As many of you may recall, I announced at the beginning of the season that each week I was going to try to play a course in the GTA and surrounding region that I had never played before. We’re about 16 weeks into the season and so far, I’ve managed to play 11.
I dubbed this the Discovery Tour. In the coverage area for Fairways Magazine, we have approximately 275 public courses and 85 private ones, extending from Niagara to Muskoka. The criteria for the Tour required courses to be 6,000 yards or less, $75 or less and walkable. In a couple of cases where yardage topped out longer, we chose tee decks in the 6,000-yard range.
Several people asked why I chose those metrics.
As a senior golfer, I find 6,000 yards is plenty of golf course. I don’t want to beat myself up or be out there all day. The real challenge in golf is getting the ball in the hole, so all of your short game and putting requirements are still in place on a shorter course. I think most seniors would agree with me.
As for affordable, that’s up to each individual. The courses in this collection range from $35 to $75. If your budget allows for more, you can play something more expensive or as a buddy of mine says, you could play twice as many rounds.
I believe walking is the best way to play and generally choose courses where that’s an option.
As I experienced these 11 courses, I came to appreciate that they are the backbone of golf in this country – generally family owned and operated, familiar to locals but not well-known beyond their circle of influence, and as much a part of the social fabric as the golf community.
The clubhouses aren’t fancy, many have no range and name designers weren’t the guys who routed and shaped them. They’re not tricked up, they don’t have elaborate green complexes or bunkering systems, yet all of them are in excellent shape, especially the greens; they all present a challenge of one kind or another; and I’m pretty sure most golfers would be happy to play them.
They’re the essence of golf.
When I told a friend of mine that I had played one of the courses in this piece, he said he would give it a try, which I appreciate, as I think most golfers need to take their game on the road more often. He also said that it’s an hour away from his home and without a recommendation, there’s no way he would have travelled that far in case it turned out to be a goat ranch.
Well, it wasn’t and I’m pretty sure he and you will enjoy all of the courses described here.
Note: They’re not ranked, just in alphabetical order.
Batteaux Creek Golf Club / Nottawa, Ontario
Back in the last heyday of golf course design, around the turn of the century (2002), Stephen Young fashioned this pretty layout on 250 acres, using the Niagara Escarpment as a backdrop and the natural wetlands adjacent to Batteaux Creek to craft a very playable routing.
There is water on just about every hole here, but the fairways are quite generous, and the greens are large and accessible. Wetlands, creeks and ponds are on your mind but rarely in play.
The course is quite flat and perfect for walking with no long treks to the next hole and play moves along at a brisk pace. We played in less than four hours.
Walking Rate: M-T $66.25 / FSS $74
For more information on Batteaux Creek, click HERE.
Brooklea Golf & Country Club / Midland, Ontario
From the parking lot, Brooklea appears that it might be pretty flat but get that notion out of your head. The course is routed up and down some sloping terrain, punctuated with plenty of small ponds and a river valley (maybe creek is a better description) that make it challenging to navigate.
I know the designer hadn’t seen me play before he put all the ponds in place, but he sure nailed them – right where I could find them.
Brooklea is longer than the other courses in this collection, so we played the white tees at 6,290 yards. You could also play the Burgundy tees at 5,958.
My neighbour, who has played the course many times told me that on the greens everything breaks towards Georgian Bay. Well, Midland is on a peninsula with Georgian Bay both to the East and West. The greens are large and quite sloped, and I don’t recall that they all broke the same way. But they were quite challenging all the same.
Walking Rate: $55
For more information on Brooklea, click HERE.
Duntroon Highlands / Duntroon, Ontario
Just down the road from Batteaux Creek, which uses the Niagara Escarpment as a backdrop, Duntroon Highlands is actually built on the side of the Escarpment and is as hilly as they come. The starter looked a bit puzzled when we said we were walking but he assured us he had oxygen and a defibrillator ready if we needed them. Funny guy!
And so began a journey that took us up and down again and again and rarely yielded a flat approach. On some holes you could see forever and felt like you could hit that far too. On others, uphill approaches to plateau greens required tremendous skill and calculations I learned (and forgot) in high school.
