DUNROBIN, ONTARIO - You may have a tinge of trepidation as you drive out into the countryside, as Ottawa recedes into the distance behind you. You may feel a little confused as you drive past the unfinished guardhouse. Maybe you notice that the beautiful clubhouse is a hollow shell, with only a few two-by-four framed interior walls. You make your way over to the small building on the right, with the carts parked out in front of it and pay your green fees. Perhaps you're thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?"
Well, what you got yourself into is a very memorable round of golf. And it is only because of the lonely drive, the empty guard shack, and the hollow clubhouse that you are allowed to play this magnificent course at all.
When you step onto the elevated tee of the first hole, and look out over the course, you will see that every scrap of money is out there-where you play.
Opened in 1991, the course was designed by Ken Venturi, better known for his 14 tour victories, including the 1964 U.S. Open, for being the captain of the 2000 U.S. President's Cup Team, and for his 32 years as a lead analyst for CBS golf coverage. But Venturi is a also great designer. He is currently acting as a consultant to the rebuild of the Harding Park course he grew up on in San Francisco. Harding Park may soon host the U.S. Open.
"I have only three design constraints," Venturi says. "First, that golf should be more a game of precision than power. Second, that a course rewards the player who uses his mind instead of his muscle. And third, I disturb as little as possible of what mother nature has made available to me."
It is, in fact, the work of mother nature that makes Eagle Creek so memorable. The course wanders through two hundred and thirty acres of forest with creeks and clear blue ponds. Water comes into play on half the holes. Each of the holes is cut into its own area of forest, making you unaware of players on other holes. It feels like you've got the place to yourself. The back nine features a few short, cool leafy walks between holes.
As for precision over power, Eagle Creek plays 7,093 yards from the Championship tees, so a little power doesn't hurt either, but precision is definitely required. Over 70 bunkers and huge waste areas are strategically placed to harass your wayward ball and force you to position each shot in the twenty to forty-yard wide fairways.
Eagle creek is an exceptional risk-reward course. Six-holes contain obvious risk-reward situations, but to an extent, greater than on most courses. Almost every hole presents some problem, so it will pay for you to solve them before you hit your next shot.
Holes six, fourteen and eighteen feature peninsulas that allow a precisely struck tee shot to cut yards off each hole, but in each instance, a miss produces a sure penalty.
Here's an example of a risk/reward situation that is not so obvious. The 5th hole is a 408-yard par 4 and the number one handicap hole on the course. Your first task is to place your tee shot out between the bunkers on the left and Constance Creek on your right. Of course, a solid shot of the tee still leaves a mid-iron into a two-tiered green protected by five pot bunkers in the front and tress and the creek in the back. Adding to the frustration, failing to find the right tier will more times and not lead to an agonizing three putt.
The number two handicap hole on the back presents a similar predicament. The par five 12th plays 517 yards from the tips, so a long drive between the bunkers guarding the fairway is essential if you want to be on in two. A perfect drive will leave you about 230 yards from the hole. Unfortunately, those 230 yards are all carry. A huge waste bunker stands between you and the green. If you choose to lay up to wedge distance, you have only a tiny strip of fairway to the left of the waste area, and if you choose to lay up short of it, you'll have 135 yards in for your third shot. Practically every hole on the course presents you with multiple ways of playing it.
But however you play it, you'll find the quality of the course to be impeccable. With bent grass fairways, greens and good silica sand trucked in from Ohio, the course is in great condition. Little touches abound. Entrances to several tees feature flagstone steps through flowered gardens. The bridge over the creek on the 18th hole has railings that are carved bird heads. There isn't a scrap of blacktop on the course because cart paths are constructed from light gray charcoal interlocking pavers to minimize runoff of fertilizers and pesticides. Throughout the course, the floral design of Jeanette Lacasse, is obvious. Jeanette and Andre Lacasse rescued Eagle Creek from disaster in 1996.
Eagle Creek was originally built as an equity members only course, and was to have a pool, tennis courts, and a few beautiful homes tastefully situated away from the golf venue. In 1992, the course hosted the Trafalgar Classic, its first Canadian Tour event. But after construction of the course, and before the tennis courts and pool could be built, and before the clubhouse and guard shack could be finished, the builders found themselves in an unexpected downturn in the Canadian economy. They had sold too few memberships to continue, and went bankrupt. The course continued to operate, but as a public course, selling dirt cheap memberships and green fees that did not generate the needed capital improvements, like better irrigation, cart paths, and numerous floral and landscaping projects. Predictably, general maintenance also suffered. If he had seen Eagle Creek then, Ken Venturi might have cried.
In 1996, the course was acquired by Jeanette and Andre Lacasse, who brought it the financial stability necessary for it to operate properly. Maintenance is obviously good and ongoing, and construction will even begin on the hollow clubhouse in September. In the years since the ownership change, Eagle Creek has won a Platinum Award from Canada's Golf Course Ranking magazine as one of the top 10 courses in Ontario, and has hosted another Canadian Tour event, the Eagle Creek Classic, each year since 1998. Eagle Creek has been a Golf Digest Four-Star Award Winner for each of the last six years.
The original investing members recently got their money back with interest, thanks to a Canadian court, so for almost everybody involved, except for the original construction company, this story has a happy ending.
If it hadn't been for the bankruptcy, you would never have been allowed to play this gem of a course. Now that you can, don't miss it.
Eagle Creek Golf Course
109 Royal Troon Lane R.R.#1
Dunrobin (Ontario) Canada KOA ITO
Tel: (613) 832-3400
Fax: (613) 832-2955
18 Hole Rates: $70
Conditions: 4.5 (out of 5)
Par 3's: 4.9
Par 4's: 4.7
Par 5's: 5.0
Practice Facilities: 4.0
Club House/Pro Shop: 2.3
Pace of Play: 2.3
Overall Rating: 4.1
July 22, 2002
Jim Edwards is a reformed software developer who now writes programming books and magazine articles. His work has appeared on the pages of Sierra, Outdoors, Backpacker, Yankee Magazine, and National Fisherman. Living with his wife Ali in Beverly, Massachusetts, he reviews courses and resorts from New York to Nova Scotia. A lifelong, avid golfer, he hopes someday to play his "usual game".
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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