Ontario -- A Bridge Not Far
By Art McCafferty
We're pretty lucky in Michigan. We have the opportunity to visit Canada just about anytime we want. And while there are a lot of similarities between our two nations, there is enough variation to let us know we are in a different country.
In recent years, have featured the Ontario courses closest to Michigan. Of particular note, we have reported on the Sarnia-Lambton area. The golf product there is growing in stature. Sawmill Creek came on last year and also Bonnie Doon. Both were troubled by substantial droughts in the growing-in period the past two years. However, they seem to be on top of it now and the courses are beginning to live up to their potential.
Sawmill Creek, about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from Sarnia, is a great place to begin our journey. Bill and Linda Gerrits have turned their home, perhaps mansion would be a better word, into a modern day bed and breakfast and golf course. The course designed by Rene Muylaert, one of Ontario's premier designers is exceptional. The proshop has a variety of upscale golf gear and the clubhouse is well appointed. You can stay and play a couple of days, to take one hop over to nearby Indian Hills or Bonnie Doon. The locals all mention the trio as the best in the area. Indian Hills has been around the longest and has some terrific routing. Dennis and Phillip Leonard have owned the course since its beginning and have developed it into a very nice locale. Bonnie Doon again is very young, long and can be difficult. But while the course can be difficult, the welcome of Dave Anderson is not.
Forest Golf and Country Hotel very wisely keeps putting money back into the property. Golfers seem to keep returning to properties if they see constant improvement. According to Andrew Palmer, a CPGA member, they have recently invested in new on-course bridges, irrigation and the renovation of a number of greens. Their tender loving care and affordable golf have enabled them to book numerous corporate outings from metro Detroit. A couple of years ago I dropped by to see the owner, Fred General in early March. He took me to his ledger, opened it up and said, "Look at this Art, we are just about all full up for the summer already."
Fred had an answer for that by building another 28 rooms onto his property, bringing the total to 75. Added to this are a 125-seat dining area and a conference center that will hold up to 200 people. There is also an indoor pool, saunas and whirlpool.
They started a couples getaway and have done very well. Also their winter Murder Mystery series packs them in. Last year the midweek price was $221 (Canadian) for unlimited golf for three days and two nights lodging. There are 27 holes on the course. Their 18-hole course plays to a par-66 and they have a par3 course as well. Fred and Beulah recently turned the business over to his son, Andrew.
Just North of Grand Bend on Highway 21 stands Oakwood Inn, just as it has for the past 70 years. Oakwood Inn is a lot like Otsego Club in Gaylord. It has a rich history of being a classy retreat where people can get away and rest or recreate. They have golf, tennis, water skiing, wind surfing and jet skiing in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.
The property has 90 rooms, 65 of them are deluxe accommodations. In addition, they have a full-fledged conference facility, which can handle upwards of 300 people. The food is great, the wine list exceptional and the ambiance is omnipresent. For 70 years old, she is holding on to her good looks. According to Dave Scatcherd, Oakwood's owner, big things are happening this year with some new condos coming on board.
This year we have wandered north to visit Monterra Golf at Blue Mountain, near Collington. Architect Thomas McBroom designed this course. This guy seems to be everywhere in Canada. For openers, he has designed Willoughby Lands Golf Facility, Niagara Falls, Ontario; Algonquin Golf Course, St. Andrews, New Brunswick; Domaine de la Forêt, Charlevoix, Quebec; Fraserview, Vancouver, British Columbia; Le Géant, Mont Tremblant, Quebec; and The Links at Crowbush Cove, Prince Edward Island.
At Monterra you will find holes that have spectacular elevated tees, razorback mounding and immaculate bentgrass fairways. The course roams around the Blue Mountain complex, pokes itself here and there through natural wetlands, condos and lakes. Blue Mountain is a busy place. I first discovered it 20 years ago when I skied there. I still remember looking out at a spectacular Georgian Bay as I began my first run of the day.
In the summer, besides the excellent golf, you can play tennis, use their water slide, go biking or hiking, shopping or hit the beach. Collingwood is a nice walk-around town, and just northeast of there are some of Canada's best beaches. In many ways it
reminded me of how Traverse City looked about 10 years ago. There are lots of motels, beaches, dining areas and things to do.
Having enjoyed the peace and quiet of the Blue Mountain Inn for a couple of days, we dropped down to see what all the excitement of Toronto golf was all about. The Toronto Convention and Visitors Bureau distributed a promotional piece last year that heralded eight of their finest courses: namely, Deerhurst, Glen Abbey, Hockley Valley, National Pines, PineStone, Osprey Valley, Royal Wooding and Lionhead. We had the opportunity to visit three of them: Hockley Valley, National Pines and Osprey Valley. A fourth, Glen Abbey, has been on national television enough that many of you know it. It is a Jack Nicklaus course and rated as Canada's best public course, and is the home of the Bell Canadian Open.
National Pines is billed as one of Canada's top 50 courses by Score Magazine. It is the ultimate in lush, plush and beauty. Framed by woods on literally all sides, the perfect fairways yield to some of the best greens in the country. It is a wonderful experience. However, take a good map, because it is very tough to get to. Hockley Valley is another Thomas McBroom course and in a word, it is "spectacular." The course landscape is reminiscent of St. Ives with the dramatic changes in the land. Fairways rise and fall throughout the valley and cart rides become an unexpected part of the experience. Hockley Valley is a four-season resort that has all the amenities. It is most like Shanty Creek. It was rated the best golf resort in Ontario by the Toronto Life Golf Guide. Finally, Osprey Valley, a soon to be 54-hole complex is really a one of a kind experience. The Heathlands at Osprey Valley is very much like our own Gailes in its presentation. Bentgrass fairways, dune-like hills, pot bunkers and grassy hollows await the golfer. Golf Digest gave it 4 1/2 stars and it is worth all of that.
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