Sunday, May 29, 2005

Course Review: The Club at Bond Head

The Club at Bond Head - International Course
Architects: Michael Hurdzan/Jason Straka
Location: Bond Head, Ontario

Bond Head is the latest in a series of high end public golf courses that cater to the corporate market to have opened near Toronto. Designed by Jason Straka for Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry's firm, this surely rivals last year's best new course, Eagles Nest, by offering a bold vision full of options, fascinating bunkering and player friendly fairways. The questions about Bond Head really aren't about the golf, but more on that later.


As can be witnessed by the photos included on this review, Bond Head is certainly a striking golf vision. Fairways roam widely, while penal, naturalistic bunkering abounds. Though badly named the "International Course," the first of Bond Head's planned layouts does have some similarity to heathland courses that abound in the U.K. It is a bit of a stretch, but OK -- a bad name thankfully doesn't make a bad golf course. The course starts off easily enough, with a slight downhill par four that can be played with a fairway wood and wedge. But that's where anything one could call mundane ends at Bond Head. The second hole is more reflective of the rest of the experience. From the tips, the second hole plays 433 yards, and that's uphill. Though the fairway is generous, shots tend towards the right side and bunkers. From the approach position players can only glimpse the front of the green, making the shot more daunting than it truly is. The reality is that, with one or two notable exceptions, the greens at Bond Head are receptive. But the course is presented as a visual feast for the eyes, and Straka has been clever in the way he attempts to trick players into playing safer than they need to.


There are some tremendously interesting pieces to Bond Head, including the green on the par three fifth, the driveable par four sixth, the sweeping grandeur of the 14th and 18th. Still, there are some odd facets to the design. What's with the 600+ yard par fives, for example? Though it rivals Eagles Nest for distance, Bond Head picks up a lot of its yardage through a pair of holes (the 7th and the 12th), that are simply not a lot of fun to play, forcing players to slog it out through three or four shots in the hope of making par. Why the trend toward 600-yard par fives? Shouldn't well struck tee balls be rewarded with at least the chance to try for the green in two? The problem with this pair of holes is that they feel like penal golf at its toughest. One must avoid bunkers on the tee shot and then miss more sand on the layup, which is often being struck with a three wood because of the distance. If (or maybe more aptly, when) you reach the green, it is more a sign of relief than of triumph.


Still, that's a minor quibble in the overall scheme of things. The look of Bond Head is so bold and fascinating that it outpaces almost anything to open in Canada in recent years. Unlike Eagles Nest, which had inconsistent bunkering patterns, Bond Head offers its naturalistic look all the way around. If the club leaves Straka's bunkers to grow wild, Bond Head could be quite a site in a few years. If they don't, Straka's vision could become a little too saccharine to make the course particularly interesting.

The issues with Bond Head may rest in its business model and timing. The course is charging a lot of cash ($185) per round, which includes a fore caddy, an added bonus that worked nicely in my time around the course, a day before the official opening. It is a good half hour drive north of Toronto, putting it significantly north of its competition, Copper Creek and Eagles Nest. Even then, the course is being opened too early. Apparently construction problems resulted in three bags of contaminated seed being dumped on the ninth fairway. Nothing grew, so there's a stretch that is now simply dirt. It'll grow in quickly, but it isn't the kind of look one would hope to present to first time customers. As well, though the course is fine tee to green, everything around the edges, including the driving range, is still being finished.

All of these issues will disappear in time, but may leave lasting impression. Which would be a shame since a course with such a bold vision rarely comes around.


At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice write up Rob. I pretty much agree with your assessment both on the course and the business model. A couple of other holes which caught my eye were 14 with its fairway bunkers and 17 which I thought was the toughest 1 shotter.

The 9th fairway is improving (I drive by the course at least 3 times a week). The problem was there was non fescue seed put down and they were not sure where exactly. So they killed off that stretch intentionally and re seeded it.

The other 18 on the north side of the property is being shaped now. Lots of earth moving going on. The relief on that side is unbelievable.

I heard by opening before end of May they are eligible for best new course this year instead of next where the competition may be stonger.

At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I played Bond Head 2 weeks ago, and was not very impressed with the conditions of the course. Sure the clubhouse and staff was nice, and very high end, but once on the course, it was some of the worst conditions I have seen all year. The fairways were awful, patchy, with some areas..."gir" and others not cut for days....I am sure glad i didnt have to pay $175...I would have shot myself...

At 7:58 PM, Blogger Robert Thompson said...

My understanding was this was a problem with the fescue grasses and the management insisting on allowing carts on the fairways. The management is history, so I suspect this won't be a problem again.

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