Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ho Ho Ho!

Well, there is no sense beating around the bush - this has not been a banner year for yours truly as administrator of this blog.

Seven lonely, pathetic posts thus far in 2014.

Life has definitely changed (for the better) since I started this blog many years ago as a single man without children but there is no question I'm in a place where finding free time to write has become more and more difficult. But that's not what you've come here to read...that is, if you are still checking in on the site in the first place!

So, how about a quick update?

Some November snowstorms ended the golf season in Niagara a bit earlier than normal but as usual, it didn't affect me at all, as I continued my practice of hanging the clubs up for good on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

On Monday October 13th, I made birdie on the 18th hole at St. Catharines G&CC, my home course, to finish out the year in style. This final round was part of the fourth annual "Turkey Two Ball Invitational", which would be the signature event that I run for a group of low handicappers at my club.

I chose my buddy Bucky to be my partner a few days earlier at the draft party we run for the event but we would just finish outside the money positions, crowning new champions in Brad Graham and Willie Ormerod. They'll get the chance to return to defend their title in 2015 and everyone else will be thrown back into the draft pool. I'm already looking forward to next year's tournament.

Since that final round, I've been curling two nights a week and have put my "hockey dad" hat on, as my six year old is in his second year of tyke. Adding to the fun is the fact that I'm now on the ice with him during Saturday practices and behind the bench on Sunday mornings for his games, after being asked to join the coaching staff! I recently earned my Hockey Canada trainers certification and am finishing off a couple of other mandatory courses and I must say, it's absolutely the highlight of my week to be out there helping 13 wonderful kids learn about the game.

That said, there are plenty of things to look forward to next year on the golf course and I'll write about some of them next week in my annual "Year in Review" post. I've got two trips tentatively planned for the first quarter of the year and I'm very excited about both - I just hope I can pull them both off.

There is also plenty to look forward to at my home club, as our shareholders recently voted in favour of making many improvements to both our golf course and the clubhouse.

While I wasn't necessarily a fan of ALL of the changes/additions, it was delivered to the shareholders as an all-or-nothing proposition and ultimately, I felt that we needed to act on this proposal to position our club as an attractive option not only for those that play golf, but their families as well.

Here's a quick rundown of the work we're doing, along with some photos of the work-in-progress:

Fitness Facility

We're converting our "19th Hole" men's bar in a full membership fitness facility, with state-of-the-art equipment, training programs and all the other bells and whistles.

The 19th hole was a relic from the past, a little-used area that once was a hub of activity at the club. Changes to smoking bylaws would eventually force cigar and cigarette smokers outside to our patio and the 19th hole simply wasn't needed anymore. I'm a bit skeptical about changing it to a fitness facility but hope the powers that be are right about attracting families looking for an all-in-one facility that we will now be able to provide to members.

Estimated completion date: Early February 2015

A look at the 19th Hole bar as it's about to be removed

A more recent photo, with the old 19th Hole essentially gutted. The room is being converted into a full 2000 square foot fitness centre; walls have come down, new windows have been installed and new lighting, A/V equipment and fitness equipment will arrive soon

New Central Bar

Now that the 19th Hole is gone, the club realized that the existing main bar needed to be expanded and relocated.

Construction will soon begin on a new central bar, located right in the main dining room overlooking the 18th hole. The current main bar will be taken out and more tables will be added for casual dining. There will also be a wall built to separate the new central bar from the current curling lounge, which will also transform into a "member lounge" as part of these improvements. There will be new flooring, new furniture, bar stools and an upgraded A/V system.

Estimated completion date: Mid February 2015

Patio Expansion

Our patio overlooking the 18th green is being expanded and will approximately double the seating capacity. The new patio will contain two gas fire pits, brand new furniture, a cooking grotto, handicap access and a retractable Pergolino awning. It should be a pretty cool spot to hang out after rounds and even into the evenings.

Estimated completion date: Early January 2015

A couple of photos taken early on in the construction phase of the new expanded patio

Most of the patio work has now been completed, with final detail work required along with adding a retaining wall and glass railing

New Pro Shop

In early January, construction will begin on a brand new pro shop, which will be located right behind the first tee where our small practice putting green currently sits. The 1500 square foot facility will have a full basement for storage, mens and ladies washrooms, a drinking fountain and will allow the club much better control over both the 1st and 10th tees as well as all practice facilities. Our bag drop area becomes centralized both for members and guests and there will be staging areas both for bags and golf carts.

Estimated completion date: May 2015

The new pro shop will be built in this area, essentially on top of the small putting green; there will also be some new paving in front of the pro shop to facilitate a proper bag drop area

Golf Simulator Room

The old pro shop is currently being gutted and will be transformed into an all-season golf simulator room, with two state-of-the-art Trackman systems. This will allow members to not only work on their game with our club professionals, getting all of the most accurate ball flight data available but members will also have the option of playing rounds of golf on the system, with a large number of the most famous courses in the world available to play at a moment's notice. The Trackman system is easily portable and will often be used on the driving range as well by our professional staff while giving lessons. I'm under the impression that we will be the only facility in the Niagara Region with Trackman units.

