Course Review: Otter Creek Golf Club
Location: Otterville, Ont. (located south of Woodstock)
Designer: Richard Kirkpatrick
Opened: June 2008
Dick Kirkpatrick’s name will only be likely recognized by those in the golf industry or those that have paid careful attention. He’s built more than 100 courses in Canada — from Crowbush Cove to Credit Valley — and he’s designed a handful as well, with the best known being the value-priced Copetown Woods near Ancaster.
But until a couple of years ago he never had a chance to work on a particularly strong site and craft the kind of course that meets his aspirations. That was until a property in Southern Ontario became available. It had been kicked about before. Jed Azinger did a routing (and had some strange ideas) for the site, and Tom McBroom also investigated it. It didn’t fly until new developers took it over and brought Kirkpatrick in. It finally fully opened last month.
And with a top rate of $55, Otter Creek immediately places itself among the best values in Ontario, alongside the likes of Timber Ridge. The comparison to Timber Ridge is a good one. Both are out of the way — in the case of Otter Creek, it is more than 1.5 hours from Toronto, for example. Both have fine sites with a mix of landforms. Both have some average holes, with some exceptional ones mixed in. And both offer fine value for the green fee paid.
The course starts off sharply — with two tough par-4s (especially since the range isn’t open — it’ll be open next year). The first hole, especially from the tips, requires a cut off the left bunker, and shot that’s a little less daunting since the fescue is cut back. From there Kirkpatrick hits you with a second, even longer par-4 and then a long par-5. The truth is the first four holes are on South-Western Ontario farmland, which required Kirkpatrick to create landforms. He chose large rolls and sandy waste areas.
If the first three holes are difficult, if a touch pedestrian, the course kicks into gear on the 300-yard short par-4 fourth. The hole, set between out-of-bounds on the right and fescue on the left, with a bunker short and left of the green and set to gobble up balls, has the right mix of risk/reward needed to make a short-4 work. From there it is a long walk past the first tee to tackle a downhill par-3 and a par-5 with a intriguing green site, one that would be improved through some judicious tree pruning that would open up the views of the green. The seventh, with its long, narrow green, seems out of place on the course, but the most controversial hole on the course will be the 500-yard par-4 9th. With a tee positioned up a hill, golfers hit out of a shoot to an uphill fairway. Given the uphill slope of the fairway, even a well hit driver from the back tees will likely yield a long-iron, hybrid or even 3-wood approach over a 100-yard wide ravine that protects the front of the green. The hole is penal, especially since more trees weren’t removed to the left of the fairway (they were probably left in place to protect the parking lot from wayward shots). Too hard? Maybe. But Kirkpatrick was willing to risk it to make his routing work.
If the front is a mix of landforms and holes that are attractive if not always memorable, the back nine is in a different league. Many of the extremes in land forms found on the front disappear on the back, opening up a series of strong, long par-4s. After an uphill par-4 with a wide fairway, the par-5 11th hole — perhaps the best on the course — is strategically bunkered in the approach area, offering a classic look and protected by a green that is a challenge to hold for those willing to make an all-or-nothing shot in hopes of a birdie.
In many ways the 11th is a fine example of what Kirkpatrick does best. It is straight-forward, well-bunkered and fun to play. It is a design strategy he’ll use again on holes 13 through 16, giving long par-4s that are essentially straight the needed drama to make them enjoyable.
That’s what works — but not everything fits together like a puzzle. A wide ravine cuts through parts of the front nine, leading to some significant gaps between holes four and five, and between eight and nine, as well as separating the front and back nine. I rode during my round at the course — with Kirkpatrick — so the gaps were not an issue, but it would make walking Otterville a challenge in spots. The ravine also complicates the final holes. The terrific 16th, with its downhill approach, gives way to the 17th, which plays uphill and away from the 18th tee. That results in golfers playing the 17th, which has a fine greensite, and then walking back down the length of the mid-length par-3 to head to the tee of the 18th.
The closer is an odd one to finish on (the opening photo is taken from the tee). On the 8th, Kirkpatrick forces golfers to hit two exacting shots that must avoid water in front and to the right, and he returns to the theme on the final hole, a 475-yard par-5. The tee shot has to fly an expansive pond. But even from the tips, the tee shot is likely only a 3-wood. What makes the hole difficult is the need to play to the left of the fairway, which runs perpendicular to the tee shot. Only those left will have a shot at the green, which is blocked out by a ridge and trees on the right. Kirkpatrick said the inability to clear the ridge resulted in the hole being a par-5, as opposed to a tough-as-nails par-4. But it feels a bit contrived, with the distinct possibility that players might hit wedge-wedge approach, focusing all the excitement of the close on the final tee shot.
Okay, it might not end on the strongest note, but up until then, with numerous strong fours, and a couple of smart one-shot holes, Kirkpatrick’s back nine will make this course worth seeking out. A golfing treat in an unusual location. Recommended.
(Finally, some comments on this blog had suggested Otter Creek was in tough shape. Nothing could be further from the truth. With the exception of a single green on the back nine that suffered damage from a wash out, I’d say Otter Creek was as good as any public golf course I’ve played, with greens rolling true and around 10 on the stimp. Sure, the fescue was cut back, but we can thank the Lord for such small mercies.)