Redtail unveiled to crowds

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

PORT STANLEY -- As secret as NASA headquarters for a decade, the veil was lifted from exclusive Redtail Golf Course and its jittery regulars yesterday as in poured more than 1,000 people to watch opening rounds of the Ontario Amateur golf tournament.

It wasn't as though Buckingham Palace swung open its doors to the world but, in golf terms, it was kind of like throwing a come-as-you-are bash at the Taj Mahal.

The Greta Garbo of golf has been as remote from the world at large as the high Arctic. And as cold toward any interlopers.

But on this day, ordinary folk got an opportunity to stroll in the same footsteps as some noted visitors to the ultra-private club, from actor Sean Connery to Queen Elizabeth, and watch the province's best amateur golfers.

"I've never seen a crowd as large as this on the first day," noted Dave Colling, director of tournaments and player development for the Golf Association of Ontario. "I get the feeling a lot of them wanted to see the place."

Some estimates had the number of visitors pegged at 1,500.

Anyone expecting the grass to be greener, the sky above to be bluer and the air more redolent with exquisite floral aromas would be disappointed. Redtail is simply another superb golf course, one that can take a bite out of any of the 150 or so competitors at any time.

That it took a nip out of Kelly Roberts, one of the course's small round-table of quasi-members, says much.

Roberts, who figures he's played it 150 to 200 times, came in with a 78 after an even-par back nine.

"Knowing the course can be an edge, but not if you're not swinging well," the veteran two-time champ from London said after putting in what he described as a weak front nine holes and an at-times shaky back nine.

He was a bit tense, he admitted. He wasn't alone.

Everyone connected with the course felt a sense of being on stage for the first time at their very private home. Superintendent Gary Wilcox, whose staff worked yeoman hours in dry conditions to get the course in shape, was perplexed at the number of divots.

Co-owner Chris Goodwin had the look of a man watching a horde of raucous relatives stream into his quiet and well-appointed home.

Roberts agreed there was some added pressure given his position.

"I think it's a pride thing; you want to do well under the circumstances and you know whatever you do is going to be (in the news)."

The Redtail mystique took its toll on more than a few competitors on a board with a lot of 80s and even a few 90s. Undulating greens reminiscent of Augusta National were part of it, the very exclusivity of the course another.

Lee French of Sunningdale was hot on a scorching day, after hitting 13 greens to come in at 67. He's aware of the exacting nature of the course, on which you can score 70 one day and hit it as well the next but shoot 80.

"I've played golf courses as difficult, so I was sort of expecting it," said French, who had one practice round a day earlier. "I hit it where I needed to hit it and made the putts I needed to make.

"You have to be very precise with your club selection and you have to hit it in the right spots."

The key spots are always the greens. Their speed today will dictate how the leaderboard looks tonight.

The hosts surely wonder how their secret garden will look after Friday's final rounds.


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