Estimated completion date: Mid-to-Late February 2015

Our old, cramped pro shop

The old pro shop with all of the gear taken out

Walls have been taken down and there is more to come, as we look to add more space for the simulator facility

Locker Room Upgrades

The men's locker room is being completely refurbished, with new wood lockers, new carpeting and paint, upgraded individual shower facilities, a brand new card room with HDTV and controlled access doors. There will also be new flooring added to our administrative offices, the pool change rooms, the women's locker room and some touchups in the Junior boys locker room.

Estimated completion date: February 2015

A look at the old metal lockers before they were removed

The gutted men's locker room, with all of the old, antiquated metal lockers removed; this photo was taken from the same spot as the photo above it

Course Improvements

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are improvements being made to the golf course. We're rebuilding and realigning our tee decks on #4 and #8, with the work on the par three 4th being most notable. We will take down most of the trees that line the hillside down the entire right side of the hole, showcasing this interesting land while opening things up so the hole plays the way it was intended, kind of like a reverse redan.

Two photos of the work on the par three fourth hole; the tees have since been sodded and the only work remaining on this hole is to remove a few more trees down the right side

The rebuilt and realigned 8th tee; again, like the 4th, the sod work was completed in late October and this hole will be ready for play upon reopening

We are also rebuilding and enlarging our green tee decks (senior women tees) on #1, #6 and #13.

The new green deck on the first hole, prior to sodding

The biggest project was completing all of the work on the par four 2nd hole, according to the club's Master Plan. Architect Ian Andrew came down in early October to help locate the two new greenside bunkers, a year after we built a new carry bunker in the fairway. The strategy of the hole is now fully realized and all of this work was completed in house in late October.

The Master Plan for our second hole, as designed by golf course architect Ian Andrew

Construction from 2013 on a new fairway bunker

The completed fairway bunker, which was in play for the first time in 2014

St. Catharines G&CC course superintendant Dennis Piccolo (left) and golf course architect Ian Andrew (right) laying out the new greenside bunkers during an early October walkthrough

A look at the completed work in November 2014

There will also be extensive work done to cart paths throughout the course, with most of that work taking place in the spring.

It's an exciting time to be a member at St. Catharines and I'm very much looking forward to seeing some positive change as we move into 2015!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

2014 Club Championship - St. Catharines G&CC

A few years ago, I decided to stop posting specifics about my golf game, doing away with round recaps, tournament recaps and the like. The reason is quite simple: the only person that stuff is interesting to is the person talking or writing about it!

That said, for posterity purposes, I'm going to briefly recap my experience in the biggest club event of the year at my home course, the 2014 St. Catharines G&CC club championship.

The event is always held during Civic Holiday weekend, a three-day holiday here in Canada. I've played very poorly for the majority of the year and up until this weekend, I hadn't even strung together consecutive rounds in the 70's. That's right - not even ONCE have I shot two rounds in a row in the 70s in 2014!

Therefore, I made the very easy decision to play in the "A Flight" championship, which is one rung beneath the "Open Flight", which for all intents and purposes is the TRUE club championship.

We had a 17 person field in the flight and only the top nine and ties after two days would make the cut and advance to "Championship Monday".

We had a picture-perfect weather day on Saturday morning for round one and after a pretty decent front side of 39 (+3), I proceeded to start absolutely LIGHTING IT UP on the back nine. I'd birdie the 10th, leave a birdie putt just short on the 11th, hole a 15 footer for birdie on the 12th, again leave one just short on #13 then hole a BOMB on the par 3 14th for another birdie to go three under on the side and back to even for the tournament.

I'd make a bogey on the par five 15th but finish with three straight pars to come in with a scintillating 34 (-2) on the back nine and a season-best 73 (+1) on the day. That score, incredibly enough, was the lowest by anyone at the club that day, regardless of flight and gave me a one shot lead going into day two.

We had an early tee time on Sunday morning and dealt with rainy conditions for the first six holes. I started off a bit sluggishly, with bogeys on two of my first three holes but overall, it was another good day, with nines of 39 and 38 for a fine 77 (+5) and a two-day aggregate score of 150 (+6), putting me in a tie for first place going into the final round. Third place was three shots back, fourth place was four shots back and fifth place was six shots back.

We went off in threesomes on Championship Monday and I strongly felt that the winner would come from our group. However, I had no idea how much the "pressure" would get to me or to my two other playing partners.

Simply put, I completely started choking almost from the outset, with a duffed chip on the first hole, a sculled chip on the second hole, a duffed fairway bunker shot AND a duffed chip on the 5th hole then finally a chip out from the base of a tree on the sixth hole after a SECOND duffed fairway bunker shot. It was truly bizarre - my forearms were so tight they felt like they would explode and I was in a complete daze. I played those six holes in six over par and truly, if it wasn't for my putter, I could have been 10 over!

The two guys in my group weren't much better, with both shooting 41 (+5) on the front nine to my 42 (+6). Essentially, we had just let the entire field back into the event!

