Course: The Ridge at Predator Ridge Resort
Designer: Doug Carrick
The business of building new golf courses basically ground to a halt in 2008 and has yet to recover. That’s likely why there’s been such interest in Doug Carrick’s latest – a rebuild of nine ghastly holes at Predator Ridge and the addition of nine new ones. In fact it isn’t quite that simple – Carrick significantly reworked all the holes at Predator, rebuilding bunkers and recontouring greens. The result is surprisingly good – containing some of Carrick’s best work to date – but can’t fully compensate for the lacklustre holes he inherited from the original design. It is hard to be underwhelmed when many of the holes are stellar both from a strategic and aesthetic standpoint, but they obscure the truth – that the golf course limps out of the gate and struggles home once it encounters the old holes.
The course starts with a mid-length four (at least for anyone not willing to play the back tees at 7,123 yards, which given its resort setting is probably everyone) that is neither good nor bad. It simply starts the round, hemmed in by the never-ending pounding of balls at the range on the left and a hillside of fescue on the right. An awkward lengthy drive takes you up to the second hole, one of the best on the course with a awe-inspiring downhill tee shot and an approach into a green that falls hard back and sides. A rocky outcropping, akin to something one might find at Carrick’s work at Muskoka Bay, is perched short and right of the green, likely far enough out of play for most that is more ornamental in purpose, but still intriguing. After the startling second, the third is underwhelming, though Carrick doesn’t dress it up – leaving it without any bunkers. Maybe it could have used something to make it stand out; instead it seems relatively plain, and still recalls the old hole on which is was built if I recall correctly.
That’s where Carrick really kick-starts the design. The fourth hole, with its on-grade green using the lake as a backdrop, is smart, and the fifth, with its drop in elevation off-setting a jaw-dropping length (244-yards from the tips!), is one of Carrick’s best par-3s. In fact the one-shot holes, not often a strength of Carrick’s designs, are very good on the front nine. The 8th hole is a real stunner, with a tee shot over a valley to a green protected by bunkers on both sides.
The standout on the course is the 6th, a hole whose tee shot belies its actual nature. From the tee a rocky outcropping makes the initial shot appear as though one has to sling it through a canyon of rock if one has any hope of even pondering the notion of par. Truthfully it is more optical than difficult. A well-struck fairway wood propelled me past the rock and down a steep slope, leaving little more than a flip-wedge into a hole that appears impenetrable from the tee. It is Carrick’s ingenious use of the rock and the psychology of the hole that make the 6th a hole few will forget. It reminded me of the 9th at Muskoka Bay – a hole where the use of rock is divisive, with an equal number of people loving it as hating it. I suspect the 6th will be similar, and it was brave for Carrick to offer such a hole on the course.
The front nine ends with an average par-5 before ramping up the drama with the par-4 10th, decadently bunkered. It was at this point that I began to recognize Carrick’s conceit on the course was to drive golfers to high points in order to offer as many elevated tee shots as possible. That’s been a knock against other similar courses on difficult terrain (Silver Tip anyone?), and could be a criticism of Carrick’s work here. In all, I count 10 downhill tee shots, many of which are manufactured by the use of golf carts. There’s no conceivable way to walk such a difficult site, so Carrick smartly determined that he’d use the carts to set up the best tee shots.
While the downhill par-3 12th is too average for its surrounding holes, the downhill tee shot on the 13th compensates for the shortcoming.
However, by the 15th hole, Carrick is back on the old course, which to the best of my understanding, was routed by Jack Nicklaus’ office, with the design features being created by the construction firm. The routing was stale and the holes were either poor or clichÃ©. Carrick does his best with what he’s presented with, but the 15th, a par-3 over water, is essentially the same hole as the previous design, and the 16th was a dog before and now it just has new fleas. The closing holes, however, are much improved. Previously the 17th was a short par-5 that compensated for its lack of distance by tightening the landing area to G-string proportions. Carrick widened the landing areas, making the hole more a par-4 cape, allowing players to take on as much of the water as they are willing to risk. The 18th is basically the same hole – with the same approach to the green set beneath the green. It is a strong closer, if slightly out of character with the course’s best holes.
Clearly Carrick had his challenges at The Ridge. The existing routing had to be incorporated into the new design, limiting some of the creativity of the exercise. Where he was allowed a free hand, the holes stand with his best work, right alongside that of Eagles Nest, Muskoka Bay or Humber Valley. For those alone, Carrick should be applauded, though one has to wonder what he might have accomplished if he’d had the opportunity to use his imagination on a virgin site.