Monday, August 06, 2007

Course Review: Humber Valley Resort (Deer Lake, Newfoundland)

Course Review: Humber Valley Resort, River Course (Deer Lake, Newfoundland)
Designer: Doug Carrick (2006)

Located in a province few are likely to seek out for golf, Humber Valley’s River Course stands alone as the sole beacon in an area with literally no other even marginal golf courses.
Thank God Doug Carrick’s work at Humber Valley is exceptional — otherwise no one would ever talk about this place. Part of a resort complex built for wealthy Europeans as a four season facility, Humber Valley’s golf course is among the best to open in Canada in a long time. It is better than Fazio’s Coppinwood near Toronto, and better maybe than even Carrick’s Eagles Nest in Maple. It is surely better than any of Carrick or Thomas McBroom’s Muskoka work.

Why? Well part of it is an untouched setting that is unlike anything I’ve seen in this country in a long time. Set on a set of steep hills with a surrounding low mountain range, Humber Valley would appear to be a tough site. Most mountain sites are not conducive to golf, with slopes that are too severe and require blasting or significant earth moving. Carrick may have moved a lot of land here — and there are indications he did make cuts, like the clear grade change on the 16th — but largely this is the most natural of Carrick’s courses I’ve seen to date.
It all goes downhill from the start — literally. The opener is a par five, and if there’s a weakness on the course, it is the three shot holes. With the exception of the seventh, a tough uphill par five that could be mistaken for the reverse of Highlands Links’ 16th, all are relatively simple holes that play downhill enough to be approached often by a mid-iron. But after the relatively easy opener — which is not a bad thing in itself — Carrick takes the golfer through a series of holes that require thought as opposed to brawn.
In fact, driver is not the preferred club in many instances off the tee and the elevation shifts, like the one on mid-length par three second, often leave the golfer deceived when it comes to club selection. It is certainly a course that reveals itself the more one plays.
The course has expansive views and the architecture attempts to match the scale. That means prominent bunkers and fairways that offer width without becoming overkill. Greens are relatively subtle, as is the case with most of Carrick’s designs these days, but several offer something unusual for the architect — greens that move from fairway to putting surface naturally on grade. Carrick seems to love his slightly elevated greens — which surely improve drainage — but lose the natural appeal. Several of Humber Valley’s greens have a distinctly natural character, something I’ve rarely seen in Carrick’s work.

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