Doing it well at Ballantrae
Everybody has their favourites.
And one of mine is Ballantrae Golf Club, which 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.
At first glance, the golf course looks pretty straightforward but after you play it a couple of times you begin to appreciate that it’s actually a pretty clever design. The fairways are fairly generous, 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 best 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 too. 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. The club has made a strong commitment to pace of play too and is serious about enforcing their times, so whether walking or riding, you have to keep up.
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 some of my 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 with unique choices on his menu.
Check out Ballantrae. I think you’ll enjoy the experience..
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