Course Review: Copper Creek Golf Club
Designer: Doug Carrick (with Ian Andrew)
Location: Kleinburg, Ontario
Copper Creek is proof that two handfuls of exceptional holes can easily make one overlook anything that doesn’t quite measure up. It is also proof that, despite anything that’s said about being able to create a great golf course regardless of the natural setting, nature is still best at helping distinguish great from average.
First the good. Rarely does a golf course start with as fine a stretch of holes as one finds at Copper Creek, and it might be Doug Carrick’s best opening. Excluding the first, an average par five that opens with a fairway trapped between a holding pond and the driving range (but including a fine approach and good green), Copper Creek’s next ten holes could be the equal of anything in Canada. It is that good.
Though many will find the opener mundane, the second, is Carrick at his best. The tee shot forces player to either draw the ball or flirt with an angled carry bunker and a wind that hangs up the golfer. Those that survive still face a daunting second shot to a raised green that is well bunkered. Everything is fair — but none of it is easy. In many ways it is the theme Carrick uses throughout the course. It is all in front of you, it is just a question of not being too ambitious.
The course really excels once it reaches the valley that encompasses the fourth through eighth holes. There are some stunners here, including the sixth, a short par three with a deadly green, and the seventh, a downhill par four that can’t be overwhelmed by brute force. Once again, it features one of Carrick’s strongest greens, and the swale on the right front makes for interesting putting.
Though some think the 10th, with its plummenting tee shot, is the [photopress:copper11.jpg,full,alignright]best on the course, it is the 11th that really steals the show. A 200-yard plus par three up a slight rise, it is heroic golf at its finest, and may just be the best par three Carrick and his crew have pulled off to date. The elements are all there — a large green, with significant movement, well bunkered and in what appears to be a natural setting. I suspect more dirt was moved on the hole than one thinks, a testament to Carrick’s abilities as a designer.
But like a movie that runs too long, there’s a lull in the middle of Copper Creek that keeps it from residing amongst the truly elite in Canada. After the 11th, the property loses much of its nuance and delight, ending up more farm field than fabulous. Unlike many of his contemporaries, there’s nothing bad in the following four holes — just none of the delightfully interesting land that exists for 10 of the first 11.
The 12th is a straight forward ride up a hill, while the slightly awkward 13th is a par five with — you guessed it — water down the right of the green. The next hole — a par three — is equally obvious, with its tee shot playing across the pond to a narrow, difficult green backdropped with bunkers. The 15th is better, given that it provides players with options, but one wonders if modern drivers and Pro V1s overwhelmed this hole while it was still just a consideration in Carrick’s mind. Now there is no reason not to grip it and rip it, which I can’t imagine was Doug’s intent.[photopress:copper9.jpg,full,alignleft]The 16th is where the course returns to nearly matching the opening. A long, tough four, Carrick once again uses a raised green in order to draw a mid to long iron out of the golfer’s bag. That is followed by arguably the toughest hole on the course — the lengthy 17th, a par four where the tree on the right side off the tee needs to be reconsidered. Currently it forces golfers to hit a fade or straight shot, and I can’t imagine it was part of the initial plan for the course.
The 18th limps in. It isn’t bad, just plain and similar to the opener. The green complex near the clubhouse almost redeems the hole, but the land is the weakness.
In 1923, Stanley Thompson, the great Canadian designer, said “Nature must always be the architect’s model.” Though there are a few instances of greatness being created out of difficult or dull land, that is still true today. No where is that more readily obvious than at Copper Creek, where the greatness of the property almost solely defines the best elements of the course.