Rees Jones’ contributions south of the border are best defined by re-constructing and renovating famous American layouts to host events and play tougher. However, when he’s not renovating Torrey Pines or Medinah No. 3, he’s designing his own golf courses with a slightly different style than his father Robert Trent Jones Sr., or brother, Robert Trent Jones Jr.
At Grand Niagara, his usual archetypes are present, giving Canadians a chance to check out one of his rare layouts here at home.
For a golf course as long and difficult as Grand Niagara, it starts off on a rather manageable opening par 4 at 418 yards. A massive pond runs up the left, while a bunker complex pinches the landing area off the tee.
The green, fronted by a massive bunker short and a smaller one right is divided by a ridge north-south. For those who overcook one, water is again up the left.
For my money, the 458-yard par 4, second is the best hole on the golf course. Water comes into play up the right side and a bunker complex awaits left for those who bail out.
From the fairway, a bunker looks to guard the front, while another bunker flanks the back left edge.
A rare use of trickery from Rees, who typically likes “everything in front of you,” provides the highlight of the round where the bunker is in fact 35 or so yards from the front edge. This gives room to play the ground game, but also makes the hole much scarier from the approach. Wonderful stuff here.
The third is another pretty strong golf hole, with a massive pushed up green guarded by bunkers short left and right. At 210 yards, it’s a handful, and doesn’t stop there. A ridge divides the green into the upper tier on the left portion and the lower three quarters on the right. There’s quite a bit of movement here.
You can see the difficult pin on the day we played above the ridge.
The fourth is a gentle dogleg right around a bunker complex. Another relatively long hole, the 446-yard two-shotter puts a premium on hitting the fairway.
Two bunkers hug the right side of the corner, leaving most of the front portion of the green open.
The fifth is the second par 3 on the golf course at 191 yards, with quite a bit of trouble in play. Water short and left, as well as a bunker long left and right, hug this green quite snugly. Thankfully, it’s a relatively big surface.
I thought this green was quite smart, with a little depression on the right side to create interest even after hitting the surface.
The sixth is the first par 5 on the golf course and at 583 yards is a big one. Two bunkers, one left and one right, come into play off the tee, although the left one is only in play for the longest of hitters. For most of us, it’s a good line.
Laying up, a singular bunker on the left awaits that takes up quite a bit of real estate.
The green, to balance out the left layup bunker, is guarded on the right side by another big bunker. There’s a fair amount of movement in this green, too, especially in the middle.
Coming back to the fifth tee, the 430-yard par 4, seventh is a dogleg right around a hazard and bunker on the inside corner. There’s ample room left, but for a shorter club, challenging the hazards up the right is paramount.
A closer look at the bunker on the right, which hides itself from the tee.
To another pushed up green, a single bunker on the left awaits. The principals are there: force the player to challenge the inside corner or have the second shot over the bunker. But Rees has always been a bit too conservative in these strategies.
The eighth is another meaty par 5 at almost 600 yards. The hole, bending to the left, has a bunker left, right, and a water hazard left to additionally complicate things.
From there, the layup is rather simple for those who can take their medicine and stay short of 100 yards. For those who like to play it risky (who doesn’t?), two bunkers pinch the 100-yard marker exactly.
With a big bunker on the left, the front of this green is pretty open. Shots short and right should get a favourable bounce towards the green.
At 431 yards, the front nine ends on a difficult par 4 around the opening water hazard, as well as a bunker on the inside corner. For most who play the correct tee, it’s more of an aiming bunker, but could come into play on a mishit or windy day.
Two bunkers on the right of the green hug the right side, while the water hazard continues to flow up the left side of the hole. A demanding iron to end the outward nine.
After trekking to the other side of the property, the 446 yard par 4, 10th plays alongside Chippawa Creek, although it doesn’t really come into play and it’s not really visible. Instead, a single bunker on the left guards this dogleg left off the tee.
With a bunker short left, and right, it’s a well-guarded approach in.
I quite liked the short 11th, which is a lovely little 162-yard par 3. With two bunkers on the left, the right side looks more inviting, but a chipping area can be quite dicey depending on the pin.
The green complex is fitting as well, with the right falling off into the collection area.
The 12th brings us into the woods with a 449-yard straightaway par 4. One bunker on the left awaits that will certainly be in play.
On the approach, a bunker short left, and long left protect this green, although there is a fair amount of room.
I’d likely argue the longest par 5, the 612-yard 13th, is the most interesting par 5 on the golf course. A semi-blind tee shot up and over the hill features no bunkers, but a single tree on the right hugs the right of the fairway. Anything left of that is ideal.
After rising over the hill, the golfer is challenged with how far down they want to play. Starting at the 200-yard mark, the hazard that dominates this hole comes into play, while a bunker on the right comes into play around 140 yards from the green. For those who want a full 100 yards in, the water on the right starts to pinch the layup zone.
On the outside corner, bunkers galore await.
But from the middle of the fairway, the main defence is short with the water hazard.
The 14th is a shorter par 4 back into the forest at 388 yards. A bunker on the right is certainly in play, but those who play just short of it will be greeted with the best angle and view coming in.
The green, gently pushed up, has two massive bunkers on the left and a collection area short and right. A creek is also short, but only for those who really mishit their approach shot.
The 15th is a monster par 3 at 236 yards, guarded by a bunker short right. The creek that came into play on the previous hole also runs across the hole short, but should be far enough back.
Making the turn back to the clubhouse, the 419-yard par 4, 16th has a bunker on the left to guard the tee ball. The hazard that guarded the 13th is up the right, but shouldn’t come into play.
On the approach, a tree will block anything from the right rough, so hitting the fairway is optimal. A huge bunker that drags back some 70 yards is also in play short left.
Grand Niagara’s penultimate hole and the final par 4 on the golf course, is a relatively shorter one at 400 yards. Moving gently to the left, a water hazard comes into play up the left.
Like the 16th, a tree comes into play for those who bail out right. The big hitters could potentially get to it with their tee ball, but that’s a ways away. The approach has four bunkers in play, with one short left, short right, and two long. The hazard up the left continues to lurk.
The final hole here is the last par 5, and also the shortest of the four at 552 yards. Five bunkers—two left, three right—pinch the landing area, as well as a hazard that runs up the entirety of the hole on the left.
Other than the hazard left, a bunker comes into play for those who elect to layup on the right.
The final green is well-guarded, with a bunker short left, long, and a bunker short right which sneakily hides the collection area on the right.
Grand Niagara is a tough, long and hard golf course, and for that it separates itself from other golf courses in Ontario. It’s a great place to challenge your game and try to shoot a number as almost everything is in front of you.
If there’s a perfect tournament venue for Golf Ontario or the Toronto Players Tour, it’s Grand Niagara. A wonderful tournament layout that provides flashes of real architectural interest.