2018 Year in Review Part Two – The Courses

2018 Year in Review Part One – My GameREAD PART ONE HERE

After my dream of playing golf in the UK was finally realized in 2017, I had no plans or expectations regarding travel this year. However, I was able to get away a couple of times in 2018, spending a week in Minnesota playing that state’s finest in early August and then took advantage of a spur of the moment invite to my favourite place in the world of golf in early September.

In all, including my home club at St. Catharines G&CC, I was able to play 19 different golf courses in 2018, with nine of them being first-time visits. As a point of reference, I played only 16 different courses in 2017 but 12 of them were first-time visits.

It’s a treat to reminisce about the special places I was lucky enough to visit over the past twelve months and as always, this is my favourite post to write every year.

The Courses

For the second year in a row, I had no golf travel plans set in advance.

In fact, my first round away from my home club wasn’t until the end of June, when I’d visit Grand Niagara Golf Club, my eighth visit to this 2005 Rees Jones design in Niagara Falls. My friend Eric B, a former member at St. Catharines, invited a couple of us out to join him for the day at his new course. Grand Niagara is a local favourite and likely is thought of as the best public course in the Niagara Region. I don’t necessarily agree and likely would pick Whirlpool GC, a Stanley Thompson design on the Niagara Parkway but there is no denying that Grand Niagara is a solid course and always in good shape.

Unfortunately for those that love it, rumours abound that the course as it stands now won’t exist much longer due to a planned real estate venture, with a new course to be developed on an adjacent piece of land.

Over the course of the summer, I’d visit Brock Golf Course, a little par 57 executive course just outside of St. Catharines, on three different occasions with my nine-year old son. I grew up playing at Brock back in the early 80’s so it definitely brings back a lot of memories when I tee it up with my boy.

In early July, I’d take a few days off to play golf with my wife’s uncle Henry. Our first round saw him host me at his home course, Glencairn Golf Club, a member of the ClubLink group of courses scattered around Ontario.

The 335 yard par four 4th hole on the Scotch Block nine at Glencairn GC
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Glencairn is a 27-hole facility in Halton Hills, designed by Canadian architect Thomas McBroom and opened for play in 2005. The course was built in the Heathlands style, with vast corridors, long fescue rough bordering the fairways and myriad sod-wall bunkers dotted throughout. This was my fourth visit to Glencairn – the course plays much shorter than its yardage due to the firm nature of the playing surfaces and it’s always an enjoyable experience.

A couple of days later, I joined Henry for a round at Ussher’s Creek, one of the two regulation courses at Legends on the Niagara just outside of Chippawa, Ontario.

A winding creek offers an interesting diagonal cross-hazard on the par five 9th hole at Ussher’s Creek GC
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Ussher’s is a 2002 Thomas McBroom design that opened the same year as the Battlefield course, designed by fellow Canadian Doug Carrick. I find Ussher’s Creek to be the superior of the two “championship” courses at the facility – it’s not as reliant on water hazards as Battlefield and features more vegetation and slightly more interesting land. It’s a pretty strong design and McBroom did a fine job of making a flat piece of land interesting.

Later that afternoon, I took my son Evan out for a round at Garden City Golf Course in St. Catharines, semi-affectionately known locally as “The Dump”. Incredibly, this was my first ever round of golf at this local muni – due to almost unbearable heat, we only played the front nine of this par 60 executive course but there are actually a couple of decent, interesting holes out there and I definitely would like to return in 2019 with my son to play all eighteen.

In late July, I flew out to Minnesota for a week-long solo golf trip, hooking up with friends along the way. I’d arrive in Minneapolis on July 31st, hop in a rental car and immediately drive three and a half hours to my first destination, the Sand Valley Golf Resort, with my first round taking place at Mammoth Dunes.

Nothing quite prepares you for the panoramic view that awaits as you emerge from the Sand Valley clubhouse to the first tee at Mammoth Dunes
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


An immense blowout bunker provides visual intimidation at the short par three 13th hole at Mammoth Dunes
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The approach to the par five 18th hole at Mammoth Dunes, with many interested and well-lubricated onlookers!
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Mammoth Dunes is the second golf course to be built at the burgeoning Sand Valley Golf Resort in Nekoosa, Wisconsin and just opened to the public mere weeks before my round. David McLay Kidd, who came to the forefront in the golf architecture world after his brilliant work at Bandon Dunes 19 years ago, designed Mammoth Dunes with the intent of making a player-friendly design that exudes fun. He definitely succeeded in that respect, as Mammoth contains the widest fairway corridors I’ve ever seen in my travels, allowing even the most inaccurate player the opportunity to freewheel around with reckless abandon.

