Muskoka – the world’s best least-known golf destination
My humble apologies to my regular readers who may be wondering if I recently answered an ad for a maintenance contract on a remote desert island. No, I didn’t, but I have been enjoying the next best thing… lying on a dock in Muskoka for the past few weeks, with a few more weeks to go. Although, to be sure, this has hardly been a summer worth writing about, weather-wise, and not ideal conditions for daily dock dozing. The less-than-perfect weather has, however, been conducive to lots of golf.
My home course, up here, has been a little gem of a layout that dates back nearly a hundred years: Beaumaris Golf Club, between Bracebridge and Port Carling. It was originally carved out of the woods behind the Beaumaris Hotel, which existed from the 1880s until a fire took it down in 1945. But the golf course continued on, ultimately as the private domain of several cottagers in the immediate vicinity. Even today, about half of those cottagers are families who initially came from Pittsburgh 130 years ago.
Most people I know who don’t know Muskoka well have never heard of Beaumaris, but those who have played it have always enjoyed its challenging par-66 layout, carved out of the rock, and with some lovely views of Lake Muskoka. (No. 18 is pictured above.) The golf pro at Beaumaris, Frank McMulkin, has helped maintain a vibrant golf program for nearly two decades, and along with his son Miles, shows no signs of slowing down.
There are a number of other, older private courses in Muskoka, too.
In my view, the best of them all is Muskoka Lakes Golf and Country Club, just outside of Port Carling. MLG&CC will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2019. It was one of the first projects completed by then-unknown golf course architect, Stanley Thompson. I was lucky to have been a member there from the age of 6 to 25, and it’s where dozens of other equally lucky kids learned to play and love the game of golf in the 1950s and 60s, a tradition that is flourishing even more today, under the supervision of Jordan Nathan, who’s been the pro for nearly a decade.
I play Muskoka Lakes two or three times a summer, and I don’t know of any other golf course in the world that is maintained as well, and in fact, improved just a little every year. This year, for example, they’ve built new back tees on holes 6 and 7, and in so doing, cleared out dozens of trees in the forest to provide a view of Lake Rosseau, roughly 800 yards away. (The adjacent photo was shot by me from the 6th tee last week. Spectacular!)
Port Carling Golf Club, which is right in the town itself, is coming up to its 30th anniversary. Designed by Tom McBroom, it’s probably the toughest 6000-yard course you’ll ever play. Unfortunately, you can’t play it unless you’re a guest of a member, but if you know someone there, it’s a memorable experience. (And maybe, after Labour Day, you might be able to persuade them to let you on.)
The same goes for Oviinbyrd, an ultra-private McBroom-designed course near Foote’s Bay in Lake Joseph. And the Lake Joseph Club, just outside of Port Sandfield.
Not so private – meaning, they’ll be happy to let you play their courses for a fairly substantial green fee – are Muskoka’s premier modern courses. You’ve probably heard the names: Taboo and Muskoka Bay on opposite sides of Gravenhurst, The Rock near Minett on Lake Rosseau, and Rocky Crest at the north end of Lake Joseph. Of these, Muskoka Bay usually gets the nod for best course, and I don’t disagree at all. But you’d never be disappointed with a round at Taboo or Rocky Crest, either.
A little further north of the three Muskoka Lakes, are four courses worth mentioning and recommending…
North Granite Ridge, a few miles south of Huntsville, is a few decades old now, but a terrific and unpretentious little course. Not expensive and great value.
Bigwin Golf Club, on Lake of Bays, designed by Canada’s internationally-acclaimed designer, Doug Carrick, is immensely popular with local members and public players. It’s only reachable by boat, from a dock a few miles east of Baysville, but that only adds to a fine experience.
Huntsville has a few courses in its neighbourhood, but the two most renowned are Deerhurst Highlands and the Mark O’Meara course at Grandview. I’ve played both this summer, the latter for the first time. Deerhurst is nearly thirty years old, and while experiencing some conditioning challenges on the tees this summer, is still a fine layout and a genuine Muskoka experience.
The Mark O’Meara course at Grandview is a stronger challenge than Deerhurst, in my view. Everyone should play it at least once, but you may find you like it more the second time because you’ll then know what’s behind several blind shots that leave you guessing the first time around! I was grateful to Grandview’s pro, Todd Stephens, for giving me a cheat sheet before we set out on our inaugural tour!
Adding it all up, I’ve mentioned 14 courses above, and I’m guessing that, including many lesser known and lower cost properties, there’s probably another 20 golf courses in the Muskoka area. This would surely make Muskoka one of the prime golf resort areas on the planet… in addition to being one of the nicest places to just lie on a dock and watch the waves roll by.