Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ben and Bobby at Merion

I've had the good fortune to play Merion twice. If I play it two dozen times, I'll never tire of seeing these:

Friday, October 28, 2005

Photos of Ireland

On a day when I can't really come up with a subject to write about, I determined it would be more interesting to have a photo montage of my trip to Ireland last month. Here's some quick shots:

Standing on the shoulders of giants -- our group at Royal County Down.

(left) Proving golf writers can design: The wonderful third hole at the European Club, created with wonderful whimsy by Pat Ruddy.

(Below) The strange Island Club. A remarkable place to play golf, akin to Scotland's Crail.

Portmarnock's amazing par three 15th (below), which appears benign, is actually tough as nails. Here's a thought -- Portmarnock is Ireland's Carnoustie, discuss.

(Right) The underrated Castlerock in the north of Ireland sports several terrific tests of golf, including this long and difficult par three, which finishes the front nine.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Canadian club goes into receivership. More to come?

Paris Grand, a relatively high-end public course located 75 minutes west from Toronto, has apparently gone into receivership. KPMG is looking after the course, which is now closed, and the club's Website is no more.
Now Paris Grand wasn't a great course, but this can't bode well for those opening or operating courses in and around Toronto. Several clubs faced difficult summers with falling rounds, and there are at least a couple of clubs that are said to be considering developing their courses into housing.
According to a story I read in a Canadian newspaper last week, 70 courses disappeared in the U.S. last year, having been turned into housing. As land in urbanized areas becomes more expensive, this trend could happen more often.
In Toronto, this has happened before. St. Andrews, a fine Stanley Thompson course that held the Canadian Open in the early 1950s, became a victim of its central location. Now the course, which had several outstanding holes, is under housing.
That's progress, I guess.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Course morphs for added challenge: Owner can change par-3s to par-5s in the same day

The following appears for those Torontogolfnuts interested in the Tri-Par golf course that I toured in August/2003. I guess the course should have opened by now, but there's been no word on this unusual project. It would be interesting to see just how this could be pulled off.

Here's the story:

While a name like the Maples makes any golf course sound common and uninspired, it is safe to say that the project being built under that moniker in a small Ontario town is anything but typical.
The Maples course in Noelville, Ont., about four hours north of Toronto, is going to be the first to use the "Tri-Par" concept, a creation of Ed and Scott McBride, brothers based in Sudbury, Ont. Their idea is to build golf courses in which every hole can be configured as a par-three through to a par-five. The Maples, which owner Mike Bouffard is scheduled to open next summer after three years of construction, is the first test vehicle for the idea.
The McBrides have patented their Tri-Par idea, which takes about 25% more land than the typical golf course.
So what are the defining characteristics of a Tri-Par course? First, Tri-Par courses could play to around 9,000 yards, which is essentially the length of the 18 par-fives that make up the basic course. And the concept allows owners to change the course each day, dictating at what length and par each hole will play.
Having players choose the par for a hole they wanted to play would simply be too dangerous and difficult, says Ed McBride. But owners could change the tees twice a day, meaning golfers could play one course in the morning and a different layout in the afternoon.
Golfers playing the Maples will have to ride in carts, as there could potentially be long stretches between tees depending on the configuration. There are eight tee boxes on each hole, allowing for women, senior and championship play.
Bouffard, an avid golfer who has overseen much of the construction, thinks players will be excited about playing a course that can be configured to play as 18 par- fives, though I expect there are some shorter hitters out there that have nightmares about such things. The plan is for the Maples to play as exclusively par-fives a few times a month and let golfers know about the configuration through the course's Web site.
"I think we'll find that people will travel a long way to play this kind of layout," Bouffard says. "After all, it will be the only place in the world where you can do it."
Not everyone is convinced the Tri-Par idea will work.
"Sounds kind of strange to me," said Tom McBroom, one of Canada's best-known golf designers and a member of the prestigious American Society of Golf Course Architects.
McBroom said he builds a different green complex that is determined by the length of the approach shot. Have a long iron shot into a lengthy par-three? Well then the green might be larger. Have a wedge into a par-five? Then the green would be smaller. McBroom says it would be difficult to build a green that would function properly for everything from a par-three to par-five.
But Bouffard isn't about to be deterred. He expects the novelty of the course will draw people to the rural area to play it, and the experience will get people to return. When I was there last week, Bouffard, who has spent less than $2-million on the project, had cleared the land for all 18 holes, determined where the tees would be set, and built some green complexes. Nine are expected to be open next June and the forest through which the course has been cut should make it look mature. As the inventors of the Tri-Par idea, the McBrides will receive a royalty on every round played.
While Bouffard admits the course may stir up some discussion about the way golf has been traditionally played, he says the Tri-Par idea is not that controversial.
"You're not changing the game," he notes. "You're just changing the par."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New golf blog:

There's a new golf blog on the block worth checking out: The site, which is run by Mike Sigers, is doing a good job of keeping everyone up to date on the latest travel deals in the industry, especially good if you're looking for a retreat to Myrtle Beach this winter.
Mike's note about his blog got me thinking that it is time to check out which blogs in my links list are still up and running....

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Öviinbyrd: A review

Designer: Thomas McBroom
Opened: 2005.

