Course Review: Tarandowah Golfers Club (Avon, Ont.)
Designer: Martin Hawtree
I’ve looked at Tarandowah Golfers Club, an interesting project located in rural Southern Ontario, a couple of times previous. A course developed by British designer Martin Hawtree (responsible for the recent changes to Carnoustie, for example), Tarandowah seemed like it would never open. Then when it finally opened, it was premature.
Finally with some new financial backers the club opened properly this spring, though with more than a few little nagging issue and without a front nine. The story concluded when a small clubhouse was built and this faux-links finally opened entirely about a month ago.
The initial nine, which now sits as the back nine, was a tough-as-nails links type design, with relatively random bunkers, severe greens, and tight fairways. The design is consistent through the front nine, which starts with a relatively straight-forward par four, and then heads into another links-type design, the par four second, which features a tee shot that needs to be played to the crest of a hill before falling to a green slightly downhill.
The best elements of the front nine, like the terrific downhill sixth hole, with its strange mound of fescue near the centre of the landing area, offer more tough greens and fairways that wobble and plunge (see the 9th, for example, with its oddly shaped contours in front of the green — below.)
If there’s a knock on the course at all, it is twofold. Firstly the fourth hole, a strange par four that plays too close to the back of the driving range, offers a forced carry over a wandering creek, and asks players to lay up with a long iron, and then approach the green with another long-to-mid iron (see photo below). The green site is plain and the hole lacks definition. The second issue are the par threes, which seem uniformly long in length (the third hole plays around 200 yards from the tips, and uphill, while the 7th is similarly around 200 yards and slightly downhill). A nice short three — one where you don’t have to hit 3-iron, would have mixed things up slightly, and that could still be accomplished by moving tees around.
But those are not huge blights on what is otherwise an interesting and intriguing layout unlike pretty much anything in Ontario. Like a true links, there is pretty much no water in play (there’s a holding pond on the 17th, but it isn’t really in play), and that sets the course apart from the likes of Eagles Nest and Osprey Valley Heathlands.
Conditioning is still not perfect, but the definition created by the golden fescue that lines fairways has made Tarandowah look more like the links it seeks to emulate. This is especially important since there is little in the way of separation mounding to define one fairway from another.
Overall Tarandowah is great fun, and will likely get a lot better as the design is tweaked and playing conditions move from grow-in to playing more firm and fast. Greens are receptive to the ground game and provide a variety of options. Players seem to be taking to it already — there were around 150 players out yesterday, for instance — which is encouraging considering this is an unusual design for the area.
Canada could use more courses like Tarandowah — priced appropriately and offering a different type of golf experience, not simply one based on sinking $15-million into a project, but one that offers something different and gives golfers choice. For now, in Southern Ontario at least, Tarandowah provides a unique opportunity, one that could become unrivaled in the province should the course reach its potential.
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I agree with the author, I played the course in late July on a day with 20-30 mph winds. It was tough but fair, and the par 3s were a little much (if the wind I had is a common wind). The 4th hole is weak, but forgetable, as it happens near the start. I loved the whole course, and if the yardages get marked better and it matures some it will be awesome. You really need to play it twice or three times I think to know where to hit it. I am a 10 handicap and shot 86 first time out from the Blue Tees, and played really well. I would play a few holes differently the second time. The wind as mentioned was 2.5 to 3 clubs at times and made it brutal. If you love golf you should play this course.
Martin Hawtree, the Tarandowah architect, has been given big accolades in Golf magazine (September 2007, page 30) for his re-working of Lahinch in Ireland. Golf magazine staff now rank the Lahinch course at 54th on the entire WORLD list.
Tarandowah is Hawtree’s only North American course. Play there may have been quiet last year but as the word spreads, there will be a lineup from Avon up to the 401 to get to the first tee.
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I was fortunate enough to play Tarandowah last week on my way from NY to Northern, MI. I found it to be a wonderful links course that you wouldn’t expect to find in rural Canada. The course isn’t easy by any measure but very fair. It is pure golf, the way it was meant to be played. The staff was very friendly, the clubhouse is small but adequate. This course is about golf and I believe they got it right. Can’t wait to travel that way again.
Played Tarandowah yesterday July 3/2013. The weather was perfect and this course is a treat to play. Very tough played the blues and the finish is hard. I highly recommend making the trip to London. We did a double playing Firerock in the afternoon.