Out on a county road northwest of Toronto, a steady diet of forests and rolling farmland is interrupted by a picturesque meadow. It used to be a featureless potato field, and for the first several years of its life as the Heathlands Links golf course at Osprey Valley, it had no clubhouse, no liquor license, no indoor facilities and no starter on the first tee. No first tee, for that matter: Before the clubhouse was built, everyone started on the third hole because it was closest to the parking lot. As a major golf destination, it was a tough sell.
But for lovers of the game, a fancy clubhouse is meaningless if the course is great. And Osprey is to golfers what the Four Seasons is to gourmets: Bring someone there who appreciates the subject matter, and a convert will be born. Osprey's major appeal, however, isn't shot values or degree of difficulty, which define many other top courses; it's more about aesthetics, and what they add to the playing experience.
Doug Carrick designed Osprey as a loving ode to old-style British golf—it has the proportions you'd expect overseas, the undulations and speed of the greens, the firmness of the fairways, the rustling borders of blond. But it is not a replica course; he gave it atmosphere as well. There's a little of North Berwick—stones unearthed during construction were used to build walls here and there. Echoes of Prestwick, too—a railway line runs alongside several holes. And yet the course is original. It seems to belong here.
If you haven't heard of Doug Carrick, you're in good company, as the vast majority of his courses are in Canada. Carrick, 48, with sandy brown hair and a sly sense of humor, is the kind of guy you might chat with in the taproom all night and never learn that he designed the course you just played. He had a golden opportunity to get some cross-border press when the 2002 Bell Canadian Open was played at Angus Glen South, yet when he wandered into the packed media center one afternoon, he seemed more concerned about not disturbing reporters on deadline.
Carrick lets his courses do his marketing, and that seems to be working just fine. His four-person Toronto-based design firm currently has all the work it can handle—in addition to renovations, Carrick has four new courses under construction in Canada to add to the twenty he's already built in what statistically is the most golf-mad nation on earth (nearly 20 percent of the population plays). And several Carrick courses abroad are in varying stages of development. His first layout in Scotland, on Loch Lomond, next door to the famed private club where the Scottish Open is played, is less than a year from opening. He has also routed a course on Lough Key in County Roscommon, Ireland. And next year he will finally stick a shovel in American soil when he builds nine holes at a course called Yoho Head in Machiasport, Maine.
What Carrick has that's so distinctive is an artist's eye. His courses are like landscape paintings, in styles ranging from traditional parkland to waste-bunkered sandhills, all routinely gorgeous. At Eagle's Nest, north of Toronto, he transformed a former gravel pit into a tough links played in the valleys of sharp-peaked dunes reminiscent of Ireland. And on a truly great property, such as Bigwin Island Golf Club in Ontario's cottage country, Carrick stood back and fit holes discreetly into the natural grandeur of the land. So the elevated eighteenth tee box at Bigwin doesn't just show off a fabulous finishing hole, it displays a glorious setting on Lake of Bays. The vertigo-inducing 200-yard sixth at Greywolf Golf Course in Panorama, British Columbia, carrying the frightening Hopeful Canyon to a pedestal green, celebrates the majesty of the Rockies.
Carrick has been influenced by trips to the old links in the British Isles and by playing the likes of Pine Valley and Shinnecock Hills in the U.S. But he's also excited by the work of contemporary architects such as Pete Dye and Kyle Phillips. "Pete's Ocean course at Kiawah Island is one of the best I've seen anywhere, modern or classic," he says. "And I'd say the same about Kingsbarns [by Phillips, near St. Andrews]."
For a time in the late 1990s, Carrick inflated the scale of his designs, answering developers' demands for playability and making room for farther-flying balls. He took some criticism for drafting ultrawide fairways, most notably at Magna Golf Club, an exclusive private club north of Toronto that the PGA Tour has looked at as a future Presidents Cup site. "We've tightened things up a little bit," he says, "because I think we were losing some of the shot values off the tee."
A seven-handicap, Carrick also lets his own game influence his design style. His courses tend to be generous off the tees, for instance, because he has a strong long game and doesn't like being forced to hit an iron off the tee. "So on par fours and fives, I give the option to hit driver," he says. As a result, all of Carrick's layouts are famously fun to play.
It's worth the trip to Canada to see and play a few Carrick courses, though not everyone is hoping he becomes a household name south of the border. "American architects should be very happy that Doug hasn't tried that hard to get work down here," says Jay Morrish, who with Carrick designed Angus Glen North in Markham, Ontario, where the 2007 Bell Canadian Open will be played. "I think he'd put a lot of them out of business."
The Next MacKenzie?
In our January/February 2005 issue, we challenged readers to release their inner architects by entering the Lido Competition in Golf Course Architecture, sponsored by the Alister MacKenzie Society (for information, e-mail email@example.com). Close to 400 submissions rolled in, and in June, judge Kyle Phillips (Kingsbarns, The Grove) declared Per Thunberg of Sweden the winner. His creation is a 420-yard par four with five strategic options off the tee, from fantastically risky to super safe. The Good Doctor would be proud.