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.
• There are some truly exceptional holes on the course, starting right out of the gate with the first, which plunges to the 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.
• 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.
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.