Having played ourshare of Tom McBroom courses, we’ve started to notice a theme. Many of his layouts feature classic design elements mixed with the boldness, scale and look of a modern golf course. It’s something that appeals greatly to our golfing sensibilities and why McBroom is one of our favourite modern architects.
Wildfire, about 30 minutes east of Peterborough, exhibits all of these qualities with the added bonus of a serene Ontario cottage country location. This is the kind of place we’d love to get away to often, and judging by the Florida, Alabama and North Carolina license plates in the parking lot, we aren’t the only one who feels that way.
Our first takeaway from our time at Wildfire is how good a walking course it is. Not only is the setting as good as it gets, but greens and tees are near to one another and the course flows in a logical fashion throughout the property. Nothing feels forced here and the course fits beautifully into its surroundings. There are even back-to-back par-5’s at holes 4 and 5. In fact, the routing features 5 par-3s and 5 par-5s which is a deviation from standard, if there truly is one.
Having said that, if we could make a suggestion, we would like to see the course revert to what was its original routing. The new sequence of holes was implemented in order to have returning nines and because of the new clubhouse, but we are not fans. It creates a very strange walk-back after the 10th hole where the golfer walks the entirety of the par-3 11th from green to tee to play the hole. It is, to us, a blip in an otherwise very strong routing and detracts from the natural flow originally present. Fortunately, this can be fixed quite easily.
The second takeaway was the interesting use of differing parts of the property. Most of the front nine unfolds over a meadow-like portion of land while the back nine is laid out on a more Muskoka like section with exposed rock and wetlands. The fusion of the two styles is nearly seamless and creates some very cool holes (like the par-3 15th with a green tucked into a bowl surrounded by exposed rock walls) and visually impressive rock formations like on the long par-4 7th.
Wildfire is located on the shores of Stony Lake which serves as a sort of border between the Canadian Shield and St. Lawrence Lowlands. It’s quite impressive to witness the two different geological environments merge together right before your eyes as the course progresses.
When it comes to the holes themselves, here again the layout takes great advantage of the property, working in a variety of directions and exposing golfers to different winds and various elevation changes. It seems every possible chance at imparting strategy in a golf hole was used to maximum effect.
On the 1st hole ample space is allowed for your tee shot but too far right or short and you’ll be blocked out from the green by trees. Golfers need to think their way around Wildfire from the start. At the par-4 2nd hole there is a speed slot just over the furthest left bunker which, if challenged, will provide some extra yardage as well as the best angle into the green. On other holes, such as the par-5 4th or par-4 6th, bunkers play a big part in your decision making on both tee shots and layups and add movement to the fairways. On others still, such as the par-4 7th or par-5 16th, golfers will have parts of the Canadian Shield to take into consideration.
At the par-5 12th golfers will find a somewhat controversial and possibly the most talked about hole at the golf course. One of the few that demands a specific strategy with a green surrounded on three sides by natural wetlands and water that extends all the way from the 100-yard mark, it’s one that many will remember.
And then there is the beautiful par-5 closing hole where a pond fed by what seems to be a natural waterfall (if it isn’t…very well done) down the right side of the fairway forces you to carefully plan out your shots. As you can see, various design elements are used to challenge and keep the golfers interest — there is plenty of variety here.
Wildfire shares many qualities with one of our favourite courses in Ontario, another Tom McBroom design, Rocky Crest. And that means it vaults its way on to our list of favourite courses in Ontario as well.
What a great golf course.
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