Thursday, March 09, 2006

Stanley Thompson's Best 18

7th at Capilano

Stanley Thompson is being honoured by the RCGA this spring and it got me thinking about what are his best holes. I thought it best that we use his writings to determine what he felt was required for the best 18 holes and then go out and find the best examples of these holes.

“Every shot in the game should be planned and the holes should be so arranged that each one is different from the following one. There should be three or four short holes - five is perhaps one too many, as the remaining holes are apt to be unbalanced. They should be interspersed - not, however, near the beginning or the end. In the former case they tend to congest the course, while in the latter the player who happens to be down is discriminated against. There should be six or seven good two-shotters, with alternate tees for the lengthening or shortening of the holes as the ground is hard or soft or the direction of the wind, to preserve their values. The rest should be apportioned between pitch and iron shots. Beware of three-shotters, unless there is some special natural feature demanding them. The starting holes should be comparatively easy, so as not to congest the course; the finishing ones should be long and difficult, for they are often the deciding ones in a match and no one should win a game on an easy hole. The fewer the blind holes the better. The bunkers around the greens should always be visible when within striking distance. A wider margin will naturally be given for a brassie shot than a mashie, but in no case should the bunkers be unfair. One should be able to get out with one shot without Herculean effort. “ Stanley Thompson

The short par three – 15th at Jasper Park (The Bad Baby)
It looks so easy, till you play it, because the size of the green makes missing the green devastating.

The mid length par three – 8th at Banff Springs (Devil’s Cauldron)
Set on a glacial lake, hard up against the mountain, it's simply the finest single hole in Canada.

The long par three – 15th at Catarqui
This tough uphill par three was made an even greater test when Thompson created a 3' rise in front of the green, so that only the best shot was rewarded.

The very long par three – 8th at Uplands
Don't miss left, right, long or short because your dead, at 225 yards, the toughest great par three he ever built.

The short drivable par four – 4th at Highland Links
The green sits such a short distance from the tee on a tiny plateau, it just entices you to do the wrong thing....go for the green.

The drive and pitch par four – 11th at Thornhill Golf Club
This is the hole that gave Byron Nelson fits when he won the last of his historic 11 straight victories in 1940. The hole rewards precision rather than brawn, because of the way the hole and the green runs away from play.

The drive and mid iron par four - 12th at St. George’s
Stanley used the most intimidating bunkers he ever created to make you play the hole the way he wanted you to.

A comparatively easy starter – 1st at Banff Springs (original routing)
A nice wide open opener with a beautiful view and no bunkers invites the player onto Banff

A good two-shotter par four – 13th at Highland Links
Stanley's use of the incredible knob in front of the green has created a situation where the ground maybe the only prudent option for an approach.

A good two-shotter par four – 14th at St. George’s
The second shot to a green squeezed between the hillside and the creek makes this the hardest single shot a s St. George's

2nd green at Highland GL

A good two-shotter par four – 2nd at Highland Links
Arguable the best par four Thompson built. The risk and reward from the tee and the wonderful elevated approach into a green framed by the sea, pale in comparison to the a spectacular green contours that set this one off by itself.

A good two-shotter par four – 7th at Capilano
A very difficult drive skirting by one of Thompson’s greatest bunkers sets you up for a difficult approach to a small plateau green. Missing left looks like the best option but Thompson has fooled you, there is no recovery from the hollow left of the green.

A good two-shotter par four – 2nd at St. George’s
A difficult tee shot that requires taking an aggressive line for position, followed by a tough long iron into a deep but narrow green. Only the two best find this green in regulation.

A long difficult finisher – 18th at Jasper Park
Alister Mackenzie described the hole as one of the finest in golf.

The short par five – 8h at St. Thomas
The tee shot involves risking the tight fairway bunkering to find the slot in the fairway. The approach is to a plateau green that invites the gamble, but heavily penalizes any miss with an impossible recovery.

The mid length par five – 15th at Highland Links
The most interesting fairway contours in golf, they make the hole great. Add in a clever diagonal bunkering scheme and a view to the ocean; add it up and you have the best par five in Canada.

The strong par five – 18th at Capilano
A testing uphill tee shot between lots of bunkers, and then the choice of trying to play aggressively to the small upper fairway, or safe to the lower fairway. The pitch from below is semi-blind and full of danger, the upper pitch is wide open and without trouble. A classic risk reward second shot makes this hole special.

The unreachable par five “because of the land” – 7th at Highland Links
“Killer” is so hard that I know few that have even made par. A tight tee shot, followed by a second shot skirting bunkers, followed by a delicate pitch to a severely sloping green, all from rumpled stances. A great test of anyone’s ability.


Anonymous said...

Hard to argue with your list Ian. Although, a few secondary lists could be very strong as well (if I find time I'd love to try and come up with a few).

Funny, opinion seems to be split on which is better at HL, 7 or 15. 7 gets my vote, but it's really just splitting hairs. I get a different feeling playing them...7 is just a "make par/bogey and get out alive", 15 is a real birdie chance if the tee shot is well placed.


Ian Andrew said...


Highland's fives are so superior (ignoring the 11th - an original four) that one could argue that they all could be included in Thompson's finest four par fives. I know of no course that can match them collectively.


Dave K said...

Just got back from the Wet (sic) Coast and was lucky enough to get on to Capilano (after a very interesting tour with the irrigation tech). Spectacular scenery even on a rainy grey day. Never played Banff but it must be a really easy start after seeing 1 at Cap. We actually started on 14 to a temp green so not to interfere with the only other foursome on the course. Favourites included 7, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 18 (how's that for narrowing it down). 11 was closed which was a shame. Unforgettable experience. Picked up an earlier version of the Club history via eBay. Contains some interesting accounts and excerpts from Thompson letters. Let me know if you want me to bring it to the RCGA event for a browse.


Chris said...


I once read somewhere (don't remember where off-hand) that the 8th at Uplands - formerly the 17th, as you know - was originally played from the bottom of the hill, approximately from where the white tees are now, and that the hilltop blue tees were added later. Ever heard anything about this?

Ian Andrew said...


Bring the book to the Thompson gathering. By the way, when is it?


That is news to me, I thought I understood it has always played from the up top.

Velvetran said...


As I recall being told the 8th hole (old 17) at Uplands was originally 110 -115 yard par 3. The tees were located to the left in the trees. The renovations were done in 1928 or 1929 along with work done on 16. As I have been told the old tees for 8/17 were right near 13 on the orginal routing. A member (judge) put up the cash for all of the work ($3000)to 16 and 17. If you stand on the front of the blue deck at Uplands and look left you can see where the tees used to be, you have to look in the early spring or late fall because of the foliage. These are stories I have been told by some of the old timers of Uplands

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