Thompson to Robinson to Carrick to You

South Muskoka Curling and Golf Club (Image: South Muskoka)

South Muskoka is a Robbie Robinson parkland design in the Ontario town of Bracebridge. (Image: South Muskoka Curling and Golf Club)

Cottage country favourite South Muskoka is a shining example of how a closely connected trio of outstanding architects—Stanley Thompson, Robbie Robinson and Doug Carrick—has helped keep the Canadian game fun and fair for golfers since the 1920s.

One of the courses in Ontario I play as often as I can is South Muskoka. Designed by the late C.E. “Robbie” Robinson in the cottage country town of Bracebridge, it’s a wonderful old-style parkland layout with elevated tee shots, forest-lined fairways, and greens most often left open at the front in the fashion favoured by the classic designers.

Golf architect Robbie Robinson

Golf architect Robbie Robinson.

Though his courses are never pushovers, Robinson adopted the same democratic approach to golf design as his mentor, the legendary Stanley Thompson. As Thompson wrote, “The most successful course is one that will test the skill of the most advanced player, without discouraging the ‘duffer,’ while adding to the enjoyment of both.”

Born in Toronto in 1907, Robinson began his apprenticeship with Thompson in 1929, going on to assist the great man in the building of Canadian classics such as Capilano, Highlands Links, St. George’s and Westmount. Robinson later established his own reputation by designing gems such as Brudenell in Prince Edward Island, Windermere in Alberta, and Bayview in Ontario.

A pivotal moment in the history of Canadian golf architecture came late in Robinson’s career, when he formed a partnership with the talented young architect Doug Carrick. Robinson’s influence—and through him, that of Stanley Thompson—can clearly be seen in Carrick’s work to this day.

“Robbie drilled certain principles into my head when I was young and first learning, things he had learned from Thompson,” Carrick says. “Mostly, he taught me the importance of designing a course that’s playable for golfers of every level. Young architects too often think the way to make their reputation is by building really difficult golf courses.”

Carrick, the architect of Greywolf, Angus Glen, Muskoka Bay and many other standout courses, remembered how Robinson once looked over one of his hole designs and asked, “How’s the average golfer going to hit his ball onto the green here with the bunkers right across the front? Why not angle your green and bunker to one side, but leave the front open?”

Thanks to that direct line from Thompson to Robinson to Carrick, not to mention the other architects they’ve influenced, Canada is filled with brilliantly designed and democratically playable courses.

It’s a beautiful legacy I think about every time I tee it up at South Muskoka.

 

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