Few courses in Canada have been so discussed -- yet so rarely seen. To many, Öviinbyrd must seem like the Muskoka version of Magna: Big, bold, exclusive and expensive. The reality is quite the contrary. Öviinbyrd is subtle, yet intriguing, and smart where Magna struggles.
Conceived of by Peter Schwartz, a former tech CEO and partner in the project, Öviinbyrd's attention to detail is impressive and rarely matched in Canadian golf. Everything seems to have its own place - right down to the clubhouse and how it fits into the scale of the overall project.
But it is the golf that everyone wants to know about, especially given that with only 175 members so few have had a chance to tackle Öviinbyrd.
In discussing Öviinbyrd, one has to take away the notion of exclusivity to determine just how good the course is. There are several great golf experiences in Canada -- including Redtail, with its tiny membership, and Magna, with its valet parking and ostentatious nature. But exclusivity doesn't make a golf course great. It is the land, the greens and the layout that make a golf course stand apart, and thankfully Oviinbyrd had all of that to offer and more.
The course starts easily enough with a straight ahead 441-yard par four. The green, in many ways, is indicative of what's to come throughout Öviinbyrd: it rolls more dangerously than it appears, seeming subtle while actually featuring some bolder contours. The bunkering is typical McBroom -- flashed up sand faces that have been seen on many of his recent courses, though they differ significantly from attempts at bolder traps, as can be witnessed at Firerock in London.
The routing of Öviinbyrd is interesting for several reasons. First, it isn't two loops, which means it never returns to the clubhouse. Instead it wanders out from the clubhouse, hitting its peak at 11, before turning and leisurely heading back in. That makes Oviinbyrd one of the easiest walking courses in recent memory and is a big plus over much of what's been built in Muskoka. It also gives Öviinbyrd a classic feel, very unlike many of the modern courses that have opened in the area, like The Rock, Seguin Valley (which has remarkably long stretches between holes), or even McBroom's Rocky Crest, which returns to the clubhouse after nine.
McBroom has also found lay of the land opportunities for many of his greens (like the extremely friendly looking third), a factor that makes Öviinbyrd appear quite natural.
The quality of golf and mix of holes is also top notch. McBroom presents players with a moderate opener and then ramps up the proceedings, peaking at the 12th, before taking it down a notch. The course toughens up again in the stretch of strong fours -- 15, 16, 17 -- before concluding with what may be one of the only average holes on the course, the 522-yard par five closer. With water down the left side of the fairway and green, 18 feels like something you've played before, and you are likely right.
McBroom deserves credit for not going overboard with anything at Öviinbyrd, while not playing it too safe. The par fives are all a reasonable distance -- no 600 yard monsters here -- which may take some of the teeth out of the course, but surely makes it more fun to play. Here's a modern course that doesn't seem at all worried about holding a Canadian Open, and since it only measures 7,138 yards from the tips, it is truly a members' course. The only exception is the 14th -- which plays a reasonable 198-yards from the member tees, but can be stretched to 230-yards (or longer) from the tips. Though it is downhill, it has a small green and is well bunkered, making it among the trickiest holes on the course.
If there is a miss on the course, it is the short 494-yard par five ninth, with its narrow fairway and risk/reward green situated over a large pond. The fairway is so tight compared to everything else that hitting driver seems unnecessarily risky, leaving a dull combination of fairway woods and wedges for par.
Inevitably Öviinbyrd will be compared to The Ridge at Manitou, McBroom's other recent private Muskoka effort that also opened all 18 holes this summer. Everyone knows the Ridge has struggled to find members, but that shouldn't be a factor when determining whether the course is actually comparable to Öviinbyrd. The truth is that McBroom took more risks at Öviinbyrd (like the short 327-yard 10th, the blind tee shot on the 12th, and the tiny green on the 8th), and those chances mean Öviinbyrd has more to offer the Ridge. The Ridge at Manitou is a fine collection of holes, but with the exception of the a handful on the back nine, everything is good, but little is great. It is strong, but you may have seen it before. Öviinbyrd has some holes that are unlike anything in Muskoka.
At Öviinbyrd, great holes abound, including the 2cnd, with its difficult drive, the short 10th, the wonderfully clever long 12th with its amazing green site and the 15th, with its tee shot being struck majestically over a vast watery expanse.
Öviinbyrd is certainly exclusive, but thankfully it is also a rock solid course where Thomas McBroom's risks have become the player's reward. It'll be a tough project for Tom to top.

Friday, October 21, 2005

What's wrong with the golf media.

According to Geoff Shackelford, it is this:

So I've finally figured out what's been bothering me about the onslaught of
criticism. Bamberger was out there on the course. Many of golf's finest
scribblers haven't been seen walking with a player in years, or if they were, it
was from the locker room to the parking lot. Bamberger is actually one of the
few who walks enough with players to put himself in a position where he might
see something unusual happen. Some of his critics in the media might want to
keep that in mind when they ponder how they would have handled the situation.

