The mysterious Redtail south of London is a tale many golfers in Ontario know, but few have seen. The low-profile private club is fairly secretive and secluded. Minimal members, and few rounds are played here, but those who do get to tee it up on this Donald Steel design get to experience one of Canada’s most exclusive golf courses.
From the first tee, you realize Redtail is just a little bit different. After walking across the 18th fairway (yes, directly across the line of play), the opening tee ball is low profile and rather humble. At 382 yards, it is not long, but it is fairly tight.
Playing into the green, a single bunker guards the right side. In total, only some 30-odd bunkers are on Redtail, certainly capitalizing on the idea of “minimalism.”
At the par 5, 2nd a big dogleg right with a single bunker on the left to catch tee balls coming too close to the 17th tee awaits. A welcoming tee ball opens up this 545-yard par 5 for big hitters hoping to get home in two.
As you turn the corner a rolling fairway awaits with the fairway seemingly sitting on top of the landscape rather than cutting through.
The green site is cut behind a washout of sorts with a single bunker left. Like many of Redtail’s holes, the green complex shines here, with quite a bit of movement in the small surface.
After a fairly gentle opening two-step, the third brings a bit of teeth to the party. At 470 yards, a big drive is needed here.
The approach shot demands even more attention playing over Redtail’s version of Riviera’s Barranca. Anything short will end up in some thick fescue.
The green complex is devilish and mean, with some incredible movement. Anything left is a lot worse than right, but it made for a good view.
After the open farmland the first three holes play through, the 4th oddly plays through a thick forest. At 358 yards, it is incredibly tight, and frankly, out of place.
Playing to an infinity green, a single bunker left awaits those to gobble shots up.
On first glance, the 534 yard par 5, 5th looks similar to the tee shot on the 2nd, bending to the right around bush.
As you turn the corner, however, you realize the hole is a “S” shape, moving to the right off the tee and back to the left. Cutting the corner too much brings a small marsh into play.
On the second swing of the 5th, the golfer plays over a small switchback stream meandering up the right before crossing the fairway and playing up the left for the rest of the hole.
That creek runs into the pond short and left of the green.
The green complex at the 5th is of particular interest. Among my favourites on the golf course, this is a very fun green to roll putts on—as long as you are not above the hole.
At 370 yards, the 6th is a short par 4 letting the golfer rein in driver and hit something shorter from the tee as the fairway ends at about 265 yards.
The approach shot is attractive, playing over some wonderfully undulating land.
The seventh is the first standout at Redtail, and among the classiest examples of modern architecture around. This long par 3 at 222 yards plays over a canyon that shouldn’t come into play. The actual approach is demanding and smart.
What makes this hole so high quality is the subtle use of “rolling” the green over the edge on the right side making golf balls fall off the green. It is simple, sure, but under-utilized, and as it has been used here, it is elegant. A welcomed change from some modern courses criminally over bunkered for the sake of attraction.
After the brilliant 7th, the 380-yard par 4, 8th fails to keep up the energy. The awkward tee shot plays over a gully and doglegs to the right pretty hard. Granted, not everything has to be “in front of you,” but the strategies suggested at the 8th are just downright weird.
As you turn the corner the hole reveals itself. Long hitters are able to carry the gorge, but shorter hitters may have to lay up short.
With all the criticism on the tee shot above I am a fan of the approach. With a single bunker left, the green is interesting, but without the big ridges found on the 3rd and 5th. A bit more subtle and low-profile, this green is harder than it looks.
The 9th, like the 4th, is out of place. At 147 yards, the downhill par 3 plays over a pond to a green fronted by a massive stone rock wall. The rock wall is particularly odd considering Redtail’s vibe and feel. It’s something you might find at a much more flamboyant golf course like Magna, not the low-profile, classy Redtail.
The 408-yard par 4, 10th opens up the stronger of two nines with a semi-blind tee ball. A canyon to the left hugs the left side for those who feel frisky, while right is safer.
Playing over the valley, the approach shot to the 10th is a lovely look, with two bunkers and a weird wall made of railroad ties.
Looking back you get a wonderful view:
The 11th is a longer par 4 at 433 yards moving slightly left off the tee. An interesting note: the front nine is primarily dogleg rights, while the back nine is more dogleg lefts.
The approach shot plays to a small green demonstrating yet again design elements only a club of Redtail’s size can get away with. In fact, that is a large part of what makes Redtail unique. Small, incredibly undulated greens, only two tee boxes and the walk across 18 to tee off at 1 are just a couple of examples.
Two bunkers — one left and one right — guard this dicey green.
The 12th is a rather simple par 3 without much going on. At 181 yards, the green is incredibly small, but features some good movement (as to be expected).
The 13th is a brilliant par 5 swinging hard to the left. At 481 yards, a good tee ball will give the chance to get home in two. A right-handed draw is preferred here with driver or a straight shot with less than driver.
The risk-reward element comes with the green complex and the bunkering guarding it. In total, 6 bunkers flank the front, which is as many as the first six holes.
A better look as you get closer.
The green complex perhaps has the most movement on the golf course.
Building off the momentum of the 13th, the 171-yard par 3, 14th is another good golf hole, playing over a river to a green perched high above.
Heading back towards the 12th tee box, the 460-yard par 4, 15th is a meaty golf hole. From the tee, it looks wide open, encouraging you to hit a big drive.
Yet again, the green is beautifully located, sitting slightly into a small hillside.
At 405 yards, the 16th is not the shortest, nor longest hole, but one of my favourites thanks to the textbook strategies. A single bunker left in the fairway and two bunkers right at the green, the golfer is preferred to challenge the bunker left.
On the approach shot, the golfer goes slightly uphill, accentuated by the bunkers short right.
I’m a fan of this green complex as well, with its upper tier working with the tee-to-green strategy to perfectly complement each other.
Heading home, the 17th is a tight 394-yard par 4. A demanding tee shot, but beautiful nonetheless.
The green complex is fronted by a bunker left and right with a stunning view of the charming clubhouse in the back.
The 18th is one of the countries best closing holes and on my short list of favourites. At 520 yards, it’s a gettable par 5. A single tree in the middle of the fairway demanding the golfers attention poses the question: left or right? For those playing left, less than driver is probably ideal. Electing to go right brings the tree in play unless the golfer smashes it.
A better look at the two paths, which asks the golfer to choose. I’m not sure anyone would tire of playing this hole.
In similar fashion to National Golf Links of America, the final hole plays past the clubhouse. In fact, the clubhouse is actually in play. For those who do not get past the tree entirely, a draw is likely the best solution to get around it. As a righty, this potentially brings the patio into play. A very, very British design feature that is wonderfully utilized here.
The green complex is perched above the 9th, and is well-guarded. Two bunkers left, and a long, narrow green site makes the final approach testy, but not overly difficult. A wonderful conclusion.
Redtail is low-profile and classy. Not overly aggressive, and never imposing. Donald Steel managed to simply place golf holes on the land and that resulted in the laid-back design elements found here.
Some could put together an argument that Redtail’s low-key nature actually holds it back from being truly elite with sometimes weird playing corridors (too tight) and not enough interest off the tee. With that being said, I’ll personally take an architect letting the land do all the talking than another modern architect over-bunkering and trying too hard to make it memorable.
Regardless of where someone stands on Redtail’s architecture merit the experience is in the upper echelon of Canada. Golfers will debate where Redtail should fall in the Top 100, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who does not agree Redtail’s experience is exceptional and unique making this a must play for those who get the chance to get inside the gates.