Thankfully, our scores improved on the back nine but for me, I was still hitting the most obscene shots imaginable - a thinned long bunker shot on the par five 10th soared over the green but I'd get up and down for par. A drive way left on the short par four 11th into a pine tree, necessitating a chip out. I'd get up and down from there for another par save then do it AGAIN on the par three 12th after almost hitting into the creek way right of the green. Three incredible par saves and I had gotten back into a tie for the lead. I'd bogey the 13th and 14th but after a par on the 15th hole, I was tied for the lead once again with one of my playing partners.

We talked as we walked up the 16th fairway, with both of us agreeing that even par from here (we were both +8 on the day) would be good enough to win. I got him laughing when I said that if we ended up tied, I was just going to concede the title to him, as I was way too burned out to head to a playoff!

Things would swing in my favour on that hole, as I'd hit a sand wedge approach to kick-in distance for my first birdie of the day to get back to +7 while he would hit his layup into the hazard on the left and do well to make bogey.

I had a two shot lead going to the long par three 17th!

I'd hit my best shot of the day, a 5-iron to 25 feet and two putt that while my opponent made a great up and in to save par. Still two up!

The 18th features out of bounds down the entire right side and the nerves definitely set in off the tee, as I'd turn my hands over and hit my drive into the adjacent 1st fairway, way, way left. He'd hit down the right hand side, safely in the fairway.

There was a huge gallery watching the play come in on the 18th and I made the ill-advised choice to go for the green over all the trees instead of just taking a nine-iron out and hitting a shot maybe 20 yards short. My 5-iron was poorly hit and ended up striking one of the trees, with the ball cruelly coming down right beside the trunk.


I had no real shot hitting it right handed so I started making left handed practice swings, as the crowd started to murmur a bit.

Was this my "Van de Velde" moment?

Well, under the pressure, maybe it wasn't the right choice but the only way I could advance the ball was left handed so I went for it, struck the ball well but saw it ricochet off another tree. Thankfully, it bounced away from the other trees and I had a clear fourth shot to the pin. My hands were practically shaking as I attempted the 50 yard pitch shot and I did extremely well to hit that to about 15 feet.

So there I am, with a putt for bogey while my playing partner had an eight footer for par. I walked all the way up to the main scoreboard, just to confirm that no one in the other groups could catch us and indeed, it had come down to the two of us currently on the green.

I had a bogey putt for the win, struck it well but it would hit the lip and dribble out, setting an inch from the hole. With my head down, I'd walk up, tap that in and watch the rest of the drama unfold. I was in with a double bogey six and an 81 (+9) on the day and my playing partner Jamie had an eight foot par putt to tie me and send it to a playoff.

His putt would just miss on the low side and despite struggling with nerves all day, I had just won my first ever club championship.

I have so much respect for people who play this game for a living and just as much respect for anyone who competes at any level, whether it's the pros, high-level amateur play or just club-level events.

Simply put, it's HARD to win, no matter the level of play.

Even though it is only the "A Flight" event, I'm really proud of the win and especially proud that I was able to prevail without any semblance of a swing and with nerves shaking me the entire day.

What a thrill!

Congratulations as well go out to my good buddy Bernie, who won his EIGHTH overall men's club championship and despite being only 52 years old, he's now won the event in four different decades, with his first championship coming in 1989 and subsequent wins coming in the 90s, 2000s and now the 2010s.

What an incredible feat!

Congrats as well go out to my good friend Harris, who shot fantastic rounds of 76-74-76 to finish in a tie for third in the open flight, his best showing ever. Way to go buddy!

All of the flight winners in the 2014 Club Championship at St. Catharines GCC

That's me on the right...perhaps a bit cross-eyed after one too many celebratory beverages!

Monday, July 28, 2014

ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014

This past weekend, I received an email from ScoreGolf Magazine, notifying me of an update to their bi-annual ranking of the top 100 golf courses in Canada.

Click on this link to be redirected to ScoreGolf's website and the full list of 100 courses on the 2014 ranking.

Alternatively, for in-depth analysis from my friend Robert Thompson, click here to read his blog at Going for the Green. Robert can likely offer the best perspective out of anyone in the country, as he's played 99 of the 100 courses on the list, with the only course missing being Windermere GC in Edmonton, which hadn't been rated within the top 100 in quite some time, if ever at all. Seeing it now listed as the 50th best course in the country is one of the biggest shocks on this year's ranking.

I had played 33 of the top 100 on the 2012 list and the new list sees two courses that I've played drop off the list (Angus Glen - South Course and Wooden Sticks) while two others I've played have been added (Grand Niagara GC and Club at Bond Head - South Course), so the net result is the same.

While I have no interest at all in "completing" this list, or any others for that matter, I will say that if I find myself travelling to a certain part of the country, I'll always refer to the ScoreGolf ranking to look at the good golf options available in that neck of the woods.

Lists like this always generate discussion and controversy so I'm going to go through the courses I've played on the list and give some updated thoughts on where they stand, the quality of the architecture and the overall experience playing at each one. I did a similar recap in 2012 and it was well-received so I thought I'd refresh things a bit for the 2014 list.

