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Muskoka's The Rock to close for 2007; Director of Golf leaves

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The Rock, heralded as Canada’s best new course by Golf Digest not all that long ago, will close for the entirety of 2007 in order to make changes to its layout, according to a note received from Kevin O’Donnell, the club’s now outgoing director of golf.

“Ken Fowler, the owner, has recently decided to implement an in-depth property improvement plan which will close the facility until the spring of 2008,” Kevin said in a note sent to certain people in the golf industry. He said a press release on the announcement would follow.

I’m sorry to see Kevin depart; he ran the club well and was a pleasure to deal with. However, in many respects the need to fundamentally alter the course demonstrates how off-base Golf Digest’s raters were in awarding the property an award in the first place. The course’s design, with its routing by David Moote and other design elements by Brit Stenson and Nick Faldo, was badly flawed from the start. Even Faldo, in his opening game for the media at the course in 2003, had a few issues.

In my mind, the opening holes (1 thru 3) were far too difficult, with 3 being nearly impossible to play without hitting a hard draw. Fairway contours were not designed to receive shots appropriate for each hole.

By this year, I think even The Rock’s ownership and staffing, Kevin included, recognized the problems with the course. Green fees had fallen and the only buzz around the course was that it had several truly badly designed holes. Kevin called me earlier this year to talk about a redesign, but I never heard back from him on the subject; I assumed the concept had been withdrawn.

That said, it is hard to imagine Stenson and Faldo dramatically improving the golf course, since they were the ones that signed off on the initial design (and that doesn’t bode well for the new Faldo design in Cape Breton). To my mind, some immediate changes would have helped the course (flipping the nines to start on 10, reworking 18, losing many of the holding ponds that dot the golf course, regrading the fairway on 3, widening some landing areas, regrading the 16th fairway), and perhaps that is what the course will do. Losing Kevin shouldn’t have been part of this equation, but one has to wonder what he would have done for a year with the course closed.

The most fascinating thing about The Rock now will be whether the golf course’s image can be successfully relaunched after the negative buzz and with a facelift. I have my doubts, but I’d be pleased to be proven wrong.

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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.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Thats great news to hear the course will be having a major face lift!!! I have played it three times over the past three years, and have the same complaints as many. Holes #3 and #16 have almost impossible landing areas. Hole #1 is the toughest opening hole I have seen, with the large rock outcrop in front of an elevated green. In addition to redesigning various holes, they should also stop cutting the greens to approx. 11 on the stemp. I play at a very difficult course in Ottawa, and one of the Club Pros mentioned that if they cut the greens to 11-12, they would have 6-7 hr rounds.
    Also know of some fellows who worked at the Rock for the past few summers and they all have their teaching cards now. This means they had to shoot in the 76 range to attain cards. Understand that these guys never broke 80 at the Rock.
    I think this is a terrific decision to close the course completely, and open it up in 2008 as part of the Marriott Redleaves Resort. With proper marketing and a makeover this course will be certain to become a great Muskoka Resort destination.

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