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Canadian Golf Architecture Review: Graham Cooke

Graham Cooke/Wayne Carleton

Years in industry: 34

Key courses: Glen Arbour (Halifax); Dakota Dunes (Saskatoon)

Associates: Jeremy Glenn (lead on Piper’s Heath in Milton) and Yannick Pilon (lead on the Lakes in Cape Breton)

Recent Projects: Jaypee Fairways Golf Course, Noida, India; Ben Eoin Golf Course, Cape Breton Island, NS (which has had its name changed to the atrosious “The Lakes” in recent months)

Quote: “Golf offers us eighteen changes at success. Not many sports are as generous – certainly not life.”

Strengths:

  • Salesmanship. A repeat mid-amateur champion, Cooke is well regarded as a great golfer and many clients enjoy working with him. As one greens committee member once told me: “Why is he in golf design? He could make so much money doing something else.”
  • Has built a wide array of courses across Canada, as well as in areas of the U.S. like Washington.
  • Dominates Quebec market with strengths in Eastern and Western Canada
  • Courses are generally very playable. Some newer work — Piper’s Heath, Talking Rock — has been solid.
  • Though it isn’t entirely clear who does what, Western courses under Carleton’s guidance — Dakota Dunes, Talking Rock and the renovation work at Riverside — have been among the firm’s best.

Weaknesses:

  • Restoration/renovation work rarely seems to take into account the existing architecture. In some instances (Highlands Links) this seems to occur because Cooke has little interest.
  • The firm takes on many new projects on marginal sites and the results are rarely exceptional. The company often uses a similar look for its courses, including bunker style, on almost all projects. This can make them feel, play and look indistinguishable.
  • More ambitious projects — like Fox Harb’r — have fallen flat because of an apparent lack of commitment to a distinguishable focus. On a great site, Fox Harb’r is, well, a very average course. Similarly Dakota Dunes’ mix of bunker styles makes me wonder what Cooke and Carleton were thinking.

Comments: While Cooke’s work continues to win awards (Golf Digest handed its Best New Course in Canada accolade to Cooke and Carleton for their work at Dakota Dunes), his courses may not stand the test of time. His strategies are often ill-defined and bland, and his courses do not hold the aesthetic charm or panache of his peers, McBroom and Carrick.

However, Cooke is well liked by the owners with whom he has worked, and he has commanded high profile projects like Fox Harb’r for Ron Joyce, and Dakota Dunes, which arguably had the best site for a Canadian course in recent years.

The firm’s work in restoration/renovation of existing courses is not nearly as strong. Courses put under the knife by Cooke and his associates, like Scarboro Golf and Country Club, often finish looking more like Cooke’s modern stylings and less like that of the original architect. The cart paths and bunker work done by Cooke and co. at Highlands Links was embarrassing.

What’s possible?: Despite big issues about how well Cooke’s courses stack up against his peers, the architect continues to garner more work. However, one developer told me when he hired Cooke’s firm he felt he was really hiring former associate Darrel Huxham, who left in 2005. With Huxham’s departure, more has fallen on the the shoulders of Carleton, and able associates, Jeremy Glenn and Yannick Pilon.

Overall rating: B-

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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

  • Sorry RT – I have to disagree vehemently. Piper’s Heath is an absolute joke. One of the most overpriced, boring layouts in the area. Snore.

  • Sorry Rob, would have to disagee with your comments. Piper’s Heath was a farmers field 4 years ago. Flat, uninteresting bland land -I think Cooke has done a pretty good job. -What do you want 100 ft elevation changes? Also do you think someone like Sean Foley would leave Glen Abby to set up shop at a place that was a “joke”.

  • Every Graham Cooke course I have played (a) has felt the same as every other and (b) is almost always unmemorable. I believe his work is vastly overrated and the phrase “Cook-e-cutter” comes to mind. Why he continues to get so many commissions amazes me. It is a shame that he has inflicted his work upon the top 3 courses in Nova Scotia (Highland, Glen Arbour, Fox Harb’r).

  • ” do you think someone like Sean Foley would leave Glen Abby to set up shop at a place that was a “joke”.”

    yes, if the price was right.

  • and not much comment on Carleton and his background/ability.

    though, i think we can add Jeremy and Yannick to the list of FOR (friends of Rob).

    just sayin.

  • Hey Rob(first poster), Back in my teenage years when I thought golf was for wusses, I used to skateboard instead. I used to skate with a guy that would see every other accomplished skater and say “they suck, they’re overrated” and I always thought to myself -well you only have about 50% of their ability so who are you to criticize. “Rob” -what courses have you designed that are better than Graham Cookes, esp Pipers Heath? Now you answer will probably be something like “well I’m just a golfer I dont have the resources to design…but if I diid..” yeah whatever. Anyhow RT’s opinion is worth a lot more, he does this for a living and when he criticizes he gives specifics on what he doesnt like, he doesnt just summarize a facility with “snore”.

  • Still enjoying this series, RT. An interesting (if coincidental) juxtaposition in Carrick and Cooke. From limited play, I can say that I prefer Carrick’s work. Does it mean he’s simply a better architect? I think so – but I’m not so sure I know what that even means…

    Peter

  • Has anyone played his new nine at Whitlock in Hudson , if so was wondering their opinion. Robert have you played it?
    anxiously waiting a reply from someone

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