By: John Gordon
If you’re reading this, obviously you are a “traveling golfer,” so you know there are any number of multi-course destinations that vie for your attention. They boast—and justifiably—about the quantity and quality (the latter of utmost importance for us avid golfers) of their offerings: Mississippi, Myrtle Beach, Prince Edward Island… The list goes on and on. Chances are you have potential candidates to add.
But one destination that, to my ongoing astonishment, doesn’t get the love it surely deserves is Ontario’s Muskoka region. Less than two hours north of Toronto via excellent highways, this is golfing nirvana in our own backyard.
The New York Times called Muskoka “the Malibu of the north,” because its natural beauty and seclusion attract droves of Hollywood entertainers and pro athletes, many of whom own extravagant summer homes there and are often sighted on the golf courses and at local restaurants. National Geographic perennially raves about Muskoka’s incomparable charms.
Don’t just take their word for it. Experience it yourself. Granted, the season is short, but (and Seinfeld fans will relate), it is spectacular!
Especially in the shoulder seasons, Muskoka courses offer an unequalled golf experience at value pricing. Their attractions are not limited to groups of die-hard golfers, either. The superb golf is complemented by outstanding accommodations, exquisite cuisine, full-service spas, and trademark scenery and weather. Take it from me: Innumerable brownie points await those who take their long-suffering spouse to Muskoka for a romantic golfing getaway or their families for a vacation with a little golf thrown in.
Back in 1990, Bob Cupp (a renovation of Augusta National is on his impressive resume) and Toronto’s Tom McBroom collaborated on the Highlands course at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville. The Highlands course was a revelation when it opened. Flung across the heaving Canadian Shield and defended by towering pines and granite outcroppings, the course demonstrated that Muskoka topography could create a non-pareil golf experience.
The lesson was not lost on ClubLink, Canada’s largest owner and operator of golf courses. In 1997, McBroom used his experience at Deerhurst to create The Lake Joseph Club near Port Carling. It was promptly selected as the best new course in the country by Golf Digest and SCOREGolf.
More followed, notably Rocky Crest Golf Club in MacTier, just across the road from the newly renovated Rocky Crest Golf Resort on the shore of Lake Joseph. Rocky Crest is an anomaly for Muskoka in that, despite the landscape, it remains an eminently walkable course. For my money, McBroom, having learned his lessons well at Deerhurst and The Lake Joseph Club, remains the premier architect when dealing with the unique and often daunting design challenges presented by Muskoka. This is especially evident in his fine work at The Ridge at Manitou, where a round is capped by a finishing hole with an unparalleled vista down Lake Manitouwabing.
What continued to transpire in the following years was, in anyone’s estimation, a proliferation of outstanding and internationally recognized golf courses: Taboo (Ron Garl design), Muskoka Bay Golf Club (Doug Carrick),BigwinIsland(McBroom), The Rock (Nick Faldo/Stenson), The Ridge at Manitou, and more.
Chuck MacDougall, Muskoka Bay’s marketing man, sums up the unique attraction of Muskoka golf succinctly: “Nowhere else will you find the ruggedness, stunning scenery and pristine sophistication.”
He says his facility’s goal is to be the “premier private resort community” in the region and with good reason. The 17,000 square-foot clubhouse with its infinity pool overlooks the course and housing options ranging from lofts and villas to single-family houses.
You won’t want to play just one, so, like Muskoka Bay, just about every course offers stay-and-play packages, either right on the grounds or nearby.
For example, The Lake Joseph Club has luxurious villas onsite but also welcomes golfers who are guests at the family-oriented Rocky Crest Golf Resort or the intimate Sherwood Inn with its white clapboard New England-style main building and cozy beachfront cottages. The sprawling Taboo (formally known as Taboo Resort, Golf and Spa) features beautiful rooms and chalets for visitors. The Rock is close to The Rosseau, a JW Marriott full-service hotel.
Most of these destinations are ideal not only for groups of golfers, couples and families, but are perfect venues for meeting and conference organizers looking for something memorable.
This is by no means an exhaustive review of the remarkable golf in Muskoka. There are other courses which may not have the cachet or national ranking of those I have mentioned, but are eminently enjoyable. Among them are Windermere (a collaboration of Canadian Golf Hall of Famers Stanley Thompson and George Cumming), Diamond in the Ruff, Muskoka Highlands, and many more.
Do yourself a favour. Google “Muskoka golf.” You won’t have to look at all 1.13-million hits to figure out that this is a place you should visit … and soon.
John Gordon is the author of eight books about golf, including four volumes of The Great Golf Courses of Canada as well as The Great Golf Courses of America. He is director of communications for ClubLink.
Photo Credit for Grandview Golf Club, Lake Joseph and Rocky Crest – Marc Rochette/Courtesy of ClubLink
Photo Credit for Muskoka Bay Club – Chuck MacDougall at Muskoka Bay Club
Photo Credit for The Ridge at Manitou – John Gordon