Interestingly, in the times I've covered the Canadian Open for the National Post, I've found Shackelford is right -- most of the reporters hardly ever leave the media tent, with its endless supply of Coke and snacks. That said, Doug Ferguson, the wonder writer at AP, is one of those guys that loves to get out and see the action. He said that as a writer with an inside the ropes pass, he's got the best seat in the house, so why not take advantage of it?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ryan Moore makes it through

Golfweek has a story on how Ryan Moore, currently 121 on the PGA Tour's money list, appears poised to get his tour card without heading to Q-School. The story was written by Golfweek Deputy Editor Jeff Babineau and points out that:

But with $598,250 in eight starts as a professional (nearly $75,000 per event), Moore has moved into a position equivalent to No. 121 on the money list. As a non-member, he'd earn his 2006 card by finishing the equivalent of No. 125. And with three events remaining, including this week's Funai Classic at Walt Disney World, Moore is in prime position to become the first player since Tiger Woods (1996) to step out of a college classroom and earn his PGA Tour card without ever seeing the first tee at Q-School.

Of course, Moore isn't the only one to gain his card by simply playing on sponsor's exemptions. That list includes more recent standouts like Charles Howell III and David Gossett (remember him?). But it does appear Moore is the real deal. That said, has any amateur since Tiger Woods (oh, right, Michelle Wie) been so hotly tipped? After all, Moore did win the 2004 US Am, the Western Am, the NCAA and the US Public Links titles. Is Moore the next Tiger Woods, or the next Bill Haas (who is currently toiling away on the Nationwide Tour, but should make his card)? Time will tell, but even with an idiosyncratic swing, Moore could well be golf's next superstar.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Can't get enough of the Michelle Wie Zapruder film?

  • If you still aren't sure what Michelle Wie did wrong, or whether you burned your copy of To The Linksland to protest Michael Bamberger's role in the Wie Affair, you should consider checking out SI's seven picture slide show of Wie's drop last Saturday. You can find it here. Lots of individuals are now pointing out that Wie didn't drop the ball from a high enough height, either. Or drop had to be from above her shoulder, though I'm not sure what difference it makes.
  • If you can't get enough of Wiesy in the regular media, the incident is perfect for blogging. asks who is most to blame for the incident. The Sand Trap says Bamberger should have pointed out the infraction on Saturday, while Hooked On Golf questions whether fans or the media should be able to query a rules violation. Thankfully one person in the blogsphere, Jay Flemma, is ignoring the whole issue. He writes about Acadia Bluffs in Michigan instead. One of these kids is doing his own thing....

Unlikely sponsor puts LPGA event back on the rails: CN to be unveiled as underwriter of Canadian Open

Robert Thompson On Golf
National Post
The Royal Canadian Golf Association has pulled one out of thefire.Just as the organization looked to be on the verge of shutting downits LPGA event, the group , that runs all of Canada's majorprofessional and amateur golf tournaments has located a companywilling to cover the significant costs.
Sources have confirmed the RCGA will announce today at a newsconference in Montreal that Canadian National Railway will take overfrom the Bank of Montreal as sponsor of the women's Canadian Open.
Golf sources could not confirm the value of the sponsorship, buthaving a lead company back the event will at least allow thetournament, which is scheduled to be played this summer at theLondon Hunt and Country Club in London, Ont., to proceed.CN isn't a natural sponsor for golf. Unlike Bank of Montreal, it isn't a company that appeals to consumers, unless they suddenly feelthe urge to ship some heavy freight.
"When I first heard it was CN, I was astounded," said one source."I had to ask the person to repeat what they had said. It didn'tmake any sense."
Still, the company has other sponsorships, including the SpruceMeadows horse jumping tournament and the Canadian Paralympic team.But the LPGA event will be its highest-profile foray into sports.There had been concern the tournament would be cancelled as theRCGA had spent several fruitless months trying to land a newsponsor.
The organization's self-imposed deadlines to announce a new sponsor came and went in recent months.
But according to sources close to the RCGA, a member of theorganization's board of governors approached CN in early Septemberat the men's Bell Canadian Open in Vancouver. The deal with therailway company was then concluded quickly.Sports sponsorships have become much more difficult to obtain fromcorporate Canada over the last few years as companies have becomeincreasingly frugal with their marketing dollars. The RCGA's Champions Tour event disappeared when a sponsor could not be foundto replace AT&T after the 2002 tournament.However, CN won't solve all of the problems the RCGA faces with thewomen's Canadian Open. The event, which was considered a majorchampionship lost its status -- and most of its top players -- whenCanadian legislation governing tobacco advertising forced du Maurierto drop its sponsorship.
Though BMO stepped in to salvage the event,few of the top names in women's golf have bothered to venture to Canada lately.What's changed to get CN on board? No one at the company wouldcomment yesterday, but the sudden renewed interest in women's golffollowing the emergence of teen superstars such as Michelle Wie andPaula Creamer is surely a factor. After years of ignoring women's golf, sports media have jumped on the Wie bandwagon, making her oneof sport's most marketable stars.The next hurdle for the RCGA will be getting Bell Canada to renewits deal to back the men's Canadian Open. The current deal ends in 2007 and, despite promises from the RCGA that a new deal is in theoffing, the situation has been quiet as of late. Michael Sabia, CEO of BCE, which controls Bell Canada, is an avid golfer, but he may not be willing to continue spending the millions needed to sponsorthe tournament.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Taking the Wiesy way out

It should have been so Wiesy, but alas, it wasn't. The turmoil over Michelle Wie's misplaced drop in the third round of her first professional tournament is fascinating to watch. There's Michael Bamberger, the author of a couple of my favourite golf books, being questioned because he took a day to decide whether to turn Wie over to the rules officials. "I was just uncomfortable that I knew something," he said, adding, "Integrity is at the heart of the game." Bamberger would later say he didn't think Wie was actually trying to cheat -- she was just "too hasty," he noted. Bamberger's books make him out to be pretobservantent and with a good sense of humour. I never took him to take the game too seriously, but apparently his time working as a caddy has also made him a keen upholder of the rules of golf.

