Course Review: Goodwood Golf Club

The dramatic downhill 10th at Goodwood measuring 443-yards.

Course: Goodwood Golf Club

Designer: Martin Ebert and Tom Mackenzie

 (see preview of Goodwood from 2007)

It is a course without a name, a track that was first played by some in 2007, but has remained basically off-limits to everyone else for the past three years. It has seen hundreds of rounds – not thousands and that’s over the three-year period, not a single season. It might get to 900 rounds this year, according to head pro Wil Koopmans.

It is the course known as Goodwood, though that isn’t its official name. Owned by Angus Glen proprietor Gordon Stollery, Goodwood (which is its location – so that’s what I’ll call it, though some think that’s more akin to its porn star name) is big and bold, having been built on land very akin to nearby Coppinwood. Stollery built it without having a goal in mind – so it isn’t a private club and it isn’t public. It is more like a private retreat, one that Stollery can invite guests to if he so chooses. In this instance – a game with Hollas mainman Dan Keogh, Angus Glen business development VP Nigel Hollidge and Score man for all media Bob Weeks – our group was one of two on the day. The other was a single who went to university with Stollery. There’s no business model, so there are no members. And as far as I can tell there is no immediate aim for that to change.

I was surprised to see a full range at the course – and a fine one indeed – and then it was off to the carts and the course. I was a little surprised by the carts, but given the fact I had a terrible head cold and the weather was awfully warm, I wasn’t all that upset that we were riding. In fact the course did basically look walkable with a few slight exceptions. Apparently no one ever walks – and Koopmans told me rounds often take an inexplicable five hours, which is very odd considering the lack of play. Our round took slightly less than four hours, for the record.

The short, driveable par-4 second.

The course begins in slightly pedestrian fashion, with a short downhill par-5 followed by a drivable par-4 and then another short par-5. It isn’t exactly the most exciting opening, but it gives you a pretty good sense of both the aesthetics and the playability. The fairways are certainly wider than one might first expect and the fescue allows one to locate and play their wayward shots. The second hole, at 327-yards on the card (from the tips), used a bunker complex to protect the direct route to the green, though most of our group pulled driver and blasted it at the putting surface (two of which made it successfully). The third hole might have been one of the weaker on the course – a relatively bland par-5 that turned right and ended up at a green with a pond on the left. Neither bad nor particularly inspired, I was beginning to worry that Goodwood wouldn’t live up to my expectations which were generated during early tours of the course.

The downhill 474-yard par-4 fifth.

The course stepped up on the fourth, a dogleg left par-4 with a great green. One thing you notice is the natural tendencies of Mackenzie and Ebert, who laboured under Donald Steel for most of their careers. Like Steel did at Redtail, Goodwood features natural greensites – and it is those putting surfaces that might be the most intriguing elements of the course. Greens with subtle humps and rolls were commonplace, as were greens that came in on-grade, presenting a natural, almost links-like experience. The best greens – like the 10th and 11th – featured subtle, natural elements that would force one to consider the best place to land your approach. The 11th, for example, had an interesting raised area to the right, making it easier to score from behind the hole. Given the lack of play most people probably don’t see the course enough to make much of these subtleties, but these elements really separate the course from others in the area.

While the front started slowly, the back nine opens with a breathtaking bang with the downhill par-4 10th with its fall-away green followed by two shorter two-shot holes, including the stunning 12th, with its green protected by a ravine that runs the length of the left of the hole before cutting in front of the putting surface. The close of the course is beastly, at least from the tips, which measured 7,132 yards. The 462-yard par-4 14th was the one hole on the course where I felt Mackenzie and Ebert could have tempered their more extreme tendencies. In this instance the green of the 14th, which is protected by a swale short, seemed just a little too wild for a hole of its length. However, the designer’s use of optical illusions – in the instance when I played the hole, the flag seemed cut towards the front, but was really in the back and obscured by a mound to the left – makes the challenge even more difficult.

The 12th hole, with its center-line hazard.

While the 15th, a 517-yard par-5, is relatively simple – and challenges the player to take a bold line in order to try for the green in two, it is bookended by the 16th, a monstrous par-4 of 472-yards that plays into the prevailing wind and is actually much harder to hit in regulations given that its green is perched on the other side of a wide valley. The 17th reminded me a bit of the 16th hole at Beacon Hall – an all-or-nothing par-3 over a valley to a narrow green. And the final hole, a 535-yard par-5 was a bit of a respite from the length of the two-shot holes and is reachable in two.

