Upper Canada Golf – Playing Where the Pros Play
Seeking to mix some pleasure with business, I was intrigued to explore the options for quality golf in Eastern Ontario. At or near the top of most lists was Upper Canada Golf Course in Morrisburg, Ontario. The course is administered by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission which explains why I was not able to find out until I arrived that the course hosted the 2013 Greater Waterway Classic, one stop within the PGA Tour Canada season, now officially called the Mackenzie Tour. The Parks Commission focuses marketing on their site around the host of family and tourist options in the area rather than a pure golf focus. Fortunately, other local golf sites like flagstick.com provided some additional information about this course. And as has happened in the past, I was fortunate to share an early morning round with two members and they were able to fill in many of the gaps for me.
This course is about one hour from Ottawa, Montreal and Kingston and is very easy to access south of the 401 highway. The course was designed in the 1960’s by Robbie Robinson, protégé of Stanley Thompson, and the relaxed, expansive layout complements the parkland style design. But make no mistake; while this course is an enjoyable walk, it is a stout test of golf. The course offers four sets of tees for players of all skill and plays 6435 yards from the whites and an impressive 6926 from the blues. Robinson was able to make the most of the terrain, carving challenging golf holes out of the evergreens and alongside water.
The back nine offers the most scenic holes, with a three hole stretch set – 13 to 15 – along water. This par 3 – 5 – 3 stretch offers scoring chances amongst long and challenging par 4’s. With the par 3’s being relatively short, the course played much longer. A strong tee game and solid ball striking is essential to score well. The greens are intelligently protected with bunkers which are not too penal. They frame the holes well. The greens are sensational, rolling very true. Members take great pride in this course as there were very few, if any, ball marks on the greens. The short par 3 3rd hole is followed by the very long and difficult par 4 4th hole, the most difficult on the course. But truth is many of the par 4’s are challenging. There is very little elevation change throughout the course but the terrain is used well in requiring precise approach shots.
The pro shop is understated, but do not be fooled. This course will challenge your game. As with any good course, it is possible to score well but wayward shots are penalized. I will admit it has been some time since I have played a course with so many 400+ yard par 4’s. Playing with two members provided me a chance to learn about the 2013 Waterway Classic, some history of the course, the incredible benefits of membership here and insight to the sensational conditioning of this course. I should preface that the course had encountered some winter damage on their fairways. Having first learned about this from the Superintendent of Dakota Dunes in Saskatchewan, I know this is a temporary issue. The grass will grow back after some warm sunshine and the course will be back to ideal, lush and very playable conditioning. As mentioned, the greens were ideal. Tee boxes were also well maintained.
It was a pleasure to find a course of this quality along the eastern part of the Toronto – Montreal travel corridor. I look forward to a return trip and when I do return I hope I will have a better tee game. This is a challenging but very enjoyable course and makes the most of its terrain. While it lacks a real wow factor compared to modern course design and ultra-manicured country clubs, this is a very good golf experience. Robinson has done the best he could with the land made available and the Parks Commission and course staff have demonstrated strong stewardship in its maintenance.
Aura – 7.5 out of 10 – As mentioned in previous posts, playing a course where professionals play is always a special experience. But perhaps it is geography or that the Parks Commission is administering the course but I had heard very little about Upper Canada Golf Course.
Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10. The rates are very reasonable. I was able to pay $45 on GolfNow and there are many opportunities for even better deals on their site. The peak greens fee is only $52 plus taxes. Playing with two members provided me great insight to the history and highlights of this course. From all accounts this is one of the best courses in the area.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 7.5 out of 10. The winter kill issues on some fairways did not detract from my experience at all and to me was irrelevant to the playable condition of the course. Greens were outstanding; some of the nicest I had experienced all year. The slope ratings reflect the terrain but fact is the length and tree lined fairways that give this course its teeth. The layout lacked any wow factor and the course presents itself in an understated manner. But there is no denying the overall conditioning, which is excellent. A more dynamic layout would improve this rating considerably.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – I had a great golfing experience at Upper Canada. This is a very good golf course and worthy of its ranking as a quality play in Eastern Ontario. The staff were friendly, accommodating and helped provide a quality golf experience. I would certainly return and look forward to it. 7.5 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) – The conditioning more than makes up for a layout which is as good as the terrain allows. The greens and bunkering are the best I’ve played all year. The people are sensational; helpful and very friendly and it all combines to make for a great golf experience.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I am not a course designer so I cannot get into specifics but the layout is something I would consider changing. Holes 9 and 10, for example, are simple and straightforward. That said there are some stout holes which challenge a player and provide sufficient reward for good play, such as the 4th hole. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this course! One other note, for fellow travelers, the website is not the best. It does not reflect the quality of the course.
Just So You Know – Get there early and enjoy a replay round for only $25. It’s a very walkable course and the experience from your earlier round may help improve your score on the second round.
My Best Shot – The par 3 15th hole is a beautiful golf hole and from the white tees played 155 yards. After a tee shot which looked like it was going in the ball settled about 6 feet below the hole. Let’s just stop the story there. It was the best struck ball I hit all day. And like my friends say, hey, 18 pars and it’s a career round. Tap in pars are never bad.