Review: The Club at Bond Head (North Course)
There can be little doubt the first Bond Head course (now referred to as the South Course) was an artistic success. It is only the business component that is in question, but more than a year after its opening, and with a new management team in place, that too seems to be coming about. Interestingly, there were plenty of expectations when the first course at this 36-hole facility opened. It is also safe to say there’s no concern about overhype on the second course, aptly named the North Course.
Sitting on a very different piece of land across the road from the first course sits the new 18 holes, also designed by American Jason Straka, and set to open in a few weeks. The new course is like a different world. Where the first course was built like a faux heathlands, with fescue grass fairways and gnarly, nasty fescue-edged bunkers, the new course is bent and blue grass and built in a modern parkland style.
Like the South Course, the North is unquestionably an artistic success. Straka has a bold vision and demonstrates it with his deft touch on the Tillinghast-style bunkering, and regularly through the clever use of the land.
The first hole (a mid-length par four) features some of the best elements of the course, namely the long views of the stunning countryside, and Straka’s use of skyline greens or greens with little to no backdrop. It is intriguing because not only does it show off the natural beauty of the site, but it also takes depth out of many approach shots, forcing players to trust their instincts. Straka does this to great affect on several holes on the course, including the sixth and 10th greens.
There are elements where Straka takes risks — with mixed success. The short par four fifth (which may remind some of the second, but in fact is a very different hole) asks players to challenge numerous bunkers by hitting driver at an uphill hole that is barely 300 yards. The reward, especially for those bold enough to challenge the upper shelf, is payoff for the risk.
The one hole that is sure to be hotly debated is the 11th, a 268-yard (from the tips) par three monster that plays steeply downhill. The green, which is intended to take a right to left tee shot with a long iron or fairway wood, is perhaps too slight and difficult for the length of the hole. In time, if the fairway area leads to the green can be appropriately firmed up, this hole might work. But that will also force players to carefully craft an approach, as opposed to slashing away at the hole with a fairway wood, as will be the case with most golfers.
Overall the course should be a great success and is exhilerating to play. Straka’s only misses come where he can’t temper his enthusiasm for some green site locations. In the process he makes several holes, like the 4th, and the par three 6th, almost impossible for anyone to recover from if they miss the green. By making the slopes surrounding these greens just a bit less extreme, the holes would allow for the option of recovery; right now one simply finds themselves at the bottom of a steeply grassed slope, facing a seemingly impossible uphill shot.
This is offset by few truly diabolical greens, though the 13th, with its large roll to the back shelf is one of Straka’s more inspired takes.
The only other issue I had with Bond Head North is the proliferation of uphill tee shots, especially on the front nine (#2, #3, #5, #9), which renders some holes less distinct.
In truth, there are few subtle moments on the North Course at Bond Head (though the [photopress:BondHead5_1.jpg,full,centered]restrained bunkering is exceptional). Like Dana Fry and Michael Hurdzan’s Devil’s Paintbrush, Straka pushes the limits on modern golf design, though he also tempers it with Old World bunkering. Over time this style can come off like a sugary rush. However, he tempers it by offering a sublime finishing kick, including the short, but tricky par three 16th, the great uphill par five that features shelves cut into a hillside and the tough par four closer.
Straka has certainly created two distinct visions at Bond Head and both are successes. However, like many artists with a clear notion of what they are attempting to create, not everyone is going to respond to Straka’s two ideas of what makes a great golf course. However, as the two properties are tweaked and refined over time, expect Bond Head to age gracefully and become revered within the Canadian golf landscape.