A discussion of the best Municipal Golf Courses in Canada would not be complete without King’s Forest Golf Course, a City of Hamilton course from 1973. In typical municipal fashion, journeyman landscape architect Matt Broman, who at one point was a disciple of Stanley Thompson, laid out King’s Forest over a hilly piece of land on the side of the escarpment.
The opening hole sets the tone for King’s Forest: a dramatic 445-yard par 4 tumbling down a hillside and bending to the right.
Playing off the escarpment, the approach shots bias is a draw with the fairway slightly canted to the left. The green complex is low profile and lowkey.
The par 4, 2nd is a middle length par 4 at 407 yards, playing slightly uphill. Aside from the creek (which shouldn’t be in play) the tee shot doesn’t have a bunker in play and favours a draw.
The green complex is wonderfully cut into a hillside and is an exciting approach shot.
The 3rd is a longer par 4 heading back down the hillside. At 437 yards, less than driver may potentially be the play in order to keep you short of the creek.
The green location is strong, situated behind a creek, and provides a wonderful look at yet another smart green site selection.
The first par 5 at King’s Forest is a short, 507 yarder jarring into the upslope. It’s a pretty tight tee shot.
For the big hitter, they may be able to get up the hill, but for the majority of people it’ll be a slightly uphill second shot.
The green is exceptionally well protected, with a bunker left, right and in the middle. For a 507-yard par 5, this will certainly add a bit of difficulty, and keep the golfer alert.
After falling down the hill on holes 1 and 3, we again work our way off the escarpment with the monster 248-yard par 3, 5th. The majority of difficulty here comes from the length.
The green complex is situated in a punchbowl of sorts, with mounding wrapped around the sides and the back akin to some of Stanley Thompson’s architecture.
The 6th is the second par 5 on the front, and yet again, a shorter one at 525 yards. But in the same way the 5th slammed into the upslope, the 7th confronts it head on, too. The tee shot is incredibly tight, and frankly, pretty awkward.
The second shot continues to climb and will likely greet golfers with a blind second.
Another well-bunkered green, it’s open in the front, allowing the gambling golfer to get home in two.
The routing at King’s Forest is interesting with an unusual pacing of a 4-4-4 start, and then 5-3-5-3. Another longer par 3 at the 7th measuring 192 yards, as opposed to the 5th, this par 3 requires a full carry to the green to avoid the big bunker short left.
The 407-yard, par 4 8th is another tight tee shot at King’s Forest, but features some great rolling land from the tee.
I’d say the green complex is quite peculiar, with a grass hummock short and a bunker left. The green complex is quite long and narrow, too.
A closer look at the green complex.
Heading back to the clubhouse, the 424 yard par 4, 9th continues the trend of good golfing land with wonderful rolling terrain.
From the bottom of the valley, the approach plays uphill, but it’s a rather nondescript iron shot in.
In similar fashion to the opening nine, the inward loop starts with a long par 4 at 448 yards. Like the 1st, the fairway slopes to the left.
The approach shot plays to a long, skinny green.
The 395-yard par 4, 11th dives back down into the bottom of the property. A cool hole, however, it’s completely choked by trees. Given the dramatic landforms tree removal would show off the exciting piece of land even more.
The approach shot is a bit tame compared to the tee ball with a pond short right.
At the bottom of the valley, the 405-yard par 4, 12th doglegs to the right through a chute of trees.
I quite like the simplicity of the strategies presented on the 12th with the bunker on the short left side of the green asking the golfer to play to the inside corner of the dogleg for the better angle. In the modern game, it might not be as important, but in the 70’s, when King’s Forest opened, it was likely something to think about.
The 13th is likely my vote for the best hole at King’s Forest thanks to the tidy strategies employed by the creek the golfer plays across on the first hole. Off the tee, the creek is tough to see, but the bridge gives it away.
For those who are longer off the tee less than driver is better. With the angle of the creek, those who flirt up the left will have less real estate to work with—but a shorter club in—while those up the right have more room off the tee, but a longer second shot in on this 453-yard par 4.
The approach shot will play over the creek, but shouldn’t come into play. The two bunkers (one left, one right) will, however.
The 14th is a rather low-profile par 3 playing over a marsh on the left. The green looks small, but it’s bigger (slightly) than what it appears from the tee decks.
A closer look at the green complex.
Heading back up the hillside, the shortest par 5 at 491 yards is a good chance at birdie.
The hole is S-shaped favouring a draw from the tee and then a fade coming home. On the approach, you’re still climbing uphill.
Like the first par 5, the green has a bunker left, right and in the middle, requiring the aerial approach in.
I love the view looking back — the long views of the hilly area and the infrastructure beautifully illustrate municipal golf. For some, this might be a detractor. However, I think it adds character.
Heading across the entrance road for the second and final time, the 420-yard par 4, 16th plays over more wonderfully rolling topography. A rather narrow fairway, coming in from the right side of the fairway is ideal.
The green complex wraps around the front left bunker making one of the most interesting approach shots during the round.
The 203-yard par 3, 17th is a meaty hole playing to a small green. To be honest, the hole feels small compared to the scale of the property. With the massive hillside to the golfers right, the hole needs to be big. It feels a bit out of place.
To finish the round the 555-yard par 5, 18th plays across the most interesting rolling contours of the day.
Landing on the downslope and playing slightly downhill, the final hole encourages a big tee shot. For those who rise to the occasion, a chance to get home in two awaits. However, a full carry to the green is asked for, with a bunker left or right. For those who layup (as the majority of us will do), you’ll most likely end up in the valley the fairway rolls over.
Coming up for the third shot the green complex is wonderfully situated in a natural amphitheater — a nice finish to a strong golf course.
Without a doubt King’s Forest is a treat to play and amongst the better municipal golf courses in Canada. Is it the best? Not for me. The biggest issue with King’s Forest is the tame green complexes, which don’t really provide any interest. It’s more of a ball-strikers golf course—and that’s fine—but in order to be the best municipal, it needs to be interesting throughout to compete with Lakeview, Langara, Fraserview or Whirlpool.
That’s not to say King’s Forest doesn’t have its own positives. The routing, in particular, takes an interesting approach to the hilly terrain, with the golfer playing inside the back nine on the outside, which works counter-clockwise in sort of a pseudo reverse-Muirfield routing.
From the tee King’s Forest is quite strong, and with a bit of tree removal and a greens renovation to provide more interest with the putter, I’d be willingly accepting of the best Municipal Golf Course in Canada title. For now, it’s a contender, and an exceptional value for a city golf course.