As a lower handicap player, I must admit I was a bit disappointed with the lack of strategic interest throughout the design but I may have been slightly influenced by my playing partner, a well-traveled golf course ranking panelist who couldn’t hide his disdain for the design whatsoever. And he had plenty of time to offer his opinions, as our twosome had to endure a 5+ hour round on a particularly busy day. I must say that the scale of the property is astounding and I desperately wanted to like the course but left thinking this was a slightly missed opportunity. I’ll need to visit again someday to see if I was right about it on first glance – it’s a blast to play but there was something empty about the design that is an overriding factor for me at the moment.

The next morning, I woke up early to play a quick round at The Sandbox, the 17 hole short course at Sand Valley Golf Resort.

The first tee at the enchanting Sandbox
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The penultimate hole at the Sandbox; at 149 yards from the Crenshaw tees, it’s the longest hole on the course
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The Sandbox, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, has holes ranging from 51 to 149 yards and many of them offer the opportunity to putt from the tee, something I’ve never seen before in a short course. It’s an inspired touch and no surprise coming from this design team. I flew around in about an hour and a half and I’d imagine this would be a brilliant place to take your kids. I highly recommend that you play the Sandbox once on any trip to the resort – skipping it for an extra round on one of the big courses is a mistake!

Later that morning, I teed it up on the original Sand Valley course, another Coore-Crenshaw design.

The 335 yard par four opening hole at Sand Valley
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The uphill 8th at Sand Valley, a 136 yard par three
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Looking down on the stunning 10th hole at Sand Valley, a 563 yard par five
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Sand Valley opened in 2017, one year earlier than Mammoth Dunes and features many of the touches we’ve come to expect from the Coore/Crenshaw design partnership. Grand scale, aesthetically appealing bunkering and thought-provoking strategic options abound. It’s a very solid design and one I preferred over Mammoth Dunes.

I’d immediately depart the resort after my round, as I had a long drive back to Minnesota and specifically the city of Edina, where I’d be playing golf the next day. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Erik’s Retreat, my accommodations choice while in town.

My spacious and comfortable room at Erik’s Retreat, an unquestioned highlight of my Minnesota golf trip
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


I was drawn to Erik’s Retreat when researching accommodations on TripAdvisor – it features “upscale, boutique style guest suites run by young adults with autism.” Concierges, historians, chefs, artists in residence – it’s truly an amazing place and with one in 68 children affected by autism, I was so happy I came across this wonderful place so I can help their mission even a small amount. They also have a second location in Montana – check them out at eriksranch.org! My highest recommendation!

The next morning, I was off to play at the historic Interlachen Country Club, a Donald Ross masterpiece.

The tee shot on the 360 yard par four 7th hole at Interlachen
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A plaque commemorates the famous “lily pad” shot Bobby Jones played on his approach to the par five 9th hole on route to winning the 1930 US Open
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A view from the tee on the par four 10th hole at Interlachen, showing off the great topography and impressive scale of the property
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Interlachen was established in 1909, with Willie Watson credited with the original design of the course. However, the club elected to hire Donald Ross in 1919 to completely re-route and rebuild Interlachen – Ross was considered the top architect in the world at that time and his newly built golf course was opened for play in 1921.

The club has hosted a number of major championships over the years, with the most famous being the 1930 US Open, which was won by Bobby Jones. Interlachen has also hosted the US Women’s Open, the US Women’s Amateur, the Solheim Cup, the US Senior Amateur and the Walker Cup over the years.

Interlachen is an absolute gem and a timeless classic. It’s a true parkland course on a fantastic piece of rolling property and features great greens and clever bunkering. Speaking of the traps, the club recently completed a full bunker restoration project and they look and play beautifully. The course sits comfortably within the top 100 courses in the United States and deservedly so.

And that clubhouse…wow! So much history on those walls and its classic look fits seamlessly alongside the impeccable golf course. My day at Interlachen was very special and it was unquestionably one of the highlights of my trip.

After lunch in the Interlachen clubhouse with my playing partner Lou D, I drove across town to play the first of two rounds I’d be lucky enough to enjoy at the very impressive White Bear Yacht Club.

