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Series: Day 14 of 17 Days of Golf Digest Best New

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2004 Best New Canadian
1. The Rock G.C., Minett, Ont., David Moote, Brit Stenson and Nick Faldo, designers.
2. Blackhawk G.C., Spruce Grove, Alta., Rod Whitman.
3. Wildfire G.C., Lakefield, Ont., Thomas McBroom.

Author’s note: This was the first year I participated as a Golf Digest rater.

No one saw it coming. Another course opens in Muskoka. This one has led a strange path to becoming a golf course. Firstly, it is being developed by an entrepreneur with a background in restaurants. He hires David Moote from Guelph, Ont. as his designer. David has little in his history that demonstrates he can take on a major project, but he creates a routing and gets it approved in zoning. The routing has a number of major concessions and the width of the playing corridors is very slight.
Then the owner pairs with Marriott Hotels, who tells him Moote wont cut it. So they dump Moote and bring in Nick Faldo and IMGs Brit Stenson. The pair, utilizing the existing routing, build an extremely tight, extremely narrow course that features several holes that dont work strategically. Options are limited. Several holes call for one very specific shot “ if you cant hit it, youre likely looking at bogey or worse. The course opens and Faldo shoots 73, despite the fact that the Rock is only 6,500 yards long. During his grand opening round, Faldo openly complains about several of the features “ as if he hasnt previously seen them.
The course struggles to find an audience, and sports several ridiculous holes. But Golf Digests raters apparently love it. How does that make sense?

Where it Ranks:It doesnt. The Rock never made Scores Top 100 list. A year or two after it opened, and after Blackhawk appeared well up Scores list in its first try, the then director of golf at the Rock called me to ask how his course could get on the list. I told him they would probably have to blow a lot of it up and start again, which is sort of what they did in the end.

Time Will Tell:The only question now, after being closed for an entire year for a redesign, is whether The Rock can actually capture an audience. I think it is unlikely. Blackhawk, on the other hand, has become one of the best courses in Alberta, and its designer, Rod Whitman, has two of the highest profile projects in the country on the go (Sagebrush in BC, and Cabot Links in Inverness, NS).

Should it Have Won?: I dont think anyone reading needs to ask that question. When it was announced in 2006 that the course would be closing for all of the following year, I wrote to the Golf Digest editor in charge of the best new concept and said they needed to reconsider who the system worked if the magazine’s raters voted for The Rock, and the public disliked it so much that they stayed away. By 2006, the golf was essentially free if you bought a steak dinner — that was how dire the situation had become.

It strikes me by overemphasizing difficulty and not defining what “shot values” means for many raters, the magazine ended up awarding a course that didn’t deserve any praise. There are few “shot values” in the Rock — it is more like “shot value,” and if you can’t hit that one, well you’ll find yourself pitching out from the trees. To top it off, sometimes when you did hit the correct shot, the fairway shaping was so poor that you were still penalized. No wonder many hated the course and never returned.

What Was Overlooked?:Thomas McBrooms Glencairn, his homage to Scottish heathlands golf, opened this year to much acclaim and membership sales. It is a good, but not great course, hurt by the attempt to find 27 holes on a property where 18 good ones exist. Better still is McBrooms Wildfire outside Peterborough, which is a very good golf course on a very good piece of property. But raters dont seem to ever get there “ which can be the only explanation for why Kawartha G & CC isnt in Scores Top 100.

Next: Cooke’s Natural Site Steals One From a Better Course.

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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.

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  • In the lone defense of the Golf Digest panel, and the one dimensional golf course that won Best New in 2004, you must consider that Golf Digest’s rating system is a hybrid of what was originally a ranking of America’s Toughest Golf Courses. That pedigree, while substantially modified, is still a major component of today’s evaluation criteria. So why did The Rock win? I can only guess that most of the panelists identified it as a very stern test of golf, which right or wrong is a defining element in GD’s opinion. Credit should also be given to the super and maintenance team that kept this track in superb condition and tried their best to make a virtually unplayable course (in spots) as forgiving as possible. Here’s hoping they’ll be back for The “New” Rock in ’09.

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