There are only two Tom Fazio golf courses in Canada: The National and Coppinwood. Both are located in the GTA and both deserve to be considered among the best in the nation. But it’s The National Golf Club of Canada that has earned the reputation of being one of the toughest tests in our country. Since opening in 1974, it has also been considered the best across the land. The question is…is it?
Revered among golfers in the Great White North, many who have had the good fortune of a round at “The Nash” call it this lands finest. It says a lot about a golf course when even those who have never set foot on the property — let alone played the course or even know where it’s located — have no problem proclaiming it our country’s best. It says even more, though, when those who finally get to visit walk away with the same feelings they had walking into the experience.
There’s no disputing The National as one of Canada’s absolute best golf courses, but we don’t think it’s the best. To be clear, we are not criticizing The National. We think it’s easily top 10 in the nation up there with the likes of St. Georges, Highlands Links, Hamilton, Capilano, Cabot Links etc. But is it the best?
It all comes down to taste (doesn’t it always?).
We’re fans of classic style courses while The National is a very modern design, even though it’s now over 40 years old. Designed by Tom Fazio and his uncle George, it is everything you would expect of a modern golf course. It’s also a penal golf course modeled in the framework of the penal school of architecture. The 4th hole is a perfect example.
A par-5 measuring 600 yards from the back tee, miss right and you’re in a water hazard, miss left and hello fairway bunker with a recovery shot blocked by a large willow tree. There’s one shot required of you on this hole and that’s straight down the middle. When it comes to the green, we don’t think we’ve seen a more difficult complex on a more difficult hole. Or is it we’ve never had such a complex on such a difficult hole? All the same, it’s difficult.
That is the story for most of the course — it’s an exacting test demanding nothing but the best with every swing. For me, this means less strategy. Why? Because what’s required of you is generally one-dimensional — hit it straight and hit it here or else.
That’s not to say there aren’t interesting holes. On the front nine, the 3rd hole is well overlooked by many with its downhill approach shot to a tilted green. We had fun running approach shots up the right side of the fairway trying to narrowly avoid the green side bunker. You also have the 7th, which swings its way around a gully on the left, and the 9th with its skyline green.
The back nine is what really makes The National though. From the 10th hole on, the golfer drops into a valley working in and out of some of the best golf terrain anywhere in Canada. The 11th may very well be one of the best par-4s you’ll ever play, and as the back nine continues to unfold, it’s just one great hole after another.
The National is great from a perspective of championship golf as defined these days by the USGA and how it sets up a U.S. Open golf course. It tests every facet of your game and demands you keep the pedal to the metal. You cannot take for granted what’s ahead of you here, and when you do, The National will beat you up.
We can handle this style of golf in doses, but we wouldn’t want to play here everyday. We prefer options, choices and strategic variety. With all that said, we respect The National for being one of the greatest at what it’s trying to be and that is one of Canada’s most difficult golf courses.
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