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Course Review: Blue Springs Golf Club (Acton, Ont.)

Blue Springs -- the 8th is one of the standouts on a course with several awkward holes.

 

Blue Springs Golf Club (Acton, Ont.)

Designer: N/A – John Brison, who was involved in the Old Hide House in Acton seems to have had some involvement in creating Blue Springs, but it is tough to find documentation on that.

Overview: Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? Or do you look at things more critically? In the case of Acton’s Blue Springs, it had been 13 years by my count since I’d last tipped it up at this ClubLink course about 45 minutes outside of Toronto. When I was last there I’d just started writing seriously about golf, while also beginning my new gig at the National Post. I can’t claim I knew much about golf courses or design. In the ensuing years I’ve dug through dozens of books on golf design, had the good fortune to see many of the best courses in the world and practically everything critically acclaimed in Canada. I hope I’ve learned a thing or two about golf courses along the way. One thing is clear, my taste in courses is fully formed now, and it doesn’t include Blue Springs which in parts is good, but in others is haphazardly designed with a series of awkward holes.

The routing for Blue Springs

Birdies: 

  • • It is hard to find any element of Blue Springs that stands out, but I’d say the more open holes are the strongest. The 6th, an uphill par four with a back-to-front green, used the property’s elevation well, creating a neat vista, and the 8th hole, a par four with a tee shot over a pond, was also quite strong.
  • • The greens at Blue Springs were not overdone, which suggests little thought was put into them. Good thing – they actually work considering how busy the rest of the “design” is.

Bowling alley -- the chute you hit through on the awkward third hole at Blue Springs

Bogeys:

  • • Trees. Right out of the gate there are too many trees at Blue Springs. The opener, a mid-length, downhill par four, feels like you’re hitting into a bowling alley, while the third, a short par four the turns hard to the right, feels like trees were planted to compensate for a bad design.  Who plants cedars on a golf course? My favorite misstep was the second hole, a drop shot par three where the cart path is so close to the left of the green that a wall of cedars were planted to repel any shot that hit the pavement.
  • • Routing. Blue Springs is full of doglegs, clearly compensating for the fact the routing was piss-poor. Many of the holes fight the land – with the grade of the property going one direction while the hole plays in the opposite – and the doglegs are forced into areas with limited land (see #3, #7, #9, #13, #16). This is why you hire a professional designer – they should get the routing right to avoid just these kinds of issues.

 

The final tally:

Blue Springs has some terrific land, even where it is routed between homes. However, the routing is lousy and leads to several failed holes. It isn’t much fun to play – and even with tree removal I’m not sure it would be much better. This is a prime example of a course that needs a do-over. Reworking holes (the 4th, for example, would be more interesting if played backwards, something I’d say for several holes on the course) could bring big benefits to Blue Springs. It isn’t all bad – and there are several strong holes. But overall it is ill-conceived and awkward.

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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.

18 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Blue Springs is definitely one of those courses that the more you play it, the more you appreciate that it’s a great test and a wonderful escape. (I’ve played there for 12 years, so … yes, I’m biased.) Indeed, it’s got some funky holes, but so what? Every once in a while, you just got to hit a shot. The greens have a tonne of contour, but that makes them very entertaining. There are some great white knuckle drives and holes that really test your course management. Frankly, most anyone who has played Blue Springs more than a few times comes to love it. Most people say it’s tough but fair, and they can’t wait to play it again. Note there are abutting houses on just one hole. If you walk Blue Springs, you also get a great workout. Robert: Augusta National or The National it is most definitely not, but Blue Springs it’s one helluva great challenge and a lot of fun to play.

  • These are interesting and surprising comments indeed! Blue Springs is recognized as one of the best and most challenging golf experiences in the ClubLink family. I find it interesting that some of the holes you believe are poorly laid out are the ones that my guests find the most esthetically pleasing – not to mention the most challenging. For example, from the blue and gold tees #2 offers a great view of the surrounding area particularly in the fall. The tee shot itself is a tough one and you will notice that the hole is rated one of the hardest on the front nine – I recommend you not hit it down the left side…those bunkers and cedars should persuade you to aim a bit to the right!

    I am glad that you ventured out to try the course again but like a previous reader noted you should come back and play again sooner rather than later. Once you get a feel for the course you begin to appreciate it more and more.

    • Great comments Kevin. It boggles me to wonder why this course gets such a harsh review. I’m sure the over 500 members would disagree with Mr. Thompson’s comments. This year alone the course attracted 100+ new members. Could all these new members be wrong and so uneducated in course design that they flocked to a poorly designed course?

  • This review is exactly right.
    It is amazing how people come to accept huge design flaws as they get used to them. The “well sometimes you have to hit a shot” comment is exactly what I am talking about. If a course is well designed it will provide the tempation to attempt a tough shot but the penalty for a slight miss will rarely be a lost ball. People must understand that there is such thing as a bad golf hole. I really think in this case that people are to forgiving of Blue Springs. Blue springs is a very poor design with some lovely views and nice land…with an architect it could have just as easily been a good design with lovely views and nice land. I really think (maybe hope) that if this course were renovated by a good architect, that people would recognize the difference and enjoy the course more.

