Friday, September 27, 2019

Burlington Golf & Country Club

*** Now on the Tee has MOVED to our own domain!!! ***


Burlington Golf and Country Club
East Burlington, Ontario, CANADA

6510 YARDS (PAR 70)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Stanley Thompson (1922)
LAST PLAYED: August 26, 2019.
LOW SCORE: 74 (+4)

- ScoreGolf Top 110 in Canada 2018: #106

The Burlington Golf & Country Club was incorporated in 1922, with the first nine holes opening a year later and the full 18 holes completed by 1924. Stanley Thompson, in his peak period as a golf architect, designed the golf course with able assistance from Burlington's first head professional, Andy Anderson.

The course has a couple of holes that are adjacent to Hamilton Harbour (formerly known as Burlington Bay) and that scenic location, along with the sandy loam and undulating topography make this a very attractive site for golf.

You get a good sense of what you're in for right from the opening tee shot. This 430 yard par four requires a long and accurate tee shot over a gully to a fairway that bends close to 90 degrees to the left. There is much less room to the left off the tee than you'd think so most shots are played conservatively to the right, leaving a long iron or fairway metal approach. This is no gentle handshake!

The challenge continues on the par three second, measuring a stout 230 yards from the back tees. The green is flanked by bunkers both left and right but is thankfully open in front for those that can't fly the ball all the way there.

The par five third hole, measuring 543 yards from the back, showcases the lovely topography at Burlington. This slight dogleg left features a very rolling fairway and a two-tiered green that slopes sharply from back to front.

After the long par four 4th hole, things lighten up a tad on the 338 yard par four 5th. The hole plays straightaway but your drive needs to avoid a tree that sits just off the fairway down the right side, a challenge that's made more difficult due to the left-to-right slope of the land. The green is quite strong here with some nice undulation - I understand the club may be moving this green at some point further to the left and back but they've digitally mapped out the entire surface in order to replicate all of those undulations should this process move forward.

The wind can be a challenge on the par three 6th, measuring 181 yards. On this day, I tried to hit a 4-iron to this very small green surrounded by two bunkers left and one to the right, with a pond that sits at the foot of the green down a false front. The water is only in play for the poorest of efforts but it still can play with your mind and I was lucky to avoid it after hitting a wipey fade off the trees to the right!

You get a good idea how tight this property is from the 7th tee, which sits just inside a boundary fence in a residential subdivision. This is a reachable par five, measuring only 490 yards but you need to hit the fairway off the tee to have a chance at birdie. Any drives to the left are in "punch out" territory due to the massive trees lining that side of the hole.

The 348 yard 8th looks innocent on the scorecard but is anything but in reality. A tight driving hole, with bunkers pinching the fairway on both sides leads to your first view of Hamilton Harbour through the trees behind the green.

Frankly, the routing is a bit awkward here, as you make a pretty considerable walk from the eighth green up the hill, past the first tee and around the bend to reach the par three 9th tee, which sits beside the pro shop, with a practice driving net off to the right behind a large hedge.

A wonderful set of holes follow, starting with the 401 yard par four 10th. It's a stunning tee shot over a large gully and I enjoyed the greensite as well, one that is framed by bunkers left and right but allows a running approach.

The 11th is an absolute stunner - Hamilton Harbour provides the backdrop on this par four, one that measures a whopping 464 yards from the back tee and once again showcases the phenomenal land prevalent at Burlington. The second shot needs to carry well uphill to a multi-tiered green protected by two large bunkers front left and right. Pars here should be celebrated.

In my humble opinion, the 11th is one of the best two-shot holes in Canada.

Following the routine par five 12th, the mid-length par four 13th is yet another fine hole with great aesthetics. The tee shot is elevated and an accurate drive is required to avoid a well-placed bunker on the right and a creek that winds down the left side of the hole. The green is large and very undulating here as well.

I really enjoyed the long par four 14th hole as well. It's a stout 426 yards from the back tee and runs straight away, with out of bounds to the right and the land falling down considerably on the left towards the aforementioned creek. The green is pretty narrow and any shots hit long will fall well down a slope behind the green.

My favourite par three at Burlington is the picturesque 15th, which measures 183 yards from the back tee. It requires anywhere from a mid-iron to a hybrid through a shoot of trees and over a very large depression area to a green protected by bunkers left and right. There is also a false front on this green so an aerial approach is preferred.

