Preview: Tarandowah Golf Club (Avon, Ontario)

Preview: Tarandowah Golf Club (Martin Hawtree)

Hidden on a remote sideroad about a half hour from Woodstock, sits the start of Tarandowah Golf Club, the first course created by famed English architect Martin Hawtree. [photopress:Tarandowah1.jpg,full,alignright]

Apparently lots of Canadian architects took a look at this property before Hawtree was awarded the project. That’s not because the land was great; to the contrary, the property is simply a farmer’s field. To add to this, the project appeared to have stumbled financially, given that it was to open a couple of years ago. Instead, it sat half shaped for a couple of summers.


Well, the project seems to be on again, judging from the photos I’ve included here and a phone call to the owners who said Hawtree has visited numerous times.


So what is Tarandowah? It appears Hawtree is creating a faux links in a farmers field, a strategy that worked well for Doug Carrick at Osprey Valley. It is still hard to distinguish all the features from the few holes I walked, but the bunkers are pretty amazing looking now and far from the typical look we see so often in Southern Ontario. Fairways seem to be tight, and the property is largely flat.

The owners said they expected to have nine holes open this summer, but from my walk around, that seems less than likely. There were some areas that were well along, but many that seemed at least two or three months away from growing in.

Right now there’s a practice facility open on site. Time will tell whether this course will amount to anything. Right now, it is just intriguing….

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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.

49 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Nothing against more golf courses but is there enough demand to keep this course alive, particularly in a rural setting about 30 minutes from the nearest decent size city? Didn’t a course in Paris, Ont. just go bust in the last year? If you are interested in golfing in this part of Ontario then join St. Thomas – a great old course where memberships are next to nothing.

  • Rob,

    I’ve been anxious to see if this course will live up to the billing of being “one of the most challenging tests of golf in the world” as touted on their website ( It seems like the course has been under construction forever. It does, however, sound like a unique course, especially for SW Ontario, and I am looking forward to checking out Hawtree’s design.

  • Just a few notes on the Tarandowa Golfers Club. Noone will dispute the fact that there have been problems in completing construction and opening this club. Nine holes will be open in September without a clubhouse. Dan Lavis, formerly of the Ingersoll Golf Club, is the golf course superintendent and has been involved with the project from the beginning. It is important to note that most of the seeding was done late in the fall last year and early in the spring this year, never having optimum grow-in conditions until after this spring had passed. This project takes many positive strides each and every day and should not be judged until it’s completed.

    This is not a faux links… Martin Hawtree does not do faux links. I don’t think he knows how. It is unlike any other, not just in Southern Ontario, but in our part of the world. This property is not largely flat, as a matter of fact it’s consistently rolling with many elevation changes. At a par 70, and over 7000 yards, we will all be tested. Yes this project is slow in developing but it will be well worth the wait.

  • I almost didn’t make the trek out to Tarandowah after reading this preview, but when I heard the course had nine holes open I headed there anyway. My son and I went out and truly enjoyed ourselves. I was surprised that it took less then 20min from my London home but what really surprised me was the course. At first glance it is obviously unique and this is further felt with each hole we played. I believe it was the 13th and 14th holes at the back of the course where the hills, wind, and bunkers transported me home to Britain. All this course needs is the fescue to mature, some powdery white sand in the bunkers and a clubhouse to quench my thirst. From what I understand all of these things are to come in due time. At the end of the day we were very excited about having this caliber of course so close to home. My boy and I are looking forward to many more challenging rounds and watching this course grow into everything it promises.

  • I got out and played 9 holes last week. I have to say although the course needs to mature, I was very impressed. It is still in its infancy, but the layout of the back nine is terrific. It is a deadly course from the tips as the par 4’s are very long as well as the par 3’s. If you are just playing for enjoyment move up, but if you want a challenge you can’t find at other courses in the area play from the back. In time this will be a great course as Dan Lavis has shown he is a great Superintendent. The prices for memberships are very attractive and they will even freeze this price until 2009. The only negative was that I hit a rock on the 17th which was under the turf. If you live nearby check it out for yourself, I predict this to be one of the best public courses in the area in the next 5 years.

