Course Review: Dragons Fire GC (Carlisle, Ont.)
Architect: Boris Danoff
Let’s start by saying this: I’ve generally disliked all of Boris Danoff’s designs to date. I despised Royal Ontario. I thought he tried way too hard at Thundering Waters. I’m sure there are other Kaneff-owned courses I can pin on him.
But with all of that in mind, I quite liked Dragons Fire GC, his newest public offering that opened a few weeks ago near Burlington. I wanted to hate it in the same way I wanted to dislike the latest Britney Spears record (which was actually pretty solid with some good beats — at least that was the case with the single). I wanted to hate it in the same way I read Christie Blachford columns, only to find myself sucked in. I wanted to loath it in the same way I tend to enjoy movies by Adam Sandler in the same way I like slivers under a finger nail, occasionally, when I’m up late at night and one comes on, I’ll find myself laughing at Sandler’s antics. You know what I mean.
And so it is with Dragons Fire. I hated the populist way they supposedly named the course and was prepared for another awful Kaneff-like design that rarely took the golfer into consideration and was more an exercise in masochism. But that wasn’t the case.
In fact, with some conditioning issues that will surely rectify themselves with some warm weather, I thought Dragons Fire was a solid effort. I liked the wide fairways. I thought the greens — while slow — were interesting. The bunkering wasn’t exceptional, but it wasn’t bad either. The routing was walkable.
I must admit the course starts out a bit strangely with a short opening four followed by a tough, longer par-3. However, Danoff gives golfers plenty of chipping areas around a vast majority of his greens, allowing for options. The wide fairways — as wide as those of ultra-wide short grass at Magna in spots — means there are a variety of ways to approach the greens without hitting it into the rough. Now the long native grasses surrounding the fairways left little room from recovery, but that usually wasn’t an issue.
The course really kicked off on the third hole, a long, wide par-4 with a carry angle on the left and bunkers to protect the right. The hole then slides slightly downhill to the green. That’s a pretty common theme on the front nine — two-shot holes that play to landing area and then turn downhill, though not sharply. There’s a string of fours on the front — four in a row, in fact — before the course yields to consecutive par-5s and ends the first nine with a 200-yard par-4.
All the holes were solid enough, though nothing wowed me. The 5th, a long par-4 with a green site surrounded by long grasses, could be cleared a bit more to allow for recovery from around the green, especially given its length at 473-yards from the tips. Missing left was dead, as the thick grasses and nearby pond would simply inhale golf balls.
The back nine showed a bit more promise, including the 10th, where Danoff again used carry bunkers on the left to provide options off the tee. Again, no stunners on the back nine, though the closer, a 533-yard par-5 with water down the right was fun to play and looks strong off the tee. Of course finishing holes with water down the right are a bit cliche, but it worked in this instance. The short par-4 15th also worked nicely, protected by enough bunkering to force players to think. Those wishing to tackle the hole with an iron need to position themselves down the left side. Those willing to try for the green will risk the bunkers on the right and well short of the green.
It doesn’t all work equally well. There are instances where I wondered if a better routing couldn’t have been found. Sure it is tight tee-to-green, which makes the course very walkable (a rarity in a public course these days), but the long par-5s, most notably the 8th and 13th, and 16th holes all played decidedly uphill. It didn’t apparently matter that they were all long to start with — but the elevation adds yardage. And there’s really nothing more dull than a par-5 that is unreachable even with a 290-yard drive.
On the other hand, some holes feel shoe-horned in, like the 11th, with its cart path running only a few yards off the left side of the green. My tee shot found the fairway with the green a wedge away, but a slightly yanked approach found the pavement and came to rest in another fairway altogether. I’d do away with cart paths on most courses, but there clearly wasn’t space in this instance, so the path is run far too close to the green.
Lastly, with the exception of the 17th hole, the par-3s all play around 200 yards (I teed it from the golds) — 210, 183, 190, 218. A nice short one-shot hole with an interesting green site may have set these apart, but frankly of all the holes that make up Danoff’s routing, the threes were perhaps the most nondescript.
Perhaps that’s nitpicking. Largely Danoff has delivered an interesting, occasionally inventive course on a nice rolling piece of land. The wide fairways are forgiving, but don’t make the course easy. There’s enough challenge in and around the greens to compensate for the width.
And while it might be lacking a hole that really captures the imagination, Dragons Fire accomplishes its goal — to create a walkable public course that offers value and interest.