Hidden Lake in Burlington was the host course for the Southern Ontario Open in late July and we were there.
While the pros were toiling away on the New course in the early part of the day, the Bunker Squad and I were ripping up the Old course. Then for a change of pace, we took a tour around the New to see what all the fuss was about.
Hidden Lake packs a strong one-two punch and I’m hard pressed to say if I have a favourite. I’d never played either course before but had always heard good things about the facility.
The Old course has been around since the early sixties and includes a lot of typical design features from that era – small relatively flat greens, shallow bunkers and tree-lined fairways that often ride a side slope or rise and fall along natural lines. The course has matured a lot over sixty years but you can see that it would have always been an interesting layout and while not overly long at 6,700 yards, you have to find the fairways to attack the greens. Anything outside the tree lines almost always means extra strokes.
Opening with a 3-4-3-4 combination, the Old serves up some challenge right off the bat. While the two short holes are relatively straightforward, the par 4’s are tight and follow tree-lined fairways that ramble over ridges making for semi-blind shots to the greens. A little experience might make these holes easier but it’s always hard to hit a good shot when you can’t see where you’re going.
The fifth is a reachable dogleg par 5 but requires a long draw (hook) over some trees to give you a shot. The more prudent chance at birdie is to play to the corner, then lay up to a yardage where you can put a lot of stop on the ball. The green is tiny and has a nasty side slope that will feed off the green.
Another par 5 awaits and it turned out to be a fine example of a Hidden Lake trademark – the double dogleg par 5. Most of the three-shotters aren’t world record length, measuring in the mid-500 yard range, which would make them reachable in two for the big hitters. However, when they add a little twist like tucking the green behind a grove of trees or around a corner, that second shot becomes considerably tougher to pull off and makes you think it would be more prudent to use your wedge to make birdie rather than a 3-wood.
No 6 and No 10 are both like that. Great holes that you probably want to get a few looks at before you know the best way to approach them.
The stretch of holes from 14 to 17 is exceptional, hugging the property line with trees and OB guarding the right side and the land falling away in that direction too. No 14 is likely the signature hole on the Old course – a snickety little par 3 that looks like it’s there for the taking – just 185 yards from the tips (160 yards for us) over a bit of a valley to a sloping green perched on the side of the hill. The hole is so natural looking, you’d think all the architect had to do was stick a flag in the ground. Turns out, it’s a tough enough shot to hit the green but if you miss, it’s even harder to get the second shot close, even if you’re just off the green.
Along about this time, the Squad started asking me where Hidden Lake was cuz we hadn’t seen any sign of water yet. After the delicious par 5 15th hole, which was reachable and did yield one of our few birdies, the 16th and 17th traverse some rolling terrain that offer glimpses of Lake Medad in a valley far below. The lake isn’t actually on the course but true to its name, it is pretty well hidden.
No’s 16 and 17, by the way are really strong par 4’s that top out around 400 yards and require you to move the ball right to left to keep it in the fairway.
The Old course finishes with a cool little par 3 near the clubhouse that has a nasty grass bunker in front. It’s a quirky finish but fits with the old style design of the course – definitely a shot-makers layout and not something you’re going to over power.
Power looks like the name of the game on the New.
While we were searching for lost balls and hidden water on the Old course, Raoul Menard from Quebec was fashioning a record setting pace in the Southern Ontario Open. He eventually went on to win the tournament with rounds of 63-68-66-63. That sounds like the New course might be a pushover but we didn’t see anything like that.
Measuring pretty much the same yardage as its sister course, the New has more of an inland links feel to it. The fairways have fewer trees but do feature stands of fescue; the bunkers are deep and flashed into the sides of raised greens; and the putting surfaces themselves are large and contoured.
You can see spots where a long hitter could really let loose on the front with pairs of holes paralleling one another and no discernible penalty if you strayed into another fairway. Back-to-back 5’s on #7 and #8 can be reached in two although the 7th hole at 588 yards from the tips is a brute. It starts up hill, then turns left to a well protected green that sits in a grove of trees. It’s a very pretty hole and a pretty intimidating one too.
The 9th hole is the signature hole on the New and it’s a classic. At 221 yards from the tips, it requires a Jason Day type bomb to stick on a potato chip green that is fronted by a pond and a rock wall and canted from front to back. It’s also ringed with mounds and bunkers so there isn’t any bail out room. Even from the mortal tees at 160 yards, it’s a daunting shot. The green itself is no bargain either with tons of sideways movement, gullies and trenches and barely a flat spot anywhere.
The back nine features more water although none of it is hidden. No 14 is the #1 stroke hole for good reason. Although just 501 yards, the fairway is lined with deep fescue and water hugs the edge of the green making for an awkward lay-up or a hero approach.
My favourite hole on the New is #16, a very short par 4 which might be drivable except for the huge gaping bunker in front of the green. If you’re trying to protect a score, even a lay-up can be tough as the fairway is guarded by several bunkers on each side. But a well placed shot leaves only a flip wedge to a large green. The putting surface has enough slope to make you think about where you need to land it though.
Most of us can’t hit a drive 300 yards but it’s so inviting, you have to give it a go – maybe you’ll catch a favourable gust!
That’s it then – the Old and the New – two great options. After playing them both, the only way to decide which is better is probably to have another round on each, then flip a coin.
Hidden Lake is a ClubLink daily fee course and open to the public. It is also part of the ClubLink Players Club program. Green fee rates range from $30-$69 depending on time and day. Players Club members receive a 25% discount on posted rates.