Course Tour: Camelot Golf & Country Club

Playing a course over and over and over, either as a member or as a return visitor, can have a very different effect on one’s impression of it: either its intricacies and nuances are slowly revealed and one’s appreciation of it grows over time; or, on the other hand, you can begin to overlook its strengths and instead become overfocused on its weaknesses and shortcomings. I call this later reaction “the John Tavares syndrome”, in that after a while people tire of the “golden boy” and begin to primarily focus on his weaknesses, or what he does not do, rather than appreciate what he can do and does well. The hockey fans among you will remember the insane focus on Tavares’ supposed slow foot speed and lack of dynamism that dominated the discourse in the last months leading up to his draft, when his status as the solidified top prospect, which he’d held since he was fifteen, was challenged by Victor Hedman and even Matt Duchene. It happens in virtually every sport with prodigies, whether with Andrew Luck, Trevor Lawrence, Erling Haaland, and Bryce Harper, to name just a few.

Prior to joining Camelot, I’ll admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of it. As I said in my review of Ottawa’s Top 15 Golf Courses, McBroom simply wasn’t and isn’t my favourite cup of architectural tea. Although I will admit that, as I’ve seen some more of his better works, especially his later efforts, I’ve grown more fond of him. Truth be told, I doubt there is a bigger Memphremagog fan than me (who isn’t a member of it).

Camelot, however, comes from the early part of his catalog. His works from this period usually feature sequestered greens that are surrounded by mounding, sharp and abrasive shaping, small and clustered bunkering, and narrowish fairways. At Camelot, some of these trademarks elements, as a result of the club’s close relationship with Mr. Mcbroom, have been softened and changed over time, and I would judge the overall evolution of the course as being positive, though there are still some fixes that could be made rather easily.

Full disclosure: I was a member for four years, and had nothing but a great time. However, I think that my review is rather fair, and my opinion of it is pretty much in line with that of the other voices I respect in the game.

The club features a fairly large membership, drawing mostly from the rapidly growing and bilingual eastern end of the city and the surrounding bedroom communities. As a result, the roster is quite varied, with a nice distribution between young, middle aged, and old, French and English. Perhaps sporty isn’t the right word to describe the atmosphere of the club, but it’s lively and vibrant when busy in mid summer.

Part of McBroom’s challenge was dealing with the property. I’ve heard a fair few people claim that this is a good property for golf; while undoubtedly dramatic and varied, I, in fact, don’t think it is, being far too extreme and segmented and largely devoid of the micro elevations that make ideal playing grounds for golf. The southern and western portions of the property, atop of the ridge where the grey-castle clubhouse sits, was once a barren farmer’s field, with a meandering creek and some ponds near the southern boundary. On the other hand, the northern half of the property is divided by a massive ridge of about a hundred feet. The area atop and to the west of the ridge is flat and wooded, while the plain below and to the east of the ridge is barren and tilted rather dramatically back towards the ridge, almost like an envelope. The view from the back nine, especially when a blood-red sun sinks to the horizon and illuminates the nearby Ottawa River, which is visible for the entirety of the back 9, is enchanting and among my favorites in the province.

McBroom sets the golfer off towards the south, with a snaking par 5 that culminates to a perched green site guarded by some dense brush short and to its left. This is a rather gentle handshake, one that long hitters can quite easily reach in two shots. However, I believe that the mounding to the right of landing area for the third shot needs to be softened or reshaped, as shots that land even as far as the right rough can be deflected quite near or sometimes into the hazard on other side of the fairway, especially when the turf gets crispy, which it tends to.

The 2nd hole, a brutally difficult par 4 of about 480 yards from the back tees, is, in my opinion, the best in the city and among the best in Canada. From the tee, the nearer the golfer gets to the creek that guards the left side of the fairway the better his angle will be into the slim and tightly guarded green which rests on the other side of the holding pond into which the creek bulges. This is textbook architecture. When the range to the right of the fairway plays as out-of-bounds, as it tends to during big events, there are not many tee shots that are as visually intimidating as this. One could argue, theoretically, that the hole is perhaps overly penal, especially around the green, and that McBroom could have given the golfer a more generous bailout area to its left; however, I believe that there is a time and place for such kinds of “here’s the shot, now go and execute it or else” type holes, particularly if done only once or, at most, twice in a round. And apart from the 2nd, Camelot, unlike the National, let’s say, is devoid of them.