As I write this, I’m looking at the scorecard and see that the course is less than 6,000 yards from the tips. Stunning views of Georgian Bay and Wasaga Beach. You’ll want a second crack at Duntroon. Maybe the calculations will be easier the second time around.
And walking it is just fine.
Walking Rate: M-T $62 / FSS $66
For more information on Duntroon Highlands, click HERE.
Harbourview Golf & Country Club / Gilford, Ontario
Back in the 60s and 70s, if you lived in Southern Ontario and played golf, chances are you often heard about Moe Norman and Golf Haven. That’s where the legendary ball striker played, practiced and hung out.
Well, Golf Haven is now called Harbourview and it’s something of an enigma. The course is flat as a pancake and usually described as having tree-lined fairways. While that’s true, it’s not quite that simple. Trees do flank the fairways but not in an intimidating way. The corridors are pretty generous but there are a lot of dog-leg holes and holes that turn a bit.
At 6,200 yards from the tips, Harbourview isn’t long but can’t really be overpowered either. Because of the doglegs, precision is key and often takes driver out of your hands. One can imagine Moe playing tick-tack-toe with his precise ball-striking.
Harbourview won’t knock your socks off with majestic views and dramatic elevation changes. As noted, it’s flat but it does require you to think and play strategically. And if you’re like me and enjoy smacking the ball around with a good friend in a pleasant setting, it’s a great walk.
Walking Rate: M-T $52 / Friday $55 / Sat-Sun $59
For more information on Harbourview, click HERE.
Lake St. George Golf Club / Washago, Ontario
I first visited Lake St. George north of Orillia over 20 years ago. Back in those days I’d sometimes help our distribution team deliver copies of Fairways Magazine to various courses. I usually chose to go to the Muskoka region because it was so beautiful and a great place to end up after a busy day. Lake St. George was on that route and every time I was there, I was impressed by the setting and vowed to get back and play it some day.
Well, it took over twenty years, but I finally got to play. And glad I did. There are three nines from 1952, 1972 and 2002 and they’re all pure golf. No tricks.
We played the West (Bob Moote, 2002) and the South (Robbie Robinson, 1972), which played about 6,200 yards from the tips and tested every club in my bag.
The Lake St. George greens are awesome too – large and undulating – and a delight to putt.
Walking Rate: M-T $48 / FSS $60
For more information on Lake St. George, click HERE.
Lindsay Golf & Country Club / Lindsay, Ontario
Geographically, Lindsay isn’t in the same general vicinity as the rest of this collection, but otherwise fits the criteria for the 2023 Discovery Tour – not overly long, affordable and easy to walk.
It’s a Graham Cooke design from 2003 and makes the most of a very flat piece of land. Cooke has moved enough dirt around to create an intriguing routing around some wetlands and a creek, and blends links-style holes with parkland holes for a visually appealing layout. The greens are small and quite sloped and very fast, and it seemed to me that missing a green left you with a harder than usual up-and-down.
The Lindsay Golf & Country Club is actually quite old (1909) and has some interesting history. The original course was closer to town. Definitely worth playing if you’re in the area.
Walking Rate: M-F $58 / SS $64
For more information on Lindsay, click HERE.
Muskoka Highlands / Bracebridge, Ontario
Muskoka Highlands lists seven Rules on the back of the scorecard. The first Rule is: Have fun. The seventh Rule is: Have fun. In between are some friendly reminders about ready golf, fixing ball marks, ordering food and cleaning up after your pet. What?! That’s right, dogs are allowed at Muskoka Highlands. It’s part of what makes this lovely course in cottage country a unique outing.
Established in 1993, the course tops out at just over 6,000 yards. That may seem short but as owner Don MacKay says, “We’re not hosting the Canadian Open anytime soon. We’re all about having fun.”
Elevation is the key at Muskoka Highlands. The course traverses some rollicking terrain, constantly rising and falling, presenting a new and different look at every turn, each hole different. The large, sloping greens are slick and in fantastic shape. Plenty of challenge here, which to me, makes putting fun too.
