Appeared in April 2006 LINKS
The PGA Tour schedule has evolved, with the number of pre-World War II venues shrinking in favor of TPCs and other contemporary designs. So when the tour visits a classic layout, the players notice. Such was the case at the 2003 Bell Canadian Open, which was staged at Hamilton Golf & Country Club after nearly three decades of near-permanent residency at Glen Abbey Golf Club.
The players’ warm reception led the Royal Canadian Golf Association to bring its Open back to Hamilton this September. Such praise is a far cry from the criticism leveled at the club’s previous facility, a rudimentary layout on a site known as Paradise Farm in Hamilton, about 50 miles southwest of Toronto.
“I have no hesitation in saying the worst links belonging to any club in the Royal Canadian Golf Association,” states a 1902 letter to the club’s membership from Peter Crerar, one of several transplanted Scots who founded the club in 1894.
It would be nearly a decade before Crerar’s objections could be addressed. In 1912 an offer was made on Hamilton’s land and the club’s greenkeeper, John Sutherland, was charged with finding a suitable property for a new course, along with head professional Nicol Thompson, eldest brother of legendary Canadian golf architect Stanley Thompson.
From the postmaster, Sutherland learned of a farm near Ancaster, a village outside Hamilton. Known as “The Grange,” the farm comprised two 100-acre blocks of heaving, sparsely treed land through which a beautiful stream meandered.
By that time, Englishman Harry Colt was golf’s leading architect and had designed Toronto Golf Club, setting a new standard for golf architecture in Canada. The architect arrived at Ancaster in May 1914. A few months after Hamilton’s 6,350-yard course opened on September 11, 1915, Canadian Golfer magazine reported, “Golfers from all parts of Canada who have played over the new links are unanimous in acclaiming them without rival anywhere. The course is full of character from the first tee to the last green.”
Colt was a master at routing, consistently exploiting the natural features of a site. At Ancaster, as Hamilton came to be informally known, each hole is unique and memorable, and the course tests every aspect of a player’s game. Reminiscent of classic U.S. Open venues such as Oakland Hills and Baltusrol, Ancaster boasts small, firm greens surrounded by thick grass, placing a premium on straight driving along narrow swaths bordered by high rough.
Ancaster’s closing sequence deserves special mention. The 185-yard 16th plays to an elevated green surrounded by bunkers and steep, grassy slopes. The 548-yard 17th plays from an elevated tee to a gently rising fairway that crosses a stream to a large, tilted green.
The 442-yard 18th is one of Canada’s best-known holes. From another high tee, long hitters need to avoid a stream that snakes wildly across the fairway 300 yards from the championship markers. The uphill approach is to a green nestled in a natural amphitheatre beneath Hamilton’s two-story brick clubhouse, built in 1929.
Even before the 2003 Canadian Open, Hamilton hosted several big events, including the 1919 and 1930 Canadian Opens. In the former, 17-year-old Bobby Jones tied for second in his only appearance. Eleven years later, winner Tommy Armour fired a course-record 64, matched during the 1977 Canadian Amateur by British Columbia’s Jim Nelford, who would go on to play the PGA Tour.
Hamilton has evolved over the years—nothing unusual for a vintage course. But Ancaster remains faithful to Colt’s core framework, which continues to test the best players in the world, 91 years later.
Year founded: 1894
Architect: Harry S. Colt