Here are the courses I've played, with rank and the 2012 rank in parenthesis - if I've written about the course, I've included a link to my review as well:

#1 National Golf Club of Canada, Woodbridge, ON, George & Tom Fazio, 1975 (2012 Ranking: #1)

The National GC of Canada - beautiful...but tougher than Chinese arithmetic!

I have played The National only one time (summer 2011) and lets just say that if the fish in their ponds like Titleists, they likely had enough food from me alone to last until the winter! It's certainly in the running for the toughest course I've ever played and I think that's a noteworthy comment from someone who has played Oakmont, Shinnecock and Bethpage Black from the tips. It's a course to be respected and I hope to get the chance to play it again when my game is in better shape, as it's about as fun as a trip to the dentist when you're spraying your driver all over the place. In my opinion, the National is a top five course in the country but #1? Not for me.

#3. Hamilton G&CC (West/South), Hamilton, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1914 (2012 Ranking: #3)

Standing on the 10th Green in May 2010

Hamilton most recently hosted the RBC Canadian Open in 2012 and the course is generally considered the best on the Open rotation along with St. George's, which falls below Hamilton into the #5 slot on this year's list. Hamilton is wonderful and if the club ever decides to rework their bunkers and improve their grassing/cutting lines, there is no doubt in my mind that they can eventually move up into the #1 spot. It's an incredible routing and features exquisite terrain for golf.

#5. St. George's G&CC, Etobicoke, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #2)

Gorgeous St. George's G&CC (Photo courtesy of Clive Barber)

St. George's falling from #2 in 2012 to #5 this year is very curious, to say the least. This classic Thompson design lies on a superb piece of land and in my opinion is the best course in the country that I've played. Like Hamilton, St. George's saw many of their Poa greens die off during a brutal winter and the club has hired Tom Doak's Renaissance Golf to work with Ian Andrew in an effort not only to rebuild some of the greens but also to bring back a few of Thompson's green sites and strategic concepts lost over time, with the work being done on hole #3 being of particular interest.

#9 Beacon Hall GC, Aurora, ON, Robert Cupp & Thomas McBroom, 1988 (2012 Ranking: #8)

Beacon Hall falls a spot to #9 and like I said in 2012, I think it will eventually find a place somewhere in the 10-20 region of courses. A splendid test of golf and likely a potential Canadian Open site in the future with a significant difference in character between the parkland-styled front nine and the faux-links back nine.

#10 Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club, Quilchena, BC, Rod Whitman, Armen Suny & Richard Zokol, 2008 (2012 Ranking: #11)

The spectacular 9th green at Sagebrush

Sagebrush debuted on the list at #28 in 2010, made a huge jump up to #11 in 2012 and now reaches the bottom of the top ten in the country. I wrote in 2012 about my surprise that Tobiano (located just an hour north in Kamloops) was ranked higher than Sagebrush but my prediction that it wouldn't be the case in 2014 came true. If you are looking for firm, fast and fun golf in Canada, I can't think of another course besides Sagebrush and perhaps Cabot Links that would qualify under all three criteria. It's no coincidence that both were designed by Rod Whitman! I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sagebrush may not be the 'best' course in the country but it is unquestionably my favourite.

#12 Westmount G&CC, Kitchener, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1931 (2012 Ranking: #15)

Great topography and stately trees are prevalent at Westmount

Westmount moves up a few spots to #12 and seems to have settled nicely in the middle teens on this list, an appropriate spot for this wonderful old Thompson design. Great land and excellent variety dominate but they will have to be mindful of tree growth in the years to come.

#13 Tobiano, Kamloops, BC, Thomas McBroom, 2007 (2012 Ranking: #10)

Ripping one off the picturesque 14th after a brief storm

Tobiano had a spectacular debut on this list in 2010, coming in at #16 in the country, made a quick move into the top 10 in 2012 and now falls back a few spots to #13. The "wow" factor may supersede the architecture here but I admit both are very strong. Tobiano is an unrelenting test of golf and not much fun from the back tees but is considerably more fair from the middle tees, where forced carries aren't as significant.

#17 Devil's Paintbrush, Caledon East, ON, Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, 1992 (2012 Ranking: #14)

The huge double green on the 9th hole at Devil's Paintbrush

The Paintbrush also falls a few spots this year to #17 and I finally got the opportunity to play the course last year. I must admit that I was slightly disappointed in my first go-around at "the Brush", widely considered to be among the best modern courses in Canada. Playability was lacking in my mind on the day I played, as there is no intermediate cut - you go right from fairway to lush, thick, knee-high fescue and if you miss the fairway, you'll be lucky to advance the ball 30 yards...and that's if you're fortunate enough to find the ball! The fine architecture is quite apparent but needless to say, I would like another look at this course just to be sure my eyes didn't deceive me the first time.

#19 Muskoka Bay Club, Gravenhurst, ON, Doug Carrick, 2006 (2012 Ranking: #9)

Muskoka Bay and Oviinbyrd are my two choices for the best Muskoka has to offer but I was very surprised to see it land in the top 10 in the country in the past two ranking periods. I expected it to fall somewhere into the teens and it's done just that, falling ten spots to #19.

