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.