Review: Tarandowah GC
Designer: Martin Hawtree
It may have taken five years, and it is located in a farmer’s field where the closest town is Avon, Ont., population eight, but I must admit to being kind of excited about this strange little course in the middle of nowhere.
Many had felt this project was dead. For the last few years, while visiting my folks in a nearby small town, I’d often drive by the site just to see if anything new had happened. For three years Tarandowah seemed like nothing more than an interesting concept — bring in a noted English designer and try to build a heathlands course in Southern Ontario. It sounds foolhardy, but the truth is the course I played last week — though there was no sand in the bunkers and bare patches could be noticed throughout — was great fun and could — with the emphasis on could — turn out to be a interesting course along the lines of Osprey Valley’s Heathlands. It could be that good — if it doesn’t get screwed up.
So what’s there now? Eighteen shaped holes, with 12 to 14 in [photopress:Tarandowah2.jpg,full,alignright]varying stages of grow in. The family behind the project clearly needs some cash flow, so they opened the rough outline of a course to the public about a month ago. It was a strange move, but no stranger than the rest of the progression behind this course. Now, for $15, you can try Tarandowah and envision what the course will look and play like in a year when the fescue has grown in and the bunkers have sand. Until then, Tarandowah is a shell — but what I saw was interesting.
[photopress:Tarandowah3_1.jpg,full,alignleft]The course starts quietly enough with a straight ahead par four. Hawtree seems to step out of the way on this one and the hole is generally flat. However, it is impossible not to notice the green site, which rests between several bunkers and is generally small in stature. That turns out to be a big factor of the course — green sites have wild contour unlike anything I’ve seen in Canada since Tom McBroom’s self-described “drug phase.” Huge swales often ride throughout the greens, making shot placement and approaches key to scoring.
The second hole (which will be the back nine eventually, though the routing is mixed up at the moment) is a long four pinched in with strategic bunkers in the landing area. Once again, the green site is terrific — though it is also completely constructed by Hawtree.
Over the remaining holes, several stand out, including the short, driveable par four fourth, the long par three sixth and the tremendous closer, which reminded me a bit of Carnoustie. In fact, that’s probably an apt comparison. I’m not saying Tarandowah is anywhere as good as Carnoustie; rather, the course, with its limited shifts in elevation and emphasis on strategic green sites and bunkering has the feel of the brute from Scotland. Hawtree seems to have captured the flavour of links golf — now it is a question of whether the course and its conditioning can reflect that vision.
Tarandowah could still falter before it is completed. But here’s hoping this little course in Avon can make a go of it and complete the remaining work. It’ll be interesting, if it is done properly, to see just how good this can be.