A Little Something For Everyone
Clearly Earl MacDougall was ahead of his time. When he opened Sunnidell Golf in 1992 it amounted to a stab at the golf market but when you take a look at it with hindsight it really seems like he was dead on the mark with his vision.
Today, two decades, later, the reigns of Sunnidell have been handed to Earl’s children, Gord and Dawn, but the foundation laid out by their father remains solid.
Earl had taken up the sport in 1975 and had been an integral part of the board at the Brockville Country Club but he sensed that there was a need for another type of golf facility in the picturesque city laid out along the St. Lawrence River.
Having sold the waste management business that he had operated for some 30 years, MacDougall decided he was looking for another challenge and he found that in golf. Not playing it mind you, but becoming a golf course developer.
“I felt there was a void that needed to be filled,” MacDougall told Flagstick on the 10th anniversary of Sunnidell Golf in 2002. “I thought a par three course would be the answer. It would allow people to play golf affordably and enjoy the game even if they were not an avid player,” he added.
With that goal in mind, in 1990 MacDougall set out to transform 40 acres of the 90 acre piece of property that was once the site of a dairy farm where he had worked in his youth. Part of the dairy’s product line was “Sunnidell Ice Cream” and Earl felt it was a perfect fit for his golf course. It opened in 1992 with nine holes. Soon they added two more in by the fourth season Sunnidell was an eighteen hole golf course.
Plenty has changed at the facility over the years. But once tiny trees have now blossomed to maturity and define each hole. Early photos show not much more than a field with a few saplings and cut greens and fairways in between but time has blessed the course. Today you find 18 holes, each with their own character whether that is delineated by their length, the hazards that you face on it, or the shots required to play them.
“It’s a very non-intimidating atmosphere to develop and enjoy your golf game,” says General Manager Nancy Ker who has worked at the course for some 15 years. “The trees keep growing and it continues to be a great place for kids and families to enjoy golf,” she adds.
With so much talk nowadays about slow play and the high cost of golf, there does not seem to be a more ideal solution than facilities like Sunnidell.
Reasonably priced, tour of the eighteen par three holes and the closing par four, normally takes most people about two hours, according to Ker.
But this is not just a golf course for kids, seniors, and those that are new to the game. Better players will also find that there is plenty to test them on this compact layout. It is no given that low handicap players will tear the place apart with a barrage of birdies. In fact, they might be surprised of how resistant the course can be for them.
The hole lengths range from 87 yards all the way to 222 yards (the par 4) with a three shot holes averaging out at 135 yards in length. That seems simple enough until you begin to understand the targets you are aiming.
At approximately 2000 ft.² in size on average, the putting surfaces at Sunnidell require precise shots. To give you a better understanding of that dimension, some of the smaller screens played on the PGA Tour – those at the Pebble Beach Golf Links, average just over 4500 ft.². Add to that the fact that the greens at Sunnidell are raised and crowned for drainage and you have even less of a place to land your ball with the expectation to stay on the green. The emphasis becomes having a great chipping and pitching game that will allow you to get the ball close to convert any possible pars.
You realize quickly that if you can score well at Sunnidell you must have some decent ability.
As Earl MacDougall might not have realized, he actually created a place where just about any person with an interest in golf would get something out of playing.
On a recent tour of the golf course, with clubs in hands, I found shots that required everything from a lob wedge through to a three iron.
The opening trio of holes each you into the golf course where there is little trouble at hand. After that, the next two holes require to keep the ball from getting too far left where it may meet the acquaintance of a passing train. The horn blast of the same, followed by the cars hurtling by may even provoke the thoughts of playing on the Scottish links course where rail lines often run in a similar parallel fashion.
It takes until the 11th hole to return to the clubhouse, often a great time to pause to make use of its services.
Inside the licensed clubhouse you’ll find a well kept, casual atmosphere with a simple but delicious menu and a setting that is replete with plenty of golf artifacts. You can also enjoy pool table and in the winter time the outdoor patio area is converted into two golf simulators that see a lot of action while the snow flies.
In addition to the golf course, Sunnidell also has a fully lighted driving range and a top-level mini-putt course.
“Having all that we do really think it does make it very attractive for corporate or group outings,” explains Ker. “You don’t have to be a keen golfer to enjoy your time here.”
And for those avid golfers, they will really get a kick out of the closing holes. Trees come into play off the tee on #15, a small creek can get you on #16 and a pond must be avoided on #17. The closer provides the biggest green and bets chance at a birdie. A perfect finish before you head back to enjoy more of the Sunnidell hospitality in the main building.
From very humble roots, and the vision of s single man, Sunnidell has flourished in the last twenty years, a testament to good foresight and an adherence to the concept that every customer should be left smiling when their day is done.
In two decades of operations that’s one feature that never seems to go out of style at Brockville’s Sunnidell Golf.
Gord & Dawn MacDougall
2515 Yard, Par 28
Average Hole Lengths
Par 3’s: 135 Yards
Par 4’s: 222 Yards
1945 Sharpes Lane
Tel: (8613) 498-0775