#21 Oviinbyrd, Foot's Bay, ON, Thomas McBroom, 2005 (2012 Ranking: #24)

This very exclusive private club in Muskoka is my favourite Tom McBroom design and I was lucky enough to visit for a second time just last week. Subtle, strategic and a treat to play, with a number of spectacular vistas and superb use of the rolling topography.

#22 Devil's Pulpit, Caledon, ON, Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, 1990 (2012 Ranking: #20)

The downhill par four 1st at Devil's Pulpit

The Pulpit continues to hold its own with Canada's best and while it may not be as good as the sister course at the facility, the Devil's Paintbrush, it is unquestionably a great design in its own right. Tough but strategic and one half of the best two-course complex in Canada.

#25 Predator Ridge - Ridge Course, Vernon, BC, Doug Carrick, 2010 (2012 Ranking: #25)

The captivating 6th hole on the Ridge Course

The Ridge Course at Predator Ridge made a spectacular debut at #25 in 2012 after opening in the summer of 2010 and it holds onto that position two years later. I was fortunate to play the course just before it opened to the general public and it has all of Carrick's trademarks, most importantly width off the tee. The Ridge compares quite favourably to Carrick's design at Bigwin Island and is a heck of a lot of fun to play.

#26 Royal Colwood GC, Victoria, BC, A.V. Macan, 1913 (2012 Ranking: #31)

A family of deer graze near the 9th green at Royal Colwood

Royal Colwood was actually ranked 16th in Canada when I played it in 2009 and I felt it was overrated at that position. It fell to 26th in the 2010 ratings, dropped five more spots to #31 in 2012 and now is back to 26th this year. The club was in desperate need of a restoration when I played the course five years ago, especially with the bunkers, if it's to get back into the top 20 in the country.

#29 Bigwin Island GC, Lake of Bays, ON, Doug Carrick, 2001 (2012 Ranking: #28)

The glorious vista on the 18th at Bigwin Island

The experience of playing golf at Bigwin Island has to rank right up there with British Columbia's Sagebrush and Ontario's Redtail as one of the most unique Canada has to offer. The course itself, a Doug Carrick design built over an old Stanley Thompson nine-holer that hosted many of Hollywood's elite in the 40's and 50's, is quite strong and definitely worthy of placement within the top 30 in the country.

#32 Eagles Nest, Maple, ON, Doug Carrick, 2004 (2012 Ranking: #26)

Eagles Nest is a testament to the vision of Doug Carrick and his team, as he moved a ton of earth to make this faux-links just outside of Toronto. Big and brawny with Carrick's trademark width off the tee, Eagles Nest is a lot of fun to play and is ranked right around where it should be.

#36 St. Thomas G&CC, Union, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #50)

St. Thomas continues to make significant moves within the top 100 list, going from 64th in 2010, to 50th in 2012 and now all the way up to 36th in the country. After a couple of false starts due to inclement weather, I finally played all 18 holes a couple of years ago and I must say the course is much quirkier than I imagined, with repeat plays being necessary in order to understand the proper way to navigate each of the holes. The club has been very aggressive in cutting down trees to open up playing corridors and allow sunlight to reach the turf to facilitate better growing conditions, a move that has been met with wide acclaim.

#43 Bear Mountain - Mountain Course, Victoria, BC, Jack Nicklaus & Steve Nicklaus, 2005 (2012 Ranking: #49)

Incredible vistas galore on the Mountain Course

Len Barrie spent a boatload of cash on his dream property on a mountain in Victoria and despite the Excess (with a capital 'E'), got a pretty solid golf course out of it in the Mountain Course. The course continues to rise in the rankings, moving up to 43rd after being 49th in 2012 and 60th in 2010. Other than the clich├ęd island green early on the back nine, I enjoyed most of the design quite a bit. Definitely a place to seek out if on Vancouver Island and the Valley Course at Bear Mountain is also well-regarded.

#51 Rosedale G&CC, Toronto, ON, Donald Ross, 1893 (2012 Ranking: #46)

Uber-elite, old-school country club in the middle of Toronto. A pretty sporty course from my recollection and after nudging up the list a little bit over the past four years, it falls five spots just outside the top fifty in 2014.

#52 Osprey Valley - Hoot, Alton, ON, Doug Carrick, 2001 (2012 Ranking: #72)

Doug Carrick's ode to Pine Valley? The strangely named 'Hoot' course at Osprey Valley is defined by sandy waste areas throughout the layout and offers a stark contrast to the parkland-style 'Toot' course and the aforementioned linksy 'Heathlands' course. I really enjoyed the Hoot course and it makes a HUGE jump in the ratings, moving up 20 spots from 2012 and it's now ahead of its older brother, the brawny Heathlands Course.

#53 Taboo, Gravenhurst, ON, Ron Garl, 2002 (2012 Ranking: #41)

The awesome uphill par three 7th through a tunnel of granite!

