I acknowledge I am riffing on an old provincial marketing tagline, but it seems appropriate.
As I examine my Canadian golf course bucket list in the midst of a global pandemic, I realize that within my own province of Ontario are numerous courses I have yet to experience. And while Canadian provinces like Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia and even Alberta boast golf which make them a destination for travelers, I will put in a plug for my home province for consideration. There are no oceans or mountains to create shock and awe, but there are some excellent courses I recommend golfers should experience. I present three distinct regions, which is almost unfair given the size of Ontario. I acknowledge there are regions left out, Ontario is deceptively big and with over 800 courses here, it is a golfers paradise (minus the winter, of course). Also, I need to acknowledge these itineraries are not exactly budget friendly, but if you’ve held off on any travel than maybe we can consider spending a little more to play the game we love.
Toronto, the capital of Ontario offers something for everyone. It is a world class city with activities which span social, cultural, culinary and recreational pursuits. For golfers, and for the sake of this article, let us consider golf options within a 60 minute drive of the city. Regions just north of Toronto may offer the best concentration of quality golf in the country. Canada’s leading golf publication, SCORE Golf, comes out with an annual Top 100 course list . Further, they augmented this with a top 59 list of public courses . Both lists helped inform my own Canadian list. Ontario overall, and the area just north of Toronto, are well represented in these lists.
As a base for a golf trip, Toronto is excellent for people seeking quality golf and active evenings off the course. It is worth noting that golf season is more limited than avid players here would like, with courses open May – October, with some flexibility based on spring and fall weather.
Glen Abbey – This Jack Nicklaus design is located 30 minutes west of Toronto. This course has played to numerous Canadian Open championships. I would contend it’s a somewhat benign design, save for the valley holes, but history of this course is ripe with legendary players winning here. Visitors will need to drop a ball in the fairway bunker on 18 and stare down the approach shot over water which Tiger faced when he won the 2000 Canadian Open. Glen Abbey shares the same location as Golf Canada which houses an impressive collection of historic golf artifacts and is worth a trip in its own right.
Venture north of Toronto to get to the epicenter of quality golf. TPC Toronto provides three course options, unique and impeccable in their design and maintenance. I have played the Hoot course and plan to get back to experience Heathlands and the North courses. Just outside of Caledon, ON, TPC Toronto is also close to two private courses, which are worth seeking entrance onto – Devil’s Paintbush and Devil’s Pulpit. You’d never know you were only an hour away from Toronto, this is Ontario golfing paradise.
Other quality options for consideration while within an hour of Toronto are – Copper Creek, Eagles Nest and Wooden Sticks, which has recreated some famous golf holes from around the world including Augusta, Carnoustie, St. Andrews, Troon, Oakmont and TPC Sawgrass. Together, these can provide the basis of an excellent golf itinerary while visiting Toronto.
First – decide if you want to stay in the heart of the city or choose a location set outside of the City, closer to golf options (I’d recommend the Millcroft Inn)
Day 1 – arrival, transport to hotel
Day 2 – TPC Toronto – do your research and make a day of it and play 36
Day 3 – Glen Abbey – morning round and after lunch visit to the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame
Day 4 – Play tourist – head downtown and consider visits to the Distillery District, Hockey Hall of Fame, CN Tower, Art Gallery of Ontario or St. Lawrence Market. So many options to pique your interest.
Day 5 – Wooden Sticks (and if you’re keen, a mid-afternoon round at Eagles Nest)
Day 6 – Departure Day (and if your schedule permits, sneak in an early round at Royal Woodbine…literally next to Pearson International Airport. You’ll feel like the plans are going to land on you)
90 minutes outside of Toronto on the southern shores of Lake Ontario is Ontario’s wine region and another excellent region for golf. Here, golf can be complemented with an array of leisure activities but with a more relaxed vibe than Toronto. Fine dining, wineries, shopping, theatre and of course, the Falls, balance what would be an excellent golf itinerary.
Grand Niagara – In my opinion, this is the jewel of public golf in this region. One of the areas newer courses, opening in 2005, set just south and west of the Town of Niagara Falls, this Rees Jones design will challenge players within its enjoyable layout and immaculate conditioning.
Whirlpool – Set alongside the Niagara River and administered by the Niagara Parks Commission this historic course was designed by Canada’s greatest golf designer, Stanley Thompson and opened in 1951. It is conveniently located on the Niagara Parkway, a scenic riverside drive which runs from Niagara on the Lake to Niagara Falls.
