Architect: Thomas McBroom
In some people’s minds, there are two types of courses — those placed on natural pieces of land with interesting land forms and contours, and those tracks that are created on marginal property and sculpted out of the imagination of the architect. Often times the created course comes across as contrived and second rate. After all, rarely can a golf architect (even if his name is Tom Fazio) build something that is superior to nature.
Thankfully, there are instances where strong golf experiences have been developed on questionable properties. And Thomas McBroom’s Ambassador GC, built on a former aggregate pit on a flat piece of landscape, is an instance where an architect has dreamed up an intriguing fit for a terrible slice of property.[photopress:amb5.jpg,full,alignright]
It would be easy to say McBroom has attempted a faux-links theme at Ambassador, but that isn’t quite the case. Though he uses natural grasses and wild, gnarly-looking bunkers to develop a broad theme, the course is more North American classicist in conception. Of course Ambassador is a hybrid, as a former aggregate pit, and several ponds on the property, would hardly allow for a true links. McBroom also has avoided the faux-links cliche that is so common these days; in essence he appears to be aiming at something a touch beyond golf course fashion. Thankfully few actually have to consider his intent, especially since Ambassador is such a delight to play.
[photopress:amb3.jpg,full,alignleft]But where it works, Ambassador is grand. Take, for example, the sixth through ninth holes, where McBroom hits golfers with a group of tough fours, an interesting three, and a relatively straight forward par five. The work is all manufactured, but McBroom never overplays his hand, leaving few to even ponder what was there before he dropped a golf course on the land.
This is not, of course, the TPC at Sawgrass, Pete Dye’s great manufactured course. But it has some factors in common with Dye’s work, and McBroom, like Pete, seems to constantly distract the golfer from pondering just how the course was put together. McBroom achieves this on some levels just by being an increasingly better golf architect. Many second-tier architects tend to use artificial-looking mounding to add hole separation on flat land, McBroom has used natural grasses and naturalistic bunkers often placed in slight, manufactured hill and ridge lines to create the appearance of distance. There’s a randomness to the separation that makes it seem naturalistic.That means golfers rarely are aware of their proximity to others on the course, though they are often not separated by much distance (see the opening holes, #1 and #2, for instance). On the back nine, in particular, holes are often separated by a series of holding ponds. Thankfully this also yields a couple of the best holes on the course, like the 237-yard par three 14th and the short and driveable par four 15th, which allows the aggresive player to attempt a long shot over water.
The attention to detail on the course is outstanding, from the [photopress:amb4.jpg,full,alignright]bunkers (McBroom continues to refine his naturalistic approach that is so in vogue with the likes of Tom Doak and Bill Coore in the U.S.), and the greens are also ramped up from some of the more plain efforts his done in recent years (like #9 or #16, which have intriguing contours.)
Not to say it all goes as planned. McBroom’s par fives on the course all rely on some form of pond on the left side of the fairway and green (#3, #7, #13), something that we’ve regularly seen from him in the past (the closing hole at Oviinbyrd comes to mind). That’s not to say these holes aren’t strong unto themselves; it is just that there’s a degree of repetition that becomes readily apparent when the site is as plain as Ambassador’s land.
Overall though that’s but a nitpick. Considering the lackluster land with its lack of any degree of elevation change, McBroom has created a course that rivals the likes of Doug Carrick’s Osprey Valley’s Heathlands, another course created on an ordinary piece of property. And while it might not scale the same lofty heights as Carrick’s earlier links attempt, Ambassador is still a worthy entry and an interesting exploration of what can be created on a property with few natural features.