Taboo continues its free-fall on the ScoreGolf list, going from 23rd in 2010, to 41st in 2012 and now it's out of the top 50, settling in at 53rd. That all said, you'll be hard-pressed to find a course with as much visual stimulation as Taboo, with rock outcroppings from the Canadian Shield coming into play on almost every hole. The definition the granite provides is truly spectacular but repeated plays show some slight deficiencies and quirks in the design. The green fee is absolutely outrageous at almost $200.00 per round during high season.

#55 Glen Abbey GC, Oakville, ON, Jack Nicklaus, 1976 (2012 Ranking: #43)

The spectacular valley holes await once you reach the 11th tee

Perhaps the most famous course in Canada due to the fact it has hosted the Canadian Open an astonishing 26 times in its 38 year existence and they will once again host the event in 2015. Glen Abbey continues its free-fall on this list, now down to 55th after being in the top 10 a little over a decade ago. The generally inviting fairways are a favourite of the business golfers who make up the majority of the Abbey's clientele but tiny greens make the golf course challenging for every level of player. I've always enjoyed playing the course but I simply think it's overexposed and it's likely hurting, more than helping the course and its ranking.

#56 Osprey Valley - Heathlands, Alton, ON, Doug Carrick, 1992 (2012 Ranking: #39)

The pre-eminent "faux-links" in Canada, Carrick's first course at the 54 hole Osprey Valley Resort has offered inspiration for many other designs in this country. The off-course amenities are still lacking at Osprey almost 20 years after the Heathlands course opened but there is no debating that the quality of the golf is particularly strong. It suffers one of the more dramatic falls on this year's list and I'm not sure of the reason for the significant tumble.

#57 Brantford G&CC, Brantford, ON, Stanley Thompson, Nicol Thompson & George Cumming, 1906 (2012 Ranking: #61)

The classic architecture of Stanley Thompson at Brantford GCC

Things start slowly at Brantford, with a couple of vanilla holes out of the gates but things start getting interesting on the lovely par three 3rd hole. The wonderful topography reveals itself at last and the remaining holes are a delight to play and pack a heck of a lot of punch despite the lack of length. A treat to play.

#69 Scarboro G&CC, Scarborough, ON, A.W. Tillinghast, 1924 (2012 Ranking: #57)

The 18th green at Scarboro (Photo Courtesy of Clive Barber)

The only Tillinghast golf course in Canada, Scarboro had been shooting up this list over the past number of years, with a lot of the credit due to a recent Ian Andrew/Gil Hanse bunker restoration but now falls 12 spots on the 2012 list. The 18th hole is quirk personified, with a wild, blind tee shot over a major city street but that is the only oddity on this absolutely stunning golf course. The aforementioned bunker work is spectacular and this course truly is a treat to play. I am dumbfounded at the 12 spot fall and strongly feel Scarboro is criminally underrated and worthy of a spot inside the top 30.

#70 Deerhurst Resort - Highlands Course, Huntsville, ON, Robert Cupp and Thomas McBroom, 1990 (2012 Ranking: #58)

The elder stateswoman of top-level Muskoka golf. The Highlands Course at the Deerhurst Resort is still a fine test of golf twenty years after its opening. I visited the course again a couple of years ago and was very impressed once again by the variety of the design and the clever green complexes. It's also a heck of a bargain at twilight time. Highly recommended if you're in the area.

#73 Heron Point GC, Alberton, ON, Thomas McBroom, 1992 (2012 Ranking: #66)

Heron Point is a real tough test of golf with a particularly difficult finisher over a large man-made lake. Not particularly memorable and it continues to be a tad overrated but still a solid design.

#75 Deer Ridge GC, Kitchener, ON, Thomas McBroom, 1990 (2012 Ranking: #90)

Very private and immaculately conditioned golf course on the outskirts of Kitchener. Kind of similar in some respects to Heron Point in that the architecture is very sound but kind of bland - I think McBroom's work has been much more interesting as he's gotten older. That said, the course jumps up 15 spots on this year's list.

#83 Grand Niagara Golf Club, Niagara Falls, ON, Rees Jones, 2005 (2012 Ranking: Not Ranked)

The par 3 3rd at Grand Niagara GC

Grand Niagara makes its first ever appearance on ScoreGolf's list, debuting at 83rd in a bit of a shocker to me. The course is essentially in my backyard and while it's always in decent shape, it's just cookie-cutter golf to me, with a very bland Rees Jones design featuring a couple of neat holes in the woods on the back nine. The fact that it's rated higher than Lookout Point and Cherry Hill Club and now can call itself the best course in Niagara is absolute blasphemy.

#89 Thornhill G&CC, Thornhill, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #84)

A gem of a course that would likely sit higher on the list if not for the plethora of courses already ranked in Ontario. Quite short by modern standards, this course rolls up and down hills and features some tremendous green sites. A real treat and a great course to walk.

#90 Cherry Hill Club, Ridgeway, ON, Walter Travis, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #77)

The diabolical 11th green at Cherry Hill

Cherry Hill jumped back into the top 100 in the country in 2012 after an Ian Andrew-led restoration project but falls 13 spots to 90th on this year's list. I got to play Cherry Hill for the first time since that restoration and the results are sublime but I think it's a reach to place Cherry Hill higher than Lookout Point, which I still strongly believe is the best course in the Niagara Region.

