Review: The Club at Bond Head (North Course)

Review: The Club at Bond Head (North Course)

bond head north
Designer: Jason Straka Opening: July, 2006

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.

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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.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert,

    Interesting review, can’t wait to get there later this summer. Having walked the course a few times I have a sense of some of the items you mention in the article. Gotta think going long on #1 is death also (pick up and keep heading to #2). It appears to me that this will be the tougher of the two courses. As for the business model, my take is that things are picking up nicely.


  • I was fortunate to be invited to play this course in June 2006 prior to opening day. I was awed at the sheer beauty and elegance of the course. Half the fun was just walking the fairways and enjoying the views from every angle. Truly a pleasurable experience.

  • I was fortunate enough to play BH North on two occasions last year, and can hardly wait to experience it again.
    It is, without question, the most breathtaking course I’ve played in Ontario. The conditions were excellent, and many times I was left with a dilemma as to what club to hit, depending on the wind, uphill or downhill, and where the best place was to miss (and I missed a lot) You’ve got to have good “feel” to play this course, that’s for certain. After the round, we were pleasantly surprised at the facilities, the helpful staff and the excellent food and beverages. Just a great course. Well woth the trip to Bond Head.

  • We played on Saturday…they recently top dressed the greens making for a long day, with no bite and no plug marks to fix…they were hard and really fast…

    Even from the blues, it seemed we were hitting every tee shot uphill (not true though)…the rough was thick and every shot that landed there, stayed half buried…the fescue was not as punishing as later summer, but still penalized you for missing…

    I agree that the steep grass bunker faces punish the player too much…

    There were a couple of quirky blind tee shots, like 9…that either we blew it through the fairway left or missed right, as the angle of the fairway was more extreme then pictured on the yardage book….(I went right and stayed right trying to get out of the fescue!!!!…lol…)

    Overall, I was happy with an 84…including a derailing triple on 9 and 2 following doubles trying to get back on track…

    There twilight rates are the best for any course of that caliber in the GTA…

    And loved the clubhouse and locker rooms…a very nice touch.

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