The distinctive bridge on the 552 yard par five 4th hole at White Bear Yacht club, as seen from the 3rd green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The outrageous topography seen here at the long par five 9th hole is prevalent at WBYC
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The lads make their way up the hill at the 15th, a very tough 423 yard par four
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The closing hole at White Bear Yacht Club at sunset
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The club was originally founded in 1889 as a yacht club and golf was introduced to the facility with a nine-hole Willie Watson design in 1912. Like Interlachen, the club would engage the services of Donald Ross, who would come on board to redesign the original nine holes and lay out an additional nine around 1915.

Despite measuring less than 6500 yards from the back tees, this course is no pushover due to the incredibly sloped land it sits upon and as a result, the club has hosted many MGA, MWGA and USGA events over the years.

Right from the opening tee shot, you realize you’re in for a hell of a day. The rollicking topography is apparent at the outset and the uphill, downhill and sidehill lies will thrill some and confound others. White Bear Yacht club is an absolute blast to play and it rightfully sits on a number of rankings lists for the top 100 courses in the country.

It was my favourite course on the entire trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin and I feel fortunate I was able to play it a couple of times while in the area.

The next morning, I was up bright and early for a round at Spring Hill Golf Club, a private Tom Fazio design in Wayzata.

A lovely greensite awaits on the 1st hole at Spring Hill Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


This character lurks in the trees on the par five 5th hole at Spring Hill
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The par fives at Spring Hill are a highlight and the 13th is no exception, a 590 yard brute!
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


At 508 yards, it looks innocent enough on the scorecard but the wildly uphill par five 16th is another stalwart at Spring Hill GC
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Spring Hill was built in 1999 by Tom Fazio and it’s always been well-regarded by the panelists at Golf Digest over any other publication, usually sitting in the middle of their US top 100 ranking. It’s a very private club, with a smaller membership than most and you rarely see photos or any other information online and that intrigued me.

After visiting, I now understand why it fares so well among Golf Digest panelists – this is a supremely difficult golf course, with a whopping 152 slope rating from the back tee markers. At just over 7000 yards, it’s not the longest golf course in the world but with varied topography and Fazio’s tendency to have lots of uphill approach shots, the course requires expert shotmaking, especially with your irons. Spring Hill is very photogenic, with much of that due to the large number of downhill tee shots and the course is in pristine condition – very green but it plays very firm and fast.

The club was very welcoming and I got to spend about an hour in the grill room during a lightning delay early in our round but I found the course to be slightly lacking in the “fun” department. It’s an incredible grind from the opening tee shot (I took my only mulligan on the trip there) to the final putt (a five foot birdie miss) and the course admittedly chewed me up and spit me out, as I simply was no match for its challenge on this day.

That all said, I’m very happy I got the chance to visit and I have to imagine it would rival Hazeltine National (a course I haven’t seen) as one of the toughest tests in the state of Minnesota.

From there, I’d travel north about 2 1/2 hours, where I would be participating in the two-day Midwest Mashie, a Ryder Cup style event put on by some members from Golf Club Atlas. The host venue for the 2018 tournament was Northland Country Club in Duluth, another Donald Ross design.

The steeply uphill par four tenth at Northland Country Club in Duluth, Minnesota
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A major tree-clearing program has opened up gorgeous vistas at Northland CC, like this one on the 15th tee, with Lake Superior the star attraction in the background
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The beautiful clubhouse at Northland offers an appealing backdrop on the home hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Most of what I knew about Northland Country Club prior to my trip came from following Chris Tritabaugh on Twitter. Chris is the former superintendent at Northland and now holds the same job at Hazeltine National. Chris was one of the participants at the Midwest Mashie so I had the chance to meet him in person for the first time and he also was front and centre at dinner after our first round, as he walked us through some of the great changes that have taken place at Northland over the past number of years to open up fairway corridors and vistas throughout the course, alongside architect Tyler Rae and current Northland CC super Jake Ryan.

Northland Country Club was first established in 1899 but like many of the other Minnesota “golden age” courses I visited on my trip, Donald Ross was hired to rework what was in the ground. Ross would finish his 18 hole design in 1927 and the club is patiently working on the course to this day to bring it back to its roots.

