Course Review: Mystic Golf Club, Ancaster, Ontario
Designer: Tom Pearson
Opened: September, 2005
Gaining some sort of attention in the heavily golf saturated market of Southern Ontario is tough these days. The quality of public golf is high and the customer is savvy, sharp and knows exactly what he wants. They search out and research the places they are going to play and keep their eyes focused on local golf periodicals for new clubs that might match their interests and their pocket books.
Given this, Mystic Golf Club, about 10 minutes from Ancaster, is aptly named. Few know much about the course, which was in planning stages for more than a decade before it became a reality. And since it has had one of the most low-profile openings of any course in the area in the last few years, the public can be forgiven if they still don’t know this course exists. No promotion and no advertising, plus a rural location on a sideroad with no signs typically equals no golfers. Interestingly, despite the clubs best efforts to become the Ontario Greta Garbo of the golf scene, Mystic managed 1,000 rounds in the two months since it opened.
Mystic Golf Club is different, which is a nice change. It has small greens, narrow fairways in spots and can be tough as nails. It is a bit of a throw back to the time when developers like Kaneff, who created Lionhead, determined they wanted to build “players’ clubs” (though this is much better than either of the Lionhead courses). Courses developed for serious or talented players are almost always done badly because they exclude a majority of the public which doesn’t break 90. Developers and designers too regularly misunderstand what makes a “players course,” and instead create overly difficult courses that aren’t a lot of fun for anyone. Thankfully, Mystic largely avoids this trap, but only just. The best difficult courses offer options — especially off the tee. In this respect, Mystic can occasionally come across as a one-trick pony, where players are expected to hit long straight drive after long straight drive. There are other issues as well. For one, the three sets of men’s tees — 7,365; 6,713; and 6,096 yards — are badly conceived. Too many players, afraid at being laughed at for playing the course at 6,000 yards, will step back and get badly beaten by the forced carries at 6,800 yards.
This will likely also create pace of play issues. Certainly Pearson had some difficulties in routing through the valleys and wetlands that run throughout the property but are rarely near greens or tees. Still, one would have thought he could have managed to find the money yardage of 6,400 or 6,500 yards that every other golf architect in the province seems to have managed to find. In recent years, I can only recall the much maligned The Rock in Muskoka that opened with such an odd variety of yardages.
There are a few other downsides, including the fact that several of the holes in the front and back nine, which play on lackluster land, have a back-and-forth feeling. This is especially apparent on the front nine in the 5th, 6th, and 8th holes which are challenging, but plain. The 8th is saved by a good green site a different tee shot and the first glimpses of the terrific 9th. Once past the interesting, but strange, par five 10th, and strong downhill par three 11th with its Nicklaus-style green, we hit another section of holes that play between the valleys and are a bit staid. Pearson also comes to rely on two-tier greens which can be found throughout the course and accentuate the repetitive feel. That said, the greens at Mystic Club buck the trend of recent courses constructed by the likes of Doug Carrick or Thomas McBroom given their small size. It means hitting the greens can prove problematic, but once on the putting surfaces and on the correct tier, the gentle movements make birdies quite possible. Though the course was in tough shape in places, much of which can be excused given its newness, the greens were in exceptional condition.
Much has been made about the width of the fairways at Mystic, which in places average 28 yards wide (see the photo to the left, of the sixth hole, for example), or about a third narrower than most of the new courses that have opened and focused on playability in the past decade. Interestingly, Pearson utilizes these narrow fairways to on the holes with the poorest land, perhaps a compensatory move to distract golfers from the bland parts of the course. Not surprisingly, the best parts of the course, like the bold 9th, with it bunker in the middle of the landing area, have relatively wide fairways and present players with options off the tees. The weakest parts are fairly one-dimensional, with tight fairways and inside angled bunkers.
The best portions of the course utilize the valleys and wetlands as forced carries off the tee or on approaches to the greens. Take, for example, the terrific par four 14th, with its tee shot across an expanse of marshy wetlands, to a narrow fairway that runs down a hill. The green is perched neatly against the wetlands valley, making for an interesting approach.
The finishing hole, which plays 453-yards from the tips (and can be seen in the opening shot of this review), provides one of the few instances of real drama on the course, with an extraordinary tee shot from blocks set on a the top of a hillside and looking down over more wetlands. The carry — approximately 230 yards — is intimidating, and if you manage to find the short grass, you still face an uphill approach to a well-bunkered green that falls away at the back.
If it were all as strong as the 18th, Mystic would prove to be one of the best courses in Canada. Instead, it is strong in places, and just average in others. Unlike the work of David Moote, Ted Baker or Rene Mulyaert, there is nothing downright awful, awkward or bad in design terms on the course. However, several facets, like the bunkering, are so straight forward as to be plain. There’s nothing wrong with it — but you’ll have a tough time recalling some of the middle holes on both nines, especially since the bunkering lacks any distinctive qualities.
Even considering those factors, Mystic has enough redeeming features to make it enjoyable. However, like Bond Head, the high-end course that opened earlier this summer north of Toronto, the toughest challenge for Mystic Golf Club may be enticing players to come and tackle it given its $125 green fee that is exceptionally high for the area. Nearby Copetown Woods, which is an above-average public course within a five minute drive, offers plenty for a lot less. Mystic is good, but it will be interesting to see whether players think it is good enough to warrant the considerably higher price.