#93 Lookout Point CC, Fonthill, ON, Walter Travis, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #85)

One of the most diabolical greens you'll ever see, the 18th at Lookout Point CC

Lookout Point sits on incredibly dramatic land right on the Niagara Escarpment and devilish putting surfaces abound. This golf course is criminally underrated - blasphemy coming from a St. Catharines GCC member but this is the must-play design in Niagara. It falls eight spots this year but in my mind, it should likely be rated about 30 spots higher. I just played the course yesterday and it continues to be an absolute delight.

#96 Club at Bond Head - South Course, Bond Head, ON, Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Dana Fry & Jason Straka, 2005 (2012 Ranking: Not Ranked)

The Club at Bond Head's South Course makes a reappearance on the ScoreGolf list after debuting at #100 in 2010, then falling off the list in 2012. The South Course is on some dramatic land well north of Toronto and is the stronger of the two courses at the 36 hole complex.

#98 Burlington G&CC, Burlington, ON, Stanley Thompson, 1922 (2012 Ranking: #100)

A real pleasant course to play, a bit short but with lots of character and some quirk as well. Definite top-100 material. Like many of the old Toronto area courses, Burlington got hit hard by our harsh winter and had to do extensive work to their fairways and greens this spring to get things back into playing shape.

- Angus Glen GC - South Course, Markham, ON, Doug Carrick, 1995 (2012 Ranking: #76)
- Wooden Sticks, Uxbridge, ON, Ron Garl, 2000 (2012 Ranking: #87)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Spectacular Northern Michigan!

So, no new posts since late April? What's happening, you ask?

Well, I'm playing golf, if that's what you call it but I simply haven't been very motivated to write about the game lately. I'm in a horrendous slump, trying to break in new clubs while also attempting to figure out my swing issues and it's resulted in a pretty sour writer here at Now on the Tee.

Thankfully, a recent little golf vacation has woken me from my slumber and while I still seek the answer to my scoring problems, my motivation to talk about golf and architecture has returned.

Just last week, I spent five days travelling through Michigan with my pal Harris and our itinerary for the trip would probably make even the President blush.

First, we decided to break up what would have been a seven hour drive by taking in a Saturday afternoon matinee between the Detroit Tigers and the Tampa Bay Rays at gorgeous Comerica Park!

In all seriousness, I haven't been to a live baseball game in over ten years and that was a doubleheader at Wrigley Field back when Sammy Sosa was patrolling right field for the Cubs! That experience ruined me in the best way possible - there is no way I can go to another game at the abomination known as Rogers Centre in Toronto, that "park" with zero ambience, atmosphere or character. So I came out of hibernation when Harris made the great suggestion to visit Comerica and I'm glad we did - it's a beautiful park, with great sounds, smells and excellent sight lines. We sat just behind the Tigers dugout and made it through six innings of a game that saw Detroit get humbled by the visitors before departing on our three and a half hour drive north.

We had a golf game the next morning at Forest Dunes GC in Roscommon!

The dogleg right first hole at Forest Dunes gives a good indication of what you're going to experience at the club, with plenty of sandy waste areas

But as the 12th hole proves, Forest Dunes isn't a one trick pony, as towering trees are prevalent as well, with a look eerily similar to what you'd see at a place like Augusta National

The 233 yard par three 16th, appropriately named "Hell's Acre", perhaps a nod to Pine Valley?

We arrived just before 10pm at Forest Dunes and stayed in their lovely on-site lodging, grabbing a beer and a bit of food that night before heading to bed to prepare for our early morning tee time.

We were paired with a couple of Forest Dunes assistants and we had a blast playing this very interesting Tom Weiskopf design that is equal parts parkland and wasteland. This is my first time playing a Weiskopf design and I must say it's very well thought out, with plenty of movement on relatively flat ground, some "tough as nails" par threes and great variation in the distances of the two-shotters. Forest Dunes is currently ranked as the 23rd best public course in the United States by Golf Digest.

We had a quick drink after the round then headed back out for another two and a half hour drive to our next destination, Arcadia Bluffs GC, another public track that is rated even higher than Forest Dunes, coming in 13th in Golf Digest's 2013 ranking.

The downhill par five 5th hole showcases Lake Michigan in the distance to beautiful effect

Harris ponders life on the 9th green, perhaps looking to crawl and hide in those distant dunes as I go five up through nine holes on him in a match for dinner that night! And check out the cool flagsticks, which are very short by design on the extremely windy site

Is this Northern Ireland or Northern Michigan? Massive dunes and a blind tee shot await at the butt-clenching 10th tee

More massive dunes, tumbling topography and Lake Michigan frame the diabolical 633 yard par five 11th hole

With a late sunset on Lake Michigan due to the fact it's so far west in the Eastern time zone, we were able to tee off at 4:30pm and still have the chance to complete our round. We met up with our friend Rob, who joined us for the round and we also got paired with another chap who patiently waited for us on the first green, as Harris and I were a few minutes late for the tee time.

