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Course Review: Summit Golf and Country Club

The 14th hole at Summit has one of the most dramatic tee shots in Toronto.

Course Review: The Summit Golf and Country Club (1912)
Architects: George Cumming, Stanley Thompson, Doug Carrick

The Scorecard:  Summit is one of Canada’s true Golden Age of Architecture courses, and is touched by three of the best architects ever to work in the country. The course started with George Cumming and has been most recently tweaked by Doug Carrick – including ongoing work on the 7th hole. I have a lot of affection for Summit, and to my way of thinking it is easy to see why. After all, it has a great opener, a stunning looking closer and a lot of great land in between. That’s the crux of Summit – great land. Sure it might be a little short by some standards, but it more than makes up for that by offering a dozen or so terrific holes.

Birides:
• There are some truly exceptional holes on the course, starting right out of the gate with the first, which plunges to the Another hole that show's the amazing shifts in elevation at Summit -- this is the par 4 8th.fairway some 60 feet below and then plays to a tricky raised green. It takes a while for another really exceptional hole to appear, but the run from the 8th, a downhill par four through a valley to the 12th, a par four with a natural ravine on the right, is one of the best in the GTA.
• Land. Summit is built on some of the best land in Ontario. It is walkable, but has numerous changes in elevation, some of which are very dramatic. Only the uphill 11th feels like a slog, and even that isn’t bad. On holes like 1,8, 14 and 18, the land makes for some truly unique golf holes. Today architects would route around any one of these – yet Summit has four of them and they fit wonderfully in the routing.
• Routing. Walkable, interesting, unique and quirky. Summit’s routing, whether done by Thompson or Cumming, is a wonderful accomplishment. It is one of the best routings on a natural landscape I’ve witnessed.
• Fun. You’re not going to lose many balls at Summit, but that doesn’t make it easy. Instead you’re going to have to think your way around the course. It looks like a low score should be easy, but somehow it isn’t. I learn something new about the course every time I play it.

Bogeys:

A bit featureless, the 16th is the weakest hole at Summit.

• There are a lot of par threes on the back nine – four in fact (10, 13, 15, 17) and one could argue that only 15 is exceptional. It makes for a short back nine, and leads to the club’s continued quest for distance.
• The 7th hole has been out of play for some time due to concerns about balls being hit onto a nearby road. The hole has been rebuilt by Doug Carrick, but I’m not entirely sure it solves their problem. It was previously a short par 4 that has reachable; it is still a short par 4 and I’m not entirely convinced golfers will keep the driver in the bag. If they pull the big dog out, more balls will end up on the road, regardless of whether the bunkers on the right of the fairway suggests hitting driver isn’t the smartest play. The hole, with its raised fairway that runs into the hillside on the left, also looks manufactured to me. Perhaps this will change with time.
• Trees – there are still too many of them and the result is the turf struggles on places like #3 tee. Like practically every classic course, a bunch of trees could come out. That said, they appear to be working on it.
• Length. The club has been under some sort of quest for distance. Why not simply admit Summit is never going to be 7,200 yards long and maybe they shouldn’t bother trying to get it there. If a member wants that well, there are plenty of modern clubs that will cater to them.

• The 16th. A bland, relatively long par 5 — this is one of those holes that could be made more attractive with some additional bunkering. It has a great green site, but is otherwise bland and a bit featureless, especially in comparison to many of Summit’s other holes.

After the two opening holes, Summit offers up two mid-length par 4s. Neither look difficult, but looks can be deceiving, especially with greens this tricky.

The Final Tally:

Summit doesn’t get the recognition it deserves – but that’s likely because it is too lay of the land, with all the pluses and minuses that entails. The truth is that for many, it is too short, especially the back nine with its numerous par threes. On the other hand, it also has a nearly 600-yard par 5 on the back nine. Regardless, the club is dealing with the issue by adding new tees. Not sure I understand the decision – no one that I saw playing when I was out was busting it 310 – but that’s the club’s way forward.
In the meantime, I’d argue that along with Scarboro G&CC, Toronto GC, and a couple of others, Summit demonstrates the power of the natural landscape to create a timeless classic. That’s what they have at Summit – let’s hope they don’t mess it up.

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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.

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great review, Rob. I’m fascinated by Summit. Amazingly, I’ve never been there but the photos I’ve seen really impress. The course appears to be so beautifully natural. It looks like a fantastic property for golf where over-decorating holes with artificial features has been mostly avoided. (I say mostly because when I looked at your photos of the 7th, I honestly thought you had mixed in a couple shots of a different course.)

  • You said,” On holes like 1,8, 14 and 18, the land makes for some truly unique golf holes. Today architects would route around any one of these – yet Summit has four of them and they fit wonderfully in the routing.”

    Robert,

    I couldn’t disagree more -they are the most obvious holes on the course along with the 9th. Everyone can “find” a hole in a valley and we’re all drawn to elevated tee sites too.

    It’s the 2nd, 3rd (pure genius), 6th (my fav.) and 12th (Pete Dye’s favourite) that are more unusual – I think they support your arguement more effectively.

  • Ian,

    I think the first three holes at Summit work amazingly well. The first is a strong start and the second a very strong par 3 with a good green. I also think three is quite spectacular and all that character without one bunker….like you say genius.

    Also, when you talk about the 6th, are you talking about the current 7th (the par 4 with bunker right that goes down into the bowl after the 100 yard mark?). Although the 6th (which I believe you mean 7) and 12th are very good holes, do you think most people are turned off by them and that this effects Summits rating? I can’t help but think most golfers, especially on there first time around, will hate these two holes.

  • Robbie Robinson did a lot of good work at Summit, I guess I can only surmise that the club records are not very accurate or someone did not do any research.

  • Frank,

    No, I think people enjoy them a great deal.

    I think they are architecturaly harder to find for a routing because they involve high points rather than valleys.

  • I am for ever losing golf balls there.

    I am surprised there is no mention of 10 and 11. These two holes are classics, beautifully fit in the middle of the round and give the course its balance, strength and challenge.

    I am surprised to hear such praise of 6 (par 4) and 12. Good players will just fly the bunker on six and have a short pitch, otherwise a layup left and a very short in. And 12; after years of hitting too far left, I finally found the correct line. I am trying to see the value in this hole but all I see is a drive and a very short iron.

    I like 16, liked it better with the creek. I thought it should have been widened and filled. I esp. like the green complex. I maybe the only person in the world against bunkering (sic) this hole. 5 (par 5) is a weak golf hole.

    #1, #8, and #18 are magic. 9, 14, 3 and 4 are great looking, 15 is a very good golf hole.

    Love playing this course!

  • Summit’s first rivals St. Thomas’ opener for difficulty, drama, and timeless design. Just played it this morning and was reminded that 6500 yards over challenging, fun, aesthetically pleasing, and sometimes demanding terrain is still very relevant 100 years on and counting.

  • There is still something to be said about playing a beautiful well landscaped and architectural fantastic golf course that does not eat you up…rather challenges you to play smart shots yet forgiving to the point of an enjoyable round…at least the 5 rounds I played it last year. As well they are building a brand new Pro Shop and re-doing the 1st fairway. A very nice course that is appealing yet enjoyable to all levels of play.
    HM

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