Burlington lies at the heart of the “Golden Horseshoe” district, between the north shore of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment, and it was here, on a pleasantly undulating tract of land overlooking Hamilton Bay, that the golf club was established in 1922.
Stanley Thompson was at the peak of his architectural powers at that time and he was approached to design an 18-hole layout for the members of Burlington Golf & Country Club. Scotsman Andy Anderson, the club’s professional, supervised the construction process and an initial nine holes opened for play in 1923 with the remaining nine following a year later.
The hole configuration at Burlington is somewhat lop-sided with three par fives on the outward half contrubuting to a par of 37 whilst the par of 34 for the back nine is largely due to that circuit containing only one long hole and three par threes, the last of which is played as the 188-yard 18th by the edge of the lake.
The club expanded its operation to include a curling facility in 1957 and, as numbers increased dramatically to over a thousand during the next half century, members decided to build a bigger, traditional-style clubhouse to accommodate everyone and this was completed in 2008.
The Burlington Golf & Country Club was incorporated in 1922, with the first nine holes opening a year later and the full 18 holes completed by 1924. Stanley Thompson, in his peak period as a golf architect, designed the golf course with able assistance from Burlington's first head professional, Andy Anderson.
The course has a couple of holes that are adjacent to Hamilton Harbour (formerly known as Burlington Bay) and that scenic location, along with the sandy loam and undulating topography make this a very attractive site for golf.
You get a good sense of what you're in for right from the opening tee shot. This 430 yard par four requires a long and accurate tee shot over a gully to a fairway that bends close to 90 degrees to the left. There is much less room to the left off the tee than you'd think so most shots are played conservatively to the right, leaving a long iron or fairway metal approach. This is no gentle handshake!
The challenge continues on the par three second, measuring a stout 230 yards from the back tees. The green is flanked by bunkers both left and right but is thankfully open in front for those that can't fly the ball all the way there.
The par five third hole, measuring 543 yards from the back, showcases the lovely topography at Burlington. This slight dogleg left features a very rolling fairway and a two-tiered green that slopes sharply from back to front.
After the long par four 4th hole, things lighten up a tad on the 338 yard par four 5th. The hole plays straightaway but your drive needs to avoid a tree that sits just off the fairway down the right side, a challenge that's made more difficult due to the left-to-right slope of the land. The green is quite strong here with some nice undulation - I understand the club may be moving this green at some point further to the left and back but they've digitally mapped out the entire surface in order to replicate all of those undulations should this process move forward.
The wind can be a challenge on the par three 6th, measuring 181 yards. The hole has a very small green that is surrounded by two bunkers left and right, with a pond that sits at the foot of the green down a false front. The water is only in play for the poorest of efforts but it still can play with your mind back on the tee.
You get a good idea how tight this property is from the 7th tee, which sits just inside a boundary fence in a residential subdivision. This is a reachable par five, measuring only 490 yards but you need to hit the fairway off the tee to have a chance at birdie. Any drives to the left are in "punch out" territory due to the massive trees lining that side of the hole.
The 348 yard 8th looks innocent on the scorecard but is anything but in reality. A tight driving hole, with bunkers pinching the fairway on both sides leads to your first view of Hamilton Harbour through the trees behind the green.
Frankly, the routing is a bit awkward here, as you make a pretty considerable walk from the eighth green up the hill, past the first tee and around the bend to reach the par three 9th tee, which sits beside the pro shop, with a practice driving net off to the right behind a large hedge.
A wonderful set of holes follow, starting with the 401 yard par four 10th. It's a stunning tee shot over a large gully and I enjoyed the greensite as well, one that is framed by bunkers left and right but allows a running approach.
The 11th is an absolute stunner - Hamilton Harbour provides the backdrop on this par four, one that measures a whopping 464 yards from the back tee and once again showcases the phenomenal land prevalent at Burlington. The second shot needs to carry well uphill to a multi-tiered green protected by two large bunkers front left and right. Pars here should be celebrated.
In my humble opinion, the 11th is one of the best two-shot holes in Canada.
Following the routine par five 12th, the mid-length par four 13th is yet another fine hole with great aesthetics. The tee shot is elevated and an accurate drive is required to avoid a well-placed bunker on the right and a creek that winds down the left side of the hole. The green is large and very undulating here as well.
I really enjoyed the long par four 14th hole as well. It's a stout 426 yards from the back tee and runs straight away, with out of bounds to the right and the land falling down considerably on the left towards the aforementioned creek. The green is pretty narrow and any shots hit long will fall well down a slope behind the green.
My favourite par three at Burlington is the picturesque 15th, which measures 183 yards from the back tee. It requires anywhere from a mid-iron to a hybrid through a shoot of trees and over a very large depression area to a green protected by bunkers left and right. There is also a false front on this green so an aerial approach is preferred.
You have a lovely walk that leads you to the 16th, a mid-length par four from an elevated tee that offers a lovely view of the harbour. This is another really tight hole off the tee, one where you don't necessarily need a driver. There are two bunkers just off the fairway on the left and a creek runs down the right side so accuracy is paramount.
You cross North Shore Boulevard, where the last two holes play on the clubhouse side of the road, hard up against Hamilton Harbour. The 17th is a challenge of the highest order - a 419 yard par four that seemingly plays longer, perhaps due to the swirling winds off the water. The tee shot is hit over an inlet of the harbour to a generous fairway but the approach is among the toughest at Burlington, with a mid-to-long iron that needs to be flighted from right to left to take advantage of an offset green that is benched into the hillside and protected by three bunkers and a large pond. There is nowhere to miss here and I can only imagine some of the scores that get posted here - the 17th is a scorecard ruiner...but lovely nonetheless.
The course ends with a par three, a bit of a rarity, perhaps, but it's a whale of a finishing hole at 197 yards from the back tee. The tee shot is elevated and must be carried the entire way to the green that sits high up into the hillside, just in front of the beautiful clubhouse. Adding to the challenge is a green that slopes sharply from back to front and one protected by bunkers around the entire perimeter. The par threes at Burlington are all exceptionally strong and the 18th is a very worthy finisher.
It had been ten years since I last visited Burlington and I was blown away by how strong the golf course was. I am very impressed with the bunker and tree clearing work that's been conducted at Burlington since my previous visit, led by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. Vistas have been opened up and more importantly, the growing environment must have improved significantly.
Conditioning was above average, with firm and fast fairways throughout but greens that were a bit soft and on the slow side on this particular day.
The architecture here is rock solid, with very challenging par threes and great variety among the par fours. The par has been reduced to 70 (it was a par 71 when I last visited in April 2009) and at 6510 yards from the back tees, it's a very worthy challenge for players of any caliber. The course sits on a wonderful piece of land - you'll encounter every type of lie imaginable out here but shots off flat lies are pretty rare. This is also one of the finer walking courses in the country, some awkward routing notwithstanding.
As of this writing, Burlington is not listed as one of the top 100 Canadian golf courses and I'm absolutely baffled by this fact. If there are 100 courses better than Burlington in this country, I obviously need to get out more.
Burlington Golf and Country Club is a classic parkland test, designed by Canada's preeminent architect and sits comfortably between Toronto and the US/Canadian border. It features great land, lovely views and a demanding par 70 design that will delight and challenge players of every level. If you are offered a chance to play this incredibly underrated private club, it comes with my wholehearted recommendation.