The Lure of Tarandowah

Links in a farmer's field: Tarandowah's par-3 third shouldn't work -- but it does

Links in a farmer's field: Tarandowah's par-3 third shouldn't work -- but it does

I’ve been fascinated by Tarandowah, a Martin Hawtree design near Avon, Ont. (about half way between Woodstock and London) since its owners had a simple piece of farmer’s field they were trying to turn into a golf course almost a decade ago. I’d drive by on the way to visiting a nearby relative and see it sitting there, partially shaped and read the website which promised no carts, no tournaments and some form of pure, links-like golf.

Fast forward 10 years, and most of that didn’t happen. When I visited the club last Saturday, it had golfers driving carts through the fescue on the 18th hole (two groups did it while I spoke with the pro, who seemed frustrated by telling people to stop and resigned to the fact they would drive through the fescue anyway). It had a guy playing in a white muscle shirt. It had beer cans left just off the side of the tee boxes.

It was also a great experience, with the golf course playing hard and fast and the mix of good and great holes far outweighing the weaker ones. The fescue, for the most part, did its part — acting as a hazard, but allowing one to find a wayward shot (the exception being the par-5 14th, where the fairway isn’t guarded as much by fescue as weeds, especially around the green. Whack this stuff down guys.) The greens were firm enough that they didn’t readily mark, and forced you to consider hitting one club less and bouncing the ball in. It played like a links should — firm and fast, with balls bounding 20 yards if they found the fairway.

I’m sure Tarandowah isn’t for everyone, but it is a relatively authentic links experience. Sure some of the green surrounds are over-shaped (take the 8th, for example, with its relatively difficult mounded areas behind the green, which are unnecessary) and there are a couple of clunker holes (I don’t care for the fourth hole or the 17th, both of which have slightly ridiculous tee shots). But for the most part, the highlights (the fifth hole, the great long 11th, the short 13th) outweigh any failings.

And with rates of $42 in the week and $48 on weekends, it is hard not to appreciate what Tarandowah offers. Heck, you can become a member for less than a grand. My twosome walked the course in less than 4 hours on a hot Saturday afternoon. If dinner with my folks hadn’t been hitting the table, I might have gone out for nine more — such is the lure of Tarandowah.

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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

  • I have only played the course once, last fall. I heard a number of good things before I played. It may have been an expectations thing but, I came a way with “it was alright” but, it didn’t get me too excited. I may have to try it again. I can’t really remember one hole that stood out. Something about the smell of the sea besides a links course makes it special for me. An inland links style just doesn’t seem to do it for me. Courses like Sidewinder, Pipers Heath, Tarrandowa have never got me going yet almost any course along the Irish or North Sea has me salivating. One little exception is that, I have enjoyed my rounds at Glencairn. Conversly, I love an old style parkland course here but have no interest in playing one in the UK….well perhaps a couple are on my list:)

    Strange game…

  • WE read about the awards and favorable reviews the course had received, and made the one hour drive from Hamilton.Right off the bat I will say that I think the course is a great design and a lot of fun to play and would like to include it in my rotation.However, instead of relying on discouts, they should take care of the little things and make the experiance memorable.Good service,,careing about the golfing experiance, and making sure the facilities are more user friendly, and presentable,costs little.The direction does not seem to be coming from the top. Robert, when you show up do they know you are coming?

  • John: I gave the pro a day’s notice when I showed up and I played mid-afternoon on a Saturday. What exactly was wrong with your visit? From my experience, there’s little more there than golf — and that’s just fine by me. Yes, I wish there was a little more attention to detail, and I could do without the carts in the fescue and the idiots in the muscle shirts. But that doesn’t really alter the golf course for me. Where you looking for someone to unload your clubs from the car? I think you’re going to have to explain.

  • Robert, I am not a bag drop kind of guy.I think they are missing a golden opportunity for a great little course. As a customer service buisness they cannot rely on the course alone,a tidy thought out attentive presentation goes a long way.If it is going to be a destination course and the awards draw the public, as in our case then I atleast expect that there should be some basic accepted standards met.What buisness model are they following?I would suggest a trip to Copetown if you want to see it done right.As a buisnessman I am mystified.

  • John, I agree with your comments. Their business plan makes no sense to me either. The target golfer for this course is clearly the avid golfer, who enjoys testing their skills with fun courses- quite often the latest and greatest. Tarandowah, seems aimed at trying to get enough locals to make the course break-even or throwing enough promotions or discounts to get anyone to show up. Trouble is this deters the real target from showing up.

    Rarely can I find a garbage can to dispose of garbage and see garbage everywhere. I have never seen a starter and very rarely a marshall to help with pace of play (played here 15 times, seen 2). I have seen people with shirts off, and muscle shirts. Of course, driving in the fescue seems to be the standard. The need to pay for a marshall and a starter (not just token memberships given to someone to show up and do nothing as a marshall). Tee blocks would be nice too, not just sticks on the borders of the tee blocks. All this stuff is so basic, they need to do these things and go above and beyond in few areas.

    I think no business plan was ever put in place for this course to start with. I also wonder, whether or not this course will be around in 5 years ( I don’t think Clublink will touch it with this location) – this will be truely sad.


  • Fair enough John — not sure if anyone is listening, but at least they have a golf pro there that has a sense of public play from his days in London’s munis.

  • I have played the course once in late April. I loved it and am looking forward to playing it in summer conditions. The day I was there it was pretty nearly empty. The greens were true and the fairways were fairly firm even that early in the season.

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