You have a lovely walk that leads you to the 16th, a mid-length par four from an elevated tee that offers a lovely view of the harbour. This is another really tight hole off the tee, one where you don't necessarily need a driver. There are two bunkers just off the fairway on the left and a creek runs down the right side so accuracy is paramount.

You cross North Shore Boulevard, where the last two holes play on the clubhouse side of the road, hard up against Hamilton Harbour. The 17th is a challenge of the highest order - a 419 yard par four that seemingly plays longer, perhaps due to the swirling winds off the water. The tee shot is hit over an inlet of the harbour to a generous fairway but the approach is among the toughest at Burlington, with a mid-to-long iron that needs to be flighted from right to left to take advantage of an offset green that is benched into the hillside and protected by three bunkers and a large pond. There is nowhere to miss here and I can only imagine some of the scores that get posted here - the 17th is a scorecard ruiner...but lovely nonetheless.

The course ends with a par three, a bit of a rarity, perhaps, but it's a whale of a finishing hole at 197 yards from the back tee. The tee shot is elevated and must be carried the entire way to the green that sits high up into the hillside, just in front of the beautiful clubhouse. Adding to the challenge is a green that slopes sharply from back to front and one protected by bunkers around the entire perimeter. The par threes at Burlington are all exceptionally strong and the 18th is a very worthy finisher.

It had been ten years since I last visited Burlington and I was blown away by how strong the golf course was. I am very impressed with the bunker and tree clearing work that's been conducted at Burlington since my previous visit, led by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. Vistas have been opened up and more importantly, the growing environment must have improved significantly.

Conditioning was above average, with firm and fast fairways throughout but greens that were a bit soft and on the slow side on this particular day.

The architecture here is rock solid, with very challenging par threes and great variety among the par fours. The par has been reduced to 70 (it was a par 71 when I last visited in April 2009) and at 6510 yards from the back tees, it's a very worthy challenge for players of any caliber. The course sits on a wonderful piece of land - you'll encounter every type of lie imaginable out here but shots off flat lies are pretty rare. This is also one of the finer walking courses in the country, some awkward routing notwithstanding.

As of this writing, Burlington is listed at #106 on ScoreGolf's most recent rating of the best Canadian golf courses and I'm absolutely baffled by this fact. If there are 105 courses better than Burlington in this country, I obviously need to get out more.

Burlington Golf and Country Club is a classic parkland test, designed by Canada's preeminent architect and sits comfortably between Toronto and the US/Canadian border. It features great land, lovely views and a demanding par 70 design that will delight and challenge players of every level. If you are offered a chance to play this incredibly underrated private club, it comes with my wholehearted recommendation.

I hope to return again soon.

The approach into the first hole at Burlington G&CC
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The long par three 2nd hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The landing area on the par five 3rd hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The tee shot on the par four 4th hole at Burlington
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The uphill approach into the 4th green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The interesting short par four 5th from the tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A difficult tee shot awaits on the par three 6th at Burlington, with a tiny green surrounded by bunkers and water in front
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

You have a chance to reach the par five 7th hole in two shots if you find the fairway off the tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Just in front of the green at the 7th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The approach into the par four 8th, with a glimpse of Hamilton Harbour through the trees in behind
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The par three 9th hole at Burlington
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The approach into the par four 10th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The tee shot on the gorgeous but difficult par four 11th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The approach into this long par four requires a long and accurate strike
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A lovely walk in the park, as Steve and Jon make their way up to the 11th green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The landing area on the par five 12th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The beautiful and challenging par four 13th tee
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The uphill approach to the 13th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The tee shot on the 14th, with OB right and trouble lurking left as well
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The 14th green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The picturesque par three 15th at Burlington
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

This gives a good indication of the forced carry required on the par three 15th, as the green is elevated well above the depression area
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A tight tee shot awaits on the short par four 16th hole
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A winding creek provides additional challenge on the 16th
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The long par four 17th runs hard alongside Hamilton Harbour
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The author hitting one of his best tee shots on the day right down the middle - I'd still make double bogey!
(Photo by Jon Pollock)

The most demanding approach of the day is here on the 17th, with a very well protected diagonal green only accepting a perfectly flighted right to left shot
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

