12 Proudly Canadian Bucket-List Courses

Cabot Cliffs (Image: Cabot Cliffs)

Cabot Cliffs is a brilliant Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore design in Cape Breton. (Image: Cabot Links)

Canada is rich in acclaimed and wondrously scenic golf courses defined by waterfalls and rapids, oceanfront bluffs and Rocky Mountain peaks. Our guide to this country’s most unforgettable public-play tracks.

(Last updated May 2023.)

What better way for golfers to really get to know Canada than by playing its most celebrated public courses? From the sand dunes of Prince Edward Island to the mountain valleys of Alberta and British Columbia, 12 courses that belong on the playlist of every golfer.

Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links, Nova Scotia

Few golf properties in the world can match the one-two knockout punch of Cabot Links Lodge on the Nova Scotia island of Cape Breton.

Even before its official launch in the spring of 2016, Cabot Cliffs had already been named the 19th best course in the world by Golf Digest, ahead of Royal Birkdale, Carnoustie and other international stalwarts. Meanwhile, its excellent sister course, Cabot Links, came in at No. 93. Just two years later, the same prestigious publication ranked Cabot Cliffs the world’s ninth best course, with Cabot Links at No. 43.

Designed by Canadian Rod Whitman and launched in 2012, Cabot Links sprawls along a wind-buffeted shoreline that trails down into the dunes along the ocean and then back to higher ground near the town of Inverness’s main street.

Even more spectacular is the bluff-top setting of the aptly named Cabot Cliffs. No fewer than eight holes offer endless views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence at this Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore design. The inland holes sweep through sculpted dunes and woodlands before returning to the sea. Absolutely unforgettable is the 16th, a par three chiseled into a towering jagged cliff.

With golfers flocking to Inverness from around the world, golf has become as essential to life in this former hardscrabble mining town as it is in Scotland’s St. Andrews.

Highlands Links Killiecrankie (Image: Highlands Links)

Stanley Thompson-designed Highlands Links. (Image: Highlands Links)

Highlands Links, Nova Scotia

No less an authority than Canadian golf legend George Knudson (an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour) raved about the almost unmatched natural splendour of Highlands Links, a Stanley Thompson-designed jewel set in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. “When you’re driving up the road to the course, it’s like driving up to heaven,” Knudson said. “There’s not a better walk in golf.”

Nova Scotia’s tallest mountains loom over wildly humped and slanting fairways that snake dramatically through terrain ranging from a pine-edged valley floor cut by the charging Clyburn River to rocky outcrops and seaside marshes. Thompson, the greatest of all Canadian golf architects, painstakingly sculpted views through the forest to reveal the ocean and the surrounding mountains. Especially memorable are green complexes left open at the front in the classic style, then made treacherous by the architect’s distinctive hollows, run-offs and bumps.

Nearby, at the end of a long driveway lined with birch trees, is Keltic Lodge, a resort opened in 1940, a year before the launch of a course still regarded as one of Canada’s very best.

Links at Crowbush Cove (Image: Barrett S. MacKay)

Prince Edward Island beauty The Links at Crowbush Cove. (Image: Barrett S. MacKay)

The Links at Crowbush Cove, Prince Edward Island

Voted Golf Digest’s best new Canadian course of 1994, the Links at Crowbush Cove ignited Prince Edward Island’s golf industry. More than a dozen new courses opened in its wake, while annual revenues from golf tourism in Canada’s smallest province jumped to a high of around $80-million, compared to about $17-million in the mid-1990s.

Set beside the rolling dunes of a white-sand beach, the Links at Crowbush Cove features nine water holes, eight holes that skirt the lee side of the environmentally sensitive dunes, wide and undulating fairways, and green sites that are often severe, full of bumps and hollows and protected by deep-set bunkers.

But the most difficult obstacle to scoring well at this Tom McBroom design is the almost constantly howling wind. On a really blustery day, even low handicappers can struggle to break 90 at a seaside layout that has become synonymous with East Coast golf.

The Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, Charlevoix region, Quebec

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club in Charlevoix. (Image: Fairmont)

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club, Quebec

Spectacularly situated on cliffs overlooking the mighty St. Lawrence River, Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club is one of the jewels of Quebec’s popular Charlevoix tourist region, east of Quebec City.

Pristine lakes, verdant Laurentian Mountain valleys and evergreen forests define Charlevoix’s astonishingly diverse landscape. The region is a renowned culinary destination, with restaurants and hotels focused on serving locally sourced cuisine.

Opened in 1925, the original 18-hole Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club course has been extensively renovated in recent years. Nine new holes were added, several of them affording commanding views of the St. Lawrence. Also new is a cliff-top clubhouse, from which diners can often catch a glimpse of whales swimming in the water far below.

Next door to the course is the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, a chateau-style grand hotel offering 405 guest rooms and a lively casino.

Glen Abbey Golf Course (Image: ClubLink)

Frequent Canadian Open host Glen Abbey Golf Course. (Image: ClubLink)

Glen Abbey Golf Club, Ontario

World-famous as the host of 30 Canadian Open championships, Glen Abbey Golf Club offers amateurs the almost religious experience of playing in the spike prints of golf greats such as Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Arnold Palmer.

With tight traps, fiendishly contoured greens and water hazards that come into play on 11 holes, the Jack Nicklaus-designed course (30 minutes west of Toronto) is a challenge in every sense.

Like a symphony conductor, Nicklaus builds momentum slowly, saving his best work for the valley holes, 11 through 15, before ending with a wallop on the par-five 18th.

It was on the 18th that Woods sealed his victory in the 2000 Canadian Open with a 218-yard bunker shot to the green. So astonishing was the shot that since then few golfers have been able to resist the temptation to drop a ball in the same bunker and try their luck.

Doug Carrick-designed Muskoka Bay Club. (Image: Muskoka Bay Club)

Muskoka Bay Club, Ontario

Doug Carrick, the architect of the Muskoka Bay Club, is in the vanguard of golf industry builders who are using the distinctive granite outcroppings of the Canadian landscape to create a new design aesthetic.

Named Golf Digest’s best new Canadian course of 2007, Muskoka Bay is carved through rough-and-tumble terrain near the town of Gravenhurst, about a two-hour drive north of Toronto. The site’s pink granite outcroppings, as well as the wetlands and towering fir trees, have been used by Carrick to shape and accent holes in the same way that Arizona’s courses are framed by cactuses and desert sand. Like restored artworks, particularly beautiful outcroppings have been power-washed to highlight their colourful striations.

Nowhere is this new design approach more vividly illustrated than at Muskoka Bay’s ninth hole, surely one of the most memorable par fours in Canadian golf. Here, golfers must thread their approach shot through twin granite towers standing guard over the green like billion-year-old sentinels.

Pride of the prairies: Dakota Dunes Golf Links. (Image: Dakota Dunes Golf Links)

Dakota Dunes Golf Links, Saskatchewan

Previously unfamiliar to the majority of Canadian golfers, the stark and windswept charms of prairie golf finally grabbed the national spotlight when Golf Digest declared Dakota Dunes Golf Links Canada’s best new course of 2005.

Designed by Canadians Wayne Carleton and Graham Cooke, this demanding 7,301-yard layout, located 26 kilometres south of Saskatoon, offers fairways that buck like a bronco across the natural sand dunes of the South Saskatchewan River Valley.

In keeping with the wishes of the course’s principal owner, the Whitecap Dakota First Nation, the architects moved as little earth as possible during construction. Bunkers were left wild and woolly, edged by prairie grasses that snare wayward shots. Though generous landing areas challenge big hitters (two of the par fives are more than 600 yards long), slanting fairways, sinkholes and occasional blind shots from behind dunes booby-trap almost every hole of a course whose growing fame has golfers eagerly booking flights to Saskatoon.

Fairmont Jasper Park Golf Club 9th hole

Rocky Mountain magic: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course. (Image: Fairmont)

Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course, Alberta

At Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course, the great Stanley Thompson established a template for mountain courses followed around the world ever since the course’s opening in 1926.