Interestingly, Alan Shipnuck, who has also written a pretty good insiders account of professional golf, wrote a story in SI, the publication Bamberger works for, trying to put some context on the situation:

Bamberger not only knows the rules, he also knows how to apply them -- in 1985 he spent a year caddying on the PGA Tour, and in 1990 he caddied for a season on the European Tour. But last week, Bamberger was traveling on a different passport, as a reporter.

Bamberger, evidently, felt he was in a bit of a spot after witnessing the Wie drop. You can see him in the footage played over and over on the Golf Channel -- he's wearing a pink shirt and standing behind Wie and caddy, Greg Johnston. The whole Wie saga has been so overplayed that I won't even try to present any details. I couldn't possibly outdo the Golf Channel, who showed the video so often that it appeared they had their own copy of showed the video of the drop over and over again. It was like a golf version of the Zapruder film. We were given Golf Channel talking heads detailing the drop ("you can see her first attempt roll closer to the hole,") and even in studiodreenactmentent, with potted plants sitting in for the cactus that were in Wie's way.

Anyway, Bamberger said it "nevoccurredred to me to call in a rules official," which makes sense. He's a reporter and is supposed to comment on the action, not be part of it. So he questioned Wie about it following her round. She said the drop was correct, and it didn't hurt that she'd made par on the hole even after taking an unplayable. But Michael clearly likes to be part of the action, that's what his books are about, so he went out on the course to walk off the drop and on Sunday and spoke to a rules official about it.

Shipnuck defends Bamberger, which isn't all that surprising, really. But his logic is a bit off:

In fact, third parties -- even reporters -- who point out rules infractions are protecting the field and preserving the integrity of the competition.

I tend to think of reporters as observers, not participants. In this case, Bamberger became a participant. It is crossing a line around which news reporters should tread lightly. Reports indicated that Wie and her father, BJ, were not too happy when questioned about the drop. Apparently Michelle became "very upset," according to the rules official who had her demonstrate the drop, but I guess that's not tsurprisinging. She's surely feeling a lot of pressure having signed huge endorsement deals and this is a huge embarrassment. Wonder how long her "professional caddy," will keep his job after advising her the drop was correct?

Of course Wie had her defenders. Golf commentator Mark Rolfing, a self describer "friend of the Wies," (is that your role as a television analyst, Mark?) told a Hawaii paper that the decision was a "travesty," adding, "I really don't think this is the way the rules of golf ought to be policed."

"I just think this is way worse than losing $50,000," Rolfing said of Wie losing her winnings. "It's going to cast a shadow on her first professional tournament that she committed a rules violation."

While Mark may have a bias, that statement rings true. There are already a lot of naysayers suggesting thatWie shouldn't have turned professional so quickly. She should have taken some time to learn to win and mature. But that wasn't going to happen. Her family, which had spent a fortune pumping up her image and brand, needed to cash in and did so. She signed with the William Morris Agency. She's now a spokesmodel and the best paid woman in LPGA golf, though she's never won anything of note.

Will this incident scar Wie? Don't bet on it. This crew is so self-absorbed and media savvy that when she finally wins -- and she surely will at some point -- they will make comments about how Michelle's win demonstrated that she could overcome the adversity she encountered early in her time on the LPGA Tour.

It is all about spin in the Wie camp and you know, in the background, the wheels are turning quickly.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

How good is Angus Glen North?

  • There's a fierce debate ongoing at Toronto Golf Nuts about the relative merits of Angus Glen North, the course that will host the 2007 Canadian Open. While Angus Glen remains the course upon which all others are judged in terms of service and the South Course is a terrific test of golf, for some reason the North just doesn't quite work. Perhaps it is the mix of architects (both Doug Carrick and Jay Morrish did work there) or the use of ultra wide fairways that cut back on the strategic value of each hole. Regardless, every one seems concerned that the course will get killed by the best on the PGA Tour. Not sure that is going to happen, but what difference does it make? A winning score of -20 under won't be an issue -- not on the PGA Tour these days. And if the RCGA wants to continue kidding itself that this event is still relevant, then just wait to see what sort of field shows up in 2007. The organization is so concerned about this that they double-crossed Doug Carrick by bringing in Davis Love III to rework his course. All Love is going to do is put his name on the design and then the RCGA will have paid him in order to talk up the course. Changes? Sure there will be some -- but Carrick had already planned significant alterations anyway.
  • As for the value of the North course, let's just say it works fine for the corporate market which it serves. The lucky crew who get to play in these tournaments actually hit a few fairways and pace of play is great. That's what really matters and that's what the staff at Angus appreciate. For what it is worth, I've always had fun playing the North Course. Interestingly, it is one of those courses where you are better off stepping back a set of tees, rather than forward, which is normally the case.
  • Thanks to Geoff Shackelford for pointing out a great Golf Week story about changes to the PGA Tour's schedule. Interestingly, the story has this quote from Bill Paul, tournament director of the RCGA: "Golf has a problem because there is not a defined season. Why bash your head against football?" That suggests the Canadian Open, as has been long rumoured, is on the move. Golfweek suggests that some tournaments will disappear, most notably the B.C. Open, Reno-Tahoe Open and Chrysler Classic of Tucson. But what happens if Bell Canada doesn't sign on to sponsor the Canadian Open for another five years? Could it become the next B.C. Open?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Bond Head course by Jason Straka