  • Robert,

    I recall that TMA was asked to help with the design of this course several decades ago this course, but the owner thought that he would complete the work himself. He then approached TMA after the course was built, and asked if we could come and fix five of the holes that didn’t seem to work. We declined. However, I would temper any harsh comments with the fact that the course was constructed under the guidelines and restrictions of Conservation Authorities and the Niagara Escarpment Commission.
    Another note of interest was the fact that during the Canadian Assistants’ Championship, only one pin position was used on one of the greens during the three day tournament because the green surface was too severe to allow any other position.

    Chris

  • I only played it once, some years ago, but my lingering memory of it was that the green surfaces were over-shaped, and that it was not a very enjoyable course to play.

  • I’m certainly not an authority on Golf Course designs. Quite frankly, I’m far from it. I’m just an average “Jane” who is passionate about the game and Blue Springs. That said, I can only offer the following:

    Symphony No. 9 in D minor, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1824)
    is believed by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written, and pretty much universally considered among his choicest works.

    Early Reviews:
    “We find Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to be precisely one hour and five minutes long; a frightful period indeed, which puts the muscles and lungs of the band, and the patience of the audience to a severe trial…” –The Harmonicon, London, April 1825

    Animal Farm, by George Orwell (1945) appears on TIME magazine’s 100 best English-language novels (1923 to 2005). list #31 on the Modern Library List of Best 20th-Century Novels. Wins retrospective Hugo Award in 1996.
    Included in the Great Books of the Western World. Estimated 25 million copies sold

    Early Reviews: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” –Publisher’s rejection

    Fred Astaire (1899 – 1987)
    “…simply the greatest, most imaginative dancer of our time.” –Nureyev
    “He gives us a complex because he’s too perfect. His perfection is an absurdity…” –Baryshnikov

    Early Reviews:
    “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” –MGM Testing Director’s response to Astaire’s first screen test

    AND FINALLY:
    Blue Springs……………………………………………………………………….

    Early Reviews:”….a prime example of a course that needs a do-over….”
    “…..overall it is ill-conceived and awkward……….” – Robert Thompson’s (a best selling author and an award winning columnist) comments, criticism and opinion on the world of golf (2012)

    Blue Springs, a Masterpiece! – Oksana Tressel (an average “Jane”, in love with the game of golf and the beauty of Blue Springs). Time will tell…………………………

  • For every Animal Farm, Beethoven’s 9th, and Fred Astaire, there are thousands of books, symphonies, and dancers that never made the grade….and I would guess would have had similar reviews in the early days.

    Hmmm, which odds do you want to take?

  • Dear Weekend Enthusiast, if that is your real name, the odds are that you may never get to play Blue Springs given tee times are scarce on weekends. Though I’m sure there are thousands of other course……

  • Fascinating to see my perspective on Blue Springs generate such strong defenders of the course. I actually think those that feel it is great simply haven’t had the good fortune to play something that truly is great. That said, I appreciate the spirited defences of the course.

    Re: Weekend Enthusiast/Anonymous Enthusiast — don’t worry about Weekend, he has a fine course to play and won’t be seeking tee times at Blue Springs any time soon.

    Re: Artistic works that were badly reviewed. Fascinating. However, Blue Springs has been around for 20 years. No magazine puts it in the Top 100 in Canada or even Ontario. That, in itself, doesn’t make it bad. The half-assed routing, over-treed fairways and holes that are graded away from the expected shot make it a lousy experience. But if you really think its great, keep playing it. I won’t be back, not that anyone will miss me there.

  • It’s a natural and strong tendency to ignore or even embrace the negative aspects of your home course. People invest a ton, financially and emotionally, into where they play.

    I’ve been playing fairly frequently at Lakeview. It has many good holes and a great set of greens. I know, deep down, that #12 is a gawd-awful hole but I’ve embraced it because it’s part of the total package.

    The beauty of golf, and golf courses, is that the theory of diminishing returns applies. Lakeview may not be 90% ‘as good’ as St. George’s but I get at least 90% of the enjoyment out of playing it vs St. G.

  • Good post, Matt. I play Lakeview a lot too. I enjoy it because it’s accessible and inexpensive compared to other reasonable options available to me, and because there are aspects of it — the greens, mostly — that are quite good.

    Golf is like beer or coffee or wine or art or sex — it doesn’t always have to be a masterpiece to be worthwhile. But it is helpful to know the difference.

  • Well I have had the good fortune of playing all over Canada and US on some of the highest rated courses. I am not surprised by the comments of the author and the defence of the course from golfers. Frankly some of the highest rated courses in this country are on my “never play again” list because they were in my mind simply overrated. Design experts it appears tend to follow a certain critieria and Blue Springs never seems to be given a fair shake. There is no big name designer associated with the course so that may be the reason. However the average golfer, the guy who pays the membership and buys the clubs, the backbone of the industry really seem to like the course. So my vote goes to the guys and gals who pay the bills, they know what they like and they like Blue Springs…..me too.

  • Interesting course in good condition and very walkable, but with a few good hills.
    I would definitely go back when in the Toronto area.

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