By: John Gordon
It’s not “Muskoka Lite.” It’s not Muskoka’s lesser sibling.
It’s Georgian Bay … and there are other things it’s not.
It’s not far from most of Ontario’s major centres: Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London. It’s not nearly as expensive to visit as some other vacation/golf destinations … most notably, Muskoka.
And it’s not getting the respect it deserves.
Sometimes called “the sixth Great Lake,” Georgian Bay, the enormous adjunct to Lake Huron, is about 80 per cent the size of Lake Ontario, measuring approximately 190 kilometres (120 miles) long by 80 kilometres (50 miles) wide. Although the tagline “30,000 Islands” is popular, there are many more than that, most characterized by the windswept white pines and granite outcroppings that inspired the Group of Seven to create some of this country’s most memorable paintings. It is home to some of the best fishing and boating in Canada.
It also provides the centrepiece for some great golf, although a lack of focused marketing and mainstream recognition has conspired to most likely make you unaware of that fact.
In a modest effort to rectify that, here are a couple of scenarios to provide you with some outstanding golf around Georgian Bay. Stay-and-play options are widely available and are often featured on the courses’ web sites. While there are many other golf options in the region, the following are among the best. Although we use Highway 400 as the main route here, there are alternative routes from both east and west.
Road Trip #1:
Coming north up the multi-lane Highway 400, you will be presented with a choice, the proverbial “fork in the road,” just north of Barrie. Bear left and head up Highway 11 towards Orillia or veer right and follow the 400. In this case, right is definitely right … er, correct. Feeling peckish as well as hungry for golf? Take the Horseshoe Valley exit (Exit 117) through Craighurst to Settlers’ Ghost Golf Club (www.settlersghost.com), from where you can see the ski hills near Collingwood away in the distance, all the way across Georgian Bay. Their motto is “Great golf, great food, great fun!” And they could add “great value” to that slogan without fear of contradiction.
Just a few kilometres further is the exit to Midland/Penetanguishene (Exit 121). Take it! Follow Highway 93 through the town of Midland and, just past the Beer Store that has the most famous manager in Ontario (world-renowned curler Glenn Howard), you will see Midland Golf and Country Club. The original nine holes were designed almost 100 years ago by Nicol Thompson, older brother of iconic Canadian architect Stanley. (It has been suggested, however, that Stanley waved his wand at some point over his brother’s drawings.) When another nine holes were added 50 years later, they remained true to Nicol’s original concept: Narrow tree-lined fairways, doglegs both left and right, long par-3 holes, and small, subtle greens. It has been called “the toughest 6,300 yards in Ontario,” having defended par admirably when it hosted the men’s Ontario Amateur, men’s Senior Amateur, and numerous other amateur and pro tournaments. www.midlandgolfcc.com.
Back on the 400, look for Exit 156 to the hamlet of Honey Harbour and Oak Bay Golf and Country Club. Opened in 2010, this Shawn Watters design is carved out of the forest overlooking the bay. Accuracy is a must, especially on the 170-yard 15th where the tee shot must carry a cove to a green perched atop a granite outcrop. www.oakbaygolf.com
Then carry on north, where, if you are so inclined, you can overnight at Rocky Crest Golf Resort (www.rockycrest.ca) and play the adjacent Rocky Crest Golf Club (www.rockycrest.clublink.ca) the next morning before heading off to Parry Sound Golf and Country Club (www.parrysoundgolf.com), a sporty 18-holer which benefitted immensely from a redesign by Thomas McBroom. Although Rocky Crest is technically a Muskoka course, it presents more as a Georgian Bay layout and is very walkable. The McBroom masterpiece was recently ranked by Golfweek magazine as Canada’s third-best course of the modern era.
Road Trip #2:
Again, head north from Toronto on Highway 400 but this time, take the Bayfield St./Hwy 26 West exit (Exit 98) towards Wasaga Beach, located on the world’s largest freshwater beach. The town offers some golf opportunities but it is not until you get through this tourist mecca that the real fun starts.
Batteaux Creek Golf Club (www.batteauxcreek.com) and OslerBrook Golf and Country Club (www.oslerbrook.com) are both technically in Nottawa, just outside Collingwood. Both offer generous landing areas and big greens. Although founded as a private club, OslerBrook, designed by Graham Cooke, is under new ownership and welcomes daily-fee play. Not only does it offer vistas of the Blue Mountain ski hills, but it provides a breathtaking view of Georgian Bay. Six sets of tee decks range from 7,000 to 3,700 yards, making it suitable for golfers of all ages and abilities.
Collingwood provides its own attractions with the McBroom-designed, links-style Monterra (www.bluemountain.ca), the 50-year-old, semi-private Blue Mountain Golf and Country Club (www.bmgcc.net) and Cranberry Golf Resort (www.golfcranberry.com).
Just past Collingwood, near the village of Thornbury, McBroom collaborated with PGA TOUR veteran Tom Lehman to create Lora Bay (www.lorabaygolf.com). Hugging the shoreline, this 7,100-yard beast hurtles up and down the rugged terrain, offering more than 150 feet of elevation change and the resulting challenge to club selection.
Leaving there, you could stop at the quaint Meaford Golf Course (www.meafordgolf.com), where the emphasis is on having fun, for a breather before tackling the courses around Owen Sound, which is the terminus of this trek.
Founded in 1920 as the Owen Sound Golf and Country Club with nine holes designed by Stanley Thompson, Legacy Ridge Golf Club (www.legacyridgegolf.ca) is a “classic, mature, tree-lined course,” says Director of Operations Michael Todd. Expanded to 18 holes in the mid-1970s, it still reveals some of Thompson’s influence on certain holes on the back nine. Stone Tree Golf and Fitness Club (www.stonetree.on.ca) is operated by the same ownership group, and is more oriented to daily-fee play, groups, weddings and tournaments.
The headliner here is indisputably Cobble Beach (www.cobblebeach.com) with its stunning and award-winning Doug Carrick golf course, plus an inn, spa, fitness centre and exquisite dining. This destination alone is worth the trip. You might be so impressed you will invest in one of their home ownership opportunities!
Golf is just one of the many recreational and vacation options offered around Georgian Bay in all four seasons. Much more information is available at www.visitgeorgianbay.com, including a “Thomas McBroom Golf Trail” itinerary. Google Maps even offers a “Georgian Bay coastal golf tour route.”
(Golf writer, author and broadcaster John Gordon has lived on Georgian Bay for more than 20 years.)