Arcadia gets a lot of flak from architecture aficionados, as this is anything but a natural design, with an incredible amount of dirt and sand moved to build the fairways and greens on a very challenging site. Still, this Warren Henderson/Rick Smith collaboration is breathtaking in spots and I really enjoyed the experience. I actually had my best round of the trip here, birdieing the 8th and 9th holes in succession to finish off a tidy one under par 35 on the front, my first sub-par nine this year. I'd stumble a bit on the back as darkness fell but still ended up with a fine 76 (+4) and a great 7&5 win over Harris, which earned me a delicious seafood pasta dinner in the beautiful Arcadia clubhouse!

From there, we headed into Frankfort to our lodging for the evening and we'd need some rest to prepare for our morning tee time at the very exclusive and highly ranked Crystal Downs CC!

A simply spectacular vista awaits on the first tee at Crystal Downs

Superb topography and strategic design are prevalent, as seen here on the wonderful par four 5th

The uphill par three 9th, while only 175 yards from the tips, plays much longer and tougher than the scorecard indicates

Good luck finding a flat lie on the drivable (for suckers anyway) par four 17th hole!

Crystal Downs is credited to both Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell, who worked on behalf of MacKenzie in the midwest. While universally beloved by GCA types (if you don't know what I mean by that, you don't qualify for that designation!), it's generally unknown by the "retail golfer", as it's very private and hasn't hosted any major events. Still, this was the highest ranked golf course that we played on our trip, sitting 13th on Golf Digest's 2013 ranking of all golf courses in the US, private and public combined. A high honour indeed and very deserving of its lofty stature, with incredible tumbling land and perhaps the most devilish greens I've ever seen, so devilish that today's green speeds are likely a tad too quick for normal play here. I saw MANY putts fall back at our feet throughout the day and some that went past our feet and kept rolling back down the slopes to the fairways set below.

It was great fun and Harris, Rob and I had a blast trying to navigate around this wonderfully routed design.

We chilled out for awhile, grabbing lunch and having a beer on the beach before departing for the Kingsley Club, a very cool Mike DeVries design about an hour east of Frankfort.

Options, options, options! The wonderful par five opener sets the tone for what you're about to experience at the Kingsley Club

The fairway on the par four 6th hole looks almost unhittable on first glance but repeat plays prove there is much more room than it initially appears

Another teeth clenching drive awaits on the superb par five 7th hole

The redan-like par three 16th, with the 15th green in the foreground

Kingsley, built in 2001, is a "destination" club in that it's pretty much in the middle of nowhere, about a half hour from Traverse City, private and has beautiful lodging on-site for their members and guests. The course features wide playing corridors, big kicker slopes in fairways and around greens, embraces the ground game like no other course in the midwest and plays very firm and fast. There are many similarities to Ballyneal, one of my favourite courses in the world, located in Holyoke, Colorado but of course, Kingsley came first!

The course is wonderful and fun personified, the staff are great and the lodging is very comfortable and fits well in the surroundings. I have to imagine it would be a true pleasure to be a member here and I feel the course is criminally underrated, not even making any of the Golf Digest lists but it does register quite well with the Golfweek raters. I'm guessing that once more people get out here, it will start to rise a bit in the rankings.

We played 54 holes over two days at Kingsley then headed back towards Detroit and the lovely town of Birmingham, grabbing a great dinner before preparing for our final round of the trip, which was to take place at the famed South Course at Oakland Hills CC.

The long, uphill par three 9th hole at Oakland Hills famed South Course

One of the great par fours in the world, the wonderful 11th at Oakland Hills South

Our group approaching the par five 18th hole

Harris, Matt, myself and Mike are all smiles after a great day of golf at Oakland Hills

There's not much I can say about Oakland Hills and the supreme test that awaits on its vaunted South Course, which is rated 20th among all courses in the United States, both public and private. It's hosted 10 USGA events, including six US Opens, three PGA Championships and also the 2004 Ryder Cup, famous for Hal Sutton's tragic misstep in pairing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on their way to getting smoked by the European contingent and captain Bernhard Langer. The list of winners at Oakland Hills is a who's who of golf royalty: Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Padraig Harrington, Andy North...okay, I should have stopped at Harrington!

I expected monotonous, tree-lined fairways and a constant stream of 475 yard par fours but I couldn't be more wrong about this incredibly difficult but eminently fair Donald Ross design. The playing corridors are wide and this course is playable for all manner of players but the greens...oh my the greens! Superb inner contours with distinctive bunkering on a very grand scale, reminiscent of many of the great private clubs like Riviera and Augusta National, with dramatic capes and slopes throughout.

I understand that the greens are slowed somewhat during the week but run at close to US Open speed on weekends when the big games are played among the low handicap membership. The rough was nasty, even on the day I played and I can definitely see how they can tune this place up quickly for high-level championship play. The US Amateur is returning to the club in 2016 and there is a good chance a future US Open will be awarded on the heels of that event. I loved my day at Oakland Hills, one of the great clubs in the country.

Expect detailed reviews of all five Michigan courses sometime in the future and there is no doubt in my mind that I will be returning to this golf rich destination sooner, rather than later!