The mix of holes, specifically on the back, is intriguing. The par-5s, by and large, are all reachable in two good shots, while several of the par-4s (9, 14, 16) play even longer than their significantly-listed yardage. The drawback that perhaps keeps the course from reaching the elite level of the best in Canada is the par-3s. All four offer similar yardages – ranging from 185-yards to 210-yards – and the 8th seemed like a transition hole, while the 13th, with its walkback from the 12th green, offered an awkward spot in the routing though the hole itself is excellent. And overall, I was surprised at how quietly the course opens, compared to the difficultly of its conclusion, which made me wonder about the routing. Finally, I have to question a course that doesn’t appear walkable – though it is on some of the best land I’ve seen in some time. Perhaps it can be walked, but there doesn’t seem to be a big push on it, which is unfortunate. If you look at the great courses in this country – or the great courses in the world for that matter – all are walkable. I’d be intrigued at seeing if that’s the case for Goodwood – which didn’t appear out of the question with the exception of one stretch on the back nine.

Finally, a real disappointment was how soggy the course played – with little run or roll despite the dry weather. It would be much more fun to play if one was able to roll or bounce the ball into greens, but in this instance the course was aerated and wet, despite the lack of rain.

There’s always an allure and mystique about a course that most never get to see – in this case even those well-connected in the media. Often time the experience – Redtail, Memphremagog, even a place like Bigwin Island – is hard to separate from the golf course. In this instance the experience is muted. There’s no fancy clubhouse, no big entrance way. Everything is basically understated. That puts the focus purely on the course. With that in mind, Goodwood is already in the elite in the country, with a design that, if tightened and allowed to firm up, is one of the most challenging and intriguing to open in recent memory.

The downhill 13th is a terrific hole, though it has an odd spot in the routing.

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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.

10 CommentsLeave a comment

  • – Nice review Robert.
    – I used to drive through Goodwood every weekend, so I know the area.
    – Who do we call to get an invite? Do we just mention your name?
    – Maybe you could work out some sort of CanadianGolfer contest for a round or two up there 🙂
    – Keep up the good work.

  • I really don’t see any reason in reviewing a course that the general public (ie: your readers) can’t play. Unless you’re trying to subtly convey the message that “Hah, I played it, you can’t”.

  • 57Charlie: Sorry, there isn’t a mandate to review just public courses on this site, though there are plenty in the course reviews section. Goodwood is fascinating, which is why I wrote about it.

  • Good review. As a member of Clublink’s course in the immediate area, it is very interesting to see reviews of what else is there (Goodwood / Coppinwood). Agree that there is a need to review private courses even though most may not be able to play them. Will be playing Redtail and I never thought I would be playing there so there is a chance some may get a chance to play Goodwood. All reviews are good!

  • This review lacked some serious enthusiasm. The goodwood golf course is among the best around by no stretch, it is a fantastic course with great use of the land, following the natural rolling hills, and using them to its advantage. The par 4’s are a great mix of long and short, they have good dog legs, elevation changes, narrow greens, long greens, deep bunkering, there is a reward for driving it on the right side of the fairway depending on the hole. i agree the par threes have similar yardage but some the wind really comes into play and others the wind is not a factor, also the elevation changes on the holes make the similar yardages play much different, you must take this into account, also if nothing else they are visually beautiful. The par 5’s are gettable but also are strategic, easy to amke a mess and struggle for a bogey. the fairways are relatively wide, but it makes the course a little more playable for the 5 handicapper, not everyone is piping it down the middle like freddy funk. This is my favorite golf course i have played in this lifetime , and many other may agree. I hope they make this course the best public golf course around and make it affordable, so us middle class could enjoy a round every once in a while.

    P.S. the picture referring to the drivable par 4 second, is actually a pic of the the par 4 seventh- its a huge drop off the tee, and then an uphill second shot. The par 4 second has bunkers guarding the straight away drive approx 270 yard carry, and also has a deep bunker on the right of the green and clearly this picture you refer to does not.

  • Thanks for every other excellent post. Where else may anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect manner of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am at the look for such information.

  • Going to play it in Sept/12 member at Coppinwood and look forward to the awesome views and conditions. Ever hear of the Green Monkey?

  • This is solid course but its not a great course. Played it today and it reminds me somewhat of Bond Head South.

    What I don’t understand with so much acreage why so may hard dog legs?

    There are several quirks to this course and not always visible to the eye. The greens have severe undulation and could be tiresome if you played them all the the time.

    To RT comments its not that friendly to walkers which in my opinion should hold back any course’s ranking. But with an original plan to attract a select group of members at $250,000 a pop, that clientele tyoially has people drive them everywhere.

    The other aspect that is worrisome is pace of play if it went public. There is a fair bit of target golf and misses could end up in deep stuff slowing down play for the average golfer.

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