3351 Niagara Pkwy, Niagara Falls, Ontario
Architect: Stanley Thompson
Par 72, 7019 Yards
Whirlpool Golf Course in Niagara Falls, Ontario is one of Canada’s most highly rated public courses and was designed by Stanley Thompson, the prolific Toronto architect behind 144 golf courses across Canada, 26 more in the US, and a handful scattered throughout Brazil, Jamaica, and Colombia.
The course is owned and operated by Niagara Parks and it certainly shows in the landscaping, which is rife with flowers and greenery set upon well-manicured grounds. To add to the visually pleasing surroundings is the fact that the course borders the stunningly beautiful Niagara Gorge and the rage of the whirlpool within. Undoubtedly, this course is a place for outstanding photos as well as a challenging game. Just how challenging is up to the player taking into account that there are five sets of tee boxes available – yellow, red, white, blue and gold, all providing a significant difference in yardage so it’s imperative that players choose their tee with care. Thankfully, Whirlpool provides a handy and fairly detailed course guide that depicts yardage and lays out the topography of each hole, making it easier for the player to decide.
Hole #1 is a long and narrow straight away Par 4 with one bunker on the left side of the fairway as well as several more on each side of the green which slopes back to front. Ideally, golfers will want to leave their ball short of the hole or face a nasty downhill putt that will likely roll off the green. Overall, a fairly easy shot if you can land it in the middle.
Hole#2 is another Par 4 and is Whirlpool’s signature hole. This was one of our favorites. Lined with trees on both sides, out of bounds on the left, and finishing among bunkers to the left and back, there is also the added obstacle of a pond and water fountain also to the right. The green is undulating and the distractions are many taking into account the impressive scenery as well as the roadway nearby and the sound of rushing water from the whirlpool directly across the road.
As a Par 3, Hole #3 changes the course direction so that it plays over the corner of the pond to a green that slopes back to front and is protected by bunkers on both sides. Again, this hole is quite scenic but provides much in the way of a challenge as players try to avoid overshooting the pin and ending up out of bounds. The difference in yardage is significant here between tee boxes. A theme that runs throughout the course is established at Hole #3 first, wherein the play is longer than it appears. Chances are that when picking your club, you’ll actually require the next one up.
Hole #4 is a Par 5 with a long fairway that doglegs slightly to the left and narrows as you approach the green. Getting to the pin entails avoiding several bunkers along the way and four more that surround the green along with a small pond at the back.
Another Par 5 follows on Hole #5, where once again bunkers are found approximately mid-point in the narrow fairway and again just before the green. And in this case, there are plenty, providing much sand to land in and chip your way out. To add to the level of difficulty, the green is elevated.
As of the 6th Hole, however, the fairway broadens considerably. Again the green features a series of bunkers, at the back and on both sides. However, the green itself is much larger than on the proceeding holes so it’s not quite as difficult to land the ball. This Par 3 is scenic for reasons other than landscaping – take a look beyond the tree line and you will quickly be reminded that you’re in Niagara Falls thanks to views of the Skylon Tower and a few skyscraper hotels.
Hole #7 provides a nice straightaway that features a wide variety of mature trees on either side and a green with bunkers at the back. The 8th and 9th holes are both fairly straight forward Par 4s, with the 8th featuring fewer bunkers and overall is slightly easier. Again on Hole #10, the shot is straight up the middle over an undulating fairway. Uncharacteristically, there is an absence of bunkers. A bit of an optical illusion exists with a swale in front of the green that assists in altering depth perception, but overall it’s an uncomplicated Par 4.
Hole#13 is appropriately a Par 5 taking into account that it ramps up the game much more than the preceding holes. The fairway is dogleg left with numerous bunkers strewn around both sides of the green, where ideally the ball should land. This takes some skill and effort to land on the green as opposed to in the plentiful sand. The course settles down again on Hole #15 which presents as Par 5 to another elevated green.
Hole #16 was indeed our favorite. This is short Par 4 with bunkers both short and long off the tee so no matter from where you tee off, there’s trouble. Your second shot is to an elevated green surrounded by beautiful, mature trees.
Players finish up their game with a Par 3 on Hole #17 followed by the shortest Par 5 on the course at Hole #18. This is uncharacteristic of a Stanley Thompson course considering his signature was to end on a Par 3. The fairway on #18 is effectively littered with bunkers and the left-hand side presents out of bounds with a row of trees. The green is then elevated and puts the clubhouse back in sight, just in time for a drink on the patio.
All told, the Whirlpool Golf experience is one of median difficulty and peak beauty. The clubhouse is fairly well stocked, and the onsite restaurant and patio offer a casual and friendly respite. Though the sound of helicopter tours flying over the falls is prevalent here and takes a bit of getting used to, the noise soon blends into the background as players progress with their round. Nevertheless, their presence, along with the beautiful Niagara gorge adjacent to the course is a reminder that you’re somewhere special. And the touristy environment explains why Whirlpool is in demand during the summer season.
Pricing is reasonable and ranges from $40 CDN to $85 CDN depending on the season and time of day you choose to play. Stay and Play packages are also offered that combine Whirlpool with yet another Niagara Parks course – Legends. The package deal provides accommodations at the Best Western Plus Cairn Croft. For more information, click HERE .
If you get the chance to play Whirlpool, by all means – do!
By Scott McAlpine
Photos by Chris Heighington