Doing it well at Ballantrae
Beer and golf.
They go together exceptionally well but, separately or together, they also happen to be two of my favourite things.
There are some parallels between them too.
I happen to like craft beers and have been experimenting with lots of different micro breweries and their unique offerings – everything from the tangy IPA’s to the tart lagers and hearty stouts. At one micro brewery in Naples, Florida I even tried a peanut butter beer. It was delicious but far too sweet to imagine drinking a whole pint – the small flight glass was quite sufficient.
One of the things I’ve observed about friends and casual acquaintances is that they fall into one of two categories when it comes to beer. There are those like me who welcome diversity, like to try new things and appreciate the fine taste of some truly unique beers. For those people my fridge contains several varieties of craft beers and a couple of premium offerings from around the world.
Then there are others to whom a beer is just a beer and generally speaking, the more the better. For those peoples my fridge is stocked with one of the “popular” brands in copious quantities because anything else is wasted on them. Everybody is happy.
What has that got to do with golf, you ask?
Likewise in golf. There are those that seek out volume golf – playing as often and as cheaply as possible because that’s the way they’re wired; while others tend to look for golf experiences – maybe paying a little more or travelling a little farther to play a special course because they know at the end of the day that the satisfaction from one round will stay with them longer than multiple rounds on lesser courses.
Volume players may try a more expensive course on occasion but probably can’t enjoy it as much because they can’t help thinking they could have played two or three or four rounds on their usual course for the same price.
It’s not to say that one way is right or wrong – it’s really all about what works for you, both financially and emotionally. In my own case, I’m reminded of a famous quote from Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, who lived from 1694-1773. I don’t know if the Earl played golf but one of his sayings is particularly appropriate to the way I look at the game, “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”
And that includes enjoying my golf experiences to the fullest.
Which brings us (finally, you might say) to Ballantrae Golf Club. The course was designed by Doug Carrick and opened in 2001. It’s part of an adult lifestyle community on Markham Road (Hwy 48) just north of Aurora Road.
Ballantrae is one of the smartest designs I’ve ever played. The fairways tend to be fairly generous off the tee, which is great for higher handicaps or any player who sprays their tee shots. The driver is the hardest club in the bag to hit consistently well, so why punish players right from the start? That leads to frustration and lessens the enjoyment.
The wider fairways also present options to more skilled players who will seek the optimal approach line to the pin. Many of those options will require a carry over the corner of a dogleg where a bunker may be placed or across the edge of a pond. Classic risk / reward but success will shorten the approach considerably.
The par-4 second hole is a perfect example. The fairway doesn’t turn a lot but deep bunkers at the bend threaten to gobble up a poor drive and make getting home in two doubtful. However, if you can carry the bunkers, then you’re rewarded with a short approach. The conservative route around the bunkers will leave a mid iron or fairway metal to the green.
Carrick has fashioned some incredible green complexes at Ballantrae. The putting surfaces are raised anywhere from four to ten feet and feature shaved sides with deep bunkers flashed into the hill sides and long, steep run-off areas where chipping is difficult. Depending on pin positions, you could be trying anything from a soft flop shot with a lob wedge to a bump and run with a hybrid to get your ball on the green.
The greens are fairly large but humps, contours, side slopes and bowls make putting a challenge. Also fun!
Carrick exhibited his genius in other ways at Ballantrae too. There are close to 1,000 homes in the community but none of the housing encroaches on the golf course. For the most part, the golf course plays around the outside of the community with forest or farmland on one side of the fairway, while the homes on the other side are set back across a pond or on the other side of a street. I’ve played at Ballantrae for 17 years and have never seen a shot, mine or anyone else’s, threaten to hit a house. They’re not only out of play, they’re really outside the sightlines of every hole.
Recognizing that a significant amount of play would come from residents who were either retired or approaching retirement age, Carrick fashioned his tee decks accordingly. The tips are 6,745 but when I started playing there, the Blues at 6,405 were perfect for my game. A good shot could carry the hazards on the corners of doglegs but occasionally I was forced to take a more conservative route. As I’ve gotten older and lost a few yards, the White tees now present a similar challenge. Tee decks or hybrid combinations are available all the way to 3,600 yards for those that want them.
One course feature I prize above all others is the ability to walk. Ballantrae is quite flat and therefore an enjoyable stroll. There are a couple of good hikes between holes but for the most part, greens and the next tee are close.
Making a course interesting and challenging on flat land is another testament to Carrick’s brilliance. He hasn’t resorted to growing deep rough or lining the fairways with mega mounds as some designers do. Rather, he has created contouring on some fairways and moved other holes into and out of woodlots and around ponds to create interesting visuals. And with his raised greens, you never get the feeling that the course is flat.
Not everybody will be interested or even notice the architectural features of the golf course. For me, they’re one of the things that make Ballantrae so interesting. Without mountains or oceans to add a stunning backdrop, it’s that much more difficult to craft a routing that amuses, challenges and ultimately satisfies golfers, and makes them want to come back.
Finally, no golf experience is complete without some après golf options. Unlike my volume golf friends who don’t have time to eat or enjoy a post round beer, I find myself saying what’s the point, if I can’t sit and relax afterwards?
Ballantrae’s clubhouse is small by some standards but the cozy bar or adjacent dining area are great places to gather and swap some stories. Even better, on good days, is the balcony overlooking the putting green and 18th hole. It faces west, so a nice sunset is often a possibility during dinner. By the way, the food is exceptional and the chef is quite creative and always seems to have some unique choices on his menu.
Playing and dining at Ballantrae is one of my favourite experiences. The 4th Earl of Stanhope would also approve.
For more information on Ballantrae, click HERE.