The new course at Bond Head doesn't open until next summer, but here's a sneak preview courtesy of some photos sent to me by Brent Long. the first course has been an artistic success, though a questionable business venture. Jason Straka, the architect behind both Georgian Bay Club and the first Bond Head course, is again looking after this one, though it has a very different appearance from the original course.

Though I've yet to see the course in anything other than a preliminary state, Brent's photos make this look a bit more like Devil's Paintbrush than the first course, with its Friar's Head bunkering.

What is also apparent is some of the similarities with Dundarave, the Hurdzan/Fry course where Straka had his coming out party in Canada. The square tee boxes give the course a bit of a classic feel, but the look is quite modern.

Clearly the course is in varying degrees of construction. Some holes are complete, while others have yet to be grassed. What is also interesting is the degree of elevation change on the course. That is evident when driving into Bond Head (the new course is on the right as you head up the road).

It also looks like playability will still be a key factor. The fairways probably won't be as wide as the first course, but still maintaining the width of many of the newer courses. As I've mentioned, I have yet to see the course first hand. I'll be up at Bond Head on Friday and will take some more photos and get Jason's perspective on the design.

So how will the second course at Bond Head be received? That depends on how the business plan develops around the course. As the guys on Toronto Golf Nuts have said, at $80 Bond Head is a great value. At $180, it is empty. Determining the price point will be a big factor in how many golfers venture north of Toronto to play. At the very least, the courses have to have a comparable price point to Copper Creek, which has always discounted weekend afternoon rounds and is less expensive than Angus Glen or Eagles Nest to start with.

But none of that has anything to do with the actual design value of the course. If it is as good as the first Bond Head design, I think it can be judged a success. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

  • Harding Park -- worth $16M? That's the question Geoff Shackelford asked in his column at last week. This week he's talking about other munis that could benefit from the same sort of exposure that Harding Park received. It is worthy of a read.
  • Had a chance recently to play Devil's Pulpit recently. It is one of the first courses Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry designed in Canada and was a really, really big deal when it first opened well more than a decade ago now. I had played it once before, but that was almost a decade ago and I was surprised to remember more than I expected to. In fact, several of the holes had left quite an impression on me. Interestingly, several of the short fives (the 1st and the 18th) have been changed to fours and the course now plays as a par 71. The only issue with this is that you now have some very long fours with greens that were set up to receive short irons. It makes the 1st especially difficult. But I didn't find the course to be as tricked up and target-like as I recalled. In fact, this is very much a second shot course, forcing players to hit to spots on greens. Though its sister course, the links-like Paintbrush, has received most of the accolades in recent years, the Pulpit was better than I expected and found it to be a lot of fun.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

More on Cabot Links

Robert Thompson
On Golf
At a time when many new golf developments look and play like they are built from a cookie cutter that creates the same design repeatedly, a new project in Nova Scotia has the potential to become Canada’s next great golf course.
The project, which will be built in the Cape Breton town of Inverness, has the opportunity to be one of Canada’s few true seaside links, akin to many of the great courses in Scotland and Ireland.
“It is such an amazing, unique site,” says Rod Whitman, the Canadian golf architect who is designing the course and has worked on award-winning clubs like Alberta’s Blackhawk and Wolf Creek. “It is exactly like a site in Scotland. It will certainly have a British flavour.”
The course is being built as part of an initiative between Toronto entrepreneur Ben Cowan-Dewar, who is currently raising money to start construction, alongside the provincial and federal governments. The Cape Breton Growth Fund, an organization whose goal is to help promote economic growth in the area, said earlier this week that it would contribute $2.5-million.
The announcement is the latest in a series of attempts to get a golf course built on the site, which had previously been a mine and was capped using government money. A group of investors attempted to build a Jack Nicklaus course on the site, but their proposal was deemed too costly and failed to attract investors. A second attempt, using Canadian architect Graham Cooke, also floundered.
“Golf architect Michael Hurdzan, who saw it years ago, said it was one of the best sites for golf remaining in the world,” says Cowan-Dewar. “There’s a lack of coastal sites for golf, especially in Canada, making this a rare opportunity.”
Previous investors had dreamed of creating an expensive resort on the site, something Cowan-Dewar says would have been incongruous with the rustic nature of the location. Rather than spending tens of millions on the location, Cowan-Dewar has envisioned a course similar to that of Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon. Bandon Dunes has three Scottish-style courses at a remote location. Golfers from around the world have sought them out for their authentic links flavour.
Aficionados regard links golf, which is played on vast sandy areas adjacent to the ocean, as representative of the true nature of the game. Unlike North American golf, which forces players to hit high shots to hold greens, links golf allows players a great number of options, including running the ball along the hard ground. Many of the world’s best courses – like The Old Course at St. Andrews or Muirfield in Scotland, or Royal Portrush or Royal County Down in Ireland – are links.
Whitman has conceived of a course with fantastic seaside views, punctuated with pot bunkers and sandy dunes.
“The first hole is something you’re going to be able to put on a magazine cover and everyone who sees it is going to want to play the course,” he said.
Aside from its authentic links appeal, the Inverness project should also attract golfers making the pilgrimage to Highlands Links, the great Stanley Thompson designed course located in the north end of Cape Breton.
All that’s missing now from the Inverness project is some additional investment, which Cowan-Dewar hopes to secure in coming months. Several parties have expressed interest in participating in the project and the aim is to have the course open late in the summer of 2007.
“When you’ve got this sort of site and the golf course we have proposed, I think it has the possibility of being compared to the great courses in the world,” said Whitman.
Cowan-Dewar is convinced the project will go forward and create something new and unique in the Canadian market place. The town of Inverness is so pleased with the new proposal that they’ve signed an agreement giving Cowan-Dewar’s group control over the property.
“This will be a course where you have ocean views from all 18 holes,” says Cowan-Dewar. “The recipe for great golf is there, now we just have to build it.”
National Post