The creek that the golfer plays to the right of off the tee, then crosses it on the approach at the 2nd

I’d describe the 3rd as a sneaky good and sneaky difficult hole. On another website, Andrew highlighted its William Flynn-like nature, which I had never considered until we played together for the first time. In short, as opposed to what is commonly practiced and expected, the ideal tee ball must be played to the side of the fairway opposite of the bunker along the inside of the dogleg left, leaving the golfer a slightly longer but better positioned angle into the slim green. Speaking from experience, the bunker sees much traffic, as breaking one’s self from hitting at the line of charm (i.e. the flagstick) is difficult to do. And by a slim green, I mean a slim green, even after its recent expansion. Considering that the better player will have not much more than a flip wedge second into it, I think its slimness and the sharp falloff in back are appropriate and well-calculated.

Unfortunately, after the 3rd hole, for the next little while the layout morphs into something more akin to what one might term a stereotypical McBroom effort. The 4th is a fairly standard long and difficult par 3 over a holding pond, which is elevated by a clever green that is curiously shaped like a human earth. A hole location down in the earlobe is fun and makeable but my favorite is back-left.

McBroom repeats this tactic of sinking an about ten-by-ten foot segment of the green on the next hole (and again on the 10th and 14th, a feature that by then feels overdone). Having played the course about as many times from the tips as from the blue tees, I find it’s best from all the way back; the 5th, a five-hundred and fifty yard par 5, is a prime example of this. From the blue tees, the procession of bunkers set perpendicular to the tee and guarding the left and ideal side of the fairway aren’t really in play for anyone who hits it over two-hundred and fifty yards. From the tips, on the other hand, the line of the tee ball must be carefully considered. And the over-zealous golfer who finds himself in one will struggle to have less than a long iron third into the carefully guarded green. The fairway bunker, which sits at the hundred yard marker, is especially well placed and much hit into.

The 6th transitions the golfer from the open field to the wooded portion of the property for the first time. I’ve often wondered if Mr. McBroom could have weaved the layout so that the routing feels less segmented, transitioning in and out of the different compartments, as Dr. Mackenzie did at Cypress Point, for example, but I haven’t yet found an alternative. The alternative selection to Mr. McBroom was Graham Cooke, whose track record doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that he could have either. I am fond of the valley-of-sin-like trench short of the green, which can be used to propel a low-running long iron approach up to the surface.

The 7th hole is one which reveals itself over time. Again the front is guarded by a trench, and balls that land short and to the right are usually projected leftward onto the surface. For the less accurate long iron or hybrid player, this is an ideal and much used strategy. The green is subtly devilish, with the back portion tilted away from the tee. The recent tree removal beyond the green has opened a pretty view of the river and has greatly improved the condition of the turf. Who would’ve guessed it?

The 8th is now a bad hole, but it used to be an awful hole. Whereas the longer hitter can drive it past the row of strangely positioned trees in the line of charm about seventy yards short of the green, the shorter hitter, unless he hits it into the right rough, will often be blocked out completely, or be forced to hoist one over them, a task beyond the skill of most. Mercifully, the club finally had the good sense to chop a few of them, but they all need to go. Or, even better, the tees should be pushed way forward, creating a truly driveable par 4, with a good risk-reward factor.

The 9th, which plays to the right side of the double green it shares with the ultimate hole, is another clever par 4, which again functions better from the tips than from the blues. Once again, from the shorter tees, the bunker that fronts the kicker slope up the right side of the fairway is easy to clear; from the tips, however, it’s in play for most.

My only strong complaint for the 10th hole, an uphill and then downhill par 5 that bends around the maintenance area, is that the numerous evergreens planted along the periphery of the playing corridor should be razed. They are unsightly, annoying to play from, and soak the moisture from the turf. Evergreens like these (Christmas trees) shouldn’t be on golf courses. It’s a bit of a connector hole, working across some non-descript land, but it’s redeemed by an interesting tee shot from the blues (where the golfer must decide whether to challenge the fairway bunkers in order to have a much shorter 2nd shot and a look at eagle) and by a good green.

The green on the 11th, a drop shot par 3, has been rebuilt or re-sodded at least a handful of times over the last fifteen years. Its current iteration is its best, health and playability wise, mainly thanks, I suspect, to the aggressive tree removal along and atop the edges of the bowl at the bottom of which sits the postage stamp sized surface. Before they filled in the massive depression to the right of the green, the tee shot used to be downright terrifying, as even slightly rightward struck tee balls could ricochet into the hazard across it – and the comparatively luckier golfer whose ball merely trundled to the bottom was left with a nearly impossible flop shot that had to rise some twenty feet or so and land on the thin surface. Now, it’s a fairly manageable, though difficult, recovery from the down there. 

