Quick Fire Review: Eagle Creek

The range at Eagle Creek, a place that’s seen better days
Mounding, a consistent theme

To steal a line from the great, and criminally underrated, George Thorogood, Eagle Creek is bad to the bone. B-B-B-Bad to the bone. Seriously, there are merely a few legitimate Doak 0s in Canada, and this is one. A true Doak 0 is a precious and rare thing: “A course so contrived and unnatural that it may poison your mind, one I cannot recommend under any circumstances. Reserved for courses that waste ridiculous sums of money in their construction, and probably shouldn’t have been built in the first place.” So, in other words, your local muni may be a complete dog-track, but, unlike Eagle Creek, or Furry Creek, or Le Geant, it wasn’t built with the intention of being anything greater than a complete dog-track.

Although ostensibly a terrible golf course, playing Eagle Creek still is a somewhat interesting experience, for it harkens back to a bygone-era in golf. Unlike George Thorogood, whose discography still remains fresh and innovative to modern sensibilities, Eagle Creek looks and plays like a course built when hair-metal bands ruled the airwaves, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover drew millions of eyes to the silver screen, and parachute pants and bright neon leg warmers were omnipresent sights in shopping malls and along sidewalks. In a way, “the creek” remains a prime example of this dark-age of golf course architecture, a monument to the hubris and misapprehensions that fueled this period of tremendous volume but little quality.

The odd 2nd with its flooded waste area and containment mounding along the outside
The cramped 16th, one of the better par 4s here

Oddly, though, Eagle Creek – which recently fell from the ScoreGolf top 100 after being a staple of it for decades – still has a legion of apologists and defenders. Ask a group of Ottawa area golfers which local course they believe is the best and someone will almost inevitably name this 1991 Ken Venturi design. In particular, the “good” player in such a hypothetical group is likely to claim that it forces precise shot-making, or that it rewards accurate placement of the tee-ball, or that it requires deft touch around the greens. In truth, I couldn’t outright disagree with any such assessments; however, they are not elements that necessarily fit into what I regard as interesting architecture. As the ever-lyrical Max Behr surmised, that “the golf architect therefore is not at all concerned with chastising bad play. On the contrary, it is his business to so arrange the field of play as to stimulate interest, and, hence, the province of hazards is to chasten the too ambitious. The use of hazards otherwise is a corrupt use of penalty; an approach to the subject of strategy from the negative side; a dwelling of thought upon what the golfer should not do; whereas the concern of the architect should be positive and have solely to do with what the golfer should do. In other words, the mission of the architect is not that of a moralist the principal word of whose vocabulary is don’t.”

What Mr. Venturi’s design calls for, more than anything else, is the shot that separated him, as well as every other touring professional from the birth of the sport until today, from the yeoman, from the scratch golfer, from the very good amateur player even: the high, straight ball. Again and again, the course necessitates the golfer to hit this shot; if he cannot, then it is usually a reload from the very spot he failed. And herein lies the primary reason the “good” player in such a hypothetical conversation is likely to cite Eagle Creek: because even if he cannot summon this most desired of shots as often and as consistently as the touring pro, he can still do it more often than the average golfer and far more often than the duffer. The haves become separated from the have-nots.

The other element of the course that is likely to be brought up are the bugs, and with valid reason, as the layout meanders through dense forest and inert bog. Most of the playing corridors are frugal, with any ball exiting them being M.I.A. forever. Thankfully, though, there seems to have been a recent effort to clear out some of the underbrush.

the approach to the par 5, 7th
The strong par 3, 11th

For years, you could count on plush, soft fairways and smoothly rolling greens to welcome you; however, the last few times I have played it, whether because of irrigation malfunctions or due to a lack of access to water (I hesitate to credit Clublink for maintaining it in this fashion, but perhaps I am too cynical), the fairways have been baked out and the rough brutally barren. Generally speaking, as is well established gospel by now, this is how a course ought to be conditioned, but because of the extreme narrowness of the playing corridors, coupled with the unforgiving nature of the out-of-play areas, “the creek” becomes a nightmare to play when it is this firm and fast, since any slightly side-spinning drive that lands near the edge of the fairway, or in the rough, is quite likely to be dead. Thus, in my view, “the creek” proves one of the ultra rare exceptions to the rule that crispy and brown is, in fact, ideal.

To me, there’s a distinctly Floridian feel to the club, a post-2008 recession Floridian feel, to be more precise. A slightly ghostly, even doomed atmosphere pervades the club, which is located well and truly in the middle of nowhere, twenty some minutes from north-western edge of the capital. Until the real-estate boom of the last few years, the few-dozen housing lots that line the entrance drive to the club and the few streets that branch off nearly all stood vacant. Although we played at noon on a cloudless Sunday in early July, the grand and comfortable, although rather cookie-cutter clubhouse, which stands atop a ridge overlooking the course, was entirely absent of members, as was the range and short-game area. The member we played with spoke disapprovingly of ClubLink and the way they have managed and maintained one of their “platinum level” clubs, whatever that means. Considering the high price of membership, I’ve never understood the appeal of ClubLink, especially in Ottawa where their 4 offerings are either underwhelming or downright awful to play; moreover, other than Rocky Crest and Le Maitre (although recent reports suggest otherwise), I have never left one of their properties being particularly impressed with the conditioning and service offered. Once the novel toast of Canadian golf, it seems as if they have morphed into a real-estate development company with golf holdings that are of secondary interest, which is a shame.

In terms of positives, I quite like the stretch from the 6th, an almost L shaped par 4 with a hazard that separates the landing area from the on-grade green, to the 9th, a long par 4 guarded all along the right side by a large holding pond – it’s nothing you haven’t played a hundred times before but it’s still a good hole with a clever green that curls around a bunker and falls off at the back. I have nothing really negative to say regarding 5 of the last 6 holes, with the head-scratching 14th being the omission. I wouldn’t that say any of these 5 holes, in themselves, are exceptional, but there’s nothing offensive to one’s sensibilities and the greens are interesting, if slightly over-shaped in places. Mr. Venturi certainly seemed to fancy tiers and sharp, sequestering ridges when designing his greens, if he did, in fact, design his greens.

In terms of negatives, I’ll be quick: devoid of strategy, over-shaped, overly narrow, weird waste bunkers, and containment mounding. That’s about the common formula for the “the creek”.

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