Kawartha is an understated club and layout, which perhaps embodies the City of Peterborough. Situated roughly an hour and a half from Toronto, it is low-key in nature, but I was excited to play this Stanley Thompson design usually hovering in the bottom 20 of the Top 100 in the country—when and if it makes the list.
Opening the golf course, the 336-yard par 4 runs directly up a slope. I cannot recall seeing this strategy from Thompson before, whereby he tackles elevation this early in the property, so it’s an interesting feature to note. Without a bunker in the landing zone from the tee, it’s a gentle introduction.
The approach shot plays roughly a club uphill, with most of the putting surface hidden because of the elevation change. A dual bunker complex on the right that’s shared with the 10th hole captures your attention early.
The second is the first of many excellent golf holes at Kawartha. At only 355 yards, it’s a small, but smart dogleg left. Getting it in the fairway is the key here.
Turning the corner, the approach shot is wonderfully framed by Thompson’s bunkering on both the left and right sides, but the green complex is the star of the show. Titled on-grade with a hill and working towards the left, it’s a green running away from the golfer over a centre ridge running east-west. As Tom Doak wrote in the Confidential Guide to Golf Courses “better than a redan” indeed.
A closer look at the green.
The third is yet another short par 4, but this time doglegging right. A massive tree on the inside corner lets the golfer choose one of two paths: left, the safe route; or right, and try and carry the bunkers, the aggressive route.
From the inside corner, you see a wonderful view of the green complex.
For those who find the fairway, there’s a good look down. It’s a relatively simple hole once you get past the tee shot, but some excellent bunkering, recently restored by Ian Andrew, frames this hole nicely.
The first par 5 on the golf course, the fourth is short 456-yard get-able hole. Like most of Thompson’s work, however, there’s more than meets the eye. The fairway is heavily sloped off the right, and two trees on the left force the golfer to aim up the right. A slight draw off the bunker on the right is ideal.
As the hole turns to the left and you get a view of the green you realize how much slope is actually in the fairway. There will be a large portion of golfers who can get home in two here—if you play the right tees—but the fairly aggressive righty-hook lie can provide nightmares.
For those who elect to layup, it appears to be a standard wedge.
Until you get to the green. Like the second, the fourth is also titled on-grade, sloping hard away from the golfer and to the left.
The fifth is a dogleg left par 4 at 402 yards. This completes the three hole triangular loop of the third, fourth and fifth, bringing you back to the second green. A singular tree pushes golfers slightly to the right.
The green is fronted by a single bunker left, but slopes pretty hard to that same bunker.
The sixth is a sadistic par 3 playing directly up the hill. No biggie, of course, as holes work uphill all the time—until you realize it’s 223 yards! One bunker left and another bunker long-right guard this green, but the false front short is the scorecard wrecker.
A better view of the green complex:
Thompson’s pacing and flow of the golf course is brilliantly illustrated with the sixth. After a rather tame introduction to the golf course, particularly with the 456-yard par 5, fourth, you’re welcomed to the meat of the golf course with this difficult par 3. More than any architect I’ve seen, Stanley Thompson played with the notion that “par” was irrelevant to the length of holes, and at Kawartha it’s no different.
Thankfully, Thompson knew when to let the foot off the gas and ease golfers back to the enjoyability of his golf course. The 560-yard par 5, seventh features a downhill tee shot with only a single bunker on the right.
From there, most will elect to layup, as the stream that dominates the property fronts the green. It’s a bunker-less green, but has some nice movement towards the stream. Overall, it’s a very manageable hole.
To offset the ridiculously long and difficult par 3, sixth, the downhill par 3, eighth is nothing more than a short iron. At 151 yards, it’s a nice look.
It is still a difficult shot, and matches the intensity provided at St. George’s sixth, Banff’s eighth and Jasper Park’s 15th—all of which are Thompson short 3’s. Notable trouble includes the stream you crossed on the seventh behind the green, the small green and some of Thompson’s brilliant bunkering.
To end the front nine, the 442-yard par 4 coming home is a difficult two-shotter. Without a bunker in the fairway, this long 4 is best played after a big drive.
The green is essentially wrapped by Thompson’s bunkering, providing little relief for those who miss.
