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Facility Profile - January/February 2003

From Battlefield to Golf Bunker

Legends on the Niagara Golf Complex
Niagara Falls, Ontario

By David Lasker


PHOTO COURTESY OF THE VINTIN GROUP ARCHITECTS  

What do you get when you mix golf with history? The answer is Legends of the Niagara, a deluxe, 45-hole golf complex carved out of land adjacent to a historic battlefield, opened last June. The $27 million (Canadian) facility, owned and operated by the Niagara Parks Commission, was designed as a major destination for golfers and history buffs alike.

The complex comprises two, 18-hole championship courses—the Battlefield course by Douglas Carrick and the Ussher's Creek course by Thomas McBroom—and the jointly designed, nine-hole Chippawa executive course; a golf academy with a full 18-hole putting green and a 45-acre, 360-degree driving range (Canada's first). McBroom and Carrick flipped a coin to divide the property for their signature courses. The vast acreage allowed the rare luxury of creating meandering courses that promote a feeling of privacy, with adjacent foursomes hidden from sight.

Hole 4 on the Battlefield course and Hole 3 on Ussher's Creek overlook key spots at the historic site of the Battle of Chippawa. Here, on July 5, 1814, the first engagement in the longest and bloodiest military campaign of the War of 1812, considered by many historians to be the birthplace of the U.S. Army. At these locations, commemorative plaques memorialize the battle.

The Battle of Chippawa marked the first time American regulars faced British regulars in a stand-up military action fought in the open. Due to a shortage of quality cloth, the American force wore gray felt uniforms instead of the usual blue. To this day, West Point cadets wear gray uniforms to honor those who fought in the battle.

The Niagara Parks Commission purchased the 1,000-acre site in 1996 to rescue it from the threat of development and protect its historical significance: 150 acres have been set aside to commemorate the site, comprising the fields on which the battle was fought as well as the unmarked graves of those who fell. In keeping with the commission's mandate to preserve history, protect the natural environment and develop recreational activities, the 700-acre golf complex was chosen as a compatible land use to complement the battlefield site. The remaining 150 acres are dormant.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE VINTIN GROUP ARCHITECTS   

The Legends clubhouse is well worth a visit for its distinctive architecture. Peter Berton of Toronto-based Ventin Group Ltd., Architects, assisted by Ventin Group partner Chris Hall, played off the site's historic cues.

"I wanted to make a powerful statement that picks up on the heritage of the area," Berton says. "The clubhouse will give our American visitors a meaningful, specifically Canadian experience."

The clubhouse overlooks the Battlefield course's 19-acre pond and picks up the battlement-fortress feeling of nearby Fort Erie and Fort George. The heavy, rustic boulder walls evoke the dry-laid stone wall that borders the nearby Niagara Parkway. This was a deliberate, if difficult effect; it took several mockups to get the walls' rugged, random, natural look just right.

"Contractors are used to making everything neat," Berton says of the challenge of creating a historical look.

The long hipped roof and deep overhangs evoke another historical and regional element: the houses of legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who did some of his finest work in the Niagara area. They also pay tribute to the Shaw Festival Theatre at Niagara-on-the-Lake by Berton's mentor, Ron Thom. The overhangs are functional, too, because they shield the interior from the penetrating sunlight.

Along the Niagara Parkway stand open-sided picnic pavilions, which Berton's design references with expansive windows that help bring the outdoors inside.

"You're right in the middle of the golfing when you have your meal," Berton says. "This is a very Canadian thing. It evolved from my cottage work in Muskoka, where the living room feels like you're outdoors, even though you're sitting in an interior space."

The $6-million, 35-000-square-foot clubhouse has a public dining room seating 72, an adjoining patio seating 200, a private banquet room for 240 and a private meeting room seating 20.

In creating a friendly and inviting clubhouse, Berton broke with tradition.

"Most golf clubs are private, with clubhouses meant to be imposing and exclusive, like a mansion in Rosedale," he says. "But Legends is a public course, so I wanted the clubhouse to be welcoming."

Including Legends, the Niagara Peninsula offers 37 public-play courses, with another half dozen slated to open in 2003. Legends is part of Ontario Golf Trails, a new tourism initiative for golfers who want to play several courses on a short getaway, sponsored by the Canadian Golf Tourism Alliance, ClubLink Corp. and Niagara Tourism.