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And the Tough Get Tougher…

I was reading a posting board today and one of the commentators made some intriguing remarks about Lionhead Legends GC in Mississauga.

Apparently, for a reason that makes no sense to me, Lionhead made alterations to its Legends Course under the guidance of the inimitable Ted Baker, to make is course harder. That’s right — you read it correctly — a course that had a slope of 153 made changes to up it to 155, which is apparently as high as it goes, with a course rating of 77.5. That means, for those that don’t quite get such things, that a scratch player would be expected to shoot five and a half strokes higher at Legends than par to maintain his scratch handicap.

Remarkable is the only word I can think of that describes the situation. Following a season where many clubs struggled with significant rain, many courses are thinking about ways to make themselves more attractive to more consumers. But the Kaneff Group, which owns Lionhead, Royal Ontario, Royal Niagara and others, has spent money making its already too difficult course even tougher.

I have a hard time following the logic.

I like good golf courses. But ultra-hard golf courses typically appeal to only the best players. Everyone has heard the stats — that low handicap players account for only a small percentage of overall golfers. But even the low handicaps I know were not fond of Lionhead — and making it tougher isn’t going to attract them.

It wasn’t that long ago that Lionhead was considered the pinnacle of Toronto-area golf. It was the first of the high-end public facilities, opening before Angus Glen redefined the market. But these days it is lost among courses that are just, well, better. Eagles Nest. Copper Creek. Angus Glen. Even Wooden Sticks. All better courses offering a better experience. Heck, I’d even throw in the likes of Piper’s Heath and Dragon’s Fire as courses that are cheaper — and better — than Lionhead.

So what is the concept behind making the course tougher? I guess that way it can fill a niche — but I wonder what if that niche has much value these days.

It strikes me that a golf course — be it Copper Creek or Angus Glen South — can be made difficult simply when golfers play it at a longer yardage. That’s sort of what Lionhead did, but designer Ted Baker — who I’m not sure actually understands golf — made the course artificially difficult by crafting slight, narrow greens that won’t hold the approach shots, unless you are Tiger Woods or Anthony Kim or such.

In fact I’ll go this far — Lionhead represents what is wrong with modern golf: too difficult, unyielding and which takes too long to play. Now the powers-that-be at the club have added yardage. Why? To have something to crow about. If only it were something worth bragging about…

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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.

28 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I live very close to Lionhead and used to play it a lot. Now I never play there for 2 reasons.

    1. Legends course – there is only one way to play each and every hole. There is no strategy or decision making required on any of the 18 Legends holes. It is one of those courses that looks impressive, but the more you play it, the less you like it. I actually believe the Masters course to be a little better – a little. And the Legends has two of the worst holes ever designed – the par three #13 and the par five #15. Towards the end we actually stopped counting #15 in our matches – just played it for pratice.

    2. The process of getting from the driveway to the first tee is less enjoyable than the process of getting on an Air Canada flight out of Newark. The absolute worst set-up combined with surly staff – just awful.

    A reflection of the management of this facility can be gleaned from the practice range policy. When the club first opened, the practice area was only availabe to folks playing the course and balls were complimentary. Then it was opened to the public and you had to pay for balls. Then it was closed to the public but you still had to pay for balls. Now this year it is open to the public again.

  • Robert, IMO most average golfers have no idea how much ‘fun’ it is to play a course rated at 155 slope just as they have no idea how much ‘fun’ they’re missing if they don’t play a course rated at 145. What these average golfers do seem to understand is a course that “stirs your spirit, exceed expectations and defies understanding.” 😉

    Golf Digest (May, 2000) ranked the Legends course as the 3rd toughest course in North America . The Legends course is designed to stir your spirit, exceed expectations and defy understanding. It is an exhilarating challenge of golf. Nestled in the beautiful Credit River Valley the Legends course offers a challenge to all golfing abilities. On the course you will find shimmering lakes, deep Ohio sand bunkers, inviting bent grass fairways and impeccable bent grass greens. Every hole on the course is designed to give a golfer the “WOW!” effect.
    8525 Mississauga Road
    Brampton, Ontario
    L6Y 0C1
    Tel: (905) 455-8400

  • I guess I’m in the minority – I love the course. Not at full price mind you but when they are running one of their numerous specials at around $100 – it’s hard to beat. btw.. 13 and 15 are 2 of my favorite holes.

  • I played the Legends once, back in the 1990s, when I visited Toronto for a week of golf. It was by far the toughest course I ever set foot upon and the round was one of the least enjoyable ever until we realized it was a joke and took that attitude towards playing it. I would never return.

  • I love how the only ringing endorsement comes complete with phone number and address of lionhead in their reply…you might have wanted to pose your reply with some anonymity…otherwise it just looks…..well….desparate…from the first hole carry over water, marsh etc to a sliver of a green and on…it beats you down and sucks the fun out of golf…mix in some miserable pro shop service..well heck i should compliment their consistency in that regard…its not just one person but the whole staff…kudos!

  • Some golf course owners and “architects” just do not get it.

    I remember when Chuck Lattimer was the pro at Lionhead and was getting all kinds of complaints about the course being too tough and the players were four and five putting the greens, when it was suggested to slow the greens down a bit, the owner said “no way”
    A good percentage of the “golfers” at Lionhead are once a year
    players, and are not conditioned to greens that fast, they might play the rest of the hole quickly, but when they get near or on the green, they spend a LOT of time 5 putting.
    They (Baker and Kaneff) should have done everything they could think of to make the course more user friendly therefore increasing the enjoyment level and speeding up play.
    Even the Masters course could be made more user friendly.
    If they keep spending money to make the course(s) more unplayable, they will never attract enough play to lower the green fees (which is what the present day market is calling for)
    They simply do not understand the business.

  • Craig:

    Take it easy. I respect the fact that Pingnut has the nerve to post his opinion even though they can see that most of the responses oppose his/her view. They like it – you don’t. What’s the big deal?

    Raymond

  • while i have never played it, I have played plenty of difficult courses and these tend to be one time affairs. Sure its fun to test yourself and get your butt kicked once in awhile, but doing it on a regular basis is not fun and not condusive to running a successful business to attract return golfers. If you want to run a successful business, make a course challenging but fair and one that includes options about playing holes.

  • I don’t get it. I’m around a 13-15 handicap, and I absolutely love Legends. Ya, sure – it absolutely destroys you, it’s one of the toughest courses around. But THAT’S the fun – trying to challenge yourself against the best. If I want a walk in the park, I can go do that at a million other “built for the great unwashed masses” courses. If I’m going to spend 5 hours and a lot of hard-earned cash on a weekend playing a round, why would I want it to be a breeze? I WANT to get my ass handed to me, and the next time I want to come back and knock the course square in the teeth and cut a stroke off my score. You candy-asses have it too easy – maybe you should take up lawn bowling if you don’t appreciate a challenge. And, for the record, no – I do not have any affilitation with Lionhead or Kaneff in any way whatsoever. In fact, I despise Royal Ontario more than any other mid-range course in the area (well, maybe save for Burlington Springs).

  • Robert, don’t take this the wrong way but a 15 handicap isn’t going to ” knock the course (Legends) square in the teeth”. In fact I’d be surprised if a 15 could knock any course “square in the teeth”. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

  • GregM,
    Sorry – I guess if guys like myself aren’t scratch, we should stick to Executive 9-holers and leave the big-boy courses to champs like you?

  • Here’s a thought; if you don’t like the course, then don’t play it. Plain and simple. No need to bash it like most of you are doing. I for one enjoy the course. It makes you think and work hard on every single shot. I know what I’m getting into and so do all of you. If you want to miss every fairway and every green and still make par, then go to a lower sloped course, then home to brag to your friends. The course gives you 5 or 6 different tee decks so swallow your pride and move up to a tee that suits your ability. And like Rob I too have no affiliation with Lionhead or Kaneff. And also like Rob, I agree, you guys are candy asses.

