Although it may not fit a purist’s definition of a links course — the track does not link a body of water to the mainland — the South Course is one of the best tests of links–style golf in the country and one of the most popular destinations for golf tournaments in the province.
Just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays who annually host their respective charity golf tournaments at the club each year.
Looking down at the course from the clubhouse’s terrace, you can almost be tricked into thinking that you are playing a course in Scotland. The back nine, which is, in its entirety, completely visible from the Bistro, is visually stunning. It seems to suggest to golfers who are playing the Jason Straka design for the first time that they are about to experience something truly unique.
When reading the scorecard, the slope (146) and course rating (76.8) from the tips may seem like startling numbers.
Reilly Erwin, Director of Operations at the Club at Bond Head, makes sure that his starters relay the difficulty of the track to golfers that have never played the South Course before.
“We have several tee blocks to challenge players of all levels,” said Erwin. “My starters have been instructed to educate golfers on what to expect from each set of tee blocks. That way players can find the distance that best suits their games and enjoy themselves and the course.”
All 7,477 yards (from the tips) of the South Course are bordered by meddlesome fescue. Although the fairways are rather wide and forgiving, mis-hitting a drive or an iron shot, even into the first cuts of rough, is a major problem that will likely require a lay-up. (If you hit your ball into the fescue, just chalk it up to the difficulty of the course and re-hit … odds are you are not going to find it).
The greens are quick and unforgiving and designed aesthetically to instill apprehension into those who attempt to play the course aggressively. Often, the flags are placed in spots that demand equal amounts of strategy and execution for success, even amongst low handicappers. However, unlike the North Course, which requires nothing short of sorcery to get the ball into the hole, the greens are more receptive on the South Course and will generally reward a well-struck iron.
Don’t feel badly if you three-jack a putt out on the South Course or botch an up and down that you would normally execute with ease. On several occasions, the South Course has been used as a Monday qualifier course for the Canadian Open and the best that any of those guys have ever posted there is a 67.
The South course begins with an easy hole, perhaps to ease players into the course and build up their confidence a little bit. The 1st, a downhill par 4 that plays under 300 yards from the blues, is hardly driveable as wetlands separate the green from the fairway, but a decently-struck 3 wood or hybrid and wedge combination will give you a fair chance at birdie.
Then the course becomes much harder with two distinct uphill par 4s and a lengthy par 3 for the following three holes.
By the time you arrive at the 5th tee deck, you will be glad that you are standing over a short par 3. At only 124 yards from the blues, this is the second easiest hole on the course. However, like any hole on this course, a missed tee shot will result in either a deep bunker shot, a nasty lie out of the rough or a search party for your ball in the woods behind or left of the green.
The sixth hole is my personal favourite.
Choose your strategy wisely on this downhill par 4 risk/reward hole that measures 304 yards off the tee from the blues (361 yards from the tips). The approximate 75-foot drop from tee to green makes the drive play more like 270 yards, but it is all carry! There is no shame in hitting a couple of short irons into this green and playing for the birdie — it is probably a smarter idea than going for it.
The 7th marks the first of three absolutely gargantuan par 5s on the South Course. Bond Head was constructed at a time when “Tiger-proofing” golf courses was all the rage in the golf architecture community and holes 7 (626 yards from the tips), 9 (570 yards) and 12 (a sluggish 669 yard monster) are perfect embodiments of this design-principle.
Holes 7 and 12 are spitefully long from the blue tees. The tees on 7 are usually placed one tee box back from what the scorecard says and the 12th is always uphill and into the wind. Both holes play approximately 600 yards and are not likely to yield birdies, in all honesty.
Being a shorter player, these massive par 5s, in my opinion, are one of the main flaws with this majestic track. However, 7 and 12 are two of the most spectacular — albeit daunting — holes on the course and are generally beloved by longer hitters. Three full shots (sometimes four) are required to just reach the green on 12 and when you finally get there, that green isn’t giving away any easy putts.
Luckily the course offers five sets of tees, so you can just move up a tee block if the hole seems preposterously long.
As mentioned above, transitioning to the back nine is like finding yourself in the midst of the Scottish Highlands. All nine holes are spectacular and genuinely offer up a different type of golf than what we are used to in Ontario, even amongst links imitators.
While the holes on the front nine are more distinctive and spatially separated from one another, the back nine of the South Course is an undulated links-y sprawl that makes my back hurt just thinking about it. With no wooded areas to lessen the breeze, gale force winds are omnipresent. Anyone who has not played the back nine before will learn very quickly about the importance of low trajectories and knock down shots.
The course’s final stretch of holes is probably its best test.
A short, dogleg right par 5, the 16th hole offers players a chance to get a stroke back and resurrect their confidence before squaring off with 17 and 18.
The extremely undulated green on 17, an intimidating 180-yard par 3, is almost completely ensconced by a surrounding sea of fescue and bunkers. When there is a menacing crosswind on the hole, hitting the green in regulation should be viewed as a triumph. Hitting a ball out of any greenside bunker on this hole will demand 100 per cent of your concentration and a fair amount of luck.
The final hole should, in theory, be a respite at only 368 yards from the blues, but it is not. Severely uphill and always into the wind, the hole requires a low, penetrating drive to even have a chance at a mid-iron into the green.
Standing on 18’s perched green with a view of both the clubhouse and the awe-inspiring track in the background should be an item on the bucket list of any serious Canadian golfer.
My only issue with the South Course, aside from its 600-yard par 5s, is that power carts are mandatory. The North Course is over a kilometre away from the clubhouse and looks akin to the Swiss Alps, so perhaps a power cart is justified on that track. However, both nines on the South Course begin directly adjacent to the clubhouse and are far more accessible to walking than its sister course.
As a young person, I much prefer to walk when I play … and truthfully, I believe that I play better when I have time to contemplate my next shot while walking between strikes. Carting always makes me feel rushed and I find that I don’t have the time to mull over my next shot if I am carting between strikes.
Reilly explained, however, that the club has considered allowing players to walk the South Course, but has no intention of changing their policy anytime soon.
“Safety and pace of play are the two most important things to us,” said Reilly. “There are some very steep climbs and long walks between holes on the front nine of the South Course, so we think that power carts are still the most efficient way to get around out here.”
Mandatory carts are not a major deterrent and should not be a valid justification for not checking out this formidable track. The service offered by the club’s employees is top-notch and the food at the bistro is worth a visit. Treat yourself to a round at Bond Head and make the 40-minute trip from Toronto soon. Book soon, though, as the course always tends to look particularly stunning in August.