By: John Gordon
The undeniable allure of one of the world’s most desirable vacation destinations peaks in July and August. As a result, those fortunate enough to reside there for all or part of the summer have first crack at many of the most prestigious courses.
This does not imply, by any means, that all doors are closed to travelling golfers. Far from it.
The Ridge at Manitou, Tom McBroom’s stunningly beautiful layout just 25 minutes northeast of Parry Sound, is especially active at offering incentives through its e-newsletter and web site.
Although memberships are available, General Manager Drew Rachar says there are options for vacationers, in addition to daily-fee play. Their Passport program includes weekday or unlimited golf (with an add-on for your junior golfers) or you can purchase prepaid green fees at a bulk discount
The most memorable moment at The Ridge is standing over the second shot into the final hole, looking down the length of Manitouwabing Lake. The scene includes the rustically elegant clubhouse which features a full-service dining room with an excellent menu. If you’re staying in the area, The Ridge promotes themed social events on a regular basis.
When The Ridge opened in 2005, visitors could stay at the adjacent Inn at Manitou, world-famous since the mid-1970s as a tennis facility with a great culinary reputation. When the Inn closed in 2010, that option went with it. However, The Ridge now offers several nearby accommodations, including their Redwood and Greenwood cabins and the Lake Manitouwabing Cottage. Golfers taking advantage of the two-course package, which offers a round each at The Ridge and Seguin Valley Golf Club, might find the Comfort Inn in Parry Sound convenient. It’s just a couple of minutes from the entertaining McBroom-designed Parry Sound Golf and Country Club which bills itself as “the best 6,000 yards you will ever play.”
The Golf Muskoka web site is the most easily accessible resource for not only course listings but special seasonal offers, multi-course packages and stay-and-play opportunities. Thirty-two courses belong to this consortium and all are worthy of your attention. As mentioned previously, however, a couple in the top echelon are most likely booked solid until the fall, like Bigwin Island. Be patient, though, and, come Sept. 8 when the course reopens to the public, one of golf’s most unique experiences awaits.
Built on the bones of a resort and 18-hole Stanley Thompson course that opened in the Roaring ‘20s, the stunning Doug Carrick design presides over 520-acre Bigwin Island in Lake of Bays. Adding to the experience is the 10-minute ferry ride from the mainland to the resort.
“There’s lots going on at Bigwin,” says Doug Wilson, Director of Membership Sales. Notably, the first phase of Bigwin’s Club Cabins will start construction. Offered for sale, these open-concept cabins can be rented out to visiting golfers. Until then, unless you are lucky enough to have rented a nearby cottage, the closest accommodations are back on the mainland at the historic Port Cunnington Lodge and Resort.
Greg Downer is the Director of Golf at Taboo Muskoka Resort & Golf in Gravenhurst. Taboo, designed by American Ron Garl, opened with great fanfare in 2002 as the “home course” of Mike Weir. Understandably, Taboo got its share of media mentions when Weir became the first Canadian man to win one of golf’s majors, The Masters, the following year.
Downer admits Taboo’s profile has slipped somewhat in the intervening years, although not as dramatically as Weir’s. “We may not be the new shiny toy anymore but we will always be considered among the premium courses in Muskoka and in Canada.” To encourage a revival of its popularity, Taboo is offering very attractive weekly specials. Additionally, your green fee entitles you to unlimited golf on that day.
Muskoka Bay Resort is just down the road from Taboo. The beautiful but tough Doug Carrick-designed course is accented by the stunning cliffside clubhouse with every possible amenity and a variety of vacation properties available for purchase or rental.
Director of Golf TeeJay Alderdice says that while the accolades for the course and its facilities are well deserved, “my ongoing goal is to continue to improve our service levels to match that, to set ourselves apart from the competition. That makes us even an even more special experience, not just in Muskoka, but anywhere.”
In addition to his role at Taboo, Downer is President of the Golf Muskoka consortium. While it’s easy to sing the praises of the region’s beauty and how that enhances the aesthetics of the golf courses, he says there are other incentives.
“If you are a savvy shopper and love golf, Muskoka is a no-brainer. You can spend $20 or $200. We hit all the price points. “
Don MacKay, the founder and president of Muskoka Highlands Golf Links in Bracebridge, concurs.
“It costs you $56 to play here at high season and $19.95 during the shoulder seasons. There are half a dozen very good courses that are part of Golf Muskoka where you can play for well under $100. And you won’t be disappointed.”
MacKay says many travelling golfers play one of the marquee courses for their bucket list and then enjoy the rest of their visit at some of the other less expensive and less ballyhooed courses in the region.
“No matter where you want to play or what you want to spend, you’re getting the unique Muskoka golf experience. It’s a pretty special golf community up here and every golfer should try it at least once.”
To learn more about all the golf opportunities in Muskoka and to stay up to date on special offers, visit www.golfmuskoka.com.
Guest Blogger: John Gordon, a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame, has been covering golf in Canada for 30 years. The author of four volumes of The Great Golf Courses of Canada books lives in Midland, Ont.