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.