Golf with Niagara Parks is an experience that exists nowhere else in Canada. That’s because the three championship golf courses Whirlpool, Battlefield and Ussher’s Creek, located just minutes from Niagara Falls, were designed by arguably Canada’s three greatest golf course architects. They sit just 15 minutes apart along the magnificent Niagara River Parkway that then visiting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called “the prettiest drive in the world.”
Whirlpool opened in 1951. It sits on property bordered by the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and the School of Horticulture. It was created by Stanley Thompson, a Canadian Golf Hall of Famer who designed a myriad of Canada’s top courses including three of the country’s top 10, St. George’s, Capilano and Highland Links. A mentor to the great America architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Whirlpool was one of the last courses that Thompson built before his untimely death in 1953.
Located against the spectacular backdrop of the Niagara River, Whirlpool and Gorge, the Whirlpool Golf Course continues to be ranked as one of the top public golf courses in Canada and one of the very best values in golf. A local favourite, in addition to Stanley Thompson’s intuitive shaping and routing of the course, Whirlpool is a fine test of golf for players of every skill level and length off the tee. This 65-year old gem measures over 7,000 yards from the back tees and a gentle 5,200 yards from the front. Whirlpool features a magnificent stone and cedar clubhouse, reminiscent of the old railway hotel properties found across Canada, includes a classic wood-beamed pro shop and welcoming restaurant overlooking the 18th green. While the practice facilities at Whirlpool are limited to a short game area, it is a great place to work on putting, chipping, and bunker play.
The Battlefield and Ussher’s Creek courses are part of the massive Legends on the Niagara Golf Complex which also includes the nine-hole Chippawa course and a 360-degree driving range. In the early 1990s, there was a huge public outcry provoked by the possibility of a housing development on land where the 1814 Battle of Chippawa was fought. The Niagara Parks Commission, who own and operate Whirlpool and Legends, stepped in to preserve the property, buying the 170-acre battlefield and adjoining land. Before long, a neighbouring landowner offered them 300 acres and eventually the Commission ended up with 1,000 acres of beautiful rolling land along the Niagara River. Today that land is Legends on the Niagara and the 4th hole on the Battlefield course caresses the grounds of the 1814 battlefield. Doug Carrick and Tom McBroom, long-time rivals in Canadian golf course architecture, but both disciples of Stanley Thompson, teamed up for the first and only time in their careers to design the two courses Battlefield and Ussher’s Creek which opened in 2001. Between them, Thompson, McBroom and Carrick have designed more than 40 of the top 100 ranked golf courses in Canada.
Entering the property at Legends on the Niagara, a majestic one-kilometer driveway leads to the spectacular stone and cedar clubhouse and provides a glimpse of the 1,000 acres of meticulously manicured green space designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary in 2014. The interior of the Legends clubhouse was inspired by the image of a 19th century fort while incorporating all of the features of the very best contemporary clubhouses. Large expanses of glass throughout the clubhouse afford panoramic views of the golf course, a location that has proven immensely popular for major events including the 2004 LPGA Canadian Women’s Open played on the Battlefield course.
The Golf Academy at Legends on the Niagara covers an incredible 45-acres, the first 360-degree practice facility in Canada. The world-class facility features a wide range of bunkered target greens and fairways to create different golf course conditions, making practice or a warm-up session that much more meaningful. With its stunning layout, multiple manicured teeing grounds, practice bunkers and chipping areas, this is one of the best practice facilities anywhere. The adjoining 9-hole Chippawa course was jointly designed by architects McBroom and Carrick, the only collaboration of its kind in the world and a great test of golf for players of every ability.
Here’s a little exercise you can try after you play any of the Niagara Parks courses. Without using the scorecard see if you can describe each hole you played. You may not get every one of them, but if you can describe most of them then Thompson, McBroom or Carrick will have done their job. The real testament of a great golf course is how memorable it is from one hole to the next.
“Thompson was a master at creating variety on the golf course,” says Carrick. “He made each hole distinct. They had a distinct challenge and look. A lot of it had to do with how he patterned his bunkering and his approaches to greens and little things like setting greens on an elevation or down in a hollow. He was able to pick out the unique features of a site.”
Carrick and McBroom carried Thompson’s ‘make it memorable’ philosophy over to their courses at Legends on the Niagara. “Both Doug and I used very flashy bunkering to give the courses an aesthetic concept and visual appeal,” said McBroom. “I also had Ussher’s Creek running through the course I was doing at Legends on the Niagara, and I really worked that creek hard on at least six or seven holes in different strategic ways and that’s exactly what Stanley would have done.”
McBroom said that when Niagara Parks called for tenders to build Legends on the Niagara he suggested to Carrick that they work together. “I said there was nowhere else in Canada, and may never be, where there was a McBroom course, a Carrick course and a Thompson course all within minutes of each other and owned by the same client,” noted McBroom.
But don’t be intimidated by the pedigree of the designers of the three championship courses owned by Niagara Parks. All three are both fun and challenging for all skill levels. And they’re all located within minutes of Niagara Falls, major hotels, world-class wineries, and spectacular dining experiences. There really is no other golf destination in Canada quite like it.
Rick Janes is the Manager of Business Development for Niagara Parks Golf, a member of the PGA of Canada, and the past Commissioner of the Canadian Professional Golf Tour/PGA TOUR Canada.