Toronto-based designer Tom McBroom has created some fairly interesting, though subtle, work in the last couple of years. His creation of Wildfire, near Peterborough, has yet to become a business success, but it is hard to argue the course wasn’t an artistic success.
Which brings us to his latest course, The Ridge at Manitou, which officially opened all 18 holes about a month ago. Near Sudbury, Ont., The Ridge is a private course affiliated with the Inn at Manitou, an amazing small inn directly across the street from the course. If you want to access The Ridge and don’t want to kick out $55,000, this is your only way on.
The course opens easily enough, with a relatively simple par five. Though there is some use of rock on the hole, by and large, The Ridge uses the Canadian Shield more judiciously than McBroom’s other work, like Rocky Crest or Lake Joseph Club. The green site on the opening hole, like most on the course, is subtle, with fine ridges and swails. Don’t expect any wild contours similar to what appeared on McBroom’s earlier work (“my drug phase,” McBroom now jokes).
What you get at The Ridge is a course that is less bold than McBroom’s recent nearby design, Peter Schwartz’s Oviinbyrd, but one that is equally playable and interesting in its own way. There are also some exceptional holes on the property.
Take, for example, the driveable par four second (below), which tips the scales at 306 yards from the tips. A good pop with the driver and you can be putting for eagle; but pull the shot slightly and it will result in a lost ball. McBroom rival Doug Carrick could learn from the hole — a good short par four can really define a golf course. And by short, I mean 300 yards, not 355.
The real standouts at the course are the par threes, which appear to be the basis upon which the Ridge was routed. All appear to head in opposite directions and offer a variety of lengths, though McBroom appears to be most interested in long par threes this time round. The best of the bunch is the 11th, a beast that plays over a wetland and into a head wind. Pins in the front are difficult to get to with a long iron, but shots hit past the flag face difficult downhill putts.
The only real knock on the Ridge is the par fives are largely the least interesting parts of the course (and there are five of them), with the exception of the downhill 13th, which makes great use of an interesting green site to add some drama to the mix. The par five 18th, which is certainly among the prettiest holes on the golf course (right), is listed as a three shot hole, but realistically is a strong par four. Still, it allows even high-handicappers a shot at a four on the card, and everyone loves a birdie, don’t they? McBroom may be pandering a bit with this hole, but I’d rather see a short five than a 650-yard monster, the likes of which are cropping up on a number of courses these days.
At The Ridge, McBroom, in many ways has created his homage to Canada’s golfing heritage. The course uses a very Stanley Thompson-esque routing (especially with the 3-3-3 mix of holes on the back nine) and the designer even captures some Thompson-like shapes. Witness the 372-yard par four 16th (right), which uses a green shape very similar to the fourth hole at Highlands Links.
My only real knock against the course is that it is too consistent. McBroom, in his quest to avoid the critics whom have often argued that his creations were more ambitious than successful, has created a course that takes very few risks. That means The Ridge offers 18 strong holes, but very few truly great ones. You might come away recalling the experience more than singular holes. It is kind of like a girl who is looking for a stable, reliable boyfriend. She may miss out on the danger of the bad boy, but she still gets a reward by playing it safe. In the end, that may not be that much of a drawback for the Ridge. It all depends on personal preference.
The only stumbling block facing the Ridge these days seems to be attracting members to this Northern Muskoka location. But with a course this strong and consistent, it is hard to imagine that will be a problem in the long run.