  • It’s about time someone built a course like this around theses parts.
    The back nine portion of the course was played twice two days ago (August 20,2006).
    The layout is not like anything I’ve seen except perhaps in photographs from Portmarnock in Ireland.
    The course was played from the tips and it is refreshingly quite a challenge. All the clubs in the bag come into play. The revetted bunkers are a definite treat. They have a visual appeal that creates a framework around which to shape your shots.
    Even though the course is immature at this point, it is by far the most pleasureable and challenging course I have played (which includes Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines (South), Glen Abbey, Firerock and Forest City National).
    The holes on the front side are not ready for play but I did have a look at number 8 and it will be one fine 451 yard par 4, slight dogleg left framed by those beautiful bunkers.
    My most pleasureable moments here was when I parred the 478 yard par 4 11th (seemed like an eagle given it was into a stiff wind).
    The course is not rated by the OGA yet but I can forsee a 75 rating on par (which is nominally a 70) with a slope well over 140.
    When the course has fully matured, this will be the toughest challenge in the country, no doubt in my mind.

  • This site seems to be focused on showcasing a course the way you would play it. Might be helpful for previewing a course (hence the name) and comparing it to others.

  • I’m a CPGA professional and was the project manager for Tarandowah. I named it. Taran comes from Taranis “the celtic god of war”, Sosondowah was the Iriquious god of war. The course is a celebration of the ethnic backgrounds of golf and of this land on which the course is built. The logo combines celtic and native Indian themes and gives you the impression you’re about to be challenged !

    Dr. Hawtree, who with me, first presented Tarandowah to the media in London was excited about a project where he was “turned loose”, able to create an “uncompromising” truly world class course that would test any golfer.

    Regretably the owners have had financial difficulty but are to be commended for extending me the latitude they did. They were not sure, as one reader states how another golf course could survive so far from London.

    The answer I gave them and that they enthusiaticaly embraced is Tarandowah…make your market the world !

    I had hired Donald Steel, the architect of Red Tail to design another project I was directing, to my initial dismay he could not participate with Tarandowah due to the proximity of Red Tail. This turned out not to be a problem at all. Donald actualy recommended Hawtree, they are both genius !

    Certainly Redtail is outstanding. But Tarandowah is bigger, tougher with a different mandate. Golfers have a way of finding special courses. If its handlers stay true to the plan Tarandowah will earn a world class reputation that may well surpass Redtail….its that good !

    Good luck Tarandowah!!
    Sincerely, Dan Webb

  • From the first day I stumbled upon the site “” I knew that something special was happening at Tarandoah. I finally got a chance to get out there today and to no surprise, was glad that I did.
    From the minute I got there I was warmly greeted and met both of the owners who welcomed me and showed me the way to the 10th tee.
    Once there, I knew I had found more than just a hidden gem, I found a place I have been longing for. Golf as it was meant to be played.
    Thank you for the design and development of this course. I wish you continued success in the future of the course as this is a trend I would like to see continue. This is a course for those who love the game.
    I met up with the greenskeeper on the 12th and 13th green who actually took the time to point out some nuances in the greens and to offer some insight on the development of this project and it’s progress. I could have spent the day talking about my favourite subject but there was more of the course to see.
    The rest of the course was equally as visually appealing and demanding as the rest, particularly the 230 yard par 3 that was playing against the wind!
    Although conditioning was not perfect,( I had expected that going in) I found the greens spectacular, I cannot wait to get out there again.
    I only wish it were closer to home.
    Good luck, and I wish you continued success, see you soon,

    Brian Melnyk.

  • WOW!!

    That is how I describe this course! Unlike any course you have played (unless you have jumped on a plane across the Ocean), and even still, I doubt it was this good!!
    Tarandowah is a diamond in the rough. This course is currently in its primitive years, yet still will stand up to the ranks of the top courses in the area! At this point in time, only the true golfers of this land will understand the unbelievable gem that lies 20 minutes from London.

    I have played the 9 available holes on two occasions….windy, and not windy. A completely different experience both times around! I have an index of 3 or 4 on the best of days, and this course is sure to raise my index to reality!

    Way to go guys….and Keep up the great work!


  • F.Y.I. UPDATE: On Aug 31, Mr. Thompson posted another Review of this course. It’s kinda tricky to find so click on either “Architecture” or “Golf Course Reviews-Canada” on the right hand side of this page and you will find it.

  • I wanted to repeat this posting here as I have also posted it under the architecture category but this seems to be the main thread for Tarandowah postings.


    Folks this soon to be Gem is now well on its way to the vision you are all hoping to see in the future.

    A little “birdie” has informed me that the resources to complete this project the way it is needed and deserves has arrived. And it will stay the course as Mr. Thompson hopes to see.