Thompson cleared gaps through the forest of fir and spruce to point golfers toward greens aligned with distant mountains, while whimsically patterning his bunkers after the snow formations on their peaks. In choosing a circular course path that flowed with the natural contours of the land, Thompson made the most of lovely Lac Beauvert by setting three holes against its shores.

Thompson’s genius—and mischievous personality—is best seen at Jasper’s ninth hole, Cleopatra, one of Canada’s signature par-threes. The 231-yarder plays downhill to a steep-sided and heavily bunkered green framed by the backdrop of distant Pyramid Mountain. Inspired by the mountain’s name, Thompson painstakingly moulded the ninth’s greenside bunkers into the voluptuous form of the ancient Egyptian queen. Unamused by Thompson’s gag, hotel officials ordered the architect to go back and mask Cleopatra’s charms.

Banff Springs Golf Course

Alberta’s iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course. (Image: Fairmont)

Banff Springs Golf Course, Alberta

Designed in the late 1920s by Stanley Thompson, the Banff Springs Golf Course and the Fairmont hotel that looms like a fairy-tale fortress on the cliffs overhead have become totemic symbols of the Canadian game, recognized by golfers around the world.

The course, the first anywhere to cost more than $1 million, includes Canada’s most celebrated hole, the par-three Devil’s Cauldron, which Thompson set beside an almost surreally picturesque glacial lake.

Wherever he could, the Toronto-born architect left nature alone, taking his routing through tunnels of fir trees, while bringing into play the Spray and Bow Rivers. Following his artistic triumphs first in Jasper and then Banff, Thompson took his place among the world’s top golf architects. In all the years since, nobody has done it better.

'Cliffhanger' Par Three (Image: Evan Schiller)

‘Cliffhanger’ at Greywolf Golf Course is one of Canada’s signature holes. (Image: Evan Schiller)

Greywolf Golf Course, British Columbia

From the moment of its unveiling, Greywolf Golf Course‘s par-three Cliffhanger became the most ballyhooed Canadian golf hole since Stanley Thompson’s Devil’s Cauldron in Banff.

Cliffhanger is the star attraction of a Doug Carrick design voted Golf Digest’s best new Canadian course of 1999. Carrick’s drama-filled layout, next door to the Panorama ski and golf resort near the town of Invermere, features tree-lined fairways, mountain views on every hole and almost 500 feet of elevation change.

But it’s the par-three signature hole that leaves golfers awe-struck. Cliffhanger requires 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.

All that’s missing from this picture-postcard setting is a Royal Canadian Mountie standing on guard at the tee.

Predator Ridge Golf Resort, seventh hole at The Ridge Course

The Ridge Course at Predator Ridge Resort. (Image: Predator Ridge Resort)

The Ridge at Predator Ridge, British Columbia

Located just outside the city of Vernon, the 1,200-acre Predator Ridge Resort and real estate development offers a dramatically scenic landscape of clear lakes, fast-rushing mountain streams and wheatgrass meadows. There’s a central lodge, two- and three-bedroom cottages, and two renowned golf courses. The older course, Predator, is a Les Furber design that received a $3.5-million refresh by Doug Carrick in 2018. Predator is a marvellously picturesque layout that wends through rolling hills and tall grasses. But the real star is The Ridge, a brilliant Carrick creation that launched in 2010.

Built at a cost of $10-million, Carrick’s 7,190-yard design seamlessly blends eight completely rebuilt holes of Predator Ridge Resort’s old Peregrine course with 10 spectacular new holes carved through rugged mountain terrain offering cliff-top tee shots and panoramic views of Okanagan Lake far below. Though visually intimidating, The Ridge’s fairways are wider than they at first appear, with dramatic mounds and slopes to help funnel errant shots back into play.

Part of the genius of The Ridge is the careful attention Carrick paid to his forward tees. Golfers playing from up front enjoy many of the same thrilling elevated lift-offs and stunning mountain vistas as their longer-hitting partners at the tips. Pure magic.