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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Ten holes to remember

Banff's 4th. Greywolf's 6th. Furry Creek's 14th.
These are the single holde across Canada that can
make a course, cause a national stir -- and drive a golfer
to travel across the country for a shot at them.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

From the moment people began slamming on their car brakes and sneaking onto the course, as if spellbound, to play their 14th hole, the managers of British Columbia's Furry Creek Golf and Country Club knew that they had won golf's version of the lottery.

Furry Creek's signature hole is a spectacularly scenic 211-yard par three set on a rocky peninsula jutting into the mist of Howe Sound alongside the highway linking Vancouver and Whistler.

"That one hole has been a huge part of the course's success since our opening in 1993," says Mike Macleod, Furry Creek's sales and events manager. "Truthfully, we might be just another golf course without the recognition factor it gives us. It's so beautiful that golfers feel compelled to play it. We're doing about 33,000 rounds a year, up more than 9,000 rounds from just four years ago."

There are hundreds of outstanding golf holes across Canada. Yet only a select few possess the almost indefinable combination of qualities that make a hole so alluring that avid golfers will travel great distances just to play it. Such a signature hole can not only guarantee a course's financial success, but sometimes even spark a boom in the local golf tourism market.

"There's a magic to these golf holes," says Tom McBroom, one of Canada's leading course architects. "No designer goes into a project expecting to build a hole that will capture national attention. That's a phenomenon you can never count on. Almost always, signature holes are more the result of fantastic geography than design."

An aura surrounds Canada's iconic golf holes, giving rise to the telling and frequent embellishing of tall tales that further enhance their appeal.

At the Banff Springs Golf Course, the almost certainly apocryphal story is told of the birth of one of the most celebrated holes in all of golf, the par-three Devil's Cauldron, which legendary architect Stanley Thompson set in the shadow of Mount Rundle beside an impossibly picturesque glacial lake.

Mr. Thompson, so it is said, was walking the future site of the course one day in the 1920s when a rockslide came crashing down from the cliffs above. After the dust cleared, the shaken architect saw that the slide had transformed the small valley into a natural amphitheatre of breathtaking beauty. Recognizing the divine hand of a design talent even greater than his own, he immediately decided to build a golf hole on the spot. Golfers have journeyed to the Banff Springs course to try their luck at the Devil's Cauldron ever since.

"I get a real kick out of watching the stunned reactions of golfers when they get their first look at the hole," says Doug Wood, Banff's director of golf. "The only problem is that first-time visitors always slow down play. They're determined to stand there hitting balls until they finally have the satisfaction of getting one over the lake and on to the green."

For many golfers around the world, photographs of the Devil's Cauldron have come to define their mental image of the Canadian game.

Seven decades passed from the Cauldron's unveiling in 1929 before another hole emerged to challenge its status as the most talked about par three in the land.

The newcomer was Cliffhanger, the aptly named sixth hole at British Columbia's acclaimed Greywolf Golf Course near the mountain town of Invermere.

Cliffhanger features a long gut-churning carry over the sheer drop of Hopeful Canyon to a green perched along the edges of vertical rock cliffs. Rugged peaks tower in every direction, evergreens strain toward the sky, and from the green, golfers can see for kilometres down an incredibly beautiful mountain valley. The only thing missing from this picture-postcard Canadian setting is a Mountie standing on guard at the tee.

Part of the Panorama Mountain Village ski and golf resort, Greywolf and its signature hole have ignited the local golf market. "Cliffhanger has acted like a magnet for all the courses in the area," says Wayne Rossington, the general manager of nearby Eagle Ranch Golf Resort. "Golfers who come to play Greywolf also naturally want to check us out. We feature Cliffhanger prominently in all our group marketing."

Greywolf's designer, Toronto architect Doug Carrick, says it is no accident that Furry Creek's 14th hole, Banff's Devil's Cauldron, his own Cliffhanger and many of the country's other most prominent holes, are all par threes. Like many architects, he often tries to reserve a site's most dramatic features for its shortest holes.

"Waterfalls, river rapids, the canyon at Cliffhanger . . . natural theatre like that is ideally suited for par threes," Mr. Carrick says. "I think it's a real treat for a golfer when he can stand at the tee and take in that kind of scenery at a glance."

