Course: Goodwood Golf Club
Designer: Martin Ebert and Tom Mackenzie
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 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 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.
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.