Of the near fifty North American golf course projects that Walter J Travis was involved in during his relatively short career as an architect, only three took place north of the International Boundary that separates Canada from the USA – a Grand 'Mere redesign in 1911 plus new courses for Lookout Point in 1921 and Cherry Hill a year later.
As the name suggests, Lookout Point lies at one of the most elevated local positions on the Niagara Escarpment, just ten miles west of the world famous Niagara Falls, and its imposing new clubhouse offers panoramic views of the surrounding forested terrain and the distant Niagara Falls skyline.
This parkland course measures a modest 6,617 yards from the back pegs, configured with four par threes and four par fives. These short and long holes are all played during the opening twelve holes – an indication of the fairways fitting into the landscape instead of conforming to a preordained formula – so a round at Lookout Point concludes with half a dozen par fours.
The opening hole of each nine falls over 120 feet from the escarpment and mounds of between 6 and 8 feet in height then separate fairways on the lower level. Respected Canadian architect Ian Andrew has restored greens at holes 7 to 9, 10, 12, 16 and 18 in recent years.
Lookout Point, situated on top of the Niagara escarpment, with a dazzling view of the Niagara region is the charming, bold and tough design of Walter Travis. Celebrating its centennial anniversary in 2022, Lookout Point has everything a great course needs to standout.
The features that make Lookout Point so special are the beautiful natural contours in the fairways, unique mounding’s sticking out of the rough, fantastic Walter Travis greens with many steeply sloped edges, and the great use of the bold terrain. While not long by modern standards (6700 from the back tees) Lookout Point is a real challenge with its variety of Par 3’s, short and very long Par 4’s and the sometimes wild green complexes on its Par 5’s.
Walter Travis only designed 3 courses in Canada, the lovely Cherry Hill Club, Grand Mere (Quebec) and Lookout Point. All three are exceptional in their own ways and are so very different from each other. The one standout point that remains constant between all three are the incredible greens of Walter Travis.
The opening hole of each nine at Lookout Point starts at the top of the escarpment and offers incredible vistas of the Niagara region and holes 18, 1, 10 (overlooking the course from left to right). The steep drop, over 100 feet, is an incredible thrill from the tee. As you bomb your drive down into the valley the ball seemingly goes forever. Avoid the rough and its tall mounding’s, and trees which outline each hole on all three of these Par 4’s (1, 10, 18). Those fortunate to hit the fairway on the 1st have a relatively straightforward approach to one of the easier greens on the course.
The second is a great Par 3, playing 175, this longer Par 3 plays slightly downhill from this back tee to a green with bunkers flanking the front portion of the green and bushes right at the back edge of the green. No room to go long and short is a very tough up and down. Small intricate ripples in the green leave tricky reads for most putts.
The 3rd hole is the first Par 5 on the course. Beginning at the back tee the drive must shoot through a narrow tunnel of trees to reach the fairway. Well-placed bunkers and the thick rough on either side of the fairway catch most stray tee shots. Since this is a short Par 5, the option to go for it in two is available. However, those opting to play short and down the left side of the fairway will have the best chance at birdie. The green is long and narrow, it requires a very precise shot to avoid the steeply banked sides of the green which are mowed down creating extremely challenging chip shots.
Hole 4 is a beast of a Par 4. At 465 yards, the longest Par 4 on the course, plays uphill from tee to green. Avoiding the mounding’s and trees on either side of the hole an up and down is the most likely route to a par here.
The short Par 3 5th is, in my opinion, the most challenging Par 3 on course if you miss the green. Bunkers and mounding’s on either side of the green are tricky to navigate, short a large grass bunker like area penalizes misses off the tee, and the green surface is rounded on all sides to shoot balls off the putting surface. Pin point precision required.
Hole 6 is a bit of a rollercoaster ride from tee to green, the fairway navigates through two small valleys’ before reaching the green. The green is a Biarritz like template with the swale through the middle dividing the front and back tier from each other. The safe play is short, long is once again a dead play with large trees overhanging much of the rough back here making up and downs nearly impossible.
