The Rock Revisited

[photopress:The_Rock_faldo.jpg,full,alignleft]On Thursday I’m taking advantage of the unusually great weather to drive up to Muskoka and get a peak at the newly renovated The Rock Golf Club.

As many will recall, the course closed for all of this summer to renovate, even though it took Golf Digest’s best new course award in 2004.

The problems were massive. Since the project started with a routing by David Moote, followed by a design by Brit Stenson (and the very occasional presence of Nick Faldo), the course struggled with contrasting visions. Moote’s routing emphasized tight playing areas, and utilized a series of holding ponds in order to meet approvals. Too bad many of these design features — which factored heavily in Stenson’s reworking — became such a central part of the course.

Right from the start — or should I say the first hole — there were clearly some issues with The Rock. But the Marriott hotel chain was involved in the project, which essentially meant the problems had to be fixed. After a 2006 season with fewer and fewer players, but before the new hotel on the property had commenced, the decision was made to close the course and bring Stenson and Faldo back to rework it.

I must admit to being surprised that Faldo and Stenson were invited back after all the issues with the course in the first place. Faldo was overheard during his opening round speaking about adjustments to the course. That’s not a good sign given that it had just opened.

Anyway, fairways have been widened apparently, and made less severe, including alterations to some of the worst offenders, like #3, and #16, or at least that’s my understanding.

But what interests me even more than the design changes is whether or not a course can be relaunched effectively in this market. Can the owners of The Rock, and Marriott, convince public golfers that their product rivals that of Deerhurst, Muskoka Bay, Bigwin Island, Rocky Crest and the like? If they can’t, then it won’t matter how much they’ve spent on redesigning the course.

Truthfully, I’m skeptical. I think that once you screw up a course’s routing and initial design, you’ll be hard pressed to ever make it a strong course. However, I’m willing to be proven wrong.

After tomorrow, I’ll have a better sense of which way this one will end up.

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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.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hi Rob,

    Look forward to your review after tomorrow’s visit.

    Interesting to see if all the changes were made from what I had heard?
    Heard from a guy who used to work summers at The Rock that these are the changes that they are making:

    Here are the changes:
    #3- getting rid of the rock in the fairway and opening up the left side trees to not make it such a tough landing area off the tee.
    #4- taking the fill from 3 and putting it in the dip at the 150 mark and building it up so most people have a shot at that fun approach.
    #12- extending the landing area a little bit so it is not such a severe drop off over that initial mound.
    #13- if you split the fairway in two, the left side will now be rough and they are opening up the right side more. Also lowering te rock so the green is not such a blind shot.
    #14- MAking a new tee box further back so it is not so easy to drive from the tips.
    #16- Lowering the hill that you see from the tee.. Blasting all the rock that extends out and making a large rock wall on the left side.

    They are also probably going to be flipping the 9’s so the starting hole is not so hard.

  • RT. I’m one of the few who thought that the problems at the Rock were not that great. As a member course, I always felt it could have worked (quirky & tough). As a resort course I admit it had issues (quirky & tough). I’ll be one that heads back there next year regrdless of what the critics say, just to check it out for myself.

  • Just played the course. All I have to say is with Marriott Golf behind the course alterations it turned out GREAT!! I liked it before but now it’s fair for everyone. RT I hope you will enjoy it, my group did!!

  • I played the course when it first opened and found it extremely frustrating to play. Before going there, we had heard about how difficult it was and that Faldo couldn’t even break par and so on. I’ve never been impressed by such things and, frankly, think it’s laughable that someone would actually design a course to be that difficult. What is the point? It’s like they’ve designed the course to target wealthy golfers with low handicaps. That can’t be a huge market (outside of Pennsylvania, that is).

    When we played the Rock, our foursome joked that the course must have been designed during Faldo’s divorce – I’m not sure whether or not that was true, but it sure seemed likely & very fitting. We even coined the term ‘getting Faldoed’ to describe the feeling you get after playing there. A few years later, we still use ‘getting Faldoed’ now and again. We ended up playing the course for a very cheap rate, but I couldn’t help but wonder how a mid to high handicapper would feel after paying full price there. I guess it would be like taking two punches to the stomach on every hole, as opposed to the one per hole that our foursome were given.

    That said, I would definitely go back to see how it’s changed. It might actually be fun now.

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