I have a fondness for Hamilton G&CC. It is on a magnificent property, full of fascinating dramatic holes and intriguing green sites. The 5th hole is as good a short four as is found in Canada, and the 6th is a staggeringly good par three. It has a nice routing — even if it isn’t the original one — but changes over the years have dumbed down the architecture. Grass lines changed for the Canadian Open, leaving bunkers stranded in a sea of blue grass. A couple of the rebuilt greens are marginal. It resided in the Top 100 in the world in Golf Magazine for one ranking a few years back if I recall correctly before dropping off.
A year ago I played Hamilton in the company of an American golf architect. He asked who consulted to the Harry Colt design, noting the grassing lines were among the worst he’d ever seen. When I told him American Tom Clark was at the course he was stunned.
“Why isn’t there an A-list architect here?” he asked incredulously.
I didn’t have an answer — it never made sense to me why Tom Clark, perhaps a passable designer, but certainly not a notable name when it comes to restorative work, consulted at Hamilton.
Apparently the club is about to change that — this comes from a note recently sent to members:
At its August 1st Board meeting, the Hamilton Golf and Country Club gave its approval to issue a Request for Proposals (‘RFP’) for the appointment of a golf course architect who will be responsible to oversee and direct the course Master Plan. Responsibility for the RFP has been given to the Course and Grounds Committee, and in the next few weeks, a select number of Golf Course Architecture firms will be invited to respond to the RFP call approved by the Board. This article is intended to provide information about the RFP, the reason for it and what it implies for the members and for the course itself.
Why this RFP & Why Now?
Harry Colt is considered by many to be one of golf’s greatest golf course architects, and Hamilton’s West-South course is one of his classic works. As such, the decision was taken to put in place a framework to ensure that the Colt character is purposefully maintained and enhanced in future. In late 2011, it was decided to adopt Harry Colt’s core design principles to ensure that changes to the course or grounds are consistent with the architectural intent and signature of the original Harry Colt layout (West/South) and that these design principles are also applied to the East nine layout so as to achieve a consistent golf experience across all course combinations. Prior to this, there were no such guiding principles, and as a result it is fair to say the Colt character of the West-South course has been subject to compromise over the past 100 years. Being purposeful about the Colt legacy is perhaps the best way for us to maintain and enhance what is clearly our most valuable asset.
Hamilton actually has Colt’s greens drawings for the course and plenty of photography demonstrating what it once was. In what is surely course envy, the club appears to have became very intrigued at a renovation following Toronto GC’s work with Martin Hawtree which, with a couple of notable exceptions, is pretty good.
But they didn’t just turn to Hawtree (though he came out and looked at the course a couple of years ago). Instead Hamilton reached out to three foreign architects — no Canadian made the grade apparently — Hawtree, Tom Doak, who is known for his work at Bandon Dunes among others, and Tom Mackenzie and Martin Ebert, notable for their work at Goodwood and an upcoming rebuild of Angus Glen’s South Course. Interestingly, Doak, who has only ever worked in Canada at Essex G&CC, has also pitched to rebuild St. George’s greens with Ian Andrew.
Absent, surprisingly, is Gil Hanse, who studied Colt’s work and is known as an expert on the designer. Hanse is building the course for the Rio Olympics, as well as rebuilding Doral. But most clubs, especially those in Canada, still don’t know who he is. Or perhaps Hamilton approached him and he passed on the work — either way he should be part of the process.
What’s Hamilton’s plan? Nothing in the short term. The letter to members says the architect will be picked in 2013 and a master plan is the goal. But the club, which recently underwent a massive clubhouse renovation, indicates it isn’t rushing into anything.
Is there a major project in the works?
There are no immediate plans for a major project. We will look to the appointed architect for guidance on the course Master Plan, and establish priorities based on those recommendations. The decision to undertake any major project will, of course, be subject to the approval of the shareholders.
Apparently some are now convinced that Hamilton could once again be a Top 100 course with a restoration. I think they are right. However, I also think it is time the club recognized that its resources should be put towards the Colt course, and perhaps turn the nine holes designed in the 1960s by Robbie Robinson into a course for older members and juniors — not unlike how Toronto GC views its other nine.
Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see what Hamilton does. Hopefully they check with the courses each of the architects have restored — the equivalent of checking references for a person applying for a job. If a restoration is what they have in mind, one firm seems head and shoulders above the others.
But clubs often don’t make smart choices when it comes to their course’s historical significance — let’s hope Hamilton does in this instance.