    Give the owners credit they have hung in there through many challenges and are now about to realize their dreams. If you visit Tarandowah take the time to meet the owners and thank them for hanging in there. We will all benefit from their perseverence and by the middle of next summer we will enjoy 18 holes of true links golf in South Western Ontario. Oh yes, and you will be able to sit on the patio over looking the 18th green while sipping a cold one.

    Stay Tuned!!!!!

  • I wanted to repeat this posting here as I have also posted it under the architecture category but this seems to be the main thread for Tarandowah postings.

    Folks this soon to be Gem is now well on its way to the vision you are all hoping to see in the future.

    A little “birdie” has informed me that the resources to complete this project the way it is needed and deserves has arrived. And it will stay the course as Mr. Thompson hopes to see.

    Give the owners credit they have hung in there through many challenges and are now about to realize their dreams. If you visit Tarandowah take the time to meet the owners and thank them for hanging in there. We will all benefit from their perseverence and by the middle of next summer we will enjoy 18 holes of true links golf in South Western Ontario. Oh yes, and you will be able to sit on the patio over looking the 18th green while sipping a cold one.

    Stay Tuned!!!!!

  • Sounds like a “one sided” civil dispute here. As a golfer, I only care that this course opens and is in great shape. I don’t care if there are family problems in the closet. This could be a great course and I am looking forward to it as there isn’t anything like it around. Boycott….why? If people don’t go, then if this Riddell crap is even close to being true – will never get any money. This course could be great and if so, these Riddell’s (whoever they are) will probably want twice the amount back what they lent (if this actually happened for real) and will probably get it.
    Lastly, if this Riddell thing is true, then why is this complainant hiding behind the “Riddell Family” title? I don’t think this was posted by the guy who actually lent the money (Gord). Is this complainant a misfit son in law who maybe doesn’t have all the facts?
    Interesting…I met the owners a number of times last year as well as the Superintendent and they did not come across as crooks. They simply came across as professional people with a vision, who have taken a risk that 99% of the population would never take. They were always sincere in the dealings I had with them and always had the time to go out of their way to make my visit pleasant. If their dream becomes a reality (from the course I saw last year its almost there) then there will be thousands of golfers who benefit from having this awesome course – the type of course you can’t find this side of the Atlantic.
    I guess time will tell how this plays out.
    Good luck Tarandowah and keep working hard!!
    As for the “Riddell Family” – BAD TASTE in airing your laundry on a site like this. I very much doubt the validity of these comments – and it should be erased from this site until it is proven. This is a professional site and doesn’t need “anonymous accusations” being thrown around.

  • I, for one, am looking forward to playing a new course in the London area that is reasonably priced. Judging by earlier comments and by playing the course last fall, it is going to be a great golfing experience.

    I saw their booth at the London Golf & Travel Show and everything looks first class. From the matching uniformed golf shirts to their courteous manner.

    Just waiting for the weather to turn to try this gem again.

  • This course looks very interesting and Martin Hawtree has done a lot of work on real links courses in the UK, so I’m sure that this will be a good re-creation of an inland links. Robert Thompson has played a lot of links courses and when he says he’s excited about this course, it makes me excited.

    I wish people like Rob Cuncic and CJ Money would stop using phrases such as “this is not a faux links” and ” 18 holes of true links golf”. There are very few places in the world that have true links golf. The majority of the courses are found in the UK and there are a couple on the Belgium/Holland coast and only a handful in the rest of the ENTIRE world. A links course is one that lies by the sea on a piece of land “linking” the sea and the usuable land. The sandy soil and the native grasses are very important for a links course, as is the climate that supports these grasses. Southern Ontario does not have the climate to support fescue grass on golf courses! One of the things that makes links golf great is the turf conditions. Links golf is meant to be played hard and fast and you have to be able to create different shots depending on the wind. The soft turf conditions on most courses in North America make playing a links inspired course really frustrating. You cannot play a proper bump and run shot from any distance from the green. In Ireland I’ve hit a 40 yard chip 7 iron and watched it travel 140 yards along the dry turf into the middle of the green. You simply can’t do that in Southern Ontario because the turf condtions won’t support that type of shot.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m going to travel from Toronto to go and play this course, but it really steams me when people who have no idea about what real links golf is, start talking about it like they’re Old Tom Morris himself. Go to the UK and play a links course and then you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

  • One of my friends told me about this course last fall and I was skeptical. Once I saw this course for myself though, I was sold. If you are tired of playing golf courses in Southwestern Ontario where you hit driver off the tee every time, and then choose which wedge will get you to the green, you need this course.

