Golf in Ontario – The forgotten golfing oasis
The words “hidden gem” is often attributed to a golf course that may not promote itself to the wider domain and prefers to keep what it knows is a great product to its own membership. On this occasion it can well be attributed to a nation that may well have some of the best golf courses in world, in some of the most spectacular settings.
Ask anyone about golf in North America and they will probably roll off a string of courses they would love to play. Most if not all would be in the USA, Pebble Beach, Augusta, Pinehurst No2 are individual courses on a dream list, but if you look at the Carolinas, Florida, Arizona, California and Nevada they all will have you playing on courses played on the PGA tour and market themselves as major golfing destinations in their own right.
What of Golf north of the USA border? (Don’t go reaching for a map we mean Canada)
Well a very good question and the main reason of this newsletter/blog. Quality Golf Destinations were invited to join the first ever Golf Familiarisation (FAM for short) trip organised by six of the regional tourist boards that are part of the huge state of Ontario. With a landmass big enough to fit three of Europe’s top golfing nations, Spain, Portugal and France into it, Ontario also has enough space to be home to over 700 golf courses most of these are in the more populated region within a two hour drive from the main city and our arrival airport of Toronto.
With just seven day to look at what the area had to offer, we only had time to see the proverbial tip of the iceberg but after seven rounds of golf plus a couple of site visits the first impressions were outstanding.
Golf in Ontario Canada can be split in to two camps, private member clubs and public golf courses. Many private member clubs like some of their UK counterparts are there primarily for their member’s. However a limited amount of green fee income at less busy times can be more than welcome in the right circumstances. The public golf courses should not be confused with many of the cheap green fees, pile them high course here in the UK, these are more on the lines of top quality commercial course such as the Grove or London Club but with a price tag of a local UK green fee.
The overwhelming thing that struck me about all the clubs we visited was the superb condition of the courses. This is even more remarkable considering last winter was one of the harshest of recent times in Canada. Golf in Ontario is a summer sport, by mid-November the snows are arriving and the clubs closed for the winter. The season generally starts in May (mid-April if the weather permits) and end in October when the trees are in their full fall splendour. The Canadians do love their golf and one of the nicest things was the pace of play, anything over four and a half hours was frowned upon, our quickest round was a very pleasant 3 ½ hours around the stunning Briars course and the average on the four hour mark, very refreshing.
Away from the golf Ontario is blessed with some of the most draw droopingly beautiful countryside. Woodland and lakes dominate the scenery, picturesque small towns, Tim Hortons (A Canadian coffee tradition) great food and superb hospitality, whether you are visiting one of the many bistro-bars or small bed and breakfasts. The service and welcome is second to none.
The Canadians – There is definitely a different feel to Ontario, it’s not America with a different flag on the pole, although there are many similarities. Being part of the commonwealth they have an affinity with the British isles, so many people have relatives in the UK or emigrated themselves that at times you have to remind yourself you’re not back at home. You can get a passable pint of beer (usually called Red) rather than light larger and in certain micro-breweries or Craft brewery’s there was some stunning beers (Old Flame IPA and Dumb Blonde to name two).
Food in Canada has without doubt an American influence and the BBQ selections from the big brother down south dominates many a menu, however Canada’s other influence, France also makes an impact with a bit of refinement to the more subtle pallet. Whichever way you look at it food is a big part of life and your belt will probably be needed to expand a notch by the end of a trip. Any Canada road trip is not complete without a visit to Tom Horton’s. Canada’s favourite Coffee outlet and can be found literally everywhere. As well as coffee (the dark ground can be recommended) they also have an amazing choice of donuts and pastries to keep you going between meals.