The 12th, likely the most photographed hole in the city, is truly do or die in nature, and it’s a tee shot that routinely causes even very good golfers to make some head-scratching swings. Despite being over six-hundred yards from the tips, three-woods and driving irons are often selected, with the hope of just putting something in play at the bottom, between the two densely forested creek beds. The rest of the hole is rather pedestrian, with a green that doesn’t really function in my opinion. I didn’t snap a pic of it, but I am not sure precisely what the thinking was behind putting the strange run-off in the back-right portion. Perhaps with less grade a hole location could be cut at the bottom of it, but as of now, it doesn’t seem possible, being far too sloped for modern green steeps. To me, it just seems like a wasted quarter of the green. Furthermore, the hole is tough enough as is; it doesn’t need a difficult green. A simple and receptive complex (such as the 6th) would be perfectly sufficient here.

The 13th is a personal favourite, but one that again functions better from the back tees, which are located across the entrance drive. I am fond of tee balls across entrance roads. From back there, in most cases, a three wood (or even a driver) will leave the golfer short of the significant gulley in the fairway that begins at about the hundred yard marker; whereas from the shorter tee deck, a hybrid or long iron must be selected if he desires to do so, which he should. Either way, though, the green location makes the hole. Nestled amidst a corral of eighty foot high pines and featuring a nasty false front that repels under-struck approaches some sixty yards to the bottom of the gulley, its severity straddles the line of fairness. I think it’s fine as is, but I understand those who believe otherwise.

The climbing and split-fairwayed 14th is a hole that also divides opinion. In my view it’s overcooked and there’s just way too much going on. My gripe stems primarily from the fact that I think that this is one of the better natural segments of the property and, as such, didn’t require such a heavy-handed architectural touch – subtlety tended not to be Mr. McBroom’s modus operandi at that point in his career. Cutting a few of the trees between the two fairways would be a good start, as would raising the right fairway, from which, as it currently stands, the green is entirely blind. The green is pretty interesting though, with a punchbowl-ish back and a handful of fun yet treacherous hole locations along its rim.

The 15th bothers me like no other hole on the course, even though it’s one of the better par 3s. For the life of me I don’t understand how Mr. McBroom could stand on that tee and not think “well here’s a perfect redan, let’s build it”. It’s literally right there and, as it’s currently built, it sort of plays like one; however, the green needs to be pivoted a further ten degrees or so away from the tee to truly play like one. It’s a rather mundane green surface without much internal movement; yet I think it’s a nice breather, a good change of pace after a few intense ones. 

From here, however, the course really limps home, likely costing it about 20 spots in the rankings. I don’t really know how to improve the truly world-class terrible 16th, other than backing the tees up another 20 yards, leaving a tee shot over the corner of the 15th green, a quirk I would approve of (but perhaps not the club’s and Mr. McBroom’s lawyers). If a picture does, in fact, say a thousand words, I’ll let it speak for itself here. There simply isn’t anything else to do except hit a mid iron off the tee, then probably a long iron second to the top of the crest, and then a half wedge third. The green has, thankfully, been softened and expanded of late, and the left side has been reshaped so as to be more receptive, a series of changes that have improved the hole, at least slightly. But it’s still absolutely horrible.

The 17th green is once again overcooked for my liking. I guess it’s somewhat of a Biarritz in concept, but at such a short length, it doesn’t really work. When the pin is located on the tiny back plateau, the only option is to fly it all the way there, a truly risky play considering how sharp the fall-off is at the back – any miss is dead. As with 14, a subtler touch would’ve yielded a better outcome, I suspect, allowing the topography and long view of the clubhouse to speak for themselves.

Playing parallel to the 9th and sharing a green, the 18th is a difficult finisher, playing blind from the tips and bordered by hazard all the way up the left. The bailout right, especially when the tall rough is up (this isn’t fescue, despite what most members call it) isn’t much friendlier. The ridiculously steep false front has been softened over the years, a good change. I’m still mixed on its merits, especially for the lesser players. The view from the patio which overlooks the double green, however, is undoubtedly scintillating.

I think we have Camelot ranked perfectly, at 101st. Frankly there are about twenty courses or so that could be ranked anywhere from 90th to 110th, and Camelot is among them.

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