The 2nd looking down to the green
This by far is the most unusual of Thompson's routings, and it is why this is one of the most enjoyable experiences in golf. When Stanley surveyed the property on foot, he must have recognised how unique each area of the golf course was going to be. After he had finalised his routing, whether intended or intuitive, he made a decision of shear genius. He separated each unique area with a long walk. So why was this important? This makes the course unfold like a series of chapters from a great book, each chapter (or set of holes) has its own unique setting. When combined together it makes for wonderful journey through the local landscape.
I’ll explain this further. The first six holes are routed along the rolling land of the headland, which originally had ocean views on all six holes (this is something they desperately need to fix). I couldn’t think of a better way to start with all those ocean views!
The wild and much tighter 7th
After the sixth green, the hole that plays along the ocean, Stanley takes you inland on a long walk to relax and enjoy the river valley as you enter the forested highlands (first change of pace and setting). The trees and mountains now dominate the setting of the course, and the player has to adjust to a more secluded and intimate setting. The holes are now fully framed by trees and mountains, with the tee shot on the 7th being intentional tight and tough to offer a complete contrast to the previous holes. Stanley does a wonderful job of creating an exciting stretch of holes while still maintaining a walkable course through this tough terrain. This stretch continues through to the tenth green.
The valley holes of 10-12
Once again a change of scenery started with a walk over the old swinging bridge and along the magnificent Clyde Brook. The 11th and 12th were once wide open, flat and fairly straightforward. This gentle stretch of land and golf was made to act as a breather in the middle of the round before taking on the tougher stretch to follow. I love how the old photos show the river was intended to be visible from both holes. I found out the river was to be the focus of the two holes but they ran out of money to pay for the bridge crossing that was required. The walk from 12 green to the 13th tee is the prettiest walk in golf (another great transition to a new setting) again along the river and up to the 13th tee.
At the thirteenth hole, Stanley returns the player to very rolling land with views out to the ocean. While the holes are much tougher, experiencing a view of the ocean make them inspiring. This remains my favourite stretch of holes on the course and the golfing terrain he selected has no equal. The highlight of the round is probably the dramatic 15th that tumbles wildly down towards the ocean in the background. Once again the golfers experience another wonderful walk, this one by the church, to the final set of holes.
The magnificent 15th
Holes 16 to 18 do not have a view to the ocean, although, I can’t help but wonder if the ocean was clearly visible on the right of the 18th hole. The final stretch is a return to the darker evergreens similar to the opening holes, here Stanley had designed a series of friendly holes to give players an opportunity to make a par. Stanley was always cognisant of resort play and making the courses enjoyable for the average player. I think he felt after such a long journey, making a par in the final stretch would be a great way to finish the round.
The 17th hole
Highlands remains a top 100 course in the world. Out of the five best Thompson courses, it is probably the most understated architecturally, but it may be the course that works most closely with the landscape. This is why many feel it is Thompson’s best work and the best course in Canada.