When it comes to golf courses, not every course can be Pine Valley. Or Cypress Point. Or Shinnecock Hills. Or Sand Hills. Or Pacific Dunes. Or any of the other top 100 courses on Golfweek’s Best Classic and Modern courses lists.
But it also doesn’t mean that if a course isn’t on one of those prestigious lists, it is a terrible course.
So when PGA Tour player Zac Blair received a bit of backlash for calling Glen Abbey Golf Club, the host for this week’s RBC Canadian Open, “um… OK,” he wasn’t just being honest. He was also being fair and accurate.
Blair didn’t call Glen Abbey bad. He didn’t say it was the worst courses he’s ever played. He just said it was OK, which means, by definition, “satisfactory but not exceptionally or especially good.”
According to Golfweek’s rating system, Blair is right.
In ranking all the Tour courses in 2017-18, Glen Abbey, a 1976 Jack Nicklaus design, slotted 36th out of the 55 courses with Golfweek ratings, at 6.28. To put into perspective, that’s almost a full point higher than No. 55 Keene Trace (5.43) yet more than three points lower than No. 1 Shinnecock Hills (9.37).
Back in 2016, the last time Golfweek did a ranking of modern courses in Canada, Glen Abbey ranked 32nd at 6.41. The top-rated course was Cabot Cliffs (8.47) while Deer Ridge Golf Club (6.17) was No. 40.
As far as we’re concerned, a rating in the 6s and ranking in the 30-40 range is “OK” – not great, but definitely not poor.
Glen Abbey has some unique holes, including the 17th, which features a kind of U-shaped green guarded heavily by bunkers. It also is great for spectator viewing, something Nicklaus has been known for when designing courses (think Muirfield Village), and tournament logistics.
And Glen Abbey can also claim some great moments in Canadian Open history, having now hosted it 30 times, the first time being 1977 when Lee Trevino won. Those moments include this one from Tiger Woods in 2000:
But from a purely architectural standpoint, Glen Abbey isn’t a juggernaut – or anything close. To be fair, most courses on Tour aren’t.
“Ninety percent of the time we play courses that strategically don’t make any sense, or they’re at best uninteresting,” Geoff Ogilvy told Golfweek earlier this year.
Added Blair in that same article: “We play four or five each year that are very solid. Most of the others are pretty weak, honestly.”
Now, discussing the merits of Glen Abbey right now can be a bit of a sore subject. The course’s future is uncertain as possible development on the property looms. The Canadian Open has also moved away from Glen Abbey indefinitely – maybe forever – as Hamilton Golf and Country Club, a Harry S. Colt design ranked fifth on Golfweek’s Best 2016 Canadian Classic Courses list at 7.36, will host its sixth Canadian Open next season. (Colt’s impressive portfolio includes Muirfield, Royal Portrush and Sunningdale.)
But to criticize Blair for being something everyone wants Tour pros to be – honest – is wrong. Plus, he did compliment the course’s conditioning.
“The course is in really good shape, which is always nice and that’s really all you can ask,” Blair said. “It’s going over to Hamilton next year, which sounds like a pretty neat spot, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Hamilton is certainly an improvement over Glen Abbey, but it won’t be in many people’s top 10s, either. Again, that’s not a bad thing. Because of many reasons, from distance limitations to lack of space for grandstands, the Tour can’t play every week at a classic gem (ex. try hosting a Tour event at Chicago Golf Club). Now, it would be nice to see more courses like Trinity Forest added to the rotation, but that’s a different issue.
We’re talking about a Tour pro being called out for being honest – and right.
So the next time when Blair or someone else calls an “OK” course just that, try not to take it personal. He’s not calling it Goat Track Downs or Divot Golf and Country Club.