I’d driven by the property while it was under construction for a couple of years, always wondering whether the promise of a links-style course in rural Southern Ontario would actually measure up to the concept. After all, in golf speak the phrase “links,” is largely marketing speak for a property with no trees. It is like saying you’re playing a “championship course,” whatever that means.
Most of these so-called links courses have nothing to do with the seaside courses found in the tiny towns in Scotland, Ireland, England or Wales.
Who knew Tarandowah would live up to the billing? The first round I played at Tarandowah was only nine holes, over the back nine if I recall. The bunkers didn’t have any sand in them. It was rugged, rustic golf. And I was fascinated.
“Tarandowah,” I wrote in 2006, “is a pretty faithful replication of a heathland course that could be found in the interior of the British Isles. And finally, after several years of struggles, and teasing golfers with its possibilities, Tarandowah seems poised to deliver one of the more intriguing golfing experiences in Southern Ontario.”
Actually, the one thing I’d revise from that, a decade later, is that I’d say the course has become one of the more intriguing golfing experiences in Canada.
So much could have gone wrong with the course, but with the guidance of architect Martin Hawtree, who went on to built a course for Donald Trump in Aberdeen, Scotland, that rocketed up the world top 100, Tarandowah’s design is smart, elegant and charming. Yes, like many links courses, it has its quirky bits. There are the two big par fours—the nasty uphill fifth and the positively beastly 11th—that act as bookends for the front and back nine. And there are pot bunkers in the fairways that are often exactly where the golfer doesn’t want them to be. But the design is a triumph of imagination and ingenuity.
In the ensuing years since it opened, I’ve played Tarandowah hundreds of times. And when I moved from Toronto to London, I made it my home course. In the past decade it has received plenty of accolades considering it is a relatively modest, public fee course. SCOREGolf had it in its Top 100 in Canada for a spell, and it cracked the Top 59 among public courses listed by the magazine recently.
Tarandowah won a lot of fans along the way. “North Sea, be damned—in a province overrun with links-style courses, Tarandowah is the real deal—a fescue-trimmed, pot-bunker-pockmarked roller-coaster ride that can be an angry, wind-whipped brute even without an ocean at its doorstep,” wrote golf scribe James McCarten, a friend who judges golf the way others determine fine wine.
This summer, with the British Open approaching across the ocean, Tarandowah looks more like a baked Scottish links than ever before. The fairways are marbled brown and green, with the fescue wispy and brown. You often have to hit one less club into the greens, as the firm fairways have a fair bit of bounce to them.
And every time I hit an approach that lands short of the green and bounds forward, I can’t help but smile and think this is golf as it was meant to be.