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Course Review: Cardinal Redcrest

The opener at Cardinal Redcrest, with another of the course's ever-present ponds on the right.

Course Review: Cardinal Golf Club/Redcrest (Newmarket, Ont)

Designer: Kevin Holmes

Sometimes you have to feel a tiny bit sorry for golf designers handed certain sites. Take, as example one, Redcrest, part of the 54-hole Cardinal facility, not far off the 400 Highway north of Toronto. The land in this instance, I can only surmise, was swampy and low-lying. It contained almost no discernable elevation change. When you put wet and flat together, rarely does something stunning come out of it.

Of course that isn’t always the case. Pete Dye’s TPC at Sawgrass is both wet and flat, but is always outstanding. So it can be done. But Redcrest isn’t Sawgrass, so let’s not pretend that it is. That said, it isn’t trying to be either. Holmes’ Redcrest is a mid-priced public course a step above the two existing golf courses, which draw lots of golfers, but probably have few fans. The existing two courses are mundane, straight-forward golf, basically forgettable. With Redcrest, Holmes set his sights a little higher.

Let’s start with what works – Redcrest is a walkable course that isn’t too hard on the legs. It puts a premium on a golfer’s ability to hit the ball relatively straight, given there is water on practically every hole (only the 8th and 9th holes, arguably two of the most interesting on the course, lack H2O). The greens are large and receptive, though the conditioning was strained when I was there – probably due to the summer heat mixed with new turf.

Redcrest gives you a sense of what is to come right from the first hole. Golfers tee off on a ridge and play down to a flat fairway protected by water on the right. It is a bit of a nondescript opener, but not offensive. The same could be said for the second hole, a par 3 with a green that angles away along a pond.

The tee shot on the fourth hole at Redcrest.

I’d say the where Redcrest is most interesting – like the par 4 third, fourth, and fifth holes, and several mid-length par 4s on the back nine – Holmes manages to create some intriguing golf on relatively bland land. Some will like these holes, like the fourth with its green featuring a false-front, or the fifth with its fall-away green, while others might argue Holmes is tricking-up holes to distract players from the land. I actually thought he did a nice job with these holes – though it can be pushed too far. Take, for instance, the par-5 sixth, where the tees are so low lying that players cannot distinguish where the fairway starts, and won’t see their tee shots land.

The best holes on the course are clearly the 8th and 9th, a par 3/par 4 combo that also, not surprisingly, has the most interesting land. The 9th might put some off, given that those that fail to pound a ball up its rising fairway will find themselves with a blind shot into the green. However, Holmes has made the green large, and the front of the putting surface is open, allowing one to run a shot in or chip if they come up short.

The par 3 8th hole.

That’s not to say everything works equally well. The 10th, at 561-yards on the card, is awkward, with those hitting even a good drive facing the potential of not being able to hit their second shot over the wetlands. Those that fail will find themselves hitting an awfully long approach into the green, suggesting the man-made hazard is simply located in the wrong place in this instance.

The back nine is punctuated by mid-length par-4s, before reaching its climax with a long three-hole grouping that closes the course. Mixed in you get a dull, long par 3 (the 12th, at 226-yards), and a short four (the 341-yard 14th) that, not surprisingly, uses water as its defence. Sure the finishing two par 4s – the 452-yard 16th and the 442-yard 18th – are tough as nails, but once again water is the main feature. It is a one-dimensional strategy that allowed the course to be created, using the fill from the ponds to create fairways and features. However, it also makes most holes feel very much the same – either with water on the right or left throughout.

The 10th from behind the misplaced fairway hazard.

On top of all of this, I found Redcrest to play shorter than its listed yardage or 6,744, though the mix of other yardages (6,338 yards for the blues and 6,010 from the whites) makes this playable for basically anyone.

Despite all similar nature of the holes, Redcrest is still walkable and likely fairly priced at $77. I just suspect it wouldn’t be very interesting on repeat visits and the do-or-die nature of all the ponds is likely off-putting to higher handicaps who have no ability to recover without a ball retriever.

The long, par 3 17th.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Without reviewing all the details, our annual Golf Tournament, held at Cardinal Redcrest last year and again this year on June 5th, was well received by those who attended. Everyone wants to return. The golfers loved the course!
    http://www.campwinston.com to join our tournament and help kids with special needs.

  • I was severely disappointed with Cardinal. I found the staff to be super unhelpful, and it totally took away from my experience. I will not be going there, ever.

  • I played Red Crest today after reading this review, which had my expectations low. I’m pleased to say that I liked it a lot more than the reviewer did. That said, I do have some criticisms; firstly, it’s a bit too expensive at $99 after tax for a weekend. In my view, I think about 75 all in would be more appropriate, secondly, it is, like the reviewer noted, a little on the short side, and we played from the blues- the next time out I would play from the tips and even then it’s not that challenging length wise; thirdly, as noted, the tenth hole is a weird set up for a par five- after your drive you are practically forced to lay up with a wedge and then you are faced with a very long shot to the green- I played it driver, wedge, five wood, then chipped on – a bit strange- The reviewer overstated the flatness of the course- I found that there was a lot of undulation in the fairways, and I don’t have any problem with water hazards- I was prepared for a florida type experience, but in my view, it was alot better than alot of top level florida courses I have played on. Now, as for the good- I thought the greens and bunkers were all top notch- the greens especially were big, with lots of movement and were very fast. The sand in the bunkers was excellent and bunkers were well placed. The grass on the fairways was excellent and in great shape, and the rough was very consistent and at a challenging, but not penal height. There was sufficient variety in the sightlines to make the course interesting and it was visually pleasant, if not stunning. As for the amenities, one problem is that red crest does not have a range, but the pro shop guy called over to cardinal and arranged for a couple of free buckets for my partner and I. This was great but it only works if you show up early enough to drive back and forth between cardinal and red crest- keep it in mind if you want to warm up and ask the pro shop guy for the same deal. The staff in general were all warm, friendly and helpful. The clubhouse was pretty decent, with a serviceable locker room if you want to shower up after the round. All around, a better experience than the reviewer let on, in my opinion, but with the prices after tax, I think I will reserve this course for weekdays and special deals. And I agree with the reveiwer that it is a very walkable course, indeed.

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