Course Review: The Raven at Lora Bay (Tom McBroom with Tom Lehman)
Few courses that involve a PGA Tour pro ever live up to their billing. Thankfully the Raven course at Lora Bay, created by Toronto designer Tom McBroom with former British Open champ Tom Lehman, is the exception, rather than the rule. Simply put, McBroom and Lehman have created a timeless course that harkens back to the era of Stanley Thompson.
McBroom and Lehman have gone to some lengths to create the authentic feel of Lora Bay, right down to using blue grass fairways, as opposed to bent, to give it that old time flavour. Players are given a pretty good taste of what to expect on the first tee shot. A downhill par four opens the course, but rather than blasting away with a driver, McBroom seems to consciously be asking players to consider their options. A better bet is a fairway wood and a mid-iron (side note: It is too bad the cart path on the left of #1 green is so close, since the preferred approach is from the right and even a slightly pulled shot has a chance of hitting the pavement and rambling into a hazard.)
On the second hole, a short par four, McBroom and Lehman once more ask players to be careful on club selection. Though the hole, with its water down the left (similar in a way to the second at London, Ont.’s Firerock) appears like McBroom by numbers, the architect has carefully added some wild fairway contours and an intriguing green into the mix. McBroom ramps it up on three by offering a long par three — the toughest on the course. Welcome to the Raven.
The truth is that elements of McBroom’s most recent work (Oviinbyrd, Firerock, Wildfire and Glencairn) all come together impressively at The Raven. On top of that, he seems less self conscious about his green contours, adding significant slope to several — including greens that play hard back to front. These aren’t the greens that McBroom created early in his career, with their wild drops and tumbles, but they are more bold than anything he’s done recently.
Since the bay over which the course sits is rarely seen throughout the round (how about clearing the trees along the fairway on 16 thru 18?), McBroom has created some of his nastiest, fascinating bunkers to date. Taking a cue from the naturalistic styles of the likes of Tom Doak and Bill Coore, McBroom has fashioned bunkers that look like they would be at home in the horse and buggie era. The bunkers curl down with grass, while others are flashed up. The most distinguished have fescue “eye brows” on the back side — a most distinguished look that rarely hinders play. The optics of these bunkers, especially on holes like the par five seventh, force players to more carefully think through their shots than they might otherwise. Nonetheless these are the Raven at Lora Bay’s crowning glory and a real achievement for McBroom.
Perhaps the routing relies a little too much on tee shots that favour a draw (#1, #2, #8, #9, #16 and #18), but that apparently has little to do with Lehman’s preferred shot. The course was actually routed prior to Lehman’s involvement, so Tom’s ball flight likely had little to do with the decision.
But that is a nitpicky issue on an otherwise outstanding course that features all of the factors that make a course timeless — a great, walkable routing, great greens and great bunkering. People may not immediately recognize what McBroom has accomplished at Lora Bay, but in time it will likely become established as one of his most subtle — and best — courses.