Golf in Ontario
53 of the top 100 public golf courses in Canada are in Ontario
Angus Glen Golf Club
A 36 hole complex featuring North & South courses, Both North and South course have hosted the Canadian Open, as well as the 2015 Pan-American Games and has a definite tournament feel about it. Millions of dollars have been spent over the last two years upgrading the course to a full modern championship facility. A great clubhouse and practice facility compliment the golf courses and all green fees include cart rental including GPS and free use of the range before play. As a public course with easy reach to downtown Toronto this is a very popular course for corporate golf and strangely to a UK golfer is more expensive to play during the week than at the weekend.
GF $175 – $125 North – Par 72 7,403 – 5462 yards 5 tees. South Par 72 7,299 – 5,460 yards 4 tees
The Royal Ashburn Golf Club
18-hole Public club but with a large membership in Durham County which has hosted the qualifying school for the Canadian Tour for over 30 years. The course has been owned and run by the Patterson family since its initial design stage in the early 50’s. The course its self has a rolling parkland feel with a few water hazards to focus the mind. The courses main defence are its greens which have some wicked breaks if you get on the wrong side of the pin.
GF $90 – $65. 7,104 – 4,783 yards par 72 5 sets of tees Black, Blue, White, Gold, Green
Bay of Quinte Golf Club
The signature hole for me would probably be the 262 yard 14th. The hole suckers you in to having a dig for the green but it’s pretty well all carry over water, there is plenty of room right which you can’t see from the tee or it’s a mid-iron short of the water hazard. A classic risk and reward hole.
An interesting mixture of holes you could easily be playing on a parkland club course anywhere in the UK. Although golf buggies are available here, as at all the courses in the region, this is an easy walking course.
The club is currently building a new club house which should be ready for 2016.
GF $ 55 – 30, 6,571 – 5,063 yards par 72 5 sets of tees Black, Gold, Green, Blue, Red
Black Bear Ridge Golf Club
One of my favourite courses we played, a great driving course with lots of raised tee’s which gives you a great view of the hole. Two thirds of the course is played along tree lined fairways, a ball hit into the woods was usually found pretty quickly as like Augusta there was just a pine needle covering under the trees, but normally the only option was a chip out to the pretty generous fairways. Again another perfectly manicured golf course. Out away from the trees a wetland area has to be negotiated including the monster 11th a par 6 from the very back tees at 690 yards. It was still a tough dog leg Par 5 of 550 yards off the whites which was plenty long enough for me.
The Clubhouse and pro shop sit on the highest point of the course with some excellent views of the woodland. Where there any bears? No but watch out for the horseflies and apply insect repellent if you’re in the trees, sunscreen only needed on the fairways.
GF $ 75 – 50, 7,238 – 5,145 yards par 72-74 5 sets of tees Black, Blue, White, Red and Green
The Briars Golf Club
A private members club dating back to 1922 on the shores of Lake Simcoe and adjacent to the Briars Resort where guests can play at this exclusive club. It’s a superb 18-hole tree lined course in exceptional condition with some outstanding par 3’s, both the 5th and 13th are great holes from the back tees. The Briars is one of those courses where you will probably play it better the second time than the first, it’s a course where a bit of local knowledge will help you on a number of holes. But what better reason do you need to spend a couple of days here and enjoy the charming Briars Resort. Not the longest of courses you will play in Ontario but it will probably be one of your favourites.
GF $ Guest at the Briars Resort 6,286 – 5,456 yards par 71, 3 sets of tees Blue, White and Red
Lora Bay Golf Club
A public course set on Lake Huron and close to the popular winter ski resort of Blue Mountain, Collingwood. This course will have you mesmerised as soon as you stand on the first tee. Designed by Tom Lehman it’s a great layout which can be enjoyed by any level of golfer. We played the course from the Cobalt or “dirty” blue tees, still a good challenge of around 6,200 yards but it made for an enjoyable game. There are some challenging tee shots from the very back tee’s especially the Par 5 16th with a very long carry for amateur golfers of modest ability. There is plenty of water and trees on the front 9 but the back is more open until you come to the 15th which plays between 190 – 170 yards from a raised tee 100 yards above the green which looks as though you’re playing to a postage stamp.
