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Changes at Bond Head; Carrick's Riverbend; Spring is kind to Toronto golf

Finally had the chance to swing the sticks in the last couple of days, playing Scarboro Golf and CC, Doug Carrick’s Riverbend Golf Club in London, Ont., and The Club at Bond Head yesterday.

Bond Head: I still find Bond Head to be a fascinating mix of ideas, both golf and business. The new GM, Nigel Hollidge, came from Taboo at the end of last year to take over the course and prepare for the opening of a second course on the north of the property. Last year, charging one of the top fees for a public golf course despite being a half hour north of Toronto, the club struggled to attract players. Several factors seem to be at play. Due to a decision to allow carts on the fescue fairways, which wore them out quickly, conditioning was an issue for much of the year. Secondly, the club likely opened too early, before everything was in place. Lastly, the decision to allow grass to grow in the beautiful, but wild, bunkers, hurt playability.

Nigel is aware of all of this and has taken steps to change the course slightly. Gone is the grass in the bunkers, and carts are on paths for the time being. Secondly, the playability issue is being addressed by removing sand from the bunkers (there’s too much now), and by removing some bunkers altogether (like two centreline hazards on #7, the massive par five).Bond Head Golf

Will this make a difference to people’s perception of Bond Head as simply “a good golf course” that is too expensive? Hard to say, but it is a step in the right direction. The North Course will open in a couple of months and it appears to be a more traditional looking track with great elevation and terrific land. It will likely be more highly regarded, but only time will tell whether Bond Head can convince the golfing public that it rivals Eagles Nest, Angus Glen and Copper Creek.

Riverbend GC, London, Ont. Designer: Doug Carrick

Riverbend GC, located just west of London, is one of Doug Carrick’s more minor creations, at least in the public’s perception. A private club built for a developer in the midst of homes for the pre-Boomer and Boomer generations, the course probably hasn’t gotten its due.

Carrick, along with able associate Cam Tyers, built the course while the firm was at its busiest, having come off the financial success of Magna, and the artistic successes of Copper Creek and Bigwin Island. In comparison, Riverbend is minor key golf, but one with several interesting facets.

While Magna had ultra-wide fairways, Riverbend tones that down, using more traditional styling on a piece of property that runs from average to very good. There’s meat to this course (the second, a dramatic par five, and the fourth, a monster of a par four), which offsets some weak holes on average land (some of the middle of the back nine).

Riverbend Golf

But unlike some of Carrick’s other designs, which were clearly developed around carry angles and inner-angle bunkering (there’s some of this at Riverbend as well), Doug and Cam seem to have taken a slightly different approach at this course. Witness the third, a driveable par four, a rarity in Doug’s agenda. In fact, fun and playability are the main factors at Riverbend, not surprising considering it is aimed at those who are cashing in their RRSPs. Nonetheless, from 6,900 yards at the tips, the course has some teeth, especially where the elevation is used to Carrick’s benefit, like the fine 400-yard uphill finisher.

Of course, many of Carrick’s signature design features can be seen throughout the course, including the chipping hollows around the greens, and the flashed bunkering. You won’t see many centerline hazards, and the design doesn’t vary much, but it is good golf nonetheless.

  • Lastly, I had the chance to play Scarboro last week. Interestingly, the course, which was hit by ice damage last year along with most courses in Toronto, wasn’t open at this point in 2005. And when it did open, there were plenty of temporary greens. This year the club is in amazing shape, as are most courses in the Toronto area.
  • Notes and Worth reading: Bob Weeks at Score has the lowdown on John Daly’s new book and his estimated $60-million in gambling losses. PGA Tour commish Tim Finchem responds: “I have expressed to John the tour’s concern for his well-being, as well as his ongoing need to uphold the image and standards of the PGA Tour,” Finchem said. “While we will continue to enforce the regulations and policies of the PGA Tour, I have advised John of the tour’s willingness to support him in his efforts to deal with his personal issues”….A well-placed source tells me that it isn’t surprising Ernie Els isn’t playing that well this year. Apparently doctors told him he’d likely never play golf after hurting his knee last year. Given that, his recovery has come along well… Donald Trump is planning a $600 million golf resort north of Aberdeen in Scotland. The site looks amazing, but I can’t figure out where he’ll put the waterfalls in amongst the dunes. I’m sure he’ll figure it out. The story is here.

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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.

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