Golf Course Review: Greenhills Golf Club

megolfGolf Course Review:
Greenhills Golf Club (A ClubLink Property)
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioGolf.com

Let me state right off the tee that Greenhills Golf Club in Lambeth has been my home course for three seasons. It’s where I hang my hat from April through October, beating thousands of balls, rolling the rock thousands of times and getting in a round of golf on a gorgeous parkland-style track whenever I can.

I’ll be as objective as possible with this review, given the fact I’m a Greenhills member. Truth is, when it comes to analysing this ClubLink property, there aren’t many bogeys. It’s the friendliest, most relaxed private club in London, and boasts a history and tradition which is the envy of most local golf clubs.

Greenhills History

Built in 1975, Greenhills was designed by renowned Canadian golf course architect Renee Muylaert of Strathroy. The creative mastermind behind more than 50 Ontario golf courses, including The Oaks Golf and Country Club in Komoka, and London’s West Haven Golf and Country Club, Muylaert died in 2005 at age 69.

Local developer Mowbray Sifton of Sifton Properties, who died in 2015, and Brayl Copp of Copp’s Buildall, who died in 2012, led the original Greenhills ownership group.

Greenhills land, willed to the Ontario Heritage Foundation and managed by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, was already a pristine piece of property featuring gently rolling terrain and tranquil valleys. Even when it opened for play after construction in 1975, Greenhills boasted the look and feel of a grand old course.

PattyHowardTeaches

In 1981, local golf legend Patty Howard – recently inducted into the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame – left the life of a touring pro, returned to her hometown and joined the staff at Greenhills where she became associate pro under head pro Steve Whelan. With an insatiable appetite for learning, Howard not only worked in the pro shop and taught lessons to members and non-members, but she also worked as a starter, and as a member of the grounds crew.

“I joined the grounds crew at Greenhills just to get a feel for the course,” said Howard. “I also wanted to get an appreciation for that part of the business. It really gave me a better understanding and appreciation of what goes on out on the course which, at that time, boasted some of the fastest greens in Southwestern Ontario.”

When Howard joined Greenhills, the club’s general manager was Denzil Palmer, now general manager and secretary at The Royal Montreal Golf Club.

“The 1980s were an exciting time at Greenhills, and the arrival of Patty Howard made it even more so,” said Palmer, who met Howard through Jim Windsor, her pro during her junior days at Sunningdale Golf and Country Club, along with Howard’s father and uncle.

Gone is the miniature golf course which used to rest behind the current pro shop, adjacent to the practice range which extends south to Highway 402. The 9-hole academy course, just north of the clubhouse, isn’t active but still offers an opportunity for junior and family play.

In fact, under long-time director of operations Brad Esler, Greenhills is pushing for more family memberships. Recent initiatives have included a Greenhills Only membership, which goes against the grain of ClubLink’s corporate thinking but has proven to be very successful in helping return the club to its glory days of the early-1980s.

“This will offer more people an opportunity to play at one of London’s great courses,” said Esler. “It’s a good test of golf, and a lot of fun to play involving target golf. Yet there are five par-5s. And when the wind blows, the par-3s play really tough. It’s very protected by trees, and the Dingman Creek runs through the course adding yet another degree of difficulty. It really is a solid test of golf.”

Case in point: in 2001 at the PGA of Canada Club Pro Championship, Ken Tarling of Sandford, Ontario scored a three-day total of 208 (-8) over relatively short yardage. Said Esler, “Tarling was a great player, so you think his score would have been a lot deeper. It just goes to show you how tough Greenhills can play.”

greenhillsproLike many of the staff at Greenhills, Esler is a long-time employee. Making his bones in the pro shop and with the turf maintenance crew at London’s Westminster Trails Golf Club from 1987 to 1995, Esler worked as assistant pro at St. Catharines Golf and Country Club in 1996 and ’97, was assistant pro at The Oaks in 1998, and associate professional at ClubLink’s Blue Springs Golf Club just northwest of Toronto, where the PGA of Canada keeps its headquarters.

Esler joined Greenhills as associate pro in 2001, became head pro in 2002, director of golf in 2005 and since 2009 has held his current title. He said, “Greenhills is a very special place. It’s a beautiful golf course, and the people who work here make all the difference.”

