Thomas McBroom and the golf course rebound

“We’ll put the island green over there.”
Toronto designer Tom McBroom talks with the developer of Brunello Estates about his new course in Halifax.

I spoke to Thomas McBroom, the Toronto designer, on Monday. McBroom had just come from working on a project in Halifax called Brunello Estates. It is an ambitious project that has a value of $13.5-million as part of a real estate venture. Another golf course/real estate play doesn’t sound that intriguing, but McBroom insists this one will be different and that Halifax did not see the boom in golf course growth that hit other parts of Canada.

“The thinking is Cape Breton (Highlands) in terms of terrain and a parkland blend that doesn’t go back like Coore and Crenshaw but does take things back to the Golden Age (of architecture),” says McBroom. “There’s a lot of space around it — it is going to be good. It is a big piece of land.”

McBroom says to expect a look like St. George’s, where he is a member, when it comes to bunkering.

The goal is to have the course opened for 2015. McBroom points out that aside from Glen Arbor, there really hasn’t been an upscale course built near Halifax in recent memory. Brunello is 15 minutes from downtown Halifax, the architect points out.

“All of the better courses are a long way from Halifax,” he says, referencing Cabot Links, Highlands Links and Fox Harb’r.

Why $13.5-million, which seems like an extraordinary amount for a new golf course build? McBroom says that’s because of the blasting and the need to sand cap the entire site, which he says is rugged like a Muskoka site.

But perhaps more intriguing is that McBroom sees the golf course market in Canada — especially for renovations — heating up. He’s also rebuilding Toronto’s Donalda and says there have been plenty of inquiries, including several for new course projects.

He might be on to something there. Doug Carrick, the Toronto architect who last opened a new course when his rebuild of Predator Ridge launched a couple of years back, has two new courses on the go — one at Big Bay Point outside Barrie and another just south of Magna GC in Aurora. He is also scheduled to rework Whistlebear near Cambridge, and is renovating Summit GC as well.

I’m not sure that amounts to a golf course renaissance, but it does suggest that things are picking up after several years of limited new work and little renovation work. It suggests to me that the economy has improved somewhat, and while I wouldn’t expect the market to rebound to the crazy days of the first part of the century when new golf courses opened at a rapid pace throughout Canada, it doesn’t suggest there’s some demand for what McBroom and Carrick are offering.

Perhaps most intriguing is McBroom’s work for Pacific Links owner Du Sha, where he, along with former Tom Fazio architect Beau Welling (who also works with Tiger Woods should they ever get a course fully designed and opened) have utilized the services of 27 major champions to design 27 holes. Called, not surprisingly, the 27 Club, the course is located in China in Tianjin. Vanity exercise? Sure. Kind of ridiculous? Yep. But it’ll probably play in an Asian market that doesn’t seem to recognize that these major champions aren’t major designers. Rather they are major brand names.

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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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