Course Review: Talking Rock Golf Club (Chase, B.C.)
Designer: Wayne Carleton and Graham Cooke
Opened: Summer, 2007
Every so often there’s a course that just shouldn’t work. Talking Rock is a good example. Built by owners (a native band) that had no experience in golf, they hired Les Furber to do a routing. They cleared trees over a decade. Eventually they decided, after a routing had been established, that Les wasn’t their guy. They hired Graham Cooke and Wayne Carleton to take over, and the pair tweaked the routing, widening landing areas and generally reworking the design. Sounds like a disaster, right?
Turns out it isn’t. In fact, Talking Rock is — for the most part — a fun golf course in a majestic setting, with some drama and excitement. Yep, there’s plenty of little elements that don’t work, and there are a handful of average golf holes, but largely Talking Rock is a good golf course, and at $70, this is one of the better values anywhere in Canada.
The biggest challenge with the course is the home holes — those nearest the location of the clubhouse, which is not yet completed. The opening holes are flat, and relatively plain, with bunkering that squeezes players right out of the gate. The first forces players to hit a fairway wood, while the bunkering on the second suggests the same play. Similarly, the predictable ninth, with water down the left and another slight landing area, could be located anywhere.
Those are the big misses. Fortunately there are some big hits as well. It could be Furber’s routing that Carleton was largely reliant on, but whatever the case, it takes several holes for Talking Rock to find its footing. When it does, as is the case with the wide par-5 third, which rises uphill to a terrific green setting perched in a natural amphitheatre, Talking Rock looks great and plays well. The green is subtle, but touchy, but big enough to allow golfers to tempt it in two. The third hole, a big par-4 that plays swings around a outcropping of trees that wouldn’t be out of place in Muskoka, is also excellent, and well protected by Cooke and Carleton’s typical plain bunkering. It is at the green site that one realizes the divergent visions of Cooke/Carleton and Furber. Already a challenging hole, forcing players to cut the corner if they want to have a mid-iron approach, Furber felt the green of this 450-yard hole should be tucked in amongst trees on the right. Essentially to play the hole the way Furber envisioned it, one would have to hit a hook to the right side of the fairway. Otherwise, you’d have to hit a slice to the green.
Unfortunately the native band that controls the land cleared Furber’s preferred green site, as well as a number of other areas on the course that didn’t become part of Carleton and Cooke’s design. These areas — cut out of the trees — are readily apparent, and are often a bit of an eyesore in such a pretty setting.
The biggest issue for Cooke and Carleton is there strange use of bunkering. On the 8th that utilize a massive waste area on an already challenging par-3. It is distracting and unnecessary. In other places, greenside bunkers seem removed from the actual green sites, leaving lengthy recovery shots.
In fact, the setting is one of the strongest elements of Talking Rock. Cut out of a pine forest, its rocky sections could be mistaken for Northern Ontario. The routing, despite having too many cooks, is actually quite walkable, though several holes on the back nine — those that run almost straight up hill — are a challenge.
It is the back nine where the elevation really comes into effect, with several holes 12 through 14 being almost straight up hill. One has to wonder if there was a more subtle way of getting golfers to the high point of the land; as it is, there are three holes that climb significantly. It isn’t until the 15th that one starts back down hill.
The final holes are a mixed bag. The 16th, a big downhill par-5, is underwhelming and I can’t decide whether the 17th, a short par-4 that is drivable, is a good risk/reward hole. The ample landing area would suggest it is — and on repeated plays this could prove to be an intriguing hole.
The 18th is pure North Carolina, with a fairway that is far tighter than anything on the course, with a lake on the right, though not in play. Since golfers cross a roadway to play this final hole, and since both the playability and aesthetic is different, my take was that this hole was a bit of a disconnect.
Yes, Talking Rock has some issues. No, it is not perfect. But it is a fun course on an exceptional piece of property. One might play it wondering what might have been had it been placed in the hands of a Bill Coore or Tom Doak at the start, but as it is Talking Rock still offers a value that is hard to top.