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RiverBend on the outskirts of London is southwest Ontario's only gated golf community.
RiverBend on the outskirts of London is southwest Ontario's only gated golf community. (GolfPublisher.com)

Ontario's RiverBend Golf: A windy challenge for golfers of a certain age

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,

LONDON, Ontario - At the RiverBend Golf Community just west of London, Ontario, you'll find rolling hills and no children. In fact, you won't find anybody under 50, unless it's an employee or a resident's younger spouse.

Personally I have an affinity for child-free neighborhoods, and this one is gated to boot - southwest Ontario's only gated golf community.

Still being built-out, it's marketed as "adult-lifestyle." That extends to the golf course residents get to enjoy, with its "special emphasis on the mature player."

How do you design a golf course for those of a certain age?

For starters, you make the bunkers easy to get into and out of, for both golf balls and tired legs. None of those deep pot bunkers; the sand at River Bend is designed to be penal, of course, but also to provide "easy access through walk-in and walkout elevations," according to course literature.

You also build wide, wide fairways, as architect Doug Carrick did here, though that has as much to do with the wind that whips across the relatively high, open expanse as to golfers' age.

"Obviously, the fairways are generous," Head Professional Matt Simmons said. "But you have to be in certain portions of the fairway to gain the best position into the flag. And the air and ground game are available to you here."

That can be important when the wind kicks up. When it's really howling, we're talking a three- or even four-club difference. If you can keep it low and run it up you'll have a big advantage. On one blustery June day several golfers watched well-struck balls on a par 3 back up and drop well short of the green, even though they had over-clubbed.

Residents can also buy their own golf cart and link it to the club's GPS system. Just open the garage door, give it the gas and your spouse will never know you left the house, since your car will still be in the driveway. Unfortunately, the GPS can not yet tell you how many yards behind you your mate is in case of pursuit.

The verdict

RiverBend shows off some very nice holes, such as No. 16, where you try to hit between the bunkers over a hump and down onto the fairway that falls away all the way to the hole. If you do, you can turn this par 5 into a par 4.

"Our members absolutely love No. 16," Simmons said. "You can roll forever, but at the same time, that green can be very difficult."

Yes, very difficult to land an approach shot from on high, with the pin tucked behind the bunkers. There is precious little room to stick it on the long, narrow green; again, your best bet is the bump-and-run, and if you get a good drive, you'll be in bump-and-run distance.

While the course was built with the over-50 set in mind, it's not a complete pushover. It's 6,914 yards from the tips, and there are hazards here in the form of lakes, ponds, streams and bunkers. The greens have some subtle slope, though not much undulation, and can get very quick when the sun and wind dry them out.

Though the course is set amid a planned community, the aesthetics aren't marred by homes around the perimeter, particularly on the front nine. That could change in the future - home sales are ongoing, and plans call for 500 residences eventually - but for now there's a nice, pastoral feel to the course, bordered as it is by Kain's Woods.

It's a private club, but guests of members can play. Green fees are $90, not including cart.

Stay and play

The Lamplighter Inn in London is a Best Western, but it's a step or two above your average Best Western. With a huge atrium with a swimming pool and water slide, plus a network of fish ponds, streams and waterfalls and 80 new balcony (or "walkout") rooms, it definitely doesn't have the feel of a chain hotel off the interstate.

It's one of the more popular places in London, Canada's 10th largest city, and handy for meetings and conferences, with rooms that can handle 600 people seated and 800 for receptions.

Dining out

The Lamplighter has room service and a family-style restaurant, Smittys. Elsewhere, Marienbad is a good choice for continental cuisine, Dragon Court for Chinese. For fine dining, try Blackfriar's, Copperfield's Bistro and Wine Bar, the Phoenician or the Horse and Hound.

Fast facts

Doug Carrick did his apprenticeship under well-known Canadian architect Robbie Robinson, who learned the art from Stanley Thompson.

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • This course is awful

    G wrote on: Jul 16, 2017

    Don't golf at this course. There is skeet shooting at the course next door. Imagine your every shot listening to the bang of a gun firing. Can't believe this is actually allowed by the city to shoot guns in the city limits. Thought I was on one of those gag shows everything time I swung my club and the gun fired