CARLISLE, Ontario, Canada -- Like the journey to get there, Dragon's Fire Golf Club in Carlisle, Ontario, is winding, circuitous and pretty.
It all comes with a bit of tasteful frustration because the layout can, well, burn you if you're not playing well.
The golf course, a somewhat confusing journey of between 30 and 45 minutes from Toronto proper, was a real beast when it first opened in 2008, but it's been tamed a bit as it grows in and matures.
It all starts well -- a nice and easy, uphill par 4 carved out nicely along an appealing piece of property that once housed a nursery. The barn to the right of the fairway serves as a nice touch, although it's out of bounds.
The strength of the golf course is holes No. 8 through No. 18. The tough eighth is a 579-yard par 5 (all yardages are from the tips) that is protected with bunkers all around the green and further up the fairway on the left, to give long hitters something to think about.
Nine and 17 are virtually identical to one another: longish par 3s almost completely surrounded by water, giving an almost island feel.
Wind wasn't blowing on the day we played, but it adds an extra element of difficulty when it does. If you're looking for a tip, take one extra club as the forced carry over water tends to suck even well-hit tee balls, particularly on the eighth.
Dragon's Fire Golf Club, overall, is a solid track that can be difficult, especially on holes No. 3-No. 7. We played with a plus-handicap who struck the ball beautifully all day and still managed just a 73 with a birdie on 18.
"It's fun but tough," said Boyd Mickle, the aforementioned playing companion, who is a former pro but now reinstated amateur. "I really enjoyed it, but I would make sure higher handicaps play forward tees and don't be too (brave)."
This type of test is also a strength, of course -- Dragon's Fire advertised itself as a tough-but-fair test right from its opening -- but be warned, you won't likely shoot a career round here. And take both Mickle's and the scorecard's instructions to heart: Don't play the back tees unless you have serious game.
Time has allowed the greens to firm up and become more consistent after starting out a bit slow and patchy. More importantly, trouble that lines the fairways seems to have thinned out since the course first opened a few years ago. It's no longer as penal for balls that miss even by a small margin.
Back to the plus side, perhaps architect Boris Danoff's best accomplishment is how he created a golf course that, while relatively new, feels like it has been in place for years. That could be the nursery effect -- there's a course in Augusta, Ga., that has a similar pedigree -- but from a design perspective, you would be hard pressed to spot any part of Dragon's Fire that don't look like they've been there for a generation.
The last mention of the course should be its excellent value. A hearty congratulations is due to the owner Bryan DeCunha for doing precisely what he said he would do -- build a good golf course that is also very affordable.
Pay Mr. DeCunha back by making a visit.
June 1, 2012