GF $ 135 – 75, 7,034 – 5,644 yards par 72, 5 sets of tees Black, Silver, Blue (Cobalt), White, and Red
Wooden Sticks Golf Club
One of the most popular courses in the Toronto area, set again in a mature wooded landscape the difference here is that a number of holes are “inspired” by some of the great holes in golf. They don’t try to make the holes exact replicas but instead try to give you a feel of playing some great golf holes including Amen corner from Augusta, the 17th at Sawgrass and a number of holes from St Andrews a course where the highest foliage is a gorse bush, but trust me it works.
Wooden Sticks prides itself on service and a full day’s experience. All green fees include golf buggy and a meal both prior and after your round.
GF $ 195 – 155, 7,025 – 5,276 yards par 72, 5 sets of tees Black, Green, Blue, White, and Red
Caledon Country Club
Designed in the 1960’s Caledon Country Club is a public course and not long by modern standards, but beware the length of the course is misleading as there are a number of holes where doglegs and the terrain make a long iron or rescue wood a sensible option off the tee. The driveable first hole is always worth a blast and a fun course to play. The 3rd hole was probably my favourite, the Devil’s Corridor 385 yard par 4 dogleg left to right with a really tight drive and water all the way down the left, not one for the faint hearted. Again yet another course in good condition.
GF $ 70 – 35, 6,502 – 5,581 yards par 72, 3 sets of tees Blue, White, and Red
A resort course attached to the Hockley Valley Resort, two things make this course stand out from the norm. Firstly there are no bunkers on the course, great for those of us who are not so great from the traps, instead of bunkers grass mounds are used which for many courses is a much more natural hazard than a bunker. Second slightly unusual aspect is the make-up of the back nine which only features two par 4s. The remaining 7 holes are made up of 4 par threes and 3 par fives. The course has some stunning looking holes as the terrain undulates through the surrounding hills, again many framed by tree lined fairways.
The resort has its own rather good vineyard and during the winter is a Ski resort with a number of its own runs.
GF $ 80 – 50, 6,358 – 4,678 yards par 71, 3 sets of tees Black, Gold, Green and White
* Green fees price guide are shown in Canadian dollars, current exchange rate is approximately $2 Can = £1
Accommodation choices in Ontario
In Toronto and its surrounding area’s there is every level of accommodation, from the high end 5* establishments to local bed and breakfasts the choice is yours.
Canada is blessed with a large selection of very good chain hotels such as Hilton Hampton Inns, Marriott Townplace and Holiday Inn’s, these are probably the equivalent in price brackets to the budget UK hotels. Many are only 3* rated but I would rate most as a 4* against a similar property in the UK (and better than a few so called 5* properties I have stayed in around the world).
There are also some exceedingly good resort hotels that are well worth considering. Many are set for both the winter ski season and the summer holidays.
The Briars Resort & Spa on Lake Simcoe is one example, owned and run by the same family since it was bought from its original owner nearly 140 years ago. It’s a wonderful old school and very non-corporate resort hotel with a number of lake side lodges. Set in its own vast acreage of land along the lake it’s an extremely popular destination out of Toronto. Guests at the Briars may play at the Briars Golf Club adjacent to the resort and reached by a 5 minute stroll through the woods.
The Briars is also well known locally for its food and sources as much produce for its kitchens as possible from the local area. Recipes however come from further afield and I have to admit myself their sticky toffee pudding was legendary and a real treat. Sitting around the log burner outside after dinner is the perfect way to end the day at the Briars, sipping a single malt or bourbon, chatting to new friends and watching the starry skies.
Finally there is one exceptional place worthy of its own newsletter rather than a paragraph in this article. There are many different bed & breakfast accommodation choices in all the area’s we visited and many people enjoy the personal touch and service you receive from this type of accommodation. The Nestleton Waters Inn is probably one of the best bed and breakfast / small hotels I have stayed in and one I would not hesitate to return to tomorrow given half a chance.
