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Whitman, Axland, Cutten Reinvigorate Brantford With Classic Concepts

Holding the title as the 4th oldest golf club in North America comes with a certain cachet, but, in recent memory, this mature Nicol Thompson original design never quite lived up to that esteemed reputation.

On my initial visit in 2020, its potential was evident, as was the pedigree waiting to be tapped into. Set in the valley of the Grand River, it was immediately apparent that the property was seemingly built for first-rate golf, with the routing deftly using the natural elevation change to its advantage. Its architectural pedigree, from Nicol Thompson, to a young Stanley Thompson, to Robbie Robinson, and, more recently, to Ian Andrew read like a generational overview of Canadian golf course architecture. Even with such architectural influence, however, Father Time had taken hold, and the golf course I played was badly weathered and in need of a refresher.

As evident in the photos above, the 4th, 18th, 8th, and 9th show fruitful grounds for golf, just neglected in various aspects like bunker style and strategic interest. With all that said, what does a historic golf club do when it falls behind its contemporaries? They add the most recent chapter in Canadian golf course architecture with Rod Whitman, Dave Axland, and Keith Cutten.

Using sophisticated, classic concepts, Brantford is now back at the forefront of Canadian Golf. The property was already stunning, which allowed the W.A.C. team to make simple, yet powerful changes that will drastically change how golfers approach each hole. The more expansive fairways courtesy of improved mowing lines now add hitherto-unseen playing angles into the expanded green complexes, allowing for more flexibility in the day-to-day play. The sharper bunkers produce a more striking visual presentation, which will affect how the golfer views the hazards (hint: they can be nasty, as bunkers should be). Finally, the newly expanded short grass surrounds add variety to shots in and around the greens.

Routing wise, there are no drastic changes, so those already familiar with the property will not feel out of place when they return. Even so, when the golfer steps onto the 3rd tee and sees the updated 3rd and 4th holes in the background, the improvements will be immediately apparent.

Before & After: Photo Gallery

  • 3rd hole, par 3 (fourth in the background)
  • 4th hole, par 5 (one from the ground, one from a drone, but this change is dramatic)
  • 5th hole, par 4
  • 6th hole, par 4
  • 7th hole, par 4
  • 8th hole, par 3
  • 9th hole, par 4
  • 11th hole, par 4
  • 13th hole, par 4
  • 16th hole, par 4
  • 17th hole, par 3

As evidenced in the photos, this isn’t a complete overhaul—a Lake Merced or Cal Club type job. I would in fact argue that this helps identify what makes Whitman, Axland, and Cutten so good at what they do. The minor changes not only make ordinary holes pop (see: the improved par 3, 17th, which is bound to receive lots of media attention in the coming years), but the substance is much improved by realizing what has been neglected in years past. On the par 3, 8th, a smaller, subtler bunker profile on the right side allows for more pins in the back tongue—or, more Sunday pins. Similarly, the par 4, 4th, used to be a good par 5, but the large bunker in front of the green strategically limited the hole. Now, the small, quasi-road-hole bunker will force golfers to carefully consider their line of play depending on the day’s hole location.

A single, small bunker dictates strategy as far back as the tee shot for those going for the green in two

Work is finishing up on the 1st, 2nd, and 10th, with all holes set to open sometime in the first half of 2023. When the entire golf course is ready for play, it will be evident that every single hole at Brantford has been improved, either drastically (the 3rd, 4th, 7th, 13th, for example), or through identifying the best existing features with smart, attentive details added in (the 8th and 17th come to mind). Finally, the variety is much stronger: on the 4th, there are six bunkers inside 50 yards; whereas on the 13th, no bunkers remain—although perhaps the most interesting green surrounds on the property awaits. Numerous examples will showcase themselves to members and guests as they figure out the golf course, which will take time, especially on Whitman & Cutten’s excellent greens—notably the 3rd, 6th, 7th, 16th, and 17th.

For the fans of the old Brantford, have no fear: this is the same golf course, routing wise, while most of the greens remain, minus the aforementioned five new exceptional ones. With all that being said, this is not your father’s Brantford, let alone your grandfathers old club. With a new version of this golf course entrenched in classic concepts, Brantford is a new golf course that feels old—otherwise known as a winning formula for a classic course renovation.


Drone Photo Gallery

This is a very pretty golf course now, so we felt obligated to include some drone shots that show off how special this property is. Enjoy!

Author

  • Andrew Harvie

    Based in Toronto, but having lived in Alberta, British Columbia, Montana, Arizona, and Texas, I have been lucky enough to see over 400 golf courses and counting!

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