Just as Devil's Cauldron has long been a totemic symbol of the Canadian game, a single hole can sometimes capture the character of golf in a particular region of the country. For some, the dramatic view of Lac Tremblant beyond the green at Le Géant's par-four 18th hole represents the best of golf in Quebec's Laurentians. Not far from Regina, the par-three second hole of the Deer Valley Golf and Estates course offers an unforgettable vista of valley dunes and stands of aspen against an endless prairie sky. Though only three years old, the short downhill par-three 12th hole at the redesigned Algonquin Golf Course in New Brunswick's St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, with its sweeping view across Passamaquoddy Bay to the state of Maine, has become one of the most photographed holes on the Atlantic coast.

Almost always blessed by nature in their setting, signature holes have also occasionally been given a boost toward national prominence by the enthusiastic endorsement of a famous golfer or from having been the scene of a memorable golf event. Cape Breton's Highlands Links, a Stanley Thompson-designed track that ranks among the top Canadian courses, has for years benefited from the ringing endorsement given it, and in particular its seventh hole, by Canada's greatest professional golfer, the late George Knudson.

"This is the Cypress Point of Canada for sheer beauty," enthused Mr. Knudson after playing a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf television exhibition against fellow Canadian Al Balding there in 1965. Mr. Knudson walked away calling Highlands Links's par-five seventh hole -- a double dogleg to the right stretching 570 yards through a tight valley bounded by towering hardwoods -- one of the most magnificent par fives he had ever seen.

Irene Khattar, Highlands Links's media co-ordinator, says Mr. Knudson's rave review proved especially helpful in publicizing the relaunch of the course after the completion of a three-year restoration in 1997. "George Knudson is such an important figure in the history of Canadian golf that his endorsement gave us tremendous credibility," she says. "We still use his quotes and photograph in our pocket guide, media kits and course brochure."

Already internationally famous as the site of 22 Canadian Opens, Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont., reaped an avalanche of publicity after Tiger Woods hit one of the most brilliant golf shots in recent memory on the Abbey's par-five 18th hole during the final round of the 2000 Canadian Open.

Fighting down to the wire for the championship, Mr. Woods sealed his victory by slashing a 210-yard bunker shot over water to the edge of the green. Since then, few of the golfers who have flocked to Glen Abbey to follow in his footsteps have been able to resist the temptation to drop a ball in the same bunker and try their luck.

Like panning for gold or winning a lottery, the likelihood of any golf course producing even a single hole capable of attracting national attention is slim at best. So there was understandable excitement this spring in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where the unveiling of the new $5.5-million Crimson Ridge course revealed not one, but two potential Canadian signature holes.

Cut through rough and tumble terrain typical of Northern Ontario, Crimson Ridge includes mature forests, natural waterfalls and numerous elevation changes.

But it's the combination punch of the two finishing holes that has everyone talking. The par-three 17th hole sweeps across a steep ravine and past an 18-metre waterfall to a green dwarfed by an enormous granite outcropping. The par-five 18th hole, a 577-yard dogleg left, offers golfers a breathtaking view from the elevated tee of the Sault's downtown, the North Shipping Channel and northern Michigan in the distance.

"This is big," says Ian McMillan, Sault Ste. Marie's director of tourism. "We're already using photos of the 17th hole to attract conventions and other business because it fits so well with our city slogan: 'Naturally Gifted.' These two signature holes will put us on the map of Canadian golf. We feel like we've hit the jackpot."

Brian Kendall is the author of Northern Links: A Duffer's Unforgettable Journey Through the World of Canadian Golf

If you golf

Furry Creek Golf and Country Club: Furry Creek, B.C.; phone: (888) 922-9462; Web:
Banff Springs Golf Course: Banff, Alta.; phone (403) 762-6801; Web:
Greywolf Golf Course: Panorama, B.C.; phone: (250) 342-6941; Web:
Le Géant: Mont-Tremblant, Que.; phone: (888) 215-5322; Web:
Deer Valley Golf and Estates: Lumsden, Sask.; phone: (306) 731-1445; Web:
Algonquin Golf Course: St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, N.B.; phone: (506) 529-7142; Web:
Highlands Links: Ingonish Beach, N.S.; phone: (800) 441-1118, Web:
Glen Abbey Golf Club: Oakville, Ont.; phone: (905) 844-1800; Web:
Crimson Ridge: Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.; phone: (866) 667-4343; Web:

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