    My family is from Scotland and I have been back to play many courses including Royal Troon. You can stand on places in this course and it takes you back to the homelands. I have purchased a membership and played the back nine again yesterday and the course is coming along nicely. The greens are already slick and the fairways are growing in nicely.

    Try this course once, you’ll be back!

  • Point taken regarding true links versus faux links. This is, of course, not a true links in the sense that it’s not on the sea and it’s not on sandy soil. The course is, however, designed by a links designer who will not be happy unless it delivers the qualities of a links course. For those that are skeptical about what could be made out of a farm in Southwestern Ontario, I would suggest you come play Tarandowah. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  • Let me start by saying…THE GREATEST COURSE EVER!!! WOW!! I played Tarandowah for the first time last week as some of my friends encouraged me to give it a try. I have played over 75 Ontario courses and Tarandowah beats them all. Even though it is not in perfect shape yet (due to it being a very very new course) the experience was the best I’ve ever had playing golf. The course is a definate challenge even for a veteren golfer like myself. KUDOS to Karl Row & family (the owners) & all the employees for sticking with it. I will recommend Tarandowah to every golfer I meet. I can’t wait to come back and enjoy the full 18 that is going to open either this week or next. I’ll be there!!

  • I played this course last weekend and found it very challenging.First because I have never played this style of course before.And because you actually have to think when you are playing this course.You don’t pull your driver out at every tee,sometimes you have to use a 3or5 wood to avoid those deep bunkers .The greens for the age of the course are awsome and tricky. Give it a try. For anyone looking for a challenge,you will be sure to find it here. thanks.

  • Everything about this course is truely awesome except 1 thing. The new website looks childish. I can’t even read some things because black lines cover the words. The map does not fit in the white box and it appears a gr. 8 kid made it for a school project.
    Please change it back to the way it used to be. At least I could read it and it kept me up to date.

  • I just went to the website and can see everything fine. It may be your browser or screen settings. It’s nice to see pictures of the course as it has been completed and matures.

  • My browser and screen settings are fine, other computers I have tried also do not work… maybe djgol should change his screen settings to see what other people are seeing

  • Four of us played this course in early June. Of course the conditioning isn’t perfect, but that is what links golf is all about.
    If you don’t like thick fescue just off the fairways then I might suggest this course isn’t for you, but if you want a different experience then I would suggest you give it a try. Prices are more than reasonable and the staff in the trailer were more than helpful and very very friendly. BTW the greeens for the most part where very good for a new course.

  • I appreciate the kind comments of JRW. I don’t wants folks to get the wrong impression though, we have a 1400 square foot clubouse, not a trailer, with an 1800 sq ft patio that overlooks the 18th green. This is temporary until our main clubhouse is built in a couple of years.

  • Any truth to the rumour Clublink is planning on buying this course? I played this course three weeks ago with 2 members who I didn’t know and they told me Clublink is currently under negotiations as they want the course. Is this true or were they just blowing smoke up my _ _ _?

  • I think every course at one time or another has been told that Clublink is looking to buy them. Better play it as a public course while you can, lol.

  • Devon,

    I played this course this morning – overall terrific. Nice to have both nines open. Really starting to grow in and the fescue framing the holes looks great (this will need to be watched the course is diffcult enough.) Only hole that isn’t solid is the 4th, I would like to see all the crap all around the creek cut back and perhaps a fairway bunker to frame the left side. It is a medium length par four where you have to lay up with a fairway wood and hit a medium iron to the green.

    My trouble with the course lies in the fact that the course should be lasered, as it is really difficult to find accurate yardages. Obviously this slows down play. Grab some Bushnells go to a few sprinkler heads and mark them. Moreover, this is such a demanding course that really only better than average players can enjoy it (15 + will get killed) and this type of player generally finds yardages helpful (it is a given that almost everyone uses them). My other fault is the lack of marshalling. On several occasions I noticed people driving their carts up to the greens and on some fescue grass. This needs to stop. It looks unprofessional and can clearly damage the course.

    I may sound pessimistic, but all in all a wonderful course that needs a few minor changes.


  • about faux links. Most of the links courses have railways running by.
    I did not hear no whistles at Tarandowah on the other hand Firerock does have the requisite railway.

  • I played Tarandowah last week and truly enjoyed the experience. The course design is exceptional, save for the 4th, which needs a little bit more work on the design side (Maybe clean up the creek, and plant some fescue along the right hand at the end of the driving range. Other than the fourth all the holes are framed nicely and very challenging. One of the best deals (and course designs) in southern Ontario. It’s worth the drive, I know I’ll be going back in the near future.