Playing alongside the par 4, first, the 10th is a slightly longer, dogleg left uphill at 405 yards. Yet again, Thompson shows restraint on the tee ball without a bunker in play.
But the approach shot is really special, cut on the top of the hill, the green is placed on a shelf, with anything short or right revealing a really delicate pitch shot. The shared bunker complex with the first is much more in play on the 10th as well.
You can see the green complex, which is death short.
And the scale of the bunker to the left.
If I had to pick a best hole at Kawartha, it might go to the par 5, 11th, which is just sublime. At 496 yards, it’s short, and even more-so playing downhill. For those who can turn it over, aim at the right and hit a power draw—it will go for miles.
What’s brilliant about this hole is the creek running in front of the green stopping those who try and get home in two. From a hanging downhill hooking lie, it can be a difficult iron shot.
Of course, the option to layup is always in play. It features relatively the same approach shot, but from a far flatter lie.
After the relatively easy 11th, Thompson routes another par 3 up the hill. At 204 yards on the card, the 12th is another difficult one-shotter.
The green is much bigger than the sixth, but features quite a bit more internal movement. Additionally, the false front is more pronounced.
I imagine the 13th is under-appreciated by many because of how simple and understated it is in delivery. At 381 yards on the card, the tee shot plays uphill.
Where it becomes excellent is the undulations in the fairway, which slope hard to the right. As a dogleg right, of course this makes sense, but with the flatter lie being on the left side of the fairway, and the bunkering on the short right side of the green, Stanley Thompson actually asks the golfer to play towards the outside corner of the dogleg. You really get a sense of how much tilt is in the fairway on the approach shot.
And looking back.
The 494-yard par 5, 14th is a weird little golf hole. I guess Kawartha has moved the tee shot to where it is now. Originally, it plays as a straightaway hole, but now it’s a 90 degree dogleg left over trees. Granted, the trees are carry-able, so it almost acts as a risk-reward tee shot for those who can carry the corner, but the original tee is still maintained, so I don’t really understand the move.
After turning the corner, it’s back to business as usual with another good hole. The layup is a bit mundane, and perhaps forgettable.
The green complex, however, is anything but forgettable. Thompson’s big, sprawling bunkers on both the left and right side of this green are an excellent example of his artistic flair, and ability to shape what he wanted.
Another look at this exceptional display of bunkering.
Turning back towards home, the 217-yard par 3, 15th is another difficult one shotter. This one, thankfully, doesn’t play uphill, but it does play to a fairly narrow green putting a premium on long iron/wood tee shots.
The 16th is another low-key golf hole in presentation, but a stunner in substance. It’s longer, at 432 yards, and doglegging to the right. The fairway cants to the left, making it difficult to hold if you’re landing left of centre.
The approach shot is another cool one, with the green slightly falling away from the player initially. It’s a smart hole, but I could understand how some might think it’s a bit plain.
Speaking of a tad plain, the 17th is a bit of a boring hole in comparison to the rest at Kawartha. It’s certainly drivable by today’s standards measuring 308 yards, but I think it’s a bit under-utilized.
What is cool is the rolling fairway, which can make for some blind approach shots if you layup incorrectly. This is a smart little tactic to provide interest.
The green complex is a good one, slightly tucked into a shelf.
To end the round, Kawartha finishes on a heater. A 198-yard par 3 finisher over the same stream that has dominated the property. The green, elevated about a foot off the fairway, requires an all-carry shot, while the menacing bunkering on the right awaits.
This is among the more aggressive bunkers Thompson ever built.
One of the best things about Kawartha is how minimalistic in delivery it is. Holes like the 13th and 16th are really smart, yet almost would require a second or third look to fully grasp the concepts Thompson has presented.
The routing, too, is perhaps a bit under-appreciated. In a similar manner to what Donald Ross did at the famed Inverness Club, Kawartha crosses the same stream in different positions in relation to where the golfer tees off. On the seventh and 11th, for example, it directly fronts green complexes, while at the 13th and ninth it’s merely there and doesn’t come into play. In total, Kawartha interacts with the same stream in different ways on more than a third of the holes.
After playing Kawartha, there’s a realistic argument it’s the sixth best Thompson behind the traditional top 5. It’s a hybrid of what makes Jasper Park Lodge, St. George’s and Banff Springs iconic.
Peterborough has a heck of a golf course here.