"From a property that offered every variety of terrain for golf holes, Stanley Thompson, in his element, was naturally able to produce … a plan that will provide for every requirement of present day golf."
Those words were written in 1934 in Canadian Golfer, but it turns out the writer's author's remarks about Sunningdale Golf and Country Club ring true to this day.
The London, Ont. private club, which includes two 18-hole designs, one by Thompson and one by his associate, Robbie Robinson, will host the Tour Championship for PGA Tour Canada this week. It's a throwback course from another era, but the variety and the interest of its holes have kept it relevant in an era of titanium drivers and ProV1 golf balls.
"It is a pretty straight-forward golf course where you can hit driver on every four and five par," says Vancouver's Ryan Williams, who finished second at the Cape Breton Celtic Classic last week.
The course is a composite of the work of both Thompson and Robinson. The first nine holes come largely from the back nine of Thompson (10-16, and then 7-8-1), while the remainder come from the Robinson course (11-16, 2 and 18). The two designs have similarities, though Robinson's work is slightly more muted in style.
Both courses were renovated in recent years by Cam Tyers, an associate at the time with Carrick Design, and a new practice facility was built, as well as a new clubhouse.
The composite course offers a classic parkland feel, with the drama of having several holes that return to the clubhouse, making it the center of the action for the week. That's significant as many of PGA Tour Canada's best compete for the coveted final 10 spots on the money list that will give them status on the Web.com Tour next season. That showdown will play out on Sunningdale's tricky greens and rolling fairways. It is a classic course for a classic golfing battle.
While the greens on the Robinson holes are somewhat tame, and perhaps yield more opportunities for birdies late in the round, the Thompson putting surfaces have unique character and could provide for some intrigue early. Though they don't have exceptional internal contour, they are sloped enough to force conservative putts if above the hole. And holes like the par three 16th on the Thompson course (the tournament's 9th hole on composite course), which at a devilish 207-yards is a stunner, offer challenges many golfers won't see on modern designs. The green has a false front and given that the hole plays into the prevailing wind, even the best golfers will face a challenge.
Williams says the putting surfaces are a key to the course.
"The greens are some of the best we've played this year and they're sneaky quick," he explains. "If you are above the hole you've got to be very careful."
That makes Sunningdale one of the stars of the show this week.
"Sunningdale will be another monument to an artist whose appreciation of beauty and thorough knowledge of the royal and ancient pastime has enabled him to contribute so generously to the golfers of [North] America," Canadian Golfer concluded almost 80 years ago.
Williams concurs that the club and the tournament have a unique flavor among the events he's played on PGA Tour Canada this season.
"The feel of this tournament is as good as anything we play all year," says Williams, who is vying for one of the Top 20 spots on the Order of Merit that will secure him a spot in second stage of Web.com qualifying school. "The set up, the organization and the course are really strong."