Review: Cobble Beach Golf Links

cobble beach

Review: Cobble Beach Golf Links (Owen Sound, Ontario)

Architect: Doug Carrick

It won’t officially open until next June, and is located far from Ontario’s golfing hub that is Toronto, but Doug Carrick’s Cobble Beach Golf Links may be the most intriguing new course to open in the province since the designer’s terrific Eagles Nest allowed golfers on its fairways in 2004.

With a passing glance at the property on which Cobble Beach rests, it would appear to be a terrific setting for golf. Resting on a hill overlooking Georgian Bay, the course’s site is visually dramatic. Long views abound. But the site itself, according to John Anderson, who supervised its construction, was far from ideal. It was covered in rocks, to start with, and had few natural contours beyond the pitch of the land, which slides towards the lake.

Give Carrick a lot of credit then for considering a way to make the course different. Many architects would simply have relied on the natural appearance of the site and its proximity to the water. Golfers always go gaga for water views after all. Instead, Carrick (and associate Steve Vanderploeg) determined they would create the defining characteristic for the course: Pitching, wildly contoured fairways that roll and drop, creating a level of randomness to tee shots and leaving players with the distinct possibility of an uneven lie.

In an era when most courses overgrade their fairways to the point where they are almost as flat as a table top, Carrick’s work at Cobble Beach is brave and fascinating. The best holes also happen to have the strangest contours, like the dramatic 486-yard par four fifth, which also features a green site that pitches towards the front from the middle, forcing players to hit a lofted shot to hold it, or to consider playing short and pitching up.

In fact, while most architects wait until the end of their designs to throw their best at players, Carrick has created the most interesting holes and the greatest amount of drama in the middle of the front nine. Holes five through eight rival anything he’s created. The sixth is a subtle par three, with a tricky green with a notable ridge line, while the seventh, a terrific downhill par five with the lake in the background, is arguably the most interesting hole visually on the course, and once again presents numerous options for players, both off the tee and on the approach.

The seventh, a Redan-style par three, completes the stretch by asking players to carefully consider both the flight and line of their tee shot.

Carrick also attempted some unique features on the back nine. While the motif of the surface-of-the-moon fairways continues, the designer also mixes up lengths of holes. Thus players are presenting with the knee-knocking Gleneagles-like uphill par four tenth, followed by a short, strategic par four 11th. Not known for his strong short fours, Carrick has two at Cobble Beach, including the downhill, 347-yard par four 15th.

All of this is finished by a fine closing stretch that includes the downhill par three 17th, with its slim green perched invitingly in front of the water like some Pebble Beach throwback, and the disarming 18th, a par five that forces three fine shots.

Finally, Carrick punctuates the entire Cobble Beach project with small, concise and strategic bunkers. Anything more would have taken some of the focus off the fairway contours. The result is a nice compliment that fits well within the entirety of the course.

Is Cobble Beach perfect? No. Carrick’s course has too many ponds (that are used for storm water management) for my liking, particularly on the 12th, a par five with a pond down the left side that everyone has seen dozens of times. That said, the hole is almost salvaged by a terrific green with a large roll the middle. Similarly, the ninth, a par five playing along the lake, seems a bit average and obvious, especially considering the holes that come before it.

In many ways Cobble Beach seems like a natural sequel to Muskoka Bay, the course Carrick and former associate Ian Andrew created in Gravenhurst. While some of Carrick’s attempts at subtlety and experimentation failed to be fully realized at Muskoka Bay (the bunkers, for example), Cobble Beach works well in conception and on the course.

At Cobble Beach, Carrick has experimented and had fun with what could have been an average course on a occasionally challenging piece of land. By taking inspiration from the dipping and winding fairways of some of Scotland’s great links and the plunging shortgrass the Stanley Thompson worked with at places like Highlands Links and Westmount. The result is a course that is fascinating to look at and even more intriguing to play.

