When my friends and I look for places to play during the winter, we usually go south -- to Bridgeport, Brooklyn, or the Bronx -- but maybe we should go north instead. John Wilson, a reader in Canada, wrote recently to say he had just played a round at Tarandowah Golfers Club, in Springfield, Ontario, a few miles north of the northern shore of Lake Erie, about halfway between Buffalo and Detroit. Pictures of the course made me want to jump in my car:
Tarandowah was designed by Martin Hawtree, who has done big projects at Lahinch, Portmarnock, Formby, Royal Liverpool, and Royal Birkdale -- all among my favorite courses in the world. He also designed Trump International in Aberdeen, Scotland, and has done a major renovation and redesign at Trump International in Doonbeg, Ireland. His firm, Hawtree Ltd., was founded more than a century ago by his grandfather Fred; it's the oldest continuously operating golf-architecture firm in the world. (All three generations of Hawtrees have worked on Royal Birkdale.) Tarandowah is very much in the spirit of all those great old links courses. Here's a photo Wilson took during his recent round:
And here's another:
"I work on the greens crew at St. Thomas Golf & Country Club, in Union, about half an hour away. It closes every year after the third weekend in November, so it has been shut down for a while. Tarandowah is one of several public courses in this area that stay open as long as the weather permits. I played with a St. Thomas member I see every day when I am working but rarely get to make a game with. We played in three hours (walking) at a cost of $25 per person -- not bad for a Hawtree design."
St. Thomas, which was founded in 1899, has a heck of a course, too. Here's the third hole, on which nearly every shot has a decent chance of ending up in that creek:
During the past three winters, St. Thomas has undertaken a major tree-thinning project -- something many old golf courses need to do. "Joe Vargas, from Michigan State University, and David Oatis, from the U.S.G.A., were the primary consultants on the project," Wilson told me, "and my superintendent, Wade Beaudoin, wrote an article about it." (You can read Beaudoin's article here.) So far, more than a thousand trees have come down. Here are some of them:
During a round at Tarandowah a little over a year ago, Wilson noticed that a sorry-looking dog was following his foursome. "I assumed she was a stray, because she was covered in burrs and thick mud," he told me. "My friends thought I was crazy to rescue a dog during a round of golf, but I took her home and cleaned her up. Later, I learned that she belonged to a farm near the golf course. I shed a few tears when I dropped her off with her rightful owners. During my round last week, she came running across the fields, and my smile was a mile wide. Her name is Gracey."
"The forecast for next week calls for temperatures in the mid-forties," he continued, "so there's still more time for December golf in Ontario. On Tuesday, though, I'm heading to L.A. for a family visit. I already have a tee time for Rancho Park, which I haven't played yet. Hopefully, the round will be less than five hours."
Well, good luck with that one. Maybe less than six.