse and pro shop. As you can see in the photo below, the hole doglegs left and there are a couple of bunkers lining the inside of the dogleg.
The ideal tee shot draws slightly around the bunkers to leave a mid-to-short iron approach into a green protected by bunkers back left and front right. There’s a bit of visual deception at play here as well due to the little valley in front of the green, making the shot appear much shorter than it is in reality. Colt uses this deception to great effect quite often at Hamilton and you can really see the dropoff in the second photo below. I hit a good drive here, just through the fairway then hit a little 9-iron onto the green, two-putting for my par to start in style.
The second hole is a long par four measuring 442 yards from the back tees. Pretty straightaway drive here with a bunker protecting the inside of the slight dogleg right, as seen below.
The approach shot is open in front, as seen below, with bunkers left and right and a bit of a dropoff off to the left of the green. I hit a poor drive into the right fairway bunker then hit my approach long left. After a decent pitch shot, I was able to hole a five footer to save my par.
The 3rd hole, seen below, is an absolute stunner and really sets the tone for the rest of the day. The tee shot on this 408 yard par four is hit from an elevated tee down to a two-tiered fairway that is lined by trees on both sides.
From there, you have to navigate a creek that runs through the fairway about 100 yards from the green, with the putting surface sitting well above fairway grade, making the approach, shown below, play about one club longer than the yardage. The green slopes sharply from back right to front left and is protected by bunkers in front and behind. A world-class hole, one that I would bogey after hitting my 6-iron approach shot long into the back bunker.
The fourth hole, shown below from the tee, is one of only two par fives on the course and measures 535 yards from the tips. The hole features out of bounds on the right side and a huge grass depression area on the left side off the fairway.
You have to navigate around fairway bunkers up the entire hole, which starts off to the left then snakes back to the right up near the green. There is a little chipping area off to the right of the putting surface, making up and downs more of a challenge. I made a huge mess of this hole, hitting a tree on my tee shot on my way to a double bogey seven. Three over par after four holes.
Almost all great courses feature one short and potentially driveable par four and Hamilton is no exception. The 318 yard fifth is a little harlot – uphill with bunkers lining the entire right side of the fairway right up to the large green. You can layup if you choose with a long iron or hybrid but you may be left with a partially blind approach over the bunkers. Or if you pull your shot left, you will have to hit your approach from a sidehill/downhill lie, not an easy task with the deep bunkers on the right staring you in the face.
I really think the play is to pull the big dog out and aim a bit left, as there is room up near the green on that side and it actually opens up the pitch shot approach, something you can really see in the photos below. The green is large and inviting but likely sees a lot of three putts. I hit a solid drive just left of the green and had a very easy pitch but left it about 15 feet short of the pin. Two putts later, I had the routine par. Really cool hole and very aesthetically pleasing.
The sixth, shown below, is the first par three at Hamilton and like all of them here, it’s a brute. 224 yards from the back tees and it was playing into a fierce wind on this day. There is a significant valley in between the tee and green but the putting surface is basically at the same level as the tee. Right is dead here and shots that come up short might roll back a bit from the green, leaving a longer pitch shot. I’d stupidly hit a 4-iron here and come up well short on my way to a bogey.
The par four 7th, measuring 412 yards, is another gorgeous hole. Like many of the par fours here, the tee shot plays downhill and the approach plays well uphill.
There are trees guarding the entire left side of the hole and you can really see the significance of the slope heading up to the green from the approach area in the picture below.
I hit my tee shot into jail on the left, had to pitch out and ended up making my second double bogey of the day to fall to six over after seven holes. The course was winning the battle at this point.
The 8th hole is a 210 yard par three and seems similar in some respects to the 6th. Both holes feature a large valley but this one is unbelievably deep, something you can see in the second photo below.
I’d hit a 3-iron hybrid into this pin and almost hole it, settling for the three foot birdie putt that fell to bring me back to +5 on the day. Satisfying result for sure!
The ninth hole, shown below, is a 438 yard par four that features a downhill tee shot to a hole that doglegs from right to left.
The approach, seen below, plays well uphill to a green that slopes from back right to front left and is guarded by a bunker in the front right. I hit perhaps my best 5-iron in ages from about 200 yards to about two inches – I still don’t know how that ball didn’t go in but I tapped in for my second consecutive birdie to finish the front side in 39 shots (+4)!
At this point, it was getting even colder and the rain was starting to fall a bit. You can see Cal and Jon in the picture below, looking down the gorgeous par four tenth from the back tee with the stately clubhouse in the background.
Despite being the only guys on the course at this point, or so it seemed, there was no way we were quitting now, especially with the vista shown below.
The 10th hole is a 392 yard par four that plays from an elevated tee to a fairway that slopes sharply from left to right away from the bunker. From the back tee, you can’t really see the creek in the photo below but it really shouldn’t come into play for the better player. It’s here that one of the major issues at Hamilton becomes quite apparent – many of Colt’s bunkers, like the one on the left, are positioned well into the rough and away from the short grass, allowing players to bomb tee balls with abandon. Over the years, I’m sure the mowing lines have narrowed considerably in an effort to artificially toughen the golf course. It’s a terrible look, to be completely frank, and one I hope is addressed by their greens committee in the future. I also think it’s counterproductive and likely makes the course easier as opposed to making it more difficult.
Again, the approach, as seen below, is played well uphill to a very long green that slopes very sharply from back to front.