Friday, October 07, 2005

New Bond Head course set to go

Had a nice chat with Jason Straka today, the architect who created the first Bond Head course and is hard at work finishing the second. He says it may be his best work in Canada to date -- and that includes the strong Dundarave course in PEI and the Georgian Bay Club, which I picked as the second best new course in Canada for Golf Digest this year. Straka seems to have an interesting style -- wide fairways, fascinating bunkering which he isn't afraid to throw into the middle of fairways, and fairly wild greens. It is an great mix -- I'm on record as saying I'm a fan of Bond Head (with one of two minor quibbles) and I'd be delighted to see the second course turn out better than the first.
Hopefully, as Bond Head as drastically reduced its prices in recent months, more people will get to this north Toronto course to check it out. $185 was too much, but $100 is a pretty good deal. There are some exceptional holes at Bond Head -- like the second, 10th, and 18th, which are rock-solid fours. Once the fescue lining the fairways is thinned a bit and the course matures, I think this could be a sleeper.
Jason is in town soon, and hopefully I'll find time to tour the new course. I'll report back what I've seen.

Weston Golf Club

In occasionally driving rain, I had the chance today to head out and see Willie Park's Weston Golf and Country Club, an interesting a historic private club in North Toronto.
The course is one of the private tracks that have really suffered in recent years, with membership getting older and fewer members coming on. It is an issue facing numerous private clubs across North America these days -- and a number in Toronto, including Thornhill and Summit.
What did Weston do about it? They hired Ian Andrew, my friend who works for Doug Carrick, to restore their bunkers. Interestingly, in his research Andrew found that Park never did complete the bunker work at Weston -- that fell to Harry Colt associate Charles Allison after Park became ill and went back to England.
Ian's version of Allison's work is interesting -- chunky bunkers with random lines have really brought the course to life. Occasionally the lines are not as random, which can be a bit distracting, but largely the work looks and plays wonderfully. Visually the new bunkers stand out and make the rough lines and green surrounds more distinct. They are also quite intimidating, though they are not all that difficult to play out of.
So what does this leave Weston with? For some reason prospective members aren't coming to the club, despite its prime location. The course itself is great -- 6,800 from the tips, with several stunning par fours -- including the 5th and 6th, with their dramatic tee shots and excellent approaches -- and the 18th, one of Canada's great closers. The fives are a bit mundane and the threes are average. It is a strong course, though it still lacks the charm of Scarboro Golf and Country Club, which features Old World quirkiness that really appeals to me. But for those that like their golf a bit more straight ahead, you won't find any blind shots at Weston and with a series of great fours, it has an added toughness factor.
Weston was once regarded as one of Canada's great courses. Arnold Palmer won his first tour event at the course. Surprisingly, when Palmer returned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his win at Weston, the club kept most of the event closed to the public. What a mistake -- it provided a great chance for the public (ie prospective members) to come and see the course and fall in love with it.
So far that hasn't happened, but with its face lifted a touch, Weston might just get a second look.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Interesting shuffles at the RCGA

Sadly, I heard today that John Tenpenny, the editor of Golf Canada, was let go by the Royal Canadian Golf Association yesterday. This leaves some turmoil at Golf Canada, which is published by the RCGA and generally has done a pretty good job. It has never been clear of its niche -- it kind of competes with Score and Ontario Golf -- but John did his best with the limitations he was presented with.
I wrote occasionally for the magazine, though that became more infrequent in recent years as my commentary in the Post, and apparently on this blog, ruffled the feathers of the RCGA's brass. I wrote a piece about a pay-to-play event the RCGA and Bell Canada held at Shaughnessy Golf Club earlier this year, and apparently RCGA executive director Stephen Ross was none too happy.
None of this has anything to do with John, who gladly published several interesting features I sent his way, including a cover story on Scotland and a historical piece on lost Canadian golf courses. I assume he took some heat for this -- I appreciate your integrity, John.
Why don't you do John a favour and send RCGA executive director Stephen Ross ( an email telling him he's doing a disservice to Canadian golf by not having a clue what to do with Golf Canada, which could be a valuable asset. Tell him I sent you -- he's my biggest fan these days, or so I'm told. It was fascinating in last month's Golf Canada to see Ross defensively pleading the case for what he and his organization has done with the $40-million they received from selling Glen Abbey. This may have something to do with a series of emails sent by a Bay Street powerbroker making some pointed inquiries about the transparency of the finances of the RCGA and why they keep switching investment bankers. Apparently that had several people running for cover at the RCGA.
Interestingly, with no LPGA sponsor, no sponsor for a senior event and the distinct possibility Bell Canada could withdraw from the Canadian Open, what does the RCGA have left to promote? Oh yeah, amateur golf. That's gone so well.
This organization should be a big benefit to Canadian golf. I think its current role is easily questioned.
All of this is too bad for John, a good editor and nice guy, who has been hung out to dry. I'm sure he'll land on his feet.