Duluth offers a very challenging growing environment due to its place alongside Lake Superior and also because of how far north it is – the winters are brutal and the summers are short. Northland suffered massive turf losses during the winter of 17/18 and the course was still recovering when we visited in early August but it did little to affect our enjoyment of this wonderful design, which still played very firm and fast and was a captivating host for our event.

My sincere thanks to Pat C and everyone involved with making it such a wonderful and educational weekend.

For my last round of the trip, I headed an hour further north to play Jeff Brauer’s standout design, The Quarry at Giants Ridge.

The aesthetics are off-the-charts at Jeff Brauer’s Quarry at Giants Ridge, as seen here on the par five 2nd tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Variety abounds at The Quarry, with a tight approach here at the mid-length par four ninth, as seen from behind the green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A rock outcropping fronts the lovely par three 11th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Likely the signature hole at the Quarry at Giants Ridge, the 323 yard par four 13th, with plenty of options and great beauty
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


I have long wanted to play the Quarry at Giants Ridge, as it’s always featured prominently as one of the better public courses in the United States and certainly the best in Minnesota. However, the winter of 2017/18 dealt a very harsh blow to golf courses in Duluth and further north and I was told by many, including staff members at Giants Ridge, that coming back another year might be the best option, as the greens needed at least another month of recovery.

I had previously booked a night at the Lodge at Giants Ridge well in advance so I took the chance to walk around near the clubhouse the night I arrived, checking out the green on #18. It didn’t look that bad to me – I had the option of going further north to Jeff Brauer’s other noteworthy course in the area, the Wilderness at Fortune Bay, where I heard the conditions were a bit better. However, I was flying home the next night out of MSP and I would have been pretty tight for time if I made that drive in the morning and played a full 18. So I decided I was going to take my chances, walk up to the pro shop the next morning and book an impromptu tee time.

Lets just say I’m so glad that I did!

There’s no denying that the greens were rough and almost unputtable. They may have been running about 5 on a stimpmeter and the turf loss was pretty catastrophic. However, the rest of the course, including tees, fairways and rough were all in fine shape and this golf course is really good. In fact, it’s an absolute delight.

Giants Ridge was primarily a ski destination until the surging popularity of the resort and the available surrounding land prompted them to hire Brauer to build The Legend, the first golf course at the resort, in 1997. It was met with acclaim and Brauer was brought back to build a second course, with the Quarry opening for play in 2003. It’s one of the finer public courses I’ve visited – there is plenty of strategic interest, width, very interesting land and the aesthetic value is considerable. This is yet another incredibly photogenic golf course.

The resort is located in Biwabik, a resort town about an hour north of Duluth. It’s pretty remote but it gets my highest recommendation and is definitely worth the effort to get to. What a wonderful way to end a phenomenal golf trip!

Less than a week later, I had friends Yuji N and Matt S make a one-day stop in Canada, as they continued their efforts in playing the top 100 courses in the world. I was able to set up a round at the exquisite Stanley Thompson masterpiece, St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto.

Yuji attempts his birdie putt on the par four 1st hole at St. George’s G&CC in Toronto
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Matt S makes the walk up to the green on the recently restored par three 3rd at St. George’s
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Incredible land and the genius of Stanley Thompson abound, as seen here on the short par five 4th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


One of the toughest holes at St. George’s, the long par four 14th features a winding creek that cuts diagonally in front of a wonderfully set greensite
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


This was my fourth time playing St. George’s over the years and it’s a simply brilliant design. A parkland masterpiece, Stanley Thompson completed St. George’s in 1929 and it’s perennially ranked as one of the best courses in Canada and also a staple on all of the World Top 100 lists. The club has also hosted Canada’s national open five times, most recently in 2010.

The course underwent a significant greens restoration project in 2014, led by Ian Andrew and Tom Doak and this was my first time seeing the great work conducted. To this day, it’s still the best course I’ve seen in this country and Yuji, who is as well-traveled as they come, was effusive in his praise for the course, saying it was the best he had seen on this extensive two week trip. High praise indeed.

It’s always an incredible experience and I hope to visit St. George’s again soon.

My son Evan got bit by the golf bug big-time after playing in our first-ever Parent/Child tournament together at St. Catharines G&CC, my home course. We would head out again shortly thereafter, playing the executive nine-holer at the Legends on the Niagara facility, The Chippawa Course.