The 7th hole is a beautiful par 5 dogleg left that goes up and across the side of the escarpment. Everything runs from right to left here. Trees line both sides of the fairway and bunkers on the inside of the dog leg may catch some tee shots or punch outs for those who stray right off the tee. The ideal tee shot favours the centre of the fairway enabling some players to challenge this green in two. Staying on the high right side of this fairway provides a good angle into this very tricky green. Everything on the green is deceptive, nothing breaks the way you think it does. Seeing other putts and trusting that everything breaks away from the escarpment is your best bet here.
Hole’s 8 and 9 are my least favourite holes on the property. From viewing the original routing of the course, I think these are holes 17 and 18. But it is hard to tell if they how much they have been altered. 8 is a Par 3 that plays blind to the green uphill. 9 is another short Par 5 which if you miss on the right side into the trees feels extremely awkward to approach your next shot. The small practice chipping area and parking lot border the left side of this hole towards the green as well.
From the tee on 10, the golfer descends into the valley once again. Another steep drop down the hill to a fairway canted from right to left has virtually zero flat lies. The approach shot is one of the toughest on the course. The green is cut into a small hillside with a large valley fronting the putting surface, don’t come up short. Going long is not an option either, as beyond the green, a small hidden bunker is found. All shots long of the green will probably end up in the valley in front of the green as this green slopes front to back quite a bit. Take a look back up the hill for a beautiful view of the clubhouse.
11 is the longest Par 3 on the course. This downhill tee shot is bordered by out of bounds right. The green, which falls off in every direction, is protected by two bunkers on the left and two bunkers on the right, and a gully in front. One of the most picturesque holes on the course full of great looking holes.
The final Par 5 on the course is the 12th which borders the property line all the way down the right side of the hole. A straightforward Par 5 which has a small creek running across the hole around 90 yards short of the green. The only question here is to go for it or lay back.
13 begins my favourite 3-hole stretch at Lookout Point. The 453-yard par 4 13th hole is one of the most picturesque holes on the course. Using the natural features of the land, tee shots must carry a valley with a pond to reach the top of an elevated fairway. The fairway has a gully on the left and another in front of the green. The approach shot is to one of the smallest and most difficult greens which is protected by two bunkers on either side.
Fourteen is another picturesque long and tight Par 4 with some more of that beautiful Travis signature mounding. A tee shot favouring the left side of the fairway opens the green slightly as it is shaped a wee bit to the right when playing down the right side or middle of the fairway.
Who likes centreline (ish) trees!? I do! The 15th is a stunning golf hole, measuring just 334 yards, this short Par 4 provides plenty of options off the tee. From the tee another grass bunker like area, with some more signature mounding is found in the middle of the fairway. There is also a large tree lined up down the right side of the fairway and needs to be avoided at all costs. Carrying this area and playing down the middle or left side of the fairway is best. The putting surface is also very tricky, the green is sloped right to left and back to front with shaved down steep edges pushing balls off the putting surface on all sides.
16 and 17 route the golfer back towards the clubhouse through the very middle of the valley property. Both holes are Par 4’s and play in the same general direction. 16 is a short Par 4 which rides down and up a gully, most players can play to the top of this to have a level shot into the green site. 17 is the final long par 4 on the course where a long straight drive puts a mid-iron in hand on the approach. The green has bunkers left and right and a false front. There is also a run-off area that wraps around behind the bunkers and the back of the green.
The finisher at Lookout Point is a great final test of your golf game. The short Par 4 says 321 yards from the tee but the approach plays up the steep hillside into the escarpment. From the tee the fairway appears generally flat/canted right to left but anything to the centre right will kick right and down into the first cut or rough. Avoiding the mounding’s and bunkers on all sides of the fairway is key here to have a good chance to get on in two. The green is fairly small for a blind uphill approach and is very challenging to determine where the flag sits. Being below the hole is key here. Sloped severely from back to front anything beyond the pin is in danger of running off the green on the way back down.
Overall Lookout Point is worthy of a 4 and ½ score on Top 100 Golf Courses. This along with Walter Travis’ Cherry Hill Club are the best courses in this region of Ontario and even those in the Buffalo area. It is a great golden age architecturally rich golf course with the natural contours that are hard to come by today that make this place so special. Anyone playing the course will recognize how great Lookout is and can appreciate the creativity that went into this place.