Inverness golf club to go forward

I'll have more on this tomorrow, but in the meantime, my good friend Ben Cowan-Dewar has been in the news with his proposed new golf club, Cabot Links. Here's a quick news hit from the Web.

INVERNESS — Construction on a $5.6-million golf course will tee off here next spring.More than 78 hectares of prime oceanfront land will be handed over free of charge to a group of silent investors. The Cape Breton Growth Fund, an arm of Enterprise Cape Breton Corp., will chip in $2.5 million in equity funding for the project, which means that if the project makes money, the group will repay the federal government.Ben Cowan-Dewar will head up the project, known as Cabot Links.He is president of GolfTI of Toronto, a luxury golf travel company and a course-ranking panellist on some golf magazines.“I represent the group and am the president, CEO and developer, but the group of investors comes from different parts of Canada,” said Mr. Cowan-Dewar.Mr. Cowan-Dewar said the golf course will be designed by Rod Whitman, an Alberta golf course architect. Mr. Whitman’s projects include the Wolf Creek Golf Resort and Blackhawk Golf Club, both in Alberta.

Ontario Golf's best new course; Has it all been too Wiesy?

  • Ontario Golf magazine, for which I write quite frequently and very much respect, has named its best new course in its latest issue. Drum roll please ..... Ridge at Manitou. It was followed by Whitewater in Thunder Bay and Jason Straka's Bond Head. I'm kind of surprised at the results, really. I would have thought Bond Head would have appealed to more on the small panel. But it hasn't really been the hit that was expected, has it? For what it is worth, I think the course is very good, with an interesting mix of holes and only one or two real misses (#7 comes to mind). Still, it hasn't hit home with the public and reportedly had a tough year in terms of conditioning. Not a good thing, especially when you are opening a second course next spring. The other thing that I found hysterical about the list was the number of people (who should know better) that listed food and service in their comments on the course. What does that have to do with a great golf experience? Isn't that as ridiculous as saying, "the golf carts were absolutely wonderful and clean?" My good friend James McCarten comments on the Ridge at Manitou that, "the clubhouse is home to five-star service and cuisine," while KPMG analyst Stephen Johnston says, "the service and overall ambiance were outstanding." What do you expect from a club that has two dozen members? I want to hear more about the golf course. Where are its weakness -- it did have some. Similarly, Kevin Holmes (a Toronto golf architect on the panel -- suprising, since other architects have been told they can't be on the panel) says about Bond Head: "Some of the club's most endearing qualities, though, include great, great and absolutely superb food." I was shocked to hear this from Kevin. I mean, I've played his Watsons Glen, which only has a trailer for a clubhouse, and I don't recall telling him the course was good, but I couldn't really give it the thumbs up because the food was crap. Maybe his comment was a way of saying he thought the golf at Bond Head was lousy. Interestingly, I would have placed Firerock much higher (it finished #4) and don't understand all the bitching about the dogleg #10. "They need to blow up the blind, downhill, dogleg left 10th," says Garry McKay, "and start again." Hit a three wood down the middle, guys, if you are worried about cutting the corner. Apparently none in this group has ever played a dogleg or blind hole in their lives. Ugh.
  • Michelle Wie has turned pro and is reportedly getting $10-million in endorsement deals. She's also being represented by the William Morris Agency, better know for backing actors than sports stars. But that's the rub, isn't it? Wie isn't a star on the golf course - yet. She hasn't won much of anything, though she's awfully competitive. There was a lot of talk about her being a "spokeswoman" on the Golf Channel this morning. Maybe that's where William Morris sees her fitting in -- on the television, rather than on the fairway.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Top 100 in the world

After coming back from Ireland, I realized I've added a nice group of courses to those in the Top 100 in the world that I've had the good fortune to play or tour in the past six years. I'm using Golf Magazine's list.

1)Pine Valley
3) St. Andrews
6) Pebble Beach
7) Muirfield
9) Royal County Down
11) Merion
12) Royal Portrush
13) Pacific Dunes
15) Royal Dornoch
17) Turnberry
20) Carnoustie
21) Seminole
29) Oakland Hills
43) Portmarnock
50) TPC at Sawgrass
65) Kingsbarns
69) Bandon Dunes
71) Highlands Links
78) Cruden Bay
82) St. George's
84) Hamilton
91) European Club

I'm kind of stunned by the number of courses I've had the opportunity to play, and it has certainly contributed to my golf education. Several of these I've had the chance to play twice -- including Pine Valley, Muirfield, The Old Course and Pacific Dunes. Hard to say how many more I'll add in coming years. We'll see.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bogeyman outed

The Toronto Star's longtime Bogeyman, the paper's annonymous golf critic, was outed over the weekend after he announced he was retiring. Turns out he isn't a staffer after all -- he's a teacher named Bob Marshall and he's 63.
Bob did more than 250 reviews of golf courses for the paper, which is remarkable in some ways. The only issue I had with the Bogeyman is that for the longest time he didn't seem to have any taste in golf architecture. He still likes some really, really marginal courses, like Lionhead. But at the very least, he's a fan of Eaglesnest. So he isn't all bad.
You can see his final writeup here and an interview with him here.