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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.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Rob;

    Very nice article on Cobble Beach. I am very appreciative of the coverage that you give to our profession of golf course design. You have been very kind (for the most part) in your comments about our work of which I am also very appreciative of. I certainly understand that what people like and don’t like is very subjective and I respect that. I also understand your thoughts about the bunkers at Muskoka Bay and I can appreciate that you don’t like them. I’m not sure I understand why you continue to write negatively about them, especially in an article about Cobble Beach.

    Your comments with respect to the ponds at Cobble Beach is a legitimate observation, however I’m afraid the extensive use of ponds is a feature that is here to stay on our modern golf courses and in fact is becoming a more prevalent feature on re-modelled older courses as well because of increasing concerns with respect to water usage and irrigation of our golf courses. More and more restrictions are being placed on water taking and vast storage reserviors are now becoming a necessity on almost all golf courses today.

    Thanks again for your thoughts on Cobble Beach. See you soon.

  • Played a few weeks back, All I can say is WOW. I looking forward to returning for another round. Worth the drive from Toronto

  • I’ve played Cobble Beach a few times and it is incedible. The views from every hole are breathless. My favorite is the view from the tee on the par 5 number 7 hole. The fairway dissappears over the hill and opens up to a magnificent view of Geogian Bay. Then you have the view looking back from the 10th green as you stand high above the clubhouse and Georgian Bay. It isn’t just the scenic views that brings me back, it’s the large, fast ,undulating greens that are a golfers worst nightmare, but make every stroke a challenge. I guarantee there are no 2 ft gimmies on these greens.
    Compliment this with great facilities, a great staff and a great layout and you’ll find it tough to find a better track. Don’t believe me, come out and see for yourself, I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as I am.
    P.S- Watch you don’t end up in one of the 99 pot bunkers.

  • Cobble Beach GL’s is a fun golf course to play. Quite often, I’ll finish playing a new course and then I’m racking my brain trying to remember one or two particular holes. Not with Cobble, the holes are well defined and memorable, all the way through! 7th is great, fun par 5; 8th is the Redan style par 3, and club selection and “line of play” are excellent comments from Robert Thompson. 10th hole is a solid four; short par 4’s are fun holes. 17th is all about club selection and wind, which can factor into play. 18th is an interesting finishing par 5; understated from the second shot in.

    Carrick did an excellent job making the course fun to play. I really enjoyed standing on each tee, and looking out over the landing areas. Fun and inviting, for sure! I love the mix of green fairways and golden fescues. Bunkers are well located and strategic.

    Short game was reasonably difficult-mostly me and not the greens- I just couldn’t get the feel of those wonderfully designed and quick surfaces- so, I walked away feeling that I’d played better than my score indicated.

    Most impressive was the Pro shop staff, which was absolutely terrific, from the moment we drove in, until we left, every single person on staff was concerned about our experience at Cobble Beach. Warren Thomas, the Pro and his staff were top notch!

    I’d play it again in a “heartbeat”, well worth it!

  • To Whom It May Concern:
    I didn’t know where else to send this type of comment, so I apologize in advance.
    I was coming to Owen Sound from Barrie today and the billboard that you have on Highway 26, between Stayner and Wasaga Beach has me wondering. The sign very clearly reads “45 minutes to Cobble Beach”. Is that by helicopter???? Perhaps you can explain just exactly what route to take that would get anyone there that fast ! I timed the rest of my trip just to the center of Owen Sound, and it definitely took a lot longer than 45 minutes! It took exactly one hour and twenty-five minutes, driving at an average of 90 kph. So, it is virtually impossible to reach Cobble Beach in the 45 minutes as suggested by that billboard! Anyone, especially tourists new to this area. would be totally confused and could very likely end up lost, thereby causing you to lose potential business. I should think that this is not the kind of advertising or reputation you are aiming for!!
    The whole thing leaves me rather confused and I’d be very interested to hear your explanation for this “gaffe.”
    Marg Dunbar

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