Hamilton Golf & Country Club, or Ancaster as it is known locally, is located on land which once known as Grange Farm and it is set most beautifully in elegant, heavily wooded seclusion.
There are three loops of nine holes at Hamilton, called South, West and East and the championship layout comprises of the West (front nine) and South (back nine). Although Hamilton’s club history can be traced back to 1894, the West and South were designed as two nine-hole courses by Harry S. Colt and both loops formally opened for play in 1916. Robbie Robinson added the East nine in 1975. According to his website, Rees Jones was involved in a 1982 redesign here at Hamilton, but we don't know precisely what was implemented.
Hamilton first hosted the Canadian Open in 1919 and Atlanta’s Douglas Edgar posted a course record score of 66 on his way to winning the title, pushing Bobby Jones into second place (the 1919 event was Bobby's first and last Canadian Open). When the Canadian Open returned to Hamilton in 1930, Tommy Armour shot a six-under-par 64 to set another course record which stood until 1991 when Warren Sye, posted an amazing 62 on his way to claim the Ontario Men's Amateur Championship.
Bob Tway won the 2003 Canadian Open at Hamilton Golf and Country Club and Jim Furyk won the 2006 title after England’s Justin Rose fell away in the final round. America's Scott Piercy won the 2012 Canadian Open at Hamilton, beating fellow countrymen Robert Garrigus and William McGirt by a single shot.
I had dreamed about playing Hamilton G&CC ever since I first stepped foot on the golf course in 2003, the year the club hosted the Canadian Open for the first time in over 70 years.
I finally got the opportunity to play this highly-esteemed Harry S. Colt course on a cold, dreary day in mid-May.
The course sits on a dramatic piece of property on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment and is a classic, parkland design.
After a benign start, your pulse starts racing on the 3rd hole, a 408 yard par four. The hole is an absolute stunner, with an elevated tee shot that is hit down to a two-tiered fairway that is lined by trees on both sides. From there, you have to navigate a creek that runs through the fairway about 100 yards from the green, with the putting surface sitting well above fairway grade, making the approach, shown below, play about one club longer than the yardage. The green slopes sharply from back right to front left and is protected by bunkers in front and behind. A world-class hole, one that sets the tone for the entire day.
Other highlights include the 5th hole, a 318 yard par four that can be driven by the longest of players. This little harlot plays well uphill with bunkers lining the entire right side of the fairway right up to the large green. You can layup if you choose with a long iron or hybrid but you may be left with a partially blind approach over the bunkers. Or if you pull your shot left, you will have to hit your approach from a sidehill/downhill lie, not an easy task with the deep bunkers on the right staring you in the face. I really think the play is to pull the big dog out and aim a bit left, as there is room up near the green on that side and it actually opens up the pitch shot approach, something you can really see in the photos below. The green is large and inviting but likely sees a lot of three putts. Really cool hole and very aesthetically pleasing.
The 10th hole is a 392 yard par four that plays from an elevated tee near the gorgeous clubhouse to a fairway that slopes sharply from left to right away from the bunker. It's a visually impressive hole but it's here that one of the major issues at Hamilton becomes quite apparent - many of Colt's bunkers are positioned well into the rough and away from the short grass, allowing players to bomb tee balls with abandon. Over the years, I'm sure the mowing lines have narrowed considerably in an effort to artificially toughen the golf course. It's a terrible look, to be completely frank, and one I hope is addressed by their greens committee in the future. I also think it's counterproductive and likely makes the course easier as opposed to making it more difficult.
The 11th may be one of the stronger holes on the course, a 481 yard brute that doglegs from right to left. The approach is back uphill and will likely necessitate a long iron or fairway metal, not an easy proposition to a green protected by a bunker front right and also protected by some interesting internal green contours.
The course finishes strong - the 16th hole is the shortest on the entire golf course, a par three of only 185 yards. The shot is entirely uphill and there is some extra visual deception in that the front right bunker sits at least 15 yards in front of the green, making the hole seem shorter than it actually is.
The 17th is a tremendous par five measuring 548 yards. You have to cross the creek and while it doesn't seem far away, it's not an easy hazard to clear, especially on this day with the wind blowing hard in our face. The hole plays steadily uphill the entire way and the layup is no bargain, with cross bunkers offering a great challenge to your accuracy. The green is open in front and if you bomb one off the tee you have a chance to get home in two with a perfect approach.
Finally, you hit the iconic 18th hole at Hamilton, a tremendous finisher that can challenge the world's best. It's a brute at 442 yards and you have to be careful with your drive on this downhill tee shot, as the winding creek actually comes into play when the wind is helping, perhaps necessitating a fairway metal off the tee or a long iron for the tour player. The approach shot is played uphill to a green that is long and relatively narrow and also protected by a number of bunkers.
The course is not perfect - a number of the holes look and feel similar, with holes like #3 and #12 sharing many of the same characteristics. The par three 6th and 8th holes also seem strangely similar. There is also a lot of repetition with the terrain, with countless downhill tee shots followed by uphill approaches, a concept that adds to the course's flair but showcases a lack of variety in the routing. That all said, the biggest weakness at Hamilton, in my opinion, is the tired and inconsistent bunker styles and aesthetics.
At one time, Hamilton was considered by many to be a perennial contender for world top 100 lists but the course in its current form falls short for me. However, the bones at Hamilton are among the best in Canadian golf. The club recently hired the firm of Mackenzie and Ebert and I hope that the club goes through with a full restoration effort to bring back Colt's trademark style. Regardless, there is no question that Hamilton is still one of the finest experiences in Canadian golf.
My full blog post and Hamilton pictorial is here: http://nowonthetee.blogspot.com/2010/06/hamilton-golf-country-club.html
It’s a crazy idea to think that Harry Colt made his way to Canada back in the day, but sure enough he graces a few courses over here. Hamilton Golf & Country Club is one of them.
Hamilton for me is an unlikely candidate for Colt although the landscape does slightly make one think of St. George’s Hill in England. The course plays out over a valley and up a fairly steep hill on the other side. It then works itself back and forth off this hill and around it with a series of holes playing from elevated tees down to fairways and back up to greens nestled in the hillside – a unique routing for Colt. It’s noteworthy that the original design has been significantly tinkered with. Unfortunately, not for the better with the addition of several un-Colt-like bunkers that don’t do the course justice given their modern style. There may have also been a few greens altered in the process. It’s a shame given Colt’s immense stature as one of the golf’s greats. One day I believe Hamilton will be led in the right direction to thoughtfully renovate and rejuvenate the wonderful bones that Colt presented them with.
There are several excellent holes here but the holes play away from and back up to the clubhouse were my favorites. 1, 9, 10 and 18 are all excellent holes playing up to greens after elevated heroic tee shots provided interesting challenges to start the holes.
The 18thplays up to a green set in a natural amphitheater perfect for tournament play.
The 18thgreen is even complete with its own rope tow helping pull you back up the steep slope to the club house. The first rope tow I’ve ever encountered in golf.
Despite the mentioned shortcomings Hamilton is a really fun course however, by far the best part of the day was the great company I had as I managed to finally connect with a friend from Canada for the round. It was a perfect setting for this.