This fella is slacking on the job today, as the geese mock him from the hillside!
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A stunning sunset as we putt out on the 17th green, with the 18th looming in the background
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

A sweeping panoramic from behind the 17th green, with Hamilton Harbour on the left and the par three 18th on the right
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The difficult par three finisher at Burlington G&CC
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The Burlington Skyway looms in the distance as you look back from behind the 18th green out towards Hamilton Harbour
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

#AuldSod2019 - The Return to Scotland

A shot of the clubhouse and 18th green at Royal Troon Golf Club
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

In a few short hours, I will be heading to the airport in Toronto and embarking on a ten day trip to Scotland, my second visit to the home of golf. In 2017, we played 12 rounds in eight days but this year, we're outdoing ourselves, with an incredible 16 rounds of golf booked over a ten day period.

Oooh baby!

My trip begins with a red-eye out of Toronto tonight and an early morning arrival in Glasgow on Thursday. I'll meet up with three friends for the "Pre-Trip" portion of the trip and we'll immediately depart for Royal Troon Golf Club on the Ayrshire coast.

In 2017, our group stayed at the Marine Hotel in Troon right alongside the 18th fairway but we did not play the course on that trip. The Old Course at Troon has hosted The Open Championship nine times, most recently in 2016 when Henrik Stenson came out on top in a thrilling final round shootout over Phil Mickelson. The par three eighth hole, known as "The Postage Stamp", is one of the most famous and notorious holes in the game.

From there, our foursome will head north into the Scottish Highlands, where 36 holes await us at Royal Dornoch Golf Club.

Old Tom Morris is given credit for overhauling the original nine hole design and converting it into the 18 hole Championship Course in the late 1880s. It is known as one of the greatest golf courses in the world, currently sitting 15th on Golf Magazine's 2017 list of the world's best and I've been desperately hoping to experience the course and the town of Dornoch ever since reading Lorne Rubenstein's wonderful book, "A Season in Dornoch", which gets my highest recommendation.

The next day, we will head about a half hour north to Brora Golf Club.

James Braid laid out the links at Brora in 1891 and I'm a big fan of his after our round in 2017 at Elie, another charming Braid design just outside of St. Andrews. Brora is known for the sheep that roam and graze on the property and the electric fences that surround many of the putting surfaces to keep them off the greens. The club is a bit off the beaten path, so to speak but I'm a big fan of hidden gems and I'm guessing that our day at Brora will be one of the highlights of the trip.

We were originally planning on doing a distillery tour after our round at Brora but recently changed course and added a second round that day, visiting nearby Golspie Golf Club.

Golspie is yet another wonderful James Braid design, with the course sitting off the Dornoch Firth. It's notable for its mix of classic links, heathland and parkland holes and has stunning views from all holes of the Dornoch Firth on one side and the backdrop of Ben Bhraggie on the other.

We wrap up our time in the Highlands with a round on the modern masterpiece, Castle Stuart Golf Club.

The brainchild of developer Mark Parsinen, who also brought Kingsbarns Golf Links to life, Castle Stuart overlooks the Moray Firth and was co-designed by Gil Hanse, a noted American architect, with the course opening for play in 2009. Castle Stuart already sits within the top 100 courses in the world and has hosted the Scottish Open an incredible four times.

From there, we will head four hours south and meet up with the other four members of our group in East Lothian. Their trip begins with a round at Gullane #1 but us "Pre-Trippers" will miss out on that while making the trek from the Highlands. The eight of us will all meet up for the first time after their round and the next day, we'll be playing 36 holes at the phenomenal North Berwick Golf Club's West Links.

The Children's Course runs alongside the famous West Links at North Berwick Golf Club in Scotland, as seen from the Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

We enjoyed a 36 hole day at North Berwick back in 2017 so this is the first course that we felt compelled to see again on this trip - simply put, it's that good!

North Berwick has long been a "hidden gem" on Scottish golf itineraries and is a favourite of pretty much anyone who visits, with great template holes in a spectacular, seaside setting. It's awesome, it's on great land in a great location, it's a charming, quaint town and it's fun personified. I absolutely loved North Berwick and can't wait to see it again this year.

We have our second and final repeat viewing the next day, as the group once again heads back to one of the greatest clubs in the world, the famed Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, perhaps better known as Muirfield Golf Club.

