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Ironwood Golf Club is an interesting little golf course that, along with fun golf, offers the astonishing sight of white squirrels.
Ironwood Golf Club is an interesting little golf course that, along with fun golf, offers the astonishing sight of white squirrels. (GolfPublisher.com)

Ontario's Ironwood Golf Club: White squirrels and tricky holes

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,

EXETER, Ontario - You have to want to get to the Ironwood Golf Club. From London, Ontario, it's a good 40-minute drive through vast, neat farmlands and small towns - and away from numerous more conveniently located golf courses.

Once you get there, though, you'll be happy you came. Ironwood is a top-notch family-run operation, easy on the eyes and easy on the scorecard. Opened in the mid-'60s, the course has been expanded, tweaked and fiddled with for four decades, and it's not finished yet. This work-in-progress is an interesting little (6,179 yards from the tips) course that, along with fun golf, offers the astonishing sight of white squirrels.

Exeter is so enamored of the little beasts that it holds a white-squirrel festival every year. This isn't the only place in North America to trumpet the presence of pale rodents; Oleny, Ill. has them, as do parts of North Carolina. Kenton, Tenn., is perhaps the most aggressive in marketing its white squirrels; the strange-looking creatures have right-of-way on city streets and residents are fined if they try to leave town with one.

Fortunately the squirrels aren't Exeter's only attraction. More and more people are coming to play Ironwood, which was considered out of the way in golf-heavy London until the daily London Free Press ranked it second among 20 area public courses in 2002.

The course is fairly short, but it has a number of holes that will distract you from the squirrels. No. 1 fulfills owner Gib Dow Sr.'s goal of having the longest green in Huron County, and it's mighty narrow too. The fourth is an innocent-looking little par-3 but with a tough-up-and-down if you miss - "I've gotten nine here before," Director of Golf Karen Pfaff said.

The sixth hole gives you the choice of laying up short of the creek 230 yards from the back tees or using driver to carry it and face a downhill lie. No. 15 is another tricky par 3, a 214-yarder, but it has the biggest green on the course.

The 488-yard, par-5 17th features a tee shot through a chute of trees (said to be gorgeous in the fall) and a slightly elevated green, bunkered in front, so it's a carry all the way if you go for it in two.

The verdict

With its cheap green fees and beautiful rural surroundings - not to mention the white squirrels - Ironwood is a good reason to get out of the city.

This thickly treed public course is designed to be playable, but you can still find yourself in plenty of trouble if you aren't accurate off the tee - you'll find yourself hitting through or over that assortment of evergreens to get back to the fairway or find the green.

Still, even amid the trees the rough isn't too penal, and you won't have to pay to replace many lost balls.

Stay and play

The Lamplighter Inn in London is a Best Western, but it's a step or two above your average Best Western. With a huge atrium with a swimming pool and water slide, plus a network of fish ponds, streams and waterfalls and 80 new balcony (or "walkout") rooms, it definitely doesn't have the feel of a chain hotel off the interstate.

It's one of the more popular places in London, Canada's 10th largest city, and handy for meetings and conferences, with rooms that can handle 600 people seated and 800 for receptions.

Dining out

The Lamplighter has room service and a family-style restaurant, Smittys. Elsewhere, Marienbad is a good choice for continental cuisine, Dragon Court for Chinese. For fine dining, try Blackfriar's, Copperfield's Bistro and Wine Bar, the Phoenician or the Horse and Hound.

Fast fact

John Robinson did a redesign of the course.

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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