In a recent article on this site, Andrew included a quote from Ben Cowan-Dewar on Wolf Creek, which mentioned Rod Whitman’s near misses at Angus Glen and The Links at Crowbush Cove. It got me thinking: what if those happened? What might Canada’s golf landscape look like if Rod Whitman completed both of those?
In the spirit of transparency, Crowbush Cove would be a Pete Dye design, with Whitman, who got his architecture career started as an understudy of Dye, on the project. Canada never really got a true Pete Dye golf course. In fact, the closest we might ever get is Jack Nicklaus’ overhaul of Taboo (pending), which will use Dye’s plans, or Roy Dye’s renovation at the Country Club of Montreal. Or, if we take a journey down Pete Dye’s family tree, most specifically the first branch that includes Jack Nicklaus, Bill Coore, Tom Doak, and Rod Whitman, we see his architectural offspring have spread golf courses throughout Canada.
Pete Dye Family Tree
Jack Nicklaus is at the top of this list in terms of brand name recognition. As the former permanent home of the Canadian Open, Glen Abbey (1976) is Jack Nicklaus’ most notable Canadian course. In the early days of golf course rankings, Glen Abbey was once considered the top public course in Canada. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. An interesting fact is the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, arguably the most famous purpose-built tournament course, leveraged Nicklaus’ innovative Stadium Course concept. Student teaching the teacher as it seems.
Bill Coore’s Canadian credits include the world-renowned Cabot Cliffs (2016), and lesser known work at Country Club of Montreal, as a Dye associate in 1974. The 42-year gap between these projects illustrates how long Coore has been in the game. Hard to believe, but Tom Doak’s work in Canada is even more limited than Coore. Isolated to the recent restoration of St. George’s, an original Doak in Canada is long overdue. This of course might change in the near future.
This brings us to Rod Whitman, who is arguably the most prolific architect of the group in Canada.
When looking at Whitman’s career, Crowbush (1993) and Angus Glen South (1995), in theory, fit very neatly between Wolf Creek (1987) and his excellent stretch of Blackhawk (2003), Sagebrush (2007), Wolf Creek’s Links course (2010) and Cabot Links (2012). Sprinkle in Whitman’s involvement with Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw at places like Friar’s Head, Sand Valley, Old Sandwich and Cabot Cliffs and you have a very impressive body of work. Not to overlook Whitman’s international work, I’m choosing to focus on his work closer to home since it is very unlikely a North American will make the trek specifically to seek out early examples of Whitman’s work.
Dye Designs Links at Crowbush Cove
The prospect of a Dye course at a seaside site in Canada is extremely intriguing. After the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island (1991), Dye would be presented with another seaside and oddly similar site in the way it features limited direct exposure to the water. Dye overcame this constraint in Kiawah by building up holes further from the ocean to maximize the ocean views and the influence of the coastal winds. One could imagine Dye to employ the same technique at Crowbush. This would have overcome one of the downsides of the current design at McBroom’s seaside PEI golf course, which has limited exposure to the coastline in views and oceanfront golf holes. My assumption: if Pete Dye designed a course at the seaside site at Crowbush, it would rank closer to the Cape Breton trio of Cabot Links, Cabot Cliffs and Cape Breton Highlands than it does its other Prince Edward Island peer Green Gables.
Whitman Designs Angus Glen
With the success of Crowbush under his belt, now it’s time to speculate what might have occurred at Angus Glen with Ron Whitman leading the design. With the brief to create a tournament calibre site, what might this look like given Whitman’s minimalist approach that he first developed at Wolf Creek? Perhaps this fictitious course would have more in common with Doak’s renovation of Memorial Park than it does your typical championship test of golf.
Would Whitman’s involvement at the South course further influence Angus Glen’s North course? In this alternate reality, I would like to believe so. If we play out this scenario to its fullest, let’s assume Whitman is also given the job for Angus Glen North, much in the same way Doug Carrick designed the sequel. Following the North course in 2001, might then Dye be tapped to perform the renovation in preparation for the 2007 Canadian Open? I know, this is now firmly in the zone of pure speculation, but it can be fun to dream.
The most important question that will remain unanswered is as follows. Would a design in Canada’s most populous region have increased Whitman’s profile sooner? Most definitely yes! Not only would an elevated profile with his golf course hosting a Canadian Open helped his status in Canada, but having a design in the Greater Toronto Area accentuates those benefits of having more eyeballs on his work, and thus, more interest in his abilities. At a time when Doug Carrick and Thomas McBroom dominated the Canadian design scene, adding Rod Whitman’s design style to the mix would have been a welcomed addition for that period. Further, if Crowbush happened, would a Pete Dye design in Canada, especially on the ocean, further shape Canada as a top golfing destination for international travellers more than McBroom’s Crowbush did? Could it have attracted more international architects, or some of Pete Dye’s disciples, to build in Canada more than they have?
Speculation and hypothetical questioning aside, Rod Whitman’s recent partnership with Dave Axland and Keith Cutten seems to have created demand for his architectural prowess in a way not seen in his career until this point. The architectural firm Whitman, Axland, and Cutten is currently building Cabot Revelstoke, a renovation at Brantford, and pending work at both Bandon Dunes and Hillsdale in Montreal. He may not have been as busy in his home country during the 90s or the Tiger Boom as others, but Whitman will absolutely be busy in the post-COVID boom.