The gorgeous clubhouse at Muirfield provides the backdrop as you approach the 18th green
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

Muirfield has hosted 16 Open Championships and most recently, it was Phil Mickelson finally lifting the Claret Jug on these historic links back in 2013. Muirfield is commonly ranked among the top five or ten courses in the world, with its distinctive routing and excellent bunkering being celebrated. A full day at Muirfield is one of the great experiences in golf and once again, we will be lucky enough to play our own ball in the morning, have the famous Muirfield lunch (jacket and tie absolutely mandatory!) and then head back out for a boozy alternate shot match in the afternoon.

I'm especially excited to get back to Muirfield due to the fact I played one of my finest rounds of golf ever there in my first trip, making an eagle and four birdies, including the 17th and 18th holes, to shoot an incredible 72. A day I'll never forget...

Our final day in East Lothian sees us visit Tom Doak's only Scottish design, The Renaissance Club.

Jerry Sarvadi, an American businessman, played a lead role in developing the course and would eventually move to North Berwick with his family to run the day-to-day operations of the club, which opened for play in 2008. We will be playing Renaissance only three days after the conclusion of the Ladies Scottish Open, one of the premier events on the LPGA Tour so I'm guessing the course will be in magnificent shape. The 2019 Mens Scottish Open is also taking place at Renaissance in early July so it's a big year for the club - two major world tour events and hosting our itinerant group of eight golf fanatics. Not bad!

After our round, we head north for the final leg of our amazing trip, setting our anchor in the city of Aberdeen. Our first round the next morning is at Murcar Golf Club, another hidden gem from what I'm told.

Murcar was originally designed by Archie Simpson in 1909 and revised by James Braid in the 1930s. The course is located on a classic stretch of links land with massive sand dunes, undulating fairways and is covered in whins and heather with some magnificent views across the North Sea.

Later that afternoon, we will head a few miles south for a game at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club's Balgownie Course.

Founded in 1780, Royal Aberdeen is considered to be the 6th oldest club in the world. The club relocated in the late 1800s and the Balgownie Course, designed by Archie and Robert Simpson, opened for play in 1888. The club has hosted many great events over the years and is well known for their immense dunes, among the largest in the country, that must be navigated during the round.

I'm also very excited about the following day, where we will play two rounds at Cruden Bay Golf Club.

Long known as one of the great hidden gems in Scotland, wide acclaim over recent years has propelled Cruden Bay on to many World Top 100 lists and as a result, the course is a preferred stop on most Scottish itineraries. A few guys in the group played Cruden Bay in 2017 but I wasn't one of them so I'm greatly looking forward to the day. Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson designed the course in 1899 and like Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay features massive dunes and a glorious seaside setting. This is one of the most anticipated days of the trip for yours truly.

We conclude this epic adventure with a round at the controversial Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen.

The course was designed by Martin Hawtree and opened for play in 2012 but the development was heavily scrutinized by many conservationists throughout the process and that scrutiny continues to this day, with the fires fanned even more due to Trump's time in the White House. As a result, I will admit this is the course I'm least looking forward to on our trip but perhaps that's not entirely fair - I've heard plenty of accolades from people I greatly respect about the experience and even those who aren't effusive in their praise say they respect the course quite a bit. The landscape is supposed to be as dramatic as any in the world of golf so I will give it a fair chance. That said, it's the last course we see on our trip and for the sake of comparison, I came away feeling lukewarm about Kingsbarns in 2017 when it was the last course on that vacation so perhaps there will be some parallels in 2019.

16 rounds in 10 days...I may not be able to walk when I get back to Canada! I literally can't wait for this trip.

You can look forward to detailed reviews of all the courses upon my return. In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, as I document this incredible experience each day.

Thanks for reading, as always.

Friday, May 17, 2019

This Week on the PGA Tour: 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black

The spectacular par five 4th hole on Bethpage State Park's Black Course
(Photo by Now on the Tee)

The 2019 PGA Championship sees the tournament move from its decades-long August date to mid-May, with this year's event being held at the notorious Bethpage State Park Black Course.

I had the opportunity to play the course back in 2011 and I was fortunate to get the true "Bethpage Experience", sleeping in my car in the parking lot the night before in order to secure an early morning tee time.

Check out the link below if you're interested in reading up on one of the more unique public golf experiences in the world:

COURSE PROFILE: Bethpage State Park - Black Course

Enjoy the tournament this weekend!