Too few Americans head north for golf.
Growing up in a small Michigan city that shares a bridge with Canada, I learned to despise Canadian drivers who don't understand our turn lanes. But as a golf writer, I learned to love the fairways they drive every summer. Canada's vast wilderness offers some of the most pristine natural golf courses in the world.
Let's dissect the ins and outs of Canada's 10 best golf destinations:
Canadian Rockies, Alberta
Top golf courses: Banff Springs Golf Club, Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course, Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club, Silvertip Golf Resort.
Characteristics: The sheer majesty of the mountains will inspire. The two iconic Fairmont resort hotels, the massive castle-like Banff Springs and the rustic Jasper Park Lodge, are worth visiting even for non-golfers. Their classic Stanley Thompson designs are two of the top 10 courses in all of Canada. I saw multiple bear and elk while playing Jasper Park. Sadly, massive flooding last summer destroyed two of the region's best courses at the Kananaskis Country Golf Course, which may never recover.
Drawback: It's a long, albeit beautiful, drive of four hours on the Icefields Parkway between the two Fairmonts.
Whistler, British Columbia
Top golf courses: Whistler Golf Club, Big Sky Golf and Country Club, Nicklaus North Golf Club, Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club.
Characteristics: This mountain getaway several hours north of Vancouver hosted the skiing portion of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Stirring golf accompanies the slopes. At Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s Fairmont Chateau, drives off of elevated tees seem to float forever against the backdrop of pines. Nicklaus North feels like a classic country club. Arnold Palmer's Whistler Golf Club sits right in the walkable village, home to dozens of bars and restaurants. On the drive up from Vancouver on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, stop at Furry Creek Golf Club, a dynamic but quirky layout.
Drawback: Big Sky, a Robert Cupp design in the shadow of Mount Currie, is a bit more isolated, 45 minutes away in Pemberton.
Vancouver/Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Top golf courses: The Valley Course and Mountain Course at Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa, Olympic View Golf Club, Highland Pacific.
Characteristics: Staying in Victoria is a great way to play golf and experience this delightful city. Seaplanes and boat traffic keep the harbor buzzing with activity. Vancouver's a great city, too, although most of its best public courses reside on its outskirts (notably Westwood Plateau Golf & Country Club and the 36-hole Northview Golf & Country Club).
Drawback: Getting to the northern golf outposts of the island, Storey Creek and Crown Isle, requires much effort.
Prince Edward Island
Top golf courses: The Links at Crowbush Cove, Mill River Golf Course, Dundarave Golf Club, Brudenell River Golf Course.
Characteristics: More than 30 courses call "The Gentle Island" home. The beaches and a laid-back island lifestyle draw all sorts of tourists. Rodd Hotels and Resorts owns and operates the four courses above, spread across three nice properties. Crowbush Cove, with its coastal views, reigns as the best. Look into the Glasgow Hills Resort and Golf Club and Andersons Creek Golf Club as well.
Drawback: The only minor complaint would be a lack of wow factor outside of Crowbush Cove.
Top golf courses: Bigwin Island Golf & Country Club, Highlands Course at Deerhurst Resort, Taboo Golf Club, Muskoka Bay Club, Rocky Crest Golf Club.
Characteristics: The rocky Canadian Shield adds a dramatic element to the golf courses in "cottage country" two hours north of Toronto. It all started with the Highlands, built in 1990. As private clubs, Bigwin Island, an island course that requires a five-minute boat ride to reach, and Muskoka Bay do have some restrictions on public play.
Drawback: Bugs can be troublesome at certain times of the year.
Top golf courses: Copper Creek Golf Club, Glen Abbey Golf Club, Angus Glen Golf Club, Wooden Sticks Golf Club, Osprey Valley Golf Club.
Characteristics: Several dozen top daily-fee and semi-private golf clubs surround Canada's largest and most populous city. Most of them sit too far out of bounds in the suburbs, however, to catch a Blue Jays game after a round (Copper Creek 35 minutes from downtown is an exception). The notoriety of ClubLink's Glen Abbey in Oakville, Jack Nicklaus' first solo design in the 1970s, stems from hosting so many Canadian Opens. The 2017 tournament will be its 29th time. North of Toronto lie Wooden Sticks, featuring 12 replica holes in Uxbridge, and Osprey Valley's three Doug Carrick designs (Heathlands Links, Hoot and Toot) in Alton.
Drawback: The green fees at peak times can feel a bit inflated at certain places.
British Columbia's Interior
Top golf courses: Tobiano, The Ridge Course and Predator Course at Predator Ridge Resort, Salmon Arm Golf Club, Greywolf Golf Course.
Characteristics: Rugged Canadian wilderness equals great golf. Kamloops, located at the confluence of two branches of the Thompson River near Kamloops Lake, boasts a half-dozen or so courses, including the acclaimed Tobiano. The Okanagan Valley is close enough, or far enough away (about two hours), to be combined with Kamloops or be an entirely separate trip. More than 35 courses populate this wine region that skirts Okanagan Lake.
Drawback: Since it's five hours away from the Okanagan, the spectacular Greywolf in Panorama might be better off fitting into a trip to the Canadian Rockies (it's 2 and a half hours southwest of Banff Springs in Alberta).
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Top golf courses: Cabot Links, Highlands Links, Bell Bay Golf Club.
Characteristics: Diehard golfers have long journeyed to remote Ingonish Beach to reach Highlands Links, a Thompson masterpiece more than a five-hour trek from the Halifax International Airport. A restoration remains ongoing to return Highlands Links to its glory days. In 2012, the opening of Cabot Links in Inverness about 2 and a half hours to the south on the opposite shore of the island suddenly made this tiny island a full-fledged destination. Five holes of linksy Cabot Links hug the beach and all the rest look out upon the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Cabot Cliffs, just the sixth course on the island, opened for preview play on Canada Day, 2015.
Drawback: Besides all the driving between the airport and the courses, the island lacks quality accommodations as well.
Mont Tremblant, Quebec
Top golf courses: Le Maitre, Le Geant, Le Diable, La Bete.
Characteristics: The mountains that provide such great ski runs sometimes can be too severe for golf holes. La Bete and Le Geant have a couple of goofy holes cut through the rocky terrain, but the scenery is so good, it's easy to forgive such design flaws. Le Maitre, a private ClubLink facility, offers stay-and-plays through several local hotels such as the Fairmont Tremblant.
Drawback: Golfers might get paired with somebody who doesn't speak English in this French-leaning province.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Top golf courses: Whirlpool Golf Course, the Battlefield Course and Ussher's Creek Course at Legends on the Niagara, Grand Niagara Golf Club
Characteristics: Niagara Falls still attracts more honeymooners than golfers, but there are enough quality courses to make a golf widow of any wife. Legendary Canadian architect Stanley Thompson designed his final course here, Whirlpool Golf Course, on a gorgeous piece of land beside the Niagara River banks. It's 18 of 63 holes run by Niagara Parks, who operate the impressive 45-hole Legends on the Niagara complex, where modern-day Canadian architects Doug Carrick and Thomas McBroom have layouts. Endless activities entertain away from the course -- the hokey museums, arcades and attractions along the strip; Maid of the Mist tours of the falls; casinos; 60 wineries within 15 miles and more.
Drawback: Only John Daly, who designed the area's Thundering Waters, has attempted hitting a golf ball over the falls. Wouldn't that be a great attraction to add?