The Briars Golf Club – Classic, Iconic Canadian Golf
[vimeo 141221227 w=640 h=360]
The more I play Stanley Thompson designed golf courses the more I appreciate his work. The Briars is a prime example, with the Thompson-designed opening nine holes set amongst the pines of the resort town of Jackson’s Point. Take the final turn onto Hedge Road and it feels like you’ve gone back in time. And while the cottages have been modernized, the feel is of a resort community golf course set close to the Lake providing solitude and isolation, allowing players a tranquil golfing experience. Stanley Thompson designed the original nine holes in the 1920’s and fifty years later, his protégé Robbie Robinson completed the back nine. Together, the two nines are complementary and create a seamless routing that players of all skill levels will appreciate.
Playing on an overcast summer morning with a member (it is a private course) the location exudes a calm, relaxed feel which staff embody (mixed in with a commitment to service and professionalism). The clubhouse is large and comfortable, the pro shop well stocked. The 1st and 10th tees are in close proximity, the back nine taking a longer route away from the clubhouse than the front. Standing on the first tee, it was one of the more relaxed opening shots I have enjoyed in some time. The opening par 4 has a subtle dog leg right but it’s an otherwise inviting tee shot. The holes on the front are straightforward in their layout, cut from the forest and with sloped greens back to front and well framed bunkering, both tee shots and approaches are manageable for players. Errant tee shots are relatively easy to find as the course has done excellent work clearing growth below trees.
The Black River cuts the course, almost in two, with holes 11 to 17 playing on the south portion of the property. Here, the course has a slightly more open feel and the terrain is more undulating but make no mistake, this course is very walkable. And at only 6300 yards from the tips, playing 27 or 36 are entirely possible. The course offers four sets of tees which are inviting for players of all skill levels.
I was particularly impressed with holes 1, 5 and 14. The opening hole provides players an excellent sense of what to expect on the opening nine. Tree-lined but with generous landing areas and approaches that allow for players to run the ball up but with bunkers framing holes to capture errant shots, it represents the brilliance to Thompson design; the natural terrain is showcased. Hole 5 is a beautiful short par 3 with a large green and bunkers framing the hole short and left. The 14th was a Robinson design and I found it to be the toughest hole on the course. A stout par 5 requiring a long and straight tee shot and a strategic lay up (for hitters who can’t get there in two anymore). An old farm silo is set off to the left on the fairway and provides both character and a reference from where to aim on lay ups. The sharp dog leg 17th is stunning also, with the green protected beautifully by the river behind it.
It is a course design I love and could play over and over again. I invite you to view this course video developed by my playing partner and head of Eat Sleep Golf who provided https://player.vimeo.com/video/141221227“>aerial footage for his home course. Thompson and Robinson partnered on a Classic which ranks up as one of my more underrated favourites in the country.
Aura – 8 out of 10 – I love the sense of history here which is so pervasive at the Briars Golf Club. The drive down Hedge Road was one I hope to experience again. The Briars Resort and Spa (same name but no formal affiliation with the course), provides resort guests access to the course, so that is one option for non-members to access this gem.
Value (cost / experience) – Golfers should seek opportunities to play this Thompson design. While a private course, one other opportunity for access is through a reasonable membership within the Stanley Thompson Society. A course ‘passport’ of all his designs across the country makes courses accessible for public players. You will see this is an impressive, historic track. I am not apologetic nor shy about my bias of Stanley Thompson designs. Intrigued? Membership information can be found here.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10. It has been a damp spring and summer in Ontario and no surprise, the course was in superb condition. The rain held off allowing us to enjoy and appreciate the sensational work of the superintendent and grounds crew. Tee boxes which were well mown, fairways that were clearly identified, rough which was not too penal, and greens which were true and not overly fast. A shorter course, accuracy off the tee of more of a need than length.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – I loved it. I could play here every day. It was a comfortable, relaxed yet respectful golf experience – 9 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) – There are three things that stand out for me with my experience at the Briars: The drive to the course was heavenly; it is only an hour north of Toronto but feels a world away. Two, the staff and members create a relaxed feel and that translated all the way to the opening tee. Last, the course provides sufficient diversity of play which I cherish; I used all 14 clubs and can’t always say that.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – There’s a part of me that wishes this was publicly accessible…but in doing so it would change the character of the course. I have provided two options for public players to access The Briars Golf Club. Perhaps it’s best to leave it at that and maintain the tranquility of this course which is such an asset.