Review: Wyndance Golf Club (Private — Uxbridge, Ont.)
Designer: Greg Norman
What’s the value of the celebrity designer? That’s the question facing Wyndance GC, the first course in Canada to fly the Greg Norman brand. With design fees rumored to be around $1.5 million (and likely more), what does a professional golfer like Norman bring to the creation of a course like Wyndance, a facility designed surrounding a former aggregate pit that is part of an ambitious real estate development.
Wyndance began life as strictly a housing play. But along the way Empire Communities, the organization that started the project, apparently became concerned that its specialty wasn’t golf and turned that portion of the project over to Canadian corporate golf giant ClubLink Corp.
The result opened a couple of months ago. The verdict? I found Wyndance surprising good in places and surprisingly mundane in others. The routing and many decisions made in the creation of the course are often perplexing. Is Wyndance a great course? No. But it isn’t a wild miss either. With Norman in town on Wednesday to officially open the course, it seems like a good time to investigate the result.
What people don’t typically understand about designs like Wyndance are the limitation placed on the project by the so-called designer. In most instances celebrity designers like Norman have contractual obligations to visit a course site no more than six times, including any appearances to schmooze members or the media. That means no more than a couple of other actual design visits. Compare that to the work of full-time course designers, some of which visit at least once a week — often more — over the months of course construction.
So what is one getting? Marketing power and the abilities of the name brand’s associate designers.
In this case a lot of the design is dictated by the use of the quarry site. Certainly last year, when Norman came up and glad handed potential members, the course appeared like it would extensively use the quarry, a rather industrial-looking affair that had the potential to create a unique course. After all, several great courses (like Merion in Philadelphia) and good courses ( Black Diamond in Florida) have used quarry sites to great success. And the hole that was mocked up for Norman’s appearance was the dramatic par three 8th, an intriguing one shot hole with a green pinched on the front by a bold bunker on the left and the quarry on the right.
All of that makes the lack of use of the quarry one of the most unusual factors involved in the design of Wyndance. The first few holes — in fact one through seven (though two has a tee shot that does use some of the industrial area surrounding the quarry) — have very little to do with the quarry, instead adopting a look that mixes parkland with sandy waste areas. A couple of these holes — like the second, with a green that plunges off dramatically at the back, and the third, an exceptionally long one shot hole (257 yards from the tips) are intriguing and place a premium on hitting exacting shots. The greens on the site have plenty of movement, and are modern in appearance. Nothing off-putting, but nothing that separates it from most modern courses either.
Perhaps the most intriguing element of the design is the use of aggressive grassed down bunkering that is visually appealing. But the deep bunkers (which are largely unlike anything I’ve seen in Canada) would appear far too penal for all but spritely younger members. I can only imagine that an older fellow might wander down one of them to play a shot and never return. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of ladders to get into some of the bunkers. This might be a case of the visual appeal overwhelming playability, and though I had no problem in the two bunkers where my ball came to rest in my round, I can imagine others might have huge issues with them, making pace of play a factor.
Not surprisingly several of the best holes at Wyndance utilize the quarry. What is intriguing and a bit surprising is how they use the quarry. Instead of playing holes that run down into the central, low lying areas of the quarry, Norman and his team determined that it would be best to run holes around the quarry. That makes the first holes to approach the quarry, like the previously mentioned 8th, quite breathtaking. However, by the fifth time Norman’s routing pulls off the same trick, on the strong par five closer, it makes one wonder if the design uses the same feature once too often. Players might long to blast a ball into the quarry, as opposed to just skirting the edges.
While the mix of holes, especially following eight, and including the crafty par four 11th, with its temptation to try to drive it near the green (which is protected by a steep slope about 80 yards out), is very strong, it is the routing of 12th and 17th holes that left me shaking my head. The 12th is a fine par three that skirts the quarry ledge. Following that players head slightly away from the quarry to play a par four that runs parallel to the 16th hole (which might well be the best on the course). Then following the 16th, players turn away from the quarry and play a relatively dull long three near a concession road. It is unattractive and puts a definite damper on the closing stretch, especially since 18 is such an interesting hole. Additionally in order to fit 17 into the routing, Norman’s crew forces players to walk back slightly, quite possibly into the path of those hitting long irons into the 16th.
Perhaps, as one associate has suggested, Norman’s crew overthought the routing and wanted to take players towards the quarry and then away from it, tantilizing them until they hit the 18th. I simply don’t understand why they didn’t reverse the 12th and make it the 17th, especially since it would only require a short walk to the 18th, and the drama of the high quarry walls would be in the eyes — and on the minds — of those looking to complete their rounds. Anticipation is central to great golf and in this instance I think Norman and co. missed.
Despite that, Wyndance was still better than I expected. Conditioning was spotty when I played in July, but that’s not surprising for a course opened by ClubLink, which often puts demand for play ahead of course conditions. With generous fairways and sharp bunkering, Wyndance is strong. One just wonders what might have been had the quarry become less of a visual element and come into play more frequently.