The toughest part is finding the place. There are no markers for the front gate. Road signage is minimal. The farm country of lower Ontario, Canada, scarcely provides any sense of identifiable landmarks to visitors.
Redtail Golf Club opened in 1992, before it was fashionable to talk about “minimalism” in course design. The name derives from the red tail hawks that nest on the property. That the layout exudes all the virtues and elegance of golf in its most natural, ground-hugging traditions is attributable to the vision of its two founders, Canadian businessmen Christopher Goodwin and John Drake, and to the talents of English course architect Donald Steel.
Steel, born in 1937, had long been a student of the game’s traditions. After earning his degree at Cambridge in agriculture, he began a 30-year affiliation with the London Sunday Telegraph as its golf correspondent. A top-class amateur golfer, Steel represented England in many international matches, played in the British Amateur and qualified for the 1970 British Open at St. Andrews. He also established himself as an author of several acclaimed books on course design and golf history.
The site was a 210-acre former stud farm with rolling meadows, with stands of pine, spruce and aspen. A series of steep ravines crisscrossed the land, offering a variety of natural hazards around which to route the holes. The loam soil was ideal for nurturing golf turf, and with 25 feet of natural elevation with which to work, the land was moderate enough in contours that there would be no need for monumental earth moving.
The owners always had envisioned a fairly open site. But in August 1990, six weeks after construction had begun, a twister thinned out the site even more than anticipated. No real damage was done to the routing. In fact, the tornado created an opportunity to relieve a problem in the original design. A par 3 on the back nine had always been a weak link. When the storm denuded a peripheral area that was to have been left pristine, Goodwin realized this new ground would serve as a perfect home for a solid par 3 across a ravine. The result is the very strong 14th.
While the fairways are generous, plenty of trouble lurks down the sides of landing areas, what with thick, knee-high red fescues framing every hole. But there is no need to terrorize the golfer. That’s why there are only 29 bunkers, and merely three of them in fairway landing zones.
All the greens are slightly rotated along a diagonal approach so that there are various angles of attack, including a safe side and a riskier path. The emphasis at Redtail is very much on the ground game—and on imaginative shotmaking.
No two of the par 4s present anything like the same look or feel. At the very long 3rd, for instance, the better angle in to the green is from the more dangerous position off the tee—the right. The very next hole is deceptively, only 358 yards, to a fairway that appears to be pinched in hourglass fashion. At the 364-yard 6th, the green is perched on a knob that falls steeply away on three sides.
The incoming par 5s are especially strong, in part because both are reachable for bold players who can draw the ball and keep it under control. At the last hole, for instance, only 488 yards, two towering walnut trees split the fairway and must be played around or under. The tendency is to turn the ball over, but anything hit left of center will kick precipitously down into grave trouble.
Inspired by the National Golf Links, play on the last hole proceeds past the clubhouse. After golf, the verandah by the 18th fairway