In December 1999, ClubLink purchased the course from Sonar Group, the majority of which was owned by London hockey brothers, Dave and Craig Simpson. ClubLink entered a very competitive market. There are 23 golf courses resting within the City of London borders, another 12 just minutes away in Middlesex County, and an unbelievable 100-plus courses within a short drive throughout southwestern Ontario.

Greenhills: Hole-By-Hole

IMG_20160618_0010IMG_20160618_0011

From the tips, 3,001 out, 3,402 in for 6,403 yards, Greenhills is a par-72 track rated 71.1 and sloped at 128. Don’t let the yardage fool you. Many local pros who challenge this course have a tough time breaking par. I’ve only done it once, shooting a 1-under 71 this season. Narrow shoots off the tee, challenging heavily-treed doglegs and greens accommodating a myriad of pin placements make Greenhills a true test of golf.

Hole #1 Par 4 372 Yards

firsttee

The opening hole at Greenhills is no picnic. A 372-yard par-4 tests you right from the get-go. There’s no reason not to hit driver here, despite the fact there’s a large pond left and woods right (adjacent to the cart path). There’s still plenty of room to pull out the big stick. However, a good 3-wood off the tee will leave you a mid-iron instead of wedge onto the elevated green, guarded by bunker front right. It’s a very shallow, elongated green, which makes for a difficult birdie. Make your par, and get ready for another early test.

Hole #2 Par 5 563 Yards

At 563 yards, No. 2 is the longest hole on the course. I’ve rarely been home in two shots here, but often end up in the bunkers guarding the front of the green. With stately homes and a string of trees hugging the left side of the fairway, it’s imperative to hit a draw (for right-handed golfers) off the tee. Bail out to the right, and you may run into tree trouble, not to mention a poor lie from the rough, making getting home in two an impossibility. If you do hit a good tee shot, it will funnel downhill into the middle of the fairway, and offer a birdie opportunity with a good second shot. There are bunkers encircling this green, but most times a layup and good wedge shot will help you make no worse than par.

Hole #3 Par 3 167 Yards

greenhills3

The first par-3 at Greenhills often sees a circling wind blowing into the tees, and often sees me between clubs. The green is large with bunker front right, and there are trees to the left and rear of this green, demanding a safe shot into the centre of the putting surface. Par is good at this hole. In fact, if you’ve played even par through three holes, then you are perhaps well on your way to a good front nine.

Hole #4 Par 5 525 Yards

This is the first excellent chance at birdie for a golfer like me who hits a power fade. There’s a bunker in the left landing area if you don’t cut or catch your shot as you should off the tee. And if you cut it too much, then you’re likely going to be out of bounds right in a heavily treed forest. In fact, there are heavy trees bordering the entire fairway at this hole, which features a creek cutting across the fairway in just yards from the tee blocks. But a smart shot off the tee sets you up for a chance at anything from a long iron to a 3-wood onto the green, which is guarded by bunkers left and front right. From there, you’ll either putt for eagle or chip to set yourself up for birdie.

Hole #5 Par 4 370 Yards

Muylaert cleverly designed this hole to trick the eye. A slight dogleg left from the landing area off the tee, this hole is really very straight for a well-hit 3-wood, and it’s shorter than it appears from the tees. The key here is to land well enough right of the trees bordering the left of the fairway, in order for a straight-forward approach shot. I’m usually a 9-iron onto the green, which boasts a little trouble thanks to mature trees hugging the front right. Many bogeys are made here, thanks to the adjacent forest left. But even a mid-iron into this green gives you birdie opportunity.

Hole #6 Par 3 169 Yards

This hole has been my nemesis from day one, since I like to hit a high cut with my irons. Just 169 yards, Hole No. 6 is not unlike Augusta National’s No. 12 at Amen Corner. The wind at the tee seems to always be different than that at the flag. And, there’s a large tree front left of the green, deep bunker front right, and out of bounds right from tee to green. I’m always happy to make par here. If you choose the right club – anything from 5- to 7-iron, depending on the wind – and hit it straight, then you do have a birdie chance.