Other courses recommended to experience in the region are: Usshers Creek, Peninsula Lakes, Legends Battlefield and a nice par 3, also run by the Niagara Parks Commission, Oak Hill.
First – decide if you want to stay close to the Falls or something more tranquil (Niagara on the Lake). One option is to explore Niagara Golf Trail and work with them to custom a package for you.
Day 1 – arrival and check-in. If time permits, hit up the Oak Hill 9-hole course to work off some rust.
Day 2 – Battlefield at Legends on the Niagara and an afternoon round at Whirlpool Golf Course
Day 3 – a morning walk around the Falls, more relaxing before the crowds set in. Afternoon round at Grand Niagara
Day 4 – Play 36 – Ussher’s Creek at Legends on the Niagara and Battlefield at Legends on the Niagara.
Day 5 – Tourist day – morning visit to the historic and scenic town of Niagara of the Lake and an afternoon matinee at the Shaw Festival. In the evening, head into Niagara Falls to try your luck at Fallsview Casino.
Day 5 – While there are other golf options, set plans to revisit Grand Niagara and benefit from your local knowledge.
Day 6 – Departure Day
Set 2 hours north of Toronto, the region of Muskoka is a haven for cottagers and those who enjoy small-town life. The region is dotted with small lakes, granite rock outcroppings and dense forest. In the fall season, as leaves change to fiery red, orange and yellow, the golf may be some of the best anyone can experience in Canada. And there is no shortage of quality options for play. Some require a resort stay. I will not aim to pass this off as the best region for golf value in the country, but the quality of golf courses are consistently high and I respect value is in the eye of the beholder. Given how close this region is to my own home, I really need to make a greater effort to get out and play more of Canada’s best courses set in this idyllic region of the country. Check my Bucket List map to see where these courses are located. Bracebridge or Huntsville are excellent locations to base a trip to experience these excellent courses:
First, a look at a couple resort courses. Here, players need to stay at the resort in order to play the course. And while this can impact value, it does make for an excellent experience. Taboo, located in the southern part of Muskoka, near Gravenhurst, has been consistently situated inside the top 100 courses in Canada since it opened in 2002. This fall I experienced a top 50 course, Rocky Crest, another resort course. Designed by one of my favourite Canadian course designers, Tom McBroom, it was a treat to experience a Muskoka course that is actually walkable. Opened in 2000, this course was in mint condition when I played there last October. In fact, the head professional stated despite record rounds played the course may be in the best condition it was ever in, and I would believe it. The experience was sensational, as McBroom created generous landing areas for resort play but enough challenge on approach shots and on the greens to challenge better players.
The top public course in the region, Muskoka Bay, is set high on national top 100 lists. Another, The Ridge at Manitou is an annual fixture on course ranking listings. But there are other quality considerations available for public play: Deerhurst, The Rock, North Granite Ridge and South Muskoka make up other courses I would recommend you include in your itinerary.
South Muskoka – set within the town of Bracebridge, this fabulous course opened in 1974. Arguably the best value in Muskoka for golf, this tree-lined course will provide a test for all players. With granite outcroppings and beautiful scenery throughout the course, it is a golf experience which will make you want to get back and play again immediately. A tough closing stretch will make you appreciate the great food and drink options available on their patio.
For Muskoka golf, be sure to have your camera ready at all times, the great golf is a fabulous complement to the natural beauty of this region.
First – Pick where you’d like to stay…there’s many options. Exploring a weekly rental at a place like Touchstone will give you lakeside enjoyment, access to amenities and convenience to access courses in the region.
Day 1 – arrival day
Day 2 – South Muskoka – morning; explore Bracebridge in the afternoon
Day 3 – Muskoka Bay – morning; tour Muskoka Brewery in the afternoon
Day 4 – The Ridge at Manitou – morning; North Granite Ridge – afternoon
Day 5 – Deerhurst Highlands – morning; afternoon back at the resort (sometimes it’s all about the vacation)
Day 6 – Departure Day (and if your schedule permits, sneak in an early round at Taboo on your way back to the airport)
I am happy to connect with anyone considering traveling to Ontario and seeking to play golf. As for me, I need to take advantage of this window of limited travel, stay close to home and check off more of these excellent courses off my list!