Set in the picturesque woods with its own spring fed lake where the brave can swim, it’s an idyllic setting and obvious why it’s a popular wedding venue. Each suite in the property is tastefully themed, many inspired from the host families travels around the world. Breakfast at The Nestleton Waters inn is also splendid and the best we enjoyed in Canada, a coffee on the terrace with a wonderful view over the lake followed by a home cooked breakfast will certainly keep you sustained until lunch time.
Getting there and traveling around
Flights to Toronto are direct from both London and Manchester with Air Canada and Air-transat, a seven hour flight will get you to Toronto (slightly shorter coming home thanks to the Gulf Stream) alternatively fly with any of the main American airlines with a change via the USA. I would recommend flying direct to Toronto to avoid the stringent USA custom procedures, Canada’s are thorough which you would expect in this day and age and very similar to the UK. Tourist Visas for UK passport holders are on granted on arrival on completion of a simple form and valid for up to 180 days which will suit most people’s requirements for a holiday.
Canada is very much a fly drive destination although for groups transfers can be easily be arranged. The great thing for the travelling golfer in Canada is there is a great choice of vehicles with the luggage capacity to accommodate clubs and cases without breaking the bank and filling up with fuel in Canada is around half the cost per litre to the UK. Roads are well signposted but with a satellite navigation to help you it’s a pleasant experience.
Ontario is a great destination which has unfortunately been too often ignored by UK travellers for the more popular Western Canadian City of Vancouver and British Columbia. For golfer’s it’s a superb golf holiday destination, if you’re looking for a family holiday with a couple of games of golf thrown in it offers some great options. Great accommodation and food, superb scenery with a vast range of activities to keep you occupied on your days away from the golf course. Good uncrowded roads (away from downtown Toronto!!) and the locals are both extremely friendly and of course speak English. More importantly they readily understand an English accent, something their close neighbours south of the boarder so often fail miserably at. I for one thoroughly recommend Golf in Ontario as one of the best summer & autumn golf holiday destinations you can find.
A heartfelt thank you
Thanks must go to Bill at Golf Stream Travel on behalf of the Ontario tourist boards who organised the trip. Ontario’s Central Counties Tourism, Headwaters Tourism, Bruce Grey Simcoe Tourism and Bay of Quinte Tourism. Not forgetting all the hotels and golf courses we visited who, without exception, were all fantastic hosts and thank you all so much for helping introduce such a wonderful region to Quality Golf Destinations.
Our Introduction to Golf in Ontario “In the fall” package
From £849pp (trips between the 1/9 & 30/10)
Your chance to play some amazing golf courses to the backdrop of the world famous Canada Fall when the tree lined fairways are at their most spectacular. 7 nights twin shared accommodation in quality hotels throughout your stay with some amazing breakfasts included. We will also recommend some great places for dinner each night so you get the most out of this golf holiday. All the golf courses on this itinerary are memorable in their own right and always in superb condition. Golf carts are available at each course for a small additional fee with the exception of Wooden Sticks GC where they are included.
(Golf courses left to right – Hockley Valley, Royal Ashburn & Caledon Country Club)
7 nights Luxury Hotel accommodation (Twin/Double room), 5 Rounds of top quality golf & daily breakfast, Transfers or Car Hire
Golf at Hockley Valley, Osprey Highlands, Caledon Country Club, Royal Ashburn and Wooden Sticks Golf Clubs (Inc Buggy)
Accommodation – Hockley Valley Resort 4 nights, Nestleton Waters Inn 2 nights, Westin Hotel Toronto 1 night.
International flights, Travel insurance, Golf buggies (Unless stated), Items of a personal nature, gratuities and tips.
If you would like us to add flights, or extend your stay we will be happy to tailor your package for you.
For more information contact us by email email@example.com or phone 01782 510800
For general information about the regions of Ontario click on the tourism logo above, for Golf club info click on the club logo’s