We played right after a greens aeration and I can only imagine the speed of this green under normal conditions. I was able to hit two great shots, leaving myself a very makeable 15 footer for birdie but just ran it by the lip. A satisfying par to stay at +4 through ten holes and I was more than happy to pose for the photograph below!
You have to climb the hill a bit for the next tee shot. The 11th hole, as seen below, is a brute: a par four measuring 481 yards, with a downhill tee shot on a hole that doglegs from right to left.
The approach, seen below, is back uphill and will likely necessitate a long iron or fairway metal, not an easy proposition to a green protected by a bunker front right and also protected by some interesting internal green contours. This hole got me, as I’d end up short on my approach, would pitch on and three putt for the round-crushing double bogey.
The 12th, shown below, has some visual similarities to the downhill 3rd hole, especially with the trees lining both sides of the fairway. This hole is a bit shorter at 386 yards and has a fairway that cants significantly to the left toward a hazard just beyond the tree line.
The approach is again uphill to a well-protected green with a sharp back to front slope. My drive went into the hazard left and I did well to make bogey here. I’m now seven over through 12 and leaking oil.
From there we move onto the longest par three on the course, as the 13th, shown below, measures a beastly 237 yards from the back tee. The rain was coming down pretty hard by this point and we were playing into a stiff breeze.
This meant driver for everyone in our group and you should have seen the look on our faces when Cal’s drive hit just in front of the green and rolled back about 30 yards down the false front.
I hit a laser beam at the green but my ball jumped into the back left bunker.
From there, I had a ridiculously treacherous downhill blast shot that landed just on the fringe, rolled toward the flag and dropped right in the hole! My third birdie of the day and I’m back to +6 through 13 now!
You can kind of see the slope in the photo below of the 13th green.
The 14th hole, shown below, measures 443 yards from the back tee and is likely the toughest and most intimidating drive on the course, especially for a guy who hits a draw!
There is pretty much no room for error on the tee shot and a fade or a dead straight shot is absolutely imperative on this dogleg right par four. If you get your drive in play, the second shot is likely made with a mid to long iron to a green protected by a small bunker in the front. I tried to open up the face of my driver and proceeded to hit a big slice that never got found on my way to yet another double bogey.
We were getting soaked by the time we hit the par four 15th, a 410 yard dogleg right. You have to figure out how much of the dogleg to cut off with your drive, as you have a series of bunkers lining the right side of the landing area, as seen below.
Once in the fairway, the approach shot is pretty routine to an open-fronted green that slopes severely from back right to front left. I’d make a solid two-putt four here to stop the bleeding, at least for the moment!
The 16th hole, seen below, is the shortest on the entire golf course, a par three of only 185 yards. The shot is entirely uphill and there is some extra visual deception in that the front right bunker sits at least 15 yards in front of the green, making the hole seem shorter than it actually is. I fell for the trick, going in the bunker and not getting up and down, instead settling for a bogey four.
The 17th, shown below, is a tremendous par five measuring 548 yards. You have to cross the creek and while it doesn’t seem far away, it’s not an easy hazard to clear, especially on this day with the wind blowing hard in our face.
The hole plays steadily uphill the entire way and the layup is no bargain, with cross bunkers offering a great challenge to your accuracy. The green is open in front and if you bomb one off the tee you have a chance to get home in two with a perfect approach. I was a bit sloppy with my layup and ended up making a lazy bogey six here.
The iconic 18th hole at Hamilton, as seen below, is a tremendous finisher that can challenge the world’s best. It’s a brute at 442 yards and you have to be careful with your drive on this downhill tee shot, as the winding creek actually comes into play when the wind is helping, perhaps necessitating a fairway metal off the tee.
The approach shot, shown below, is played uphill to a green that is long and relatively narrow and also protected by a number of bunkers.
This is Jon hitting his approach into the 18th below.
Meanwhile, I was in ‘Position A’ after a perfect drive. Only 190 yards left for my approach but my attempted draw ended up hooking too much into the long grass left of the bunkers short of the green.
Cal was seemingly in a bit of trouble left off the tee but hit a glorious second shot just short of the green and made a nice up and down for his closing par.
I wasn’t so fortunate, as we couldn’t find my ball in the long grass. It was pouring and I think we only looked for about a minute but it wasn’t worth the effort at that point.
I’d end up making a double bogey six to finish with an 82 (+12), not a great result after a decent front nine but there is no way my score, the poor weather or even the aerated greens could mar this experience for me or anyone in my group.
The course is not perfect – a number of the holes look and feel similar, with holes like #3 and #12 sharing many of the same characteristics. The par three 6th and 8th holes also seem strangely similar. There is also a lot of repetition with the terrain, with countless downhill tee shots followed by uphill approaches, a concept that adds to the course’s flair but showcases a lack of variety in the routing. That all said, the biggest weakness at Hamilton, in my opinion, is the tired and inconsistent bunker styles and aesthetics.
At one time, Hamilton was considered by many to be a perennial contender for world top 100 lists but the course in its current form falls short for me. However, the bones at Hamilton are among the best in Canadian golf. The club recently hired the firm of Mackenzie and Ebert and I hope that the club goes through with a full restoration effort to bring back Colt’s trademark style. Regardless, there is no question that Hamilton is still one of the finest experiences in Canadian golf and I truly hope it doesn’t take another 37 years for me to play it for a second time!
UPDATE: AUGUST 30, 2017
Well, it only took eight years to get a second chance to play this fine course again, as I teed it up with David Davis, a friend from the Netherlands in late summer 2017. Here are a some photos from our day: