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Canadian Architecture Review: Thomas McBroom

Part of an ongoing series…

McBroom's Oviinbyrd -- a quiet standout

McBroom's Oviinbyrd: A Quiet Standout

Thomas McBroom

Years in industry: 29

Key courses: Crowbush Cove (Prince Edward Island); Oviinbyrd (Port Carling, Ont.)

Recent Projects: Tobiano Golf Club (Kamloops, B.C.); Memphrémagog Golf Club (Memphrémagog, Quebec); Tower Ranch (Kelowna, BC)

Quote: “It is all about the experience and keeping golfers within that experience. I’m tired of playing golf courses where you head out for two hours, grab a hot dog at the clubhouse and then head back out.”

Strengths:

  • Arguably the most articulate of Canada’s golf architects
  • Undoubtedly the most successful Canadian architect since Stanley Thompson
  • Carefully watches emerging design trends
  • Business connections to key power brokers in Canada (re: Desmarais family)
  • Typically has great relationships with course owners and is a strong networker

Weaknesses:

  • Not willing to take big risks on a singular project in order to create something truly unique and perhaps world-class. His courses are always good, but one sometimes wonders if he stuck his neck out a bit more, could they be great…
    Until recently his work on lackluster sights has been plain and uninspired (see Rattlesnake GC in Milton, Ont.)
  • Renovation and restoration work is heavy handed and often been poorly received until recently. Work at Green Gables in Prince Edward Island looked more true to the Thompson original.
  • Through no fault of his own, some courses he has built for clubs (see Ridge at Manitou near Parry Sound, Ont. and Wildfire GC near Peterborough, Ont.) have struggled financially.

Comments: There are distinct design periods to McBroom’s 25 year career. His earliest work, including courses like Deerhurst Highlands collaboration with Bob Cupp), Hockley Valley, National Pines and Oakridge, often are punctuated by wild, rolling greens that McBroom jokingly calls “my drug period.” However, it is the courses he designed in the years following 2000 that have garnered the most attention. These include Rocky Crest, Timberwolf, and Bell Bay – courses that tempered McBroom’s early excesses. Most recently, with work at Firerock Golf Club in London, Ont., Ambassador Golf Club in Windsor, and The Raven at Lora Bay (with Tom Lehman), McBroom has shown the willingness to ape new natural bunker styles that have been popularized by the likes of Bill Coore in the U.S. But is he a trendsetter or band wagon jumper? His latest two courses – Tobiano in BC and Memphremagog in Quebec — have won fans and polarized the opinions of others who find McBroom’s detail work lacking. I thought Memphremagog was one of the few places where McBroom has taken real risks — in this case with his greens.

Tobiano's unrelenting seventh hole

Tobiano's Unrelenting Seventh Hole

What’s possible: While there are as many detractors as supporters of McBroom, his latest work is the best of his career. While his strategies may not have the subtle grace that is found among Carrick’s best, his attention to detail on his most recent courses ranks him tops in the business in Canada. He’s getting better with time. It would still be nice to see him truly hit it out of the park…

Overall rating: New work: A; Renovation work: C+

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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.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • that ovinbyrd photo looks fake almost.

    and again mcbroomzy and his/their bunker detailing. its either ill-conceived, poorly executed, or just plain bad. often, a combo of the 3.

  • A ‘C+”? Sounds pretty harsh for the guy who was at the forefront of creating great work out of the unhospitable terrain of the Canadian Shield. The guys who followed him in the Muskokas all studied his work and none have been able to match his routings. Sure, McBroom has done some mediocre courses (so have Doak & Coore), but I think you need to give credit where credit is due. As for ‘key courses’, not sure why you single out Oviinbyrd. It may be your fav of his in the area, but it was actually Deerhurst followed by Lake Joe that started the craze.

  • That picture of Oviinbyrd is not flattering. The green looks like it was brought in from Florida and superimposed on the landscape – and I don’t just mean in terms of colour. The whole thing looks off and contrived.

  • Rob – you write that McBroom’s strategies may not have the subtle grace found among Carrick’s best; and from a fairly limited sampling, I’d agree with you. And given that I prefer the look of Carrick’s courses too, he wins 2-nil over McBroom. You’ve played a lot more of both architects’ courses than I have, but fwiw I think an “A” is a generous score. Not to be critical – I just think Carrick is simply the better architect.

    Peter

  • RT,

    Can you settle and argument between myself and a couple of buddies? Did McBroom design Millcroft Golf Club in Burlington?

    Thanks

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