I speak some coversational French, so I know a thing or two about golf courses….

Ottawa Hunt Club

One of my favourite Kids in the Hall skits (yes, the underrated Canadian comedy troop that still gets together upon occasion) is called “Rod Torfulson’s Armada.” Essentially the skit (which you can find here) involves a teen rock band called “Armada.” The father of the drummer, Rod Torfulson, shows up at practice and chimes in about how to improve the group. “Having been  dental supply salesman for four years and a merchant marine for four months, I think it is safe to say I know a little bit about the music industry.” He then proceeds to offer ridiculous advice to the group based on his experience.

Which, frankly, is how I feel when I hear most greens committees at private clubs talk about golf design. I recall walking around one noted New York club following the greens committe a few years back and hearing a gentleman, a dentist by trade, try to tell the golf designer where he was wrong. It was ridiculous — the cavity puller may have know a thing or two about fixing a crack in a tooth, but he hadn’t a clue when it came to the nuances of the hole he was discussing. He was the father in the Rod Torfulson skit. “Well, I can put a bridge in to fix those teeth, so I think I know a thing or two about the strategy of those bunkers and why that tree shouldn’t come out.”

This leads me  an article I saw just before Christmas on Flagstick’s website, which includes the information I’m basing this on. The blog post details the process Ottawa’s Hunt Club is going through in seeking to find a new consulting architect. More than a decade ago Thomas McBroom reworked the course extensively, and many felt the greens were overdone in the process. Among those that were critical was Lorne Rubenstein, the Globe and Mail’s golf columnist.

Fast forward to 2010 and the club decides to have McBroom redo its master plan. A year later, apparently unsatisfied with the results, it decides to seek out a new architect.

But apparently that decision isn’t easy — because the list of architects to replace McBroom is staggeringly long:

Among those bidding for the work are some very high profile and notable firms including several from Canada and England as well as a number from the United States.

The list of contenders includes Ian Andrew, Doug Carrick, Mackenzie & Ebert, Tom Fazio, Hurdzan/Fry, Ron Garl, Jon Garner, Martin Hawtree, Rees Jones, Jeff Mingay, Greg Norman, James Duncan/Tim Liddy, Robert Trent Jones, and Mungeam/Cornish Design.

For a club to have a proposed list of 13 architects demonstrates they don’t have focus on what they are doing or what they want, which is probably how it ended up as a mess in the first place. I’ve played Hunt a few times — it is built on interesting land and I suspect Park’s initial course was quite good. But it has been bastardized along the way and now isn’t even recognized as a Top 100 course in the country, which is shameful really.

Interestingly, the club is missing some obvious architects who might have actually fit with its course’s history under Park. Among those clearly missing are Ron Forse, who did a fine job at Park’s Calgary G&CC, and Gil Hanse, who worked with Ian Andrew on Scarboro, and is among the best in the business these days, as well as Tom Doak. I suspect Doak and Hanse would have turned down the work anyway, but that doesn’t explain why Forse’s name isn’t there. And what about Kyle Phillips, who did an excellent renovation of the Cal Club near San Francisco that has been widely heralded? If the club is looking at a re-do of its greens, I’d have sought out Phillips.

Why can’t a club do some research and determine who might actually work for their project. Does Hunt really want a mess on its hands like Rees Jones handed Royal Montreal, where members aren’t as keen on the Blue Course following his Reestorification? And does anyone know of a Greg Norman restoration that worked? What about Ron Garl? Fazio’s name is surely high-profile, but on the other hand one might think they are trying to do this on the cheap. Cheap won’t even cover Fazio’s jet fuel. And Robert Trent Jones (see the previous remark about Norman)?

There are good names in the list. Certainly Jeff Mingay, from Windsor has done some great work recently in B.C. and who I’ve known for a long time, as is Ian Andrew, who has quickly become the leading force in restorations in Canada since leaving Carrick Design. Doug Carrick continues to do fine work. Martin Hawtree’s job at Toronto GC was polarizing, but he’s an interesting choice, as is Tom Mackenzie and Martin Ebert, who did Goodwood near Toronto for the late Gord Stollery. Mark Mungeam did work at Olympia Fields that is highly regarded.

Recently I asked the president of Lambton G&CC why they picked Rees Jones to do its renovation. He said Rees was the “most passionate” about the job. I asked if members of the greens committee had flown to Montreal to see Jones’ work at Royal Montreal, or flown to Westchester to see the architect’s work there? He said, no, he didn’t think they had. I was stunned. After all, if you were building a $5-million home, you’d surely ask to speak to the architect’s references, perhaps visit a few buildings he designed and speak with the owners. That almost never happens in golf when a greens committee is about to spend $6-million.

In the era of Google, there’s no excuse for what Hunt Club is doing. The Internet, cheap flights, and inexpensive long distance calls should allow a club to get smarter, to make decisions more carefully and get it right the first time.

Sadly, that is rarely the case.


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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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  • M.Robert Thompson any time you come in Montreal it will be a honnor for me to meet you.Club de Golf Ile de Montreal is a great public course built by Pat Ruddy (you already met him in Ireland…what a caractere)I read a lot of your articles and it is very interesting.I played by myself all the course you have play in the province of Quebec but i am sure you didn’t play the best one.This is a formal invitation if you come to the city of Montreal let me know i will make a mini tour very interesting best regards Jean-Claude Latour golf course surintendant Club De Golf Ile De Montreal

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