2006 Best New Canadian Courses
1. The Ridge at Manitou, McKellar, Ont., Tom McBroom.
2. The Club at Bond Head (South Cse.), Beeton, Ont., Mike Hurdzan, Dana Fry & Jason Straka.
3. Black Bear Ridge G. Cse., Belleville, Ont., Brian Magee.
The Ridge at Manitou is an interesting course to attempt to judge. On the surface, it is clearly an above average design with several exceptional holes. While it takes some time to get beyond just a run of the mill Muskoka course (the first hole is relatively bland, while the second, a short four, doesnt really function as intended), once it hits its peak, somewhere towards the end of the front nine, it is an exceptional course, and removing Oviinbyrd from the equation, it could well be McBrooms best effort in the region.
Certainly from 11 onwards “ a terrific par-3 that plays across a native marshy area “ and including the 13th (a fine risk/reward par-5 that plays steeply downhill to an interesting greensite), Manitou is a fun course with just the right mix of challenge and intrigue.
So why the hesitation? Because the Ridge at Manitou has been a bust as a business, garnering only a few dozen members in the three years since it opened. Its location north of the money district of Muskoka “ centered largely around Port Carling “ hurts its ability to attract members. Adding to that is the fact the owner is not a golfer, has had clearly had few ideas on how to market the Ridge, despite having a strong course.
Maybe it is just me, but it strikes me that if the course was truly exceptional, golfers would have signed up regardless of location. Perhaps Manitou is just very good “ but not great. Or maybe that is overstating things “ for surely there have been plenty of exceptional golf courses that failed for a variety of reasons.
Where it Ranks?: It appeared fourth in the 2006 Score ranking for Best New Course, behind Eagles Nest, Dakota Dunes and Blackbear Ridge.
Time Will Tell: This is a tough one. Certainly it is a fine course “ but what does that matter if no one plays it? This has the potential, over the long term, to disappear if the right business model isnt found. After all, even rich guys dont want to lose $1 million a year on their golf course.
Should It Have Won?: Yes, though I am partial to Jason Strakas intriguing Bond Head South design. Strakas vision has been criticized by some, and certainly the course has been dumbed down in past years (including a recent reworking of the bunkers), but it is fun to play, with several interesting shots and numerous greens that can be handled by an imaginative player.
I cant comment on BlackBear Ridge, the pet project of developer Brian Magee, as Ive not played it. By all accounts Ive heard from those that have, it is a course that could have used a professional designer, and the land is good. Initially it was known for its par-6 gimmick, but I understand that concept has since been abandoned.
What Was Overlooked? McBrooms Firerock was also up this year, and though it is a much lower profile course in terms of budget and ambition, it has been quite well received and Id argue it is a success as a design as well. Toms Whitewater, in Thunder Bay, Ont., is also a fine design that was nominated in this year, but likely has failed to achieve its due given its location away from Southern Ontario.
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