Hole #7 Par 4 346 Yards

This is another hole deceiving from the tee: it appears to be much longer than its 346 yards. A straight tee shot onto a wide fairway will offer you a good look at the elevated green, and a chance for birdie. Avoid the bunker in the right landing area, and the heavy trees guarding the right side of the fairway, and you’ll score par at worse. It’s a long green with numerous hole options, but the rock rolls true here, as it does on all of the greens at Greenhills. They’re not as slick as they were during the early-1980s, but their speed is consistent throughout your round.

Hole #8 Par 3 177 Yards

You can see a little bit of The Oaks G&CC – another Muylaert design – at this par-3, thanks to a large waste bunker extending most of the fairway. A large green is guarded by a large bunker in the right bail-out position, and can offer some tricky pin placements. Plus, there’s a shallow drop-off front of the putting surface. Like at No. 6, a swirling wind makes this a difficult hole. With lots of out of bounds left, I’ll hit a low-running stinger into this green rather than a high cut. Par is good here.

Hole #9 Par 4 312 Yards

While No. 9 may seem like a true risk-reward hole, there’s really only one smart play here: hit anything from 3-wood to long iron (depending on the wind) to the bend of this dogleg right, then hit wedge to the flag for a birdie chance. There’s a fairway bunker ready to grab tee shots which over run the fairway. Try to cut the corner with driver, and you’re almost always going to either lose your tee shot in the heavy trees, or find a terrible lie in deep, hilly rough about 40 yards front of the green. Play it smart, and you’ll make no worse than par heading out.

IMG_20160618_0013

Hole #10 Par 5 469 Yards

Like Hole No. 2, the opening hole on the back nine requires some shot shaping off the tee in order to set yourself up for an easy birdie opportunity. The key to scoring well here is to avoid heavy trees and brush out of bounds left. Hit the fairway with your tee shot, and you’ll score no worse than par. With a straight or cut shot with driver, I’m anywhere from 3-hybrid to 5-iron into the green guarded by trees on all sides, out of bounds rear and bunkers front and left. This true birdie hole offers an excellent opportunity to start your back nine on the right foot. A bogey here is a lost opportunity.

Hole #11 Par 4 368 Yards

With trees left from the tee blocks, it can be tough to cut the ball here, so I often find myself at the right side of this fairway with my approach shot, beyond the fairway bunker in the landing area. Two obstacles then present challenges before you get the heck out of Dodge: there’s a severe drop-off front of this elevated green (take an extra club – for me that means PW instead of GW); and the green is very narrow, making it difficult to hold the putting surface. I often over-run this green, and have to chip back to the hole. Par is exceptional at this hole.

Hole #12 Par 3 168 Yards

When I started taking an extra club at this hole – typically a 6-iron – I started making par. The wind almost always swirls around the flag and into your face at the tee. An elevated green is protected by a large drop-off area and adjacent bunkers. A high fade usually sees me with birdie opportunity. Choose the wrong club, and you’ll be chipping uphill before putting the flat stick in your hands.

Hole #13 Par 4 419 Yards

Despite the fact No. 13 is the signature hole, this is one of two quirky holes on Greenhills’ back nine. The fact that I usually don’t score well here is no surprise. There’s a chance you’ll hit hydro lines with driver or 3-wood off the tee (you’re able to reload with no penalty). A very demanding tee shot must avoid trees left, and elevated forest with dense rough right. If you hit 3-wood off the tee, then you’ll need a mid-iron to hybrid into the very challenging green. Pin-point accuracy with your driver will put mid- to short-iron in your hands. A very deep, undulating green makes it almost impossible to birdie this hole, which I think is tricked up more than it should be. But Muylaert worked with what Mother Nature gave him, so you can’t blame the architect. Ponds front of the green will grab poor approach shots, as will punishing out of bounds left, where there’s no get-out-of-jail card. No. 13 would play much better as a par-5 instead of a par-4. Birdie here is outstanding.

Hole #14 Par 5 498 Yards

As difficult a par-4 as No. 13 is, Hole No. 14 is that easy of a par-5. The only degree of difficulty here is a result of highway traffic bordering the left side of the fairway. There’s a bunker at landing area left, and woods right, but there is still plenty of space for a good tee shot. I am typically 3-hybrid into this green, but even with 3-wood there are some nice bailout spots to the left and right if you don’t catch your approach shot. Hit a greenside bunker, and you’ll still have plenty of green to work with before putting for birdie. Score par, and you’ll feel you have short changed yourself.