  • Lorne Rubenstein says that David Duval isn't finished in a piece on I hope he's right. I've always been fascinated by Duval, but I'll admit to being one of those who now thinks he's too far removed from his great years to ever play top grade golf again. Interestingly, Duval's five year exemption for winning the British Open ends next year, though for Duval it must seem like a lifetime ago.
  • Curmudgeon Geoff Shackelford takes a nice run at The Donald on as well. My favourite bit of the story is this quote: "This course bears absolutely no relation to Ocean Trails," Trump claims. "It's brand new. We have all new fairways, new traps, new sand, new everything. We have done things here, like the waterfalls and these massive retaining walls to elevate the tees, that no one has ever done before." Shackelford follows it up with a great zinger:
    "And there's a reason why no one has done these things before. They look ridiculous." The Donald thinks the way you alter a golf course is to add waterfalls. Ugh. Doesn't anyone know that waterfalls, with the exception of natural ones, always look contrived on a golf course. But coming from someone with Trumps' hair(piece), I think it is clear to say the man has little taste or style. Apparently Trump's new course takes a ridiculously long time to play as well -- witness the LPGA event held there this past week.
  • Finally, finally, my golf game seems to be coming back into shape. After only a couple of good rounds in Ireland, I shot 72 this past week. Thank god. Started feeling like David Duval there for a bit...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A quick note on adding comments

Hey all: Because I've been spammed a great deal in my comments section lately, I've added a verification feature. Hope it isn't too bothersome -- I love hearing what everyone has to say, regardless of their opinion.

The greatest: Pine Valley

I've had the good fortune to play Pine Valley twice -- once is an experience of a lifetime. Twice is just good luck. There is hardly a point in making much of a comment on the course -- how do you comment on what is generally regarded as near golf perfection? -- so I've decided to post some photos of the course.
The strange thing about Pine Valley is the hardcore golf nut is very aware of it, while the casual golfer often has no idea what the course is about. The second group often think Augusta is the best course in the world -- because it is shown on TV and hosts the Masters each year.
I've walked Augusta and I can say, while it is a great course, it doesn't rival the best I've played -- like Royal Portrush, Muirfield, The Old Course or Pine Valley.

Here's a quick photo montage with some brief remarks on the course. The first hole (right) is wide and relatively long, though players tend to hit a fairway wood off the tee for position and a mid-iron to a long green that drops off on the sides.

The second hole is where the real fun begins (below) . The fairway is narrower than on the first, and the green is perched on a hillside. Notice the rough sandy areas that come to define Pine Valley. The waste areas play as hazards, so they don't allow you to ground your club anywhere in the sand at the club. The green is sloped quite severely from back to front translating a long approach into a very difficult par.

Here's a shot of the green of the par three third. Notice the contour in the green, which is one of the reasons Pine Valley is considered one of the hardest golf courses in the world.

This is another example of the difficulty of Pine Valley -- the second par three on the front, which rests right next to the clubhouse. It requires a long, well struck iron or fairway wood. Missing the green to the right or left will result in at least a dropped shot -- or worse. However, George Crump (and Harry Colt) do allow players to tackle if they are short, providing a generous opening to the green. Wouldn't hurt to remove some of the trees surrounding the green though.

Here is the eighth green. There is a secondary green to the right that was built by Tom Fazio to take some of the pressure off of this putting surface, given how small it is. This requires a deft tough -- a long iron and a delicate pitch to a small green. It is this mix of holes -- from long and bold, to short and charming -- that makes Pine Valley so highly regarded.

Most of the holes at Pine Valley are famous in their own right. There is, for example, the short 10th, with its fabled bunker, "The Devil's Asshole." I've known some, who on their first try, have hit it into the bunker just to get a chance to play out of it. I have no idea whether you can put it on the green from that bunker -- but it looks rather unlikely.
Another interesting note about Pine Valley -- there are no rakes on the course. So if you hit it into a footprint, oh well...

The course ends with a short hole (the 17th) and then a long four to close. The 18th is, in some ways, representative of all of Pine Valley. The fairway is wide, but there is trouble for those who stray too far. The green is large, as is the case with a majority of the putting services at the course. But if you don't position your approach carefully, a two putt might be optimistic.

Certainly Pine Valley is the greatest most golfers will never get a chance to even see, let alone play. There is an old Shell's Wonderful World of Golf that shows the course in the 1960s, but little has been seen of it in public since. The Crump Cup, an amateur tournament, does allow the public in the New Jersey area to get a glimpse of the course every year. I imagine that when the tournament ends there's a message relayed to the spectators: "We were delighted you could come and see our tournament. Thanks. Now please head to your cars -- the hounds will be released in five minutes."

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