It’s a nine hole, par 30 course measuring just over 2100 yards and a great place to learn the game. My nine year old son was very keen to get started on getting his first handicap but holing every shot proved difficult on this hot, sunny day and he barely finished the round, conceding afterward that perhaps “I’m still a bit too young to have a handicap”.

Funny stuff!

Late in August, my good fortune continued, as I’d visit the Walter Travis designed Cherry Hill Club (click link for course review), located in Ridgeway, Ontario.

The par four 1st green offers a look at what’s to come at Cherry Hill Club, which features many diabolical putting surfaces
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The treacherous green at the par three 11th hole at Cherry Hill
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Cherry Hill was established in 1922 and the course was opened for play in 1924. Ian Andrew completed a bunker restoration project a few years back, bringing back the course to its Travis origins and the work is sublime. The land Cherry Hill lays on is unremarkable but as with most Travis designs, the greens are small and very undulating and provide more than enough defense for even the best of players.

Cherry Hill has hosted two national championships, including the 1972 Canadian Open and recently hosted a PGA Tour Canada (MacKenzie Tour) event in 2016, winning rave reviews from all of the professionals. It’s one of the absolute gems in Niagara but this was only my third-ever visit – I’ll definitely need to get out there more often in the future!

In early September, I had the incredible privilege of returning to my favourite golf course in the world and heaven on earth, the magnificent Sand Hills Golf Club (click link for course review) in Mullen, Nebraska.

With the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team in action during our stay, we had the rare experience of playing to red flags at Sand Hills!
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A glorious view from Ben’s Porch, with the 9th green in the foreground and the wonderful par five opening hole in the background
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Gorgeous much? Sand Hills just GLOWS as the sun sets in this shot taken behind the 10th tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


My favourite par five in the world, the wonderful short 14th at Sand Hills
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Another great par five awaits at the long downhill 16th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


My good friend Andrew attempts his birdie putt on the 17th, with the impressive 18th looming in the background
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Friends Sean, Keith and Jimmy finish up on the long par four 18th at Sand Hills GC
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


I’ve written much over the years about the exquisite Sand Hills Golf Club and you can click on the link above the photos for a very detailed course review I wrote after my first visit to the club back in 2010.

My friends Gene and Tom each brought out seven guests just after Labour Day and our group of 16 enjoyed three and a half days in paradise, mixing the groups up and playing a number of fun games, including a couple of alternate shot afternoon matches.

There’s not much more I can add about the experience of playing Sand Hills that I haven’t already covered. It’s a magical place in every respect, from the rustic onsite cabins and clubhouse set about a mile away from the golf course, the absolutely phenomenal food and of course, the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw designed masterpiece of a golf course that sits among the top 10 golf courses in the world.

This was my third visit to Sand Hills and getting to be part of such a large group of incredible people made this one the best trip yet. It’s an incredible privilege to walk on these grounds and something I will never take for granted. My sincere thanks to everyone who made this such a special weekend.

Back home, I was able to play five late-season rounds at the wonderful Walter Travis designed Lookout Point Country Club, located on the Niagara Escarpment in Fonthill, Ontario.

The mist rising from Niagara Falls can be clearly seen from the elevated first tee at Lookout Point Country Club in nearby Fonthill, Ontario
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Looking back up the Niagara Escarpment towards the clubhouse from behind the par four 10th hole at Lookout Point
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


A simply wonderful walk in the park; looking back down the fairway from behind the short par four 15th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


The uphill 18th hole at Lookout Point, as seen from the clubhouse, features a diabolically sloped green where round crushing three putts are commonplace
(Photo by Now on the Tee)


Travis completed work on Lookout Point in 1922 and the course sits on a dramatic piece of property with long views of Niagara Falls and beyond from the elevated 1st and 10th tees. Featuring small, undulating greens, Lookout is a shotmaker’s delight and requires a very deft short game to score despite its modest length. A perennial member of every Canadian top 100 course ranking, Lookout is my choice as the best golf course in the Niagara Region.

In fact, I think so much of the course and the club that after 30 years of membership at nearby St. Catharines G&CC, I decided to resign in order to join Lookout Point in 2019.

I absolutely loved my time at St. Catharines but for various reasons, desired to make this considerable change.

Needless to say, I’m very excited about what’s in store for next season and I’ll get into that in detail in my next post, which you can look forward to seeing early in January.

Happy new year to all my readers and thanks for stopping by!


2018 Year in Review Part Three – Looking Ahead

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