Friday, August 19, 2005

Only the cream rises to the top

Only the cream rises to the top: Three Canadian golf clubs make it onto Top 100 list
National Post Friday, August 19, 2005
Robert Thompson Column: On Golf
What's the value of a number?
Well, if you are Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, Ont., St. George's in Etobicoke, Ont., or the remote Highlands Links in Cape Breton, N.S., numbers can mean a great deal.
All three clubs appeared in Golf Magazine's list of the Top 100 golf courses in the world. Long regarded as two of the best in the country, Highlands (ranked 71st) and St. George's (82nd) have long been part of the list, a pair of Stanley Thompson designs sitting alongside Scotland's Muirfield and California's Pebble Beach. Considering there are an estimated 31,857 golf courses in the world, according to Golf Digest, placing in the Top 100 is a remarkable achievement.
Hamilton appeared on Golf's list for the first time, much to the surprise of golf pundits and, apparently, the club itself.
Rob McDannold, head professional at Hamilton, said many of the club's members were not aware of the club's No. 84 ranking in the world as the magazine is just hitting newsstands in Canada. Hamilton was ranked as the best course in Canada last year by Score Magazine.
McDannold said the club was pleased by the rating but added most members already knew they were playing at a great course. "It is like being picked for a baseball team when you're in gym class in high school," he said. "You like to be picked early on, but if you aren't, it won't be a life-altering experience. Still, it is nice to be recognized."
Hamilton, a wonderful hilly design that actually rests on the escarpment overlooking the city, was created by Englishman Harry Colt and opened in 1914. The course was one of only two created in Canada -- the other was Toronto Golf Club -- and was designed around the time Colt was consulting on Pine Valley, the club that has been regarded as the best in the world for most of the past 50 years.
The course gained a renewed prominence after hosting the Canadian Open in 2003. Many felt the course, which played slightly less than 7,000 yards, would be beaten up badly by the best golfers in the world. Instead it yielded few low scores but many accolades from the likes of Vijay Singh, Brad Faxon and winner Bob Tway as a fair, but difficult, test of golf.
"I guess this notice is a sign of the greatness of what Harry Colt created," said McDannold.
St. George's has long been accustomed to being considered one of the best courses in the world since it first opened 76 years ago. With that in mind, general manager Michael Chadsey says the course's members take the responsibility of protecting its reputation very seriously.
"I think the members understand this is a great course and that they've been handed a stewardship over it," he said. "The club is pretty careful with any step it takes."
Each of the courses has its flaws. The green on St. George's third hole, a wonderful downhill par three, is nearly unputtable at current green speeds. Hamilton's bunkers have little in common with the original Colt work. And a mid-1990s renovation of Highlands Links by architect Graham Cooke failed to reinstate any of Thompson's majestic concepts.
But that, largely, is nitpicking. World class is a phrase too commonly tossed around. In the case of these three golf courses, that's exactly what they are.

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