Hole #15 Par 3 209 Yards

Without a doubt the most difficult par-3 on the course – and not just because of its length. There are many elements here ready to ruin a back nine. The wind is almost always in your face, and swirling around the flag. There’s a severe drop-off sloping from the front of the elevated green, and plenty of tree trouble circling the green with out of bounds right. The greenside bunkers are easily outed from, and this is perhaps the best green on the course. But add all of those elements together, and the six inches between the ears makes this a more difficult hole than it should be. With new sticks in the bag this year, I have a hybrid that allows me to dead hand a soft shot into good position for birdie. Again, it’s all about club selection, but usually a hybrid here does the trick.

Hole #16 Par 4 394 Yards

Like No. 9, the 16th hole is a risk-reward challenge with only a slight chance for reward. Play it smart at this dogleg right: hit hybrid or long-iron off the tee, then hit a short iron onto the green for a chance at par. There’s a large pond front left of the green, and all kinds of nasty out of bounds right thanks to dense forest. The green drops off very slightly at front, and there are bordering shallow bunkers, but they offer little trouble here. Take your medicine at the tee, and you’ll feel much better heading to No. 17.

Hole #17 Par 4 344 Yards

green17Plain and simple, No. 17 is a quirky hole by design, but there’s a smart way to play this hole, too: hit an iron off the tee, and a mid-iron to wedge on your approach shot. There’s an Eisenhower-like tree before your landing area which causes many golfers to develop the shanks. And there’s no room for error with a long tee shot, with a creek and a myriad of deep rough and wild growth ready to gobble up your tee shot, never to be found again. If you hit driver at this short par-4, you’ll have to bail out right or else risk losing your ball left or rear of the green. The smart play for me is a 5-iron off the tee, and 9-iron onto the green. It’s a slick green, so par here is good.

Hole #18 Par 5 533 Yards

The finishing hole at Greenhills is a classic risk-reward 18th – a reachable par-5 if your driver is solid, but with large irrigation pond in front of the green, and out of bounds right. There are plenty of weeping willow trees right off the tee, and out of bounds left, but still plenty of room to hit the short stuff in order to give yourself a good second shot. If the wind blows into your face, then hit a mid-iron for an easy chip with your third shot, and an almost guaranteed par. If you go for the green in two, then make sure you don’t go left or else you’ll be hitting four onto the green with almost no chance for birdie. My typical second shot here bails out right in front of the green for a short chip and chance at birdie. Don’t lose focus with highway traffic left and beautiful pond front of the green: stick to your game plan and finish strong.

Amenities, Staff

greenpractice

With Esler and Catering Coordinator Sarah Moniz at the reigns, and Chef Peter Fisher offering up some of the best cuisine in the city, Greenhills operates a highly-successful corporate, wedding and catering business. Derek ten Haaf takes over for long-time head golf professional Matt Dominski this season. Turf operations are headed by the well-respected Tedd Hopkins, who in recent years has greatly improved conditions from tee to green. There are indoor and outdoor tennis facilities, complete men’s and women’s locker room facilities and a great outdoor patio which fills early on Friday nights during the golf season. Men’s and women’s golf leagues are active, too. The pro shop is well stocked with brands including Titleist and FootJoy, Nike and adidas. And during the winter months, the indoor golf academy offers some of the city’s best hitting mats. During the season, the outdoor range offers strategic pins and is always well stocked with range balls, while the practice green always offers speed identical or close to course conditions.

Bob Martin and family accept the London Ontario Golf Heart Award at Greenhills GC.

Bob Martin and family accept the London Ontario Golf Heart Award at Greenhills GC.

Bottom line, if you wish to experience the private club atmosphere at a reasonable price, Greenhills is a great option. Staff ranging from Esler to part-time backshop crews are always friendly and attentive to members’ needs.

I’ve enjoyed the Greenhills golf experience for three seasons, and also have hosted a number of my own corporate events at the main banquet hall, including the June 14 annual awards banquet for LondonOntarioSports.com.

Greenhills is well worth checking out if you’re opting for a golf membership for yourself or your entire family. The course is easily walked and well manicured, food and beverage are second to none, and the staff are always on their game.

Greenhills Golf Club
4838 Colonel Talbot Road, London ONT
519/652-5033
http://greenhills.clublink.ca

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989.

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!