  • Played this course two weeks ago. Playing again tomorrow. Love the look and feel of most holes and when condition comes around, look out. Very positive experience.

    Only concerns – which may echo some others

    – The fescue will slow play down if the course is really busy. I saw numerous occasions of golfers searching for their ball in the long grass. It is not enjoyable to wait for people to do this all the time. People have to come to grips with the fact that they will likely lose a ball or two during the round. The place is inexpensive enough to make up for the cost of losing some balls. Just drop and play on.

    – The fourth hole – could the creek be piped and then covered to get rid of the funny lay up off the tee? Maybe put in a bunker out at the normal driver landing point.

    – Guy was hitting drivers off the tee and flew one over the green on the fourth while I was there. That is dangerous. It’s one thing to have a ball or two roll onto the green, but somebody could get hurt. How can this be fixed? Flight control balls?

    – The tree on the tenth fairway. I am sure many people ring a good looking drive off this tree. Not fair.

  • This is a quote from our course designer Martin Hawtree when he was interviewed by Robert Thompson:
    “Fairness in golf is one of our hang ups at the moment… I’ve never bought into that obsession with fairness, an obsession with justice. Those were never meant to be part of golf”

  • I played this course for the first time this summer, and i have to say we were inpressed so much that there was talk after about joining next year! This course will be one of the areas best! period! the lay out is fantastic, the greens were in great shape and the tee blocks are flat and large. I,m a 4 cap and this course will bring you to your knees if your not careful. Go try it ,you will be back again to play!

  • I finally made it out to Tarandowah last Wed. (Sept. 26) and I was very impressed with the course. Other than the turf conditions (not the proper climate to have links turf) and the surroundings (no ocean), it’s a very good recreation of what you see on a links course in the UK. The bunkering was done very well, seemingly always where you wanted to go with your ball, so you had to think your way around the course. The other thing that impressed me is that the fairways were not surrounded by 2 foot high fescue like all other ‘faux links’ courses in the GTA. I found it to be very rare in Ireland that the grass bordering the fairway was longer than 10 inches and it was usually sporadic in it’s length giving the wayward drive a chance of recovery. I saw the same thing at Tarandowah and was relieved. It’s also a very easy course to walk which is nice to see in this day and age of the golf cart (yuck). The terrain has a bit of elevation change and Hawtree used it very well throughout the course.
    Of course Tarandowah isn’t perfect and I felt the 17th was the only poorly designed hole on the course, but only in the tee shot. It’s a dog leg left off the tee (with trees on the entire left side of the hole) and the carry from the blue tees to clear the hazard is in the 230 range and longer as the hazard angles away to the right. It’s an easy lay up, but then you have about 215 up hill to the heavily bunkered green and that’s if you hit the perfect lay up shot. It’s a much easier hole from the white tees, but I think the only thing Hawtree needed to do to make this hole more playable would be to reduce the dog leg angle off the tee, and have it more of a straight on drive. That, or bring the green 25 yards closer to the creek to reduce the length of the hole to make it more enjoyable to the average golfer. Golf isn’t fair, but as a 17 hole it tends to leave a bad taste in your mouth. I know why he put the hole where he did, because he had to get back to the clubhouse and even then, there’s a 150 yard walk (or longer) from the 17th green to the 18th tee.
    The thing is, for a $35 course and all I have to criticize is one hole that I think is too difficult for the average golfer, that’s a pretty darn good thing! I would go into the holes I like, but there’s not enough room to talk about the other 17 here!! Go play the course. If you want to see what a real links course looks like, then Tarandowah is the one to see.

  • Well said, Evan. I’m going back on Friday – $31 cart included. Which is the best value in golf period. Try and prove me wrong. Well worth the drive from Toronto.

  • This course is absolutely Spectacular. This is golf how it was meant to be played. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to play this coures. Schedule a sick day from work and come out during the week to play this course at its best. No waiting no slow play, just pure golf. This course is the most challenging I have ever played. from the tips (if you dare). This course will bring out every club and every shot you have in the bag. Clubhouse still needs lots of work, but don’t judge this book by its cover. from the road when you drive up, it’ s not impressive at all just get off the first tee and you start to realize what you have gotten youself in to. Try to birdie # 1 because you might not have on on the scorecard the rest of the day. WOW this course in 5 years is going to be the best! LIKE NOTHING YOU HAVE EVER PLAYED!!!!!!

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