Ted Baker Responds: “Mr. Thompson knows not of what he speaks.”

Late last week I wrote a post that talked about a couple of issues, including the apparent creation of another golf course by developer Iggy Kaneff. I found it strange that in a time when the golf market is basically saturated, when a great facility like Devil’s Paintbrush has plenty of memberships for sale on Kijiji, and when a tremendous public facility like Osprey Valley with three courses isn’t overly busy, that someone would build another course minutes away. Beyond that, Kaneff was going with the same old same old – Ted Baker, the designer behind such courses as Royal Ontario, Royal Niagara, as well as Lionhead. It struck me as going to the same well – or in this case, designer – once too often, which is what I said.

Anyway, Baker, who I’ve met on occasion and interviewed a couple of times, took the opportunity to respond. I’ve heard Baker speak a couple of times – he’s a member of the Stanley Thompson Society and another one of those guys who was a second-hand tangential link to Thompson because they once worked for someone who once worked for the legendary architect. Unfortunately skill isn’t transferred through osmosis, and Baker’s courses aren’t my cup of tea. For some reason this reminds me of the time Baker told me the RCGA hadn’t taken the Canadian Open to Lionhead because the organization was prejudiced against Bulgarians. He said that — really. He might have even believed it.

All of this makes me think of the old quote, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel,” or in this case, people who have a blog and unlimited server space…

Here’s Ted’s take:

My name is Ted Baker. I am confident in my ability to provide well considered golf course design services, despite Robert Thompson’s recent rants to the contrary. To date, I have not considered his remarks (and there have been others) worthy of a response. His latest diatribe with reference to the new Kaneff golf course, however, goes too far.

Anyone who knows me is aware I can never go too far… and love to rant.

If he had taken the trouble to verify the facts, he would know that an application has been submitted to the Town of Caledon for an 18 hole golf course, not a 27 hole course as he stated.

According to Kaneff’s own golf publication, the facility was scheduled for 27-holes. Interestingly, as recently as November, government documents show the facility as being 27-holes, though another government document in December removes the reference to 27-holes. This comes from a Niagara Escarpment hearing in November that makes no reference to an 18-hole facility, but notes there are concerns about the land where five holes are to be built:

On September 22, 2003, Kaneff Properties Ltd. (the “Appellant” or “Applicant”) applied to the Niagara Escarpment Commission (“NEC”) for a Development Permit to construct five golf holes and related fairways, greens, sand traps, and tee decks, and to modify and upgrade an existing irrigation water supply system in conjunction with a proposed 27-hole championship golf course. The application concerns a 34 ha portion of a 66.4 ha lot located in the Town of Caledon, which will constitute the entire golf facility.

So it looks like what happened as the proposal for 27 holes got turned down, or at least Kaneff couldn’t figure out how to make it work given the restrictions. Of course, Mr. Baker doesn’t mention that. Interesting to note the course will be 164 acres – which isn’t a ton of land and would be tight for 18 holes, let alone 27. Maybe they’ve acquired more land – but it isn’t referenced in the government documentation. I guess if Mr. Baker thinks there will be a distinct difference in quality between having 27-holes and 18-holes, then this is a significant point. I don’t think there will be much of a difference.

Mr. Baker continues:

Mr. Thompson’s suggestion that Kaneff Golf has made unfortunate decisions relating to the size of golf facilities and the consultant he retained to design this new facility, shows that Mr. Thompson knows not of what he speaks.

All I said was that some courses had been created as 27-holes where they may have been more pleasing from an aesthetics and playability standpoint if they were 18. However, I’m not convinced they would have been attractive even then, though I know having 27-holes helps a facility’s bottom line Beyond that I don’t believe any developer should use the same designer over and over again – regardless of who that designer is. When it happens the product often has similarities and you get golf courses that are a variation on a theme.

The next part is odd, since I really didn’t mention much about Kaneff himself. Anyway, Baker wants to discuss the Mississauga developer:

Ignat Kaneff is a highly successful entrepreneur. He has two honourary doctorate degrees and, and at the time of Thompson’s most recent blog, was being awarded the Order of Ontario.

Congrats to Iggy. Well done. I would agree he’s a successful developer – I don’t recall saying he wasn’t.

Now back to Ted:

Beyond his considerable charity work, he is one of Canada’s leading golf course developers. At a time when golf is in a downturn, Kaneff has, once again, shown leadership by continuing to expand. This is a sign long awaited by architects, contractors, suppliers and an important list of contributing consultants.

And I’m sure Iggy hired those architects, suppliers and contributing consultants for the best price available in a quiet market. Oh, I forgot – he’s been given the Order of Ontario, so this is all charity work… for the good of the game, so to speak. That’s why he ripped up a value-priced facility like Streetsville Glen – for the good of golf, right?

Mr. Thompson’s blog should praise Kaneff’s past accomplishments and current initiative, rather than offering inaccurate, ill conceived and frankly inappropriate remarks.

It is hard to offer kudos to a developer who has built courses that, over time, haven’t stood up to others in the area in terms of design quality, and at some points seem to be designed without the golfer in mind (oh, yeah, I’ve played the first hole at Lionhead Legends with its ridiculous green). Mr. Kaneff has developed golf courses. That much is true. The resulting quality of that product is what is in question. I’m sure outside of golf he has been a force as a developer. I just don’t care for his golf courses – and I’ve played them all. This isn’t intended as a slight to those that work for him – when I’ve dealt with them in the past they’ve seemed like decent people.

Anyway, get ready, because here is the close with its standard ad hominem attack on me:

Mr. Thompson would be well advised to examine his own limited achievements, as a so called golf “journalist”, rather than question the accomplishments of those that make a more positive contribution to the golf industry.

Ouch. That hurts. A “so called golf ‘journalist’?” I hoped he could come up with something snappier than that. I mean Thomas McBroom calls me a “bunker junky” – and means it in the most affectionate way – while others on this blog have called me all sorts of names, including my fave, “slob journalist.” I mean I’ve been called worse by better.

Regardless, perhaps Caledon will be the place where Ted Baker elevates himself to the level of some of the best in the Canadian business. Maybe that’ll happen – but I’m not holding my breath.

If we’re going to build more courses in an already saturated market, they had better be exceptional or exceptionally well-priced. I have no confidence this Caledon project will be either. I’m all for great new courses — assuming, of course, they are great.

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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.

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