Review: Timber Ridge GC (Designer: Steven Ward); Black Diamond (Designer: Jason Miller and Jack Lally)
For a few years, the explosion of golf around Toronto all happened to the west. This included courses like Whistle Bear, Grey Silo, Rebel Creek, and more recently, Mystic GC. The courses catered to the group of players who wanted a similar experience to what they received at Angus Glen, without paying $150 for the prize. By all accounts, most of these courses (with the recent exception of Mystic) have been successful. Given that, and the abundance of land east of Toronto, it is not surprising that courses also sprung up at about an hour away as well.
Timber Ridge is the old kid on the block, having opened in 2001. Created by designer Steven Ward, the course is short(ish), sporty and in places, quite fascinating. It starts and ends meekly enough, but in between it packs a well placed punch. Consider Timber Ridge a middle weight that can battle it out with those much bigger (and more expensive.)
Black Diamond is newer (having opened in 2005) and is still trying to determine exactly what kind of facility it will be. The whole enterprise screams “mom-and-pop,” and in many ways that’s exactly what it is. The dream of Darren Salteri, the GM and a club pro, Black Diamond isn’t big on frills, instead focusing on golf. In places it aims big and delivers, though not on a consistent basis.
There are similarities between the two courses aside from their locacations. Both play through thick forests in places, and both have elements of faux links courses in them.
In most respects, Timber Ridge is the stronger of the two. Though it opens with two of the less appealing holes, the course kicks it into high gear by the time players reach the demanding third, which plays 206 from the tips and brings a marshy hazard into play on the right. Similarly, the following hole, a long par five that plays between walls of trees on either side, asks players to hit three precise shots and still deal with a difficult green.
Where Ward really gets it right is in his mix of holes and use of different shots, especially from the tee. At a time when many of the 7,000 yard plus monsters that are being built simply ask most amateurs to hit driver after driver, Ward mixes things up, forcing players to consider their tee shots and club selection. And there are lots of options, like the risk/reward par four 10th, with its heroic carry over a creek, or lay up short and wedge it on, or the 18th, with its numerous bunkers that suggest careful play from the tee might be the best option.
Ward also was able to work on an intriguing piece of land with numerous natural features. I’m not entirely sure how much land he pushed around, but given the limited budget of the property it is unlikely he moved much. With that in consideration, the routing, which includes the dramatic 13th, a long par four with a wonderfully natural looking green site perched at the top of a slope, and the majestic uphill 16th, a terrifically tough hole that forces even big hitters to hit mid-irons into a long green, is terrific — walkable and a throwback to older, better known tracks.
Though it isn’t long from the tips, the greens at Timber Ridge are the great equalizing factor. Ward favours large ridges and swales, which can be witnessed throughout the course starting on the first, and add pressure to approach shots, even if struck with a short iron. The best of these greens (like the first and the ninth) are a joy to play.
Black Diamond offers two distinct looks, a more open, fescue ridden links appeal on the front, and a tree lined Carolina look on the back.
The course opens favourably enough, with a lengthy, downhill par five followed by what could arguably be the best hole on the course, the long par four second with an approach that is slightly downhill. The best holes on the rolling, hilly back nine include the beautiful 11th, a par four with some fine bunkering, and the 14th, a long par three that would appear more at home aethetically on the front nine.
Where Miller and Lally aimed highest or attempted to add quirky factors to the course is where they often fall down. The double green on #4 and #7 seems forced, with neither hole particularly distinctive. Similarly, the par five 10th, with its partial blind tee shot and fairway that is contoured away from the tee shot, seems a bit extreme and forced. Clearly the architects attempted to create a natural look, but I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better if they had regraded the fairway to be more receptive. In fact, for most players the back nine will have the most hits and misses. Some elements could be fixed quickly, like expanding the fairway on the 12th, which seems unnaturally narrowed.
While Black Diamond doesn’t rise to the level of Timber Ridge, the existance of such a course is good for those seeking affordable golf in and around the GTA. Both courses are at least $100 less than their counterparts an hour to the west, which makes them attractive to those willing to shell out $40 on a tank of gas, grab three buddies and pile into a car. Though the owners of both courses would probably like to see development in the area for new golf stop, don’t be surprised to see more spring up in the years ahead.