Walking Rate: $66.37
For more information on Muskoka Highlands, click HERE.
Orr Lake Golf Club / Orr Lake, Ontario
“It’s just 35 bucks. Is it any good?”, asked one of my usual playing partners.
Well, the simple answer is yes.
A more elaborate answer reveals a very pretty course built on the side of a hill overlooking Orr Lake. According to the history, the front nine used to be a par-3 layout which was expanded. It’s a bit claustrophobic in spots but has some really strong holes too, especially the par-5 6th.
The back nine is brilliant, crisscrossing the hill with challenging holes, steadily rising and falling, then plunging back to reality on the short, wicked 17th.
Tremendous, contoured greens in exceptional condition with plenty of humps and rolls.
5,771 yards. Walk in under four hours. It’s just 35 bucks. Any more questions?
Walking Rate: M-F $35 / SS $45
For more information, click HERE.
Parry Sound Golf & Country Club / Parry Sound, Ontario
I’ve been a fan of McBroom’s work in Muskoka since I first saw it and now sorry that I didn’t visit Parry Sound before. The date makes this one of Tom’s earlier designs and it definitely defines the themes that you see at his other Muskoka projects like Deerhurst, Ridge at Manitou and Rocky Crest – lots of exposed rock, dramatic elevation changes and excellent use of ponds and wetlands to guide or amplify the routing.
Parry Sound is in exceptional condition. The greens are the fastest I’ve played yet this year and a somewhat treacherous speed given the slope on certain holes. The routing takes you into and out of dense woods where narrow corridors require all the accuracy you can muster. On other holes the course opens into what at one time was farmland where you skirt water hazards (sorry, I can’t call them penalty areas) and waste bunkers and rock. There are several blind shots too.
Parry Sound tops out at 6,000 yards. That’s plenty of distance for me and most other seniors but I think it would be a strong test for almost any golfer.
If like me, you enjoy a beverage after your round, the patio overlooking the finishing holes on each nine is a wonderful place to relax and swap lies. You couldn’t ask for a nicer setting.
Walking Rate: $63.72
For more information on Parry Sound, click HERE.
Silver Brooke Golf Club / Lisle, Ontario
Silver Brooke is a tale of two very different nines that were built at different times. The front nine is shorter, tighter and tree-lined while the back is more of a links-style layout with plenty of width and fescue. Both nines were in excellent condition.
The greens are anything but flat and offer some surprising humps and rolls, which in my book, makes them fun to putt. Water in the form of ponds and a creek lurks but doesn’t require any long forced carries. There are relatively few bunkers and they’re shallow.
It’s an easy course to walk, although there are a couple of long treks between holes on the front. All in all, a pretty straightforward golf course with little serious trouble but challenging enough for most.
Walking Rate: M-T $40 / FSS $50
For more information on Silver Brooke, click HERE. https://www.golflinks.ca/courses/silver-brooke-golf-club
Simoro Golf Links / Barrie, Ontario
Simoro might be one of the more challenging 6,000-yard courses you’ll ever play. Even long bombers will be challenged by the short-game requirements and tricky greens.
The front nine climbs into the hills and has a Scottish links feel to it with plenty of wide-open landing areas, dramatic elevation changes and wonderful scenic views. The back is much tighter and wends its way around ponds and deep into the forest. The combination forces you to change gears rather abruptly, as driver off the tee is fairly obvious on the front, while the inward nine demands more precision off the tee to keep your ball in play and have any chance at a decent approach.
Both nines feature slick greens in great condition, some with false fronts and some with wicked slopes that make it almost impossible to stop your putt anywhere near the hole if you’re putting from above. The par-3 7th and par-4 8th had particularly treacherous slopes, much to my three-putting chagrin.
I really appreciate courses where each hole stands out and you can often remember them for weeks and months afterwards. At Simoro, no two holes are alike, and many are quite memorable. Definitely another fun spot to play.
Walking Rate: $42
For more information on Simoro, click HERE.