Course Review: Cardinal Golf Club/Redcrest (Newmarket, Ont)
Designer: Kevin Holmes
Sometimes you have to feel a tiny bit sorry for golf designers handed certain sites. Take, as example one, Redcrest, part of the 54-hole Cardinal facility, not far off the 400 Highway north of Toronto. The land in this instance, I can only surmise, was swampy and low-lying. It contained almost no discernable elevation change. When you put wet and flat together, rarely does something stunning come out of it.
Of course that isn’t always the case. Pete Dye’s TPC at Sawgrass is both wet and flat, but is always outstanding. So it can be done. But Redcrest isn’t Sawgrass, so let’s not pretend that it is. That said, it isn’t trying to be either. Holmes’ Redcrest is a mid-priced public course a step above the two existing golf courses, which draw lots of golfers, but probably have few fans. The existing two courses are mundane, straight-forward golf, basically forgettable. With Redcrest, Holmes set his sights a little higher.
Let’s start with what works – Redcrest is a walkable course that isn’t too hard on the legs. It puts a premium on a golfer’s ability to hit the ball relatively straight, given there is water on practically every hole (only the 8th and 9th holes, arguably two of the most interesting on the course, lack H2O). The greens are large and receptive, though the conditioning was strained when I was there – probably due to the summer heat mixed with new turf.
Redcrest gives you a sense of what is to come right from the first hole. Golfers tee off on a ridge and play down to a flat fairway protected by water on the right. It is a bit of a nondescript opener, but not offensive. The same could be said for the second hole, a par 3 with a green that angles away along a pond.
I’d say the where Redcrest is most interesting – like the par 4 third, fourth, and fifth holes, and several mid-length par 4s on the back nine – Holmes manages to create some intriguing golf on relatively bland land. Some will like these holes, like the fourth with its green featuring a false-front, or the fifth with its fall-away green, while others might argue Holmes is tricking-up holes to distract players from the land. I actually thought he did a nice job with these holes – though it can be pushed too far. Take, for instance, the par-5 sixth, where the tees are so low lying that players cannot distinguish where the fairway starts, and won’t see their tee shots land.
The best holes on the course are clearly the 8th and 9th, a par 3/par 4 combo that also, not surprisingly, has the most interesting land. The 9th might put some off, given that those that fail to pound a ball up its rising fairway will find themselves with a blind shot into the green. However, Holmes has made the green large, and the front of the putting surface is open, allowing one to run a shot in or chip if they come up short.
That’s not to say everything works equally well. The 10th, at 561-yards on the card, is awkward, with those hitting even a good drive facing the potential of not being able to hit their second shot over the wetlands. Those that fail will find themselves hitting an awfully long approach into the green, suggesting the man-made hazard is simply located in the wrong place in this instance.
The back nine is punctuated by mid-length par-4s, before reaching its climax with a long three-hole grouping that closes the course. Mixed in you get a dull, long par 3 (the 12th, at 226-yards), and a short four (the 341-yard 14th) that, not surprisingly, uses water as its defence. Sure the finishing two par 4s – the 452-yard 16th and the 442-yard 18th – are tough as nails, but once again water is the main feature. It is a one-dimensional strategy that allowed the course to be created, using the fill from the ponds to create fairways and features. However, it also makes most holes feel very much the same – either with water on the right or left throughout.
On top of all of this, I found Redcrest to play shorter than its listed yardage or 6,744, though the mix of other yardages (6,338 yards for the blues and 6,010 from the whites) makes this playable for basically anyone.
Despite all similar nature of the holes, Redcrest is still walkable and likely fairly priced at $77. I just suspect it wouldn’t be very interesting on repeat visits and the do-or-die nature of all the ponds is likely off-putting to higher handicaps who have no ability to recover without a ball retriever.