Gone Loonie? Splurge on the most expensive golf courses in Canada

Canada's most expensive public-access golf courses aren't cheap. There is a bright side, at least from a Yankee perspective.

The peak rate of Canada's most expensive public course -- the $239 rack rate at the Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course -- costs significantly less than America's two most expensive golf experiences: Shadow Creek in North Las Vegas ($500 plus a night at an MGM hotel) or Pebble Beach Golf Links ($495 plus a guaranteed two-night stay at Pebble Beach Resorts to book). Factoring in the strength of the U.S. dollar these days, Americans would be loony not to take advantage of the loonie this summer.

Golfers willing to pay a premium for golf in Canada tend to get something worthwhile in return. Of the 22 golf clubs featured in this story, Angus Glen Golf Club and Wooden Sticks and Silvertip were the only ones without a course in ScoreGolf Magazine's top 100 courses in Canada for 2014. Canada's top modern architect, Doug Carrick, designed seven of them, followed by Jack Nicklaus, who had four.

All the greens fees listed below are peak rack rates in Canadian dollars found on course Web sites. Golfers not willing to pay such rates can usually find a way around them by playing in the spring and fall, midweek and at twilight, or by booking stay-and-play packages.

1, Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course, Banff, Alberta
Fee: $239
Stanley Thompson -- Canada's answer to Donald Ross -- designed this 6,938-yard, par-71 classic in 1928. A third nine was added in 1989. One of the most famous holes in Canada, the par-3 fourth hole called Devil's Cauldron, sits in the shadow of Mount Rundle. Holes 9-14 run along the Bow River. The Fairmont Banff Springs -- the "Castle in the Rockies" -- towers above the trees throughout the day. The Telus Skins Game, a televised shootout held in Canada from 1993-2012, visited Banff Springs twice. John Daly beat Stephen Ames, Sergio Garcia, Nicklaus and Greg Norman in 2006, and Jhonattan Vegas upended Ames, Lucas Glover, Anthony Kim and Paul Casey in 2011.

2, Glen Abbey Golf Club, Oakville, Ontario
Fee: $235
The first solo design by Nicklaus, Glen Abbey Golf Club (dating to 1976) will host its 27th Canadian Open this summer. Tiger Woods (2000), Lee Trevino (1977, 1979), Norman (1984, 1992) and Nick Price (1991, 1994) are just a few of the famous winners. The club is also the headquarters of Golf Canada, the Canadian Golf Museum and Hall of Fame, and a TaylorMade Performance Lab.

3, Fox Harb'r Golf Resort & Spa, Wallace, Nova Scotia
Fee: $225
Nine years after opening in 2001, this Graham Cooke design hosted the 2009 Nike Golf Invitational, a nine-hole exhibition match featuring Woods, Charles Barkley and Hank Haney. The front nine at Fox Harb'r tours the forest and lakes before the final loop wanders into fescue-laden holes on the Northumberland Strait.

4, Bigwin Island Golf Club, Baysville, Ontario
Fee: $200
Bigwin Island Golf Club, located in Muskoka two hours north of Toronto, is essentially a 520-acre summer island playground for the rich, accessible only by a 10-minute boat ride or sea plane. The private club opens its doors in the spring and fall with public tee times ranging from $160-$200. Carrick transformed the island's dilapidated Thompson layout into a beautiful 7,166-yard course in 2001. The view from the 18th tee is simply breathtaking.

5, Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course, Jasper, Alberta
Fee: $199
Thompson's other masterpiece in the Canadian Rockies is Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course, a 6,663-yard, par-71 design built in 1925. Some swear the shape of the holes and greens mimic the movement of the surrounding snow-capped peaks. Elk, moose and bear regularly play through unsuspecting golfers. The Jasper Park Lodge exudes a rugged luxuriousness.

T-6, Eagles Nest Golf Club, Maple, Ontario
Fee: $195
In a unique foreign twist, many of Toronto's best daily fees (like Eagles Nest Golf Club) tend to charge higher rates during the week than on weekends. This 7,471-yard beast showcases the best of Carrick's dynamic bunkering and shaping.

T- 6, Stewart Creek Golf & Country Club, Canmore, Alberta
Fee: $195
Rushing streams, rock outcroppings and the occasional mine shaft make the 7,185-yard Stewart Creek a remarkable place to play in the Canadian Rockies. Canadian Gary Browning weaved a wonderful routing together in 2000 with panoramic views of the Three Sisters, Cascade, Pigeon and Ha Ling Mountains. The drivable par-4 14th hole requires a hero shot of 294 yards over wetland.

T-6, Cabot Links, Inverness, Nova Scotia
Fee: $195
Whitman's Cabot Links has shot up the world rankings since its debut on June 29, 2012. The opening of Cabo Cliffs by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore this summer will create one of North America's most sough-after links golf destinations. Golfers can stay at the 48-room Cabot Links Lodge.

9, Wooden Sticks, Uxbridge, Ontario
Fee: $190
Florida-based architect Ron Garl designed 12 tribute holes at Wooden Sticks, recreating the Postage Stamp par 3 at Royal Troon in Scotland, the church pew bunkers from Oakmont Country Club, the Road Hole at St. Andrews, the island green on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass and others.

T-10, South Course at Angus Glen Golf Club, Markham, Ontario
Fee: $180
The South Course at Angus Glen Golf Club, a traditional test of golf dating to 1995, held the 2002 Canadian Open, won by John Rollins. Carrick's original design underwent a 2013-14 renovation by the firm of Mackenzie & Ebert to resurface the greens, relocate and reconstruct bunkers, add new sand, redesign four holes (1, 3, 11 and 15) and convert areas of bluegrass into natural fescue.