  • I also love the course. The GAO resloped the course because of new WHITE tee decks which were built to make the course more playable for the average golfer. New black tee decks were built to make the course more difficult for the Professional Golfer. Before Robert posts another BLOG maybe he should do his research. Again he slams a course but knows nothing about the subject. I agree with RAT.

  • Rob and Rat, everyone knows that there will always be golfers who love being punished by a very difficult golf course. While I, for one, will likely never understand why the average hack gets enjoyment from a course like Legends I accept the fact that this is so. Having said this I’m wondering why you guys resort to name calling?

  • GregM,
    I agree, and thus apologize for using such language. I also agree that if the average hack realizes that they will be punished by the golf course, prior to placing the ball in the ground on the first tee, then it’s their choice. All I’m saying is don’t play the course and then bad mouth it because it’s too difficult, or you’re not good enough.

  • I don’t believe I resorted to any name calling, at least not in any specific terms. I referred to anyone and everyone that doesn’t like a challenge as a candyass, and I stick by that. If you like lowest-common-denominator, path-of-least-resistance, play-the-white-tees, 5,500-yard dead straight and flat golf – that’s totally your call. If you like playing a round somewhere that doesn’t involve thinking, club selection, shot selection, or anything other than pounding beers, taking 6 hours for a round, yakking away with your buddies, and sitting in a cart, that’s your choice. Just lay off the rest of us that like to break a sweat and get knocked around by a tough layout. GregM – you’re one of those guys that stands around waiting for a group to clear a green when you’re still 290 out, aren’t you? The guy who thinks he can crush a 3-wood up onto the deck and roll it within a few feet? the guy that holds up every group behind you? I bet you smoke cigars and wear a straw hat too, right? You just strike me as “that guy”. The guy the rest of us secretly want to wrap a 5-iron around.

  • 1) Greg M is a good guy. I’d rather the debate not disgress into whether he is an archetype of someone you’ve met on the course.
    2) One of the execs at Lionhead has sent me a note about my commentary. He’s asked that I not post it, but appears willing to respond to questions.
    3) All those who say I don’t do my homework — through my sources I contacted the GAO. They said the slope rating change was largely related to extra distance. Some greens were slightly altered, but I’m told that would have little impact on the slope rating.

  • Oh, and in response to “Joe Golfer”: What kind of course builds new tees for “pro golfers,” most of which don’t pay to play anyway? Strikes me as a very slight target market, unless you are planning on hosting a Canadian Open, and that ain’t happening at Lionhead any time soon.

  • RT I talked to the GM at Lionhead to get my facts not the GAO (I guess there is 2 different point of views) Sorry about that. I know our small tournaments (ethnic golfers) solely pick a course on its challenge and Lionhead always is very high on our list. If they want to build tees for the Pros than so be it. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone hit from the blacks. All I know is what I see and at Lionhead I have seen very young golfers, very old, women, men, Asian, Black, politicians, sports celebs, etc. all over the 12 years I have played the course. I think just about any type of golfer can play Lionhead and have fun (that is a huge market). The last two Toronto Golf Nut comments of yours that I read, blasted Kaneff and H. Allard (I assume is the manager or owner) Woodington Lake. I then started reading more of your comments was concerned that some of the more positive things are getting missed. Blaming Kaneff for what is wrong with modern Golf? I don’t understand that comment. He risked his own money to build public golf courses in hopes of getting a good return. As I stated in my Torontogolfnuts comment, where will I wind up playing if more courses go down to developement? I think if my friends and or family from Guyana wanted to come to Toronto to play golf and all they read was your comments they probably would not come. We need more positive, not negative. Sorry for going off on a tangent but I am just a public golfer that does not have access to all the great private courses. Other than muni course I will be driving 2 hours from Scarborough to play a half decent course.

  • JoeGolfer: We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. My job isn’t to be a cheerleader for courses I don’t like or understand. That said, there are plenty of things I like — Tarandowah in Avon, Timber Ridge near Brighton, Otter Creek outside of Woodstock — that are value-priced and offer great golf.

    I’m glad you enjoy Lionhead — and you are welcome to hold that opinion.

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