It really is only 10 minutes south of Highway 401. I say that because it feels like you’re much further away. Its 30 minutes from downtown London, ON though I’m sure some can make it quicker. Coming from Mississauga, it was only 90 minutes. Tarandowah Golfers Club is, let me say, one the greatest value plays in Canada. That is not to take away from its quality in any way. In fact, I would argue the challenge in marketing Tarandowah is whether to focus on its quality or its value. I had the pleasure of playing on a cool October morning in 2014 and with an early tee time ventured west along Highway 401 to experience this course.
The website provided me an outstanding online special and for slightly less than $25 (taxes included) I was able to get a tee time as a single. Playing midweek meant the course would not be as busy and I could take my time and really enjoy the experience. I have heard much about Tarandowah as a value play in Ontario. I was aware of its accolades and went as far to contact Robert Thompson who plays there regularly to get some insight on the course.
The course offers five tee boxes and while the yardage may be one of the first determinants, it is important to understand this is a par 70 layout and there will be some long holes; 5 and 11, most notably. These are brutish but as the course designer, Dr. Martin Hawtree, mentions on the website, “I’ve never bought into that obsession with fairness”. Well my decision to play the white tees, at about 6200 yards, felt like a great decision.
It is a links-style layout with wind and grasses featuring as main defenses for the course. There is small grove of trees in the middle of the property but that is it. And it was a good thing as the morning I teed off there was a heavy frost. Once the sun peaked high enough on the horizon it melted relatively quickly and after a 45 minute delay I was off.
I simply love the layout of this course. It creates an appearance that the course was really built around the natural landscape, which is another key element to links golf. Being late in the season, I was particularly impressed with the course condition but it was more from a sense of course condition than an overly manicured setting. I can honestly say I had not played greens in 2014 which rolled truer and more consistently than those at Tarandowah. They were very fair. I was able to walk the course; there are some subtle elevation changes but nothing overly drastic.
The course required some intelligent play. On some holes, like 1, 6 and 13, it is important to be strategic off the tee. Others, like 5, 9, 11 and 18 there was opportunity (and need) to hit a driver far to have a chance of getting on in regulation. There is a creek (perhaps a burn) that cuts through the course and requires some decision making on holes 4 and 17. The par 3’s have good diversity in length, direction and in their challenge.
I was able to play the course as a single in 3 hours. I was playing well but I was very aware of the time I was taking in making decisions. And this is without considerable wind which would have made my round more challenging. I plan to come back annually; it is a course I really appreciated. It is unabashedly challenging, and as mentioned, home to some of the best greens I’ve ever putted on. But for now, strike another course off my Canadian bucket list.
Aura –5 out of 10 – The course really isn’t too far from the GTA and while it is less than 10 years old I really feel this is one of the best hidden gems in Canada. I will be bringing some friends along next year to experience this course and will seek their insights around what makes this course so good.
Value (cost / experience) – 9.5 out of 10. I paid $25 to play here on a Friday in October. Granted, it was a special rate but I really can’t find better value than that. For $1399 you can be a 7-day unlimited play member. It makes me want to move closer to London but with a weekend high green fee of $61 in the summer, I won’t mind driving down more often.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10 – The tee boxes were terrific, there were some damp spots on the course but such is that time of year. The fairways were in excellent shape and were well defined. But I loved the greens. They were fair in terms of slope and speed and ran as true as any I played all season.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 9 out of 10 – I’m coming back. The fact I had to really think my way around the course and in certain spaces power my way around the course made it a unique and enjoyable golf experience. Don’t worry, Dr. Hawtree, on a windy day I am sure there’s very little that is fair about your course.
Highlight (what is great about the course) – As mentioned, the 5th and 11th play long and slightly uphill. I had a great day with my driver but even still was left with hybrids to the greens. While I missed the green on both (despite excellent shots) I was able to get the ball up and down for pars. Add to that an unsuspected birdie on 10 which is no slouch in itself I was very pleased to play that tough threesome of holes -1.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – Next time I’ll coordinate my schedule a little better and extend an invitation to golf journalist Robert Thompson, simply poor planning on my part. And while I’d welcome the chance to talk about golf in Canada I know from experience that Tarandowah would demand our undivided attention.
My Best Shot – My approach on 10 following a perfect draw 3-wood off the tee was tracking right at the stick. The ball stopped and rolled back to 5 feet leaving me a slippery downhill birdie putt which I was fortunate to make.