The Rock: When Enough is Too Much



It doesn’t seem like that much money.

There are plenty of Canadian courses that charge as much for the privilege of tipping it up on their pristine tee boxes, or putting on their velvety surfaces. Banff Springs is more. Eagles Nest is about on par. Muskoka Bay is slightly less.

Given that $185 is among the uppermost green fees for a public course in Canada, it was with some interest that I read Score managing editor Jason Logan’s weekly column blog that referenced the new green fees at The Rock.

Under his “barbs” section a few weeks back, Logan had this to say:

Heard through the grapevine that The Rock plans to hike its green fees this coming season so it can market itself as the most expensive course in the already expensive area of Muskoka, Ont. This comes after the course closed last summer for renovations because few, if any, golfers enjoyed the Nick Faldo (actually David Moote then Brit Stenson) layout, which opened in 2003. I can see this marketing tactic working about as well as New Coke. Despite the renovations, The Rock is still a very tough and at times maddening course that isnt all that fun to play. Too bad too, because there are some good golf people in place at The Rock.

Now I’ve written pretty extensively about the problems facing The Rock. It faced problems from the get go and before it closed for renovations, steak dinners were just about being handed on a plate to anyone willing to pay the green fee. Now in the end it turns out The Rock abandoned the idea of making it the most expensive and settled for $185.

A $185!?

One would think a million dollars in renovation fees would lead someone at the club to reconsider what they did for the past few years. By all accounts the renovation was well done, but it is hard to make a burned steak taste good. Even if you cut away the singed areas, it is still burned steak. Such is the case, I suspect, with The Rock and its renovation.

The truth is that the ownership and management of The Rock could have turned it into Pine Valley or Augusta National, but at a peak season rate of $185, no one is going to hear about it.

If I were one of the people who played The Rock in 2006 and found it to be beautiful, but also unfair, what would bring me back to the course? What about those who thought it was just bad? How do you attract those golfers?

I’ll say this for sure — it isn’t with $185 green fees. And while fees do start at $100 less in May, let’s be honest — no one plays much golf in Muskoka in May, especially not this year with the huge amount of snow we’ve had.

What I fail to understand is why the management didn’t try something different. When Angus Glen opened in 1995, the fee was about $100 less than it is today. Over the next 12 years, with demand increasing, fees rose. People liked the course — and the service — and they came back, as well as voicing their pleasure to friends and colleagues.

So why didn’t The Rock relaunch at a peak, one-year rate of $100? Show the newly revamped layout off to those who wouldn’t give it another sniff.

The problem with the current rate is that it puts The Rock into elite company — with the likes of Muskoka Bay (arguably the best public facility in Muskoka), Taboo and Deerhurst Highlands. And at that level, The Rock can’t compete.

Now if I were a player in mid-summer, looking to go play with my buddies, would I risk going to The Rock — and uncertain quantity at this point — or take the sure thing and head to Muskoka Bay.

To me, that’s an easy decision.

The Rock better hope it isn’t a decision others follow, or it’ll be a quiet summer on the fairways of Faldo’s layout.

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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.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Mr.T,

    ‘The truth is that the ownership and management of The Rock could have turned it into Pine Valley or Augusta National…’

    I was following along just fine, then I ran into the above. Can you elaborate on this?

  • I meant this metaphorically — the ownership could have turned the Rock into a truly great course, but at $185, it will take an awfully long time for someone to notice and word to spread.

  • I will go back sometime in 2010, MAYBE after I have heard how great it is. Until then, Muskoka Bay is it when I want to pay top dollar. At least their club house will have an incrediable view.

  • another angle they may be going for, resort and destination golf

    a person is on vacation…decides on the Muskoka area…wants to play 4-6 rounds in that week..The Rock will just be another in a list of clubs to play.

    when you’re on vacation, one rarely repeats the same course if there are a multitude of choices. They’ll want to try as many new sites as possible.

  • Robert, you’re absolutely right, this is a colossal mistake on their part and the place is sure to be quiet this summer. That being the case, I may go check it out as I hate dealing with crowded and slow courses.

  • Rob, from your Scoregolf article last Fall titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” you mention the problems with the design and the renovations. Then point out that “Fowler acknowledges all of these problems, but insists most have been alleviated by the design alterations over the summer. Green fees are expected to be upwards of $110.”
    “We believe we’ll get people back and we’ll motivate them to do it,” he says.

    Yes, green fees are certainly upwards of $110……….!!!!!
    However, I still must wonder that with all of Ken Fowler’s successful business experience ie. Jack Astor’s Bar and Grill and West 49 branded apparel stores and the Marriott Hotel corporation they must know what they are doing re: green fees…………………one hopes……………….

  • Maybe the Rock is trying to be the next “Northern Rock”. Google Northern Rock and you’ll find out what happened to it.

  • Well this is getting interesting……………..The Rock has now removed the 2008 Green Fees they had posted, and have a note saying “2008 Green Fees will be posted posted shortly”……..Maybe they read Rob’s Blog……Stay tuned !!!

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