T-10, Copper Creek, Kleinburg, Ontario
Fee: $180
Carrick brought out the best in the forest and natural surroundings a half-hour outside of Toronto. The 7,074-yard Copper Creek opened in 2002. A massive 40,000-square-foot clubhouse cares for golfers before and after the round.

12, Muskoka Bay Club, Gravenhurst, Ontario
Fee: $179
Carrick scored another Muskoka beauty in 2007 with the opening of 7,367-yard Muskoka Bay Club, although the narrow ninth hole, squeezed between the rock outcroppings, certainly has its critics. The Clifftop Clubhouse overlooks the first tee and 18th green.

T-13, Silvertip Resort, Canmore, Alberta
Fee: $175
Silvertip has some quirky holes, but the views are killer good. Hanging on the wall in my office is a portrait of me hitting a tee shot toward the "Three Sisters" mountain peaks when I played it in 2009. It's inspiring.

T-13, Taboo Muskoka, Gravenhurst, Ontario
Fee: $175
The setting at Taboo might be more rugged and beautiful than Muskoka Bay, but that also means it's more difficult to play. Garl tried to make the 7,370-yard course more playable by sculpting wide rolling fairways. Unfortunately, forced carries over wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas tend to torture high handicaps. Tee it forward here.

15, North Course at Angus Glen Golf Club, Markham, Ontario
Fee: $170
The 7,403-yard North Course at Angus Glen opened in style in 2001, hosting the Telus Skins Game won by Vijay Singh over Mike Weir, Sergio Garcia and David Duval. The fescue-covered dunes and treacherous sod-wall bunkers give this Carrick-Jay Morrish collaboration a linksy feel that's completely opposite the South Course. Davis Love III was brought in to toughen up the routing off the tee prior to the 2007 Canadian Open won by Jim Furyk. Love built new tees and tinkered with the fairway bunkering to create more demanding angles of attack.

16, Big Sky Golf & Country Club, Pemberton, British Columbia
Fee: $169 (includes $20 cart fee but not taxes)
I've never had more fun leaving a golf course than the day I played Big Sky, a 1993 Bob Cupp design in the shadow of Mount Currie. Not because I didn't enjoy the 7,001-yard course, which is constantly interrupted by seven lakes and meandering streams. A helicopter flight over the mountains made the journey back to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler so much more exciting than a car ride.

T-17, Ridge Course at Predator Ridge Resort, Vernon, British Columbia
Fee: $165
Predator Ridge rates as the premier golf destination in the Okanagan Valley, a wine-and-golf outpost in the interior of British Columbia. Carrick's Ridge Course, opened in 2010, goes long on scenery. The 7,090-yard, par-71 Predator Course, designed by Les Furber in 1991, is slightly less expensive at $145. Fred Couples and Weir played in both Telus Skins Games hosted on the Predator Course in 2000 and 2008.

T-17, Le Maitre Golf Club, Mont-Tremblant, Quebec
Fee: $165.
ClubLink, which sells national memberships for its portfolio of clubs throughout Canada, runs Le Maitre as a private club. Staying at certain resorts and hotels opens up access to the 7,025-yard course. Le Maitre (which translates from French as "The Master") doesn't possess the wild terrain of the other courses in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal. In 2001, Couples, with an assist from Cooke, Gene Bates and Darrell Huxham, built wider fairways on flatter ground. A pond featuring a landscaped waterfall separates the sixth green and 18th green. The region's best clubhouse sits on the ridge as a backdrop.

19, Rocky Crest Golf Club, Mactier, Ontario
Fee: $160
Canadian Thomas McBroom breaks Carrick's stranglehold with his first entry, the 6,931-yard Rocky Crest Golf Club, opened in 2000. It is another Muskoka favorite cut from the rocky Canadian Shield. ClubLink always runs a first-class operation.

T-20, Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club, Whistler, British Columbia
Fee: $159
Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club, a 6,635-yard mountain course, remains one of my favorite Robert Trent Jones Jr. designs. It opened in 1993. The holes climb and fall dramatically, thanks to 300 feet of elevation change. Watching downhill tee shots soar against a backdrop of mountain peaks and pines gets my juices flowing every time.

T-20, Valley and Mountain Courses at the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa, Victoria, British Columbia
Fee: $159
The older Mountain Course, designed by Nicklaus in 2003, can be ruthless in pummeling players unless their names are Weir, Couples, Retief Goosen, Ian Poulter or Camillo Villegas -- the five players who competed at the 2010 Telus Skins Game. It's beautiful, though, especially the extra par-3 hole in the middle of the routing that overlooks Victoria. The 6,807-yard, par-71 Valley Course brought relief in 2009. It plays much friendlier with more generous fairway, fewer bunkers and larger greens.

22, Nicklaus North, Whistler, British Columbia
Fee: $155
Nicklaus North -- a 6,961-yard, par-71 Nicklaus design set near the glacier-fed Green Lake -- serves up perhaps the best golf-and-clubhouse-dining combination in the country. The 1997 and 2005 Telus Skins Games with Nicklaus, Norman, Couples, Sir Nick Faldo, Singh, Daly and Ames were the biggest sporting events to hit Whistler until the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.

Editor's Note: Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club, a highly regarded semi-private course in British Columbia three hours from Vancouver, wasn't included in this story. It plans to reopen in 2016 after zoning and ownership issues are settled. Designed by Rod Whitman, Armen Suny and Dick Zokol, Sagebrush charges $199 for public tee times.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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