Many visitors to Ontario have never even considered going more than a couple of hours north of Toronto. More's the pity for, you see, a three-or four-day jaunt to Northern Ontario is well worth the time and effort,and will be repaid many times over in great golf, affordableaccommodations, and expanses of unspoiled scenery.
We're not talking about north of Superior, or Hudson Bay. We're talkingabout the so-called "Near North," and it's much nearer than you everimagined. For your edification, we've mapped out a sample excursion, atriangle from Toronto to Sudbury, east to North Bay and back home.
From Toronto, head north on Highway 400. Stop, if you must, at highlyranked National Pines, taking the Innisfil exit just south of Barrie,about 45 minutes from downtown Toronto. But don't tarry for long. Thebest is yet to come.
The 400 extension leading to Parry Sound and Sudbury will carry you infour-lane comfort until it turns into Highway 69, snaking through themyriad lakes, dense forests and stone cliffs of the Canadian Shield.Just past Mactier, you will again be enticed to turn east on Hamer BayRoad to ClubLink's Rocky Crest Resort. Both the golf course and theaccommodations are terrific, but the Cdn $150 guest fee is far too highfor our purposes. Heck, that would cover a weekend of golf,accommodations and meals in places we're going, with enough left over tocover the gas.
Continue on a few more kilometres to Parry Sound Golf and Country Club(705-342-5262, $55) which Ron Gill calls "the consummate NorthernOntario golf course, with the pre-Cambrian shield sticking outeverywhere, and lined with pine trees." Gill, who acts as both head proand club manager, says most visitors don't realize that thiswell-conditioned, challenging 6,000-yarder just over two hours north ofToronto was designed by Thomas McBroom. With a Slope of 132, it's nopushover, despite its lack of length. Give the driver most of the dayoff, since missing fairways is severely punished here.
After a night spent at one of any number of hotels, motels and resortsin and around this scenic and growing town, cruise for 90 minutes or soto Sudbury and play "The Wolf" - Timberwolf, that is. ThisMcBroom-designed masterpiece was named best new course in the country in2000 by Golf Digest magazine and is the crown jewel of Northern Ontariogolf.
More than 7,100 yards long, Timberwolf (timberwolfgolf.com,877-689-8853) is bentgrass from tee to green, swooping around anexpansive property that tested Canadian Tour players in past years. Thesprawling layout is notably for its tough par-4s, as well as the ninthand 18th holes, both par-5s with environmentally protected wetlandstraversing the fairways. McBroom, and understudy Chris Nelson, did aterrific job of bunkering this course, particularly around the enormousgreens. The putting surfaces average 7,000 square feet, ranging from5,500 on the par-5 opening hole to 9,000 on the par-3 15th.
Its astoundingly low $55 weekday rate is bolstered by stay-and-playpackages that start at $89 and include 18 holes, power cart,complimentary practice facility, club cleaning and storage,accommodations at one of 10 partner hotels and a $20 "gaming package" fromSudbury RacetrackSlots.
"It's obviously a great golf course," says Timberwolf owner Sam Yawney,"but when you mention Sudbury to most Toronto people, they think you'retalking about the Arctic Circle. They would think nothing of drivingthree and a half hours south to go somewhere like Cleveland, but goingnorth? That's a whole different matter."
After one, or perhaps two, days in Sudbury, go east on Highway 17 toNorth Bay. You may be able to arrange a round through your pro at thehistoric and private North Bay Golf and Country Club, designed byStanley Thompson, but all is not lost if you can't.
Links(ospreylinksgolf.com, 705-752-5225) hosted the Canadian Tour's 2000Ontario Open when it was just a year old, and the ensuing years haveenhanced its maturity. Still lacking a permanent clubhouse, the ReneMuylaert design is a par-71, 6,442-yard test. Sloped at 130 from thetips, the course has a split personality: links style on the front,heavily wooded and rugged on the back.
Head pro Jeff Rogerson says the $41 peak green fee illustrates thedifference between this region and the overheated Muskoka market. "It'sthe nature of the market. If you compare this course to many in Muskokaor Southern Ontario, the price would be at least double that. Golf uphere is the best buy you'll ever find." A deal with the nearby ClarionResort Pinewood Park offers 18 holes at both Osprey Links and theexecutive-length Pinewood Park, overnight accommodation, dinner andbreakfast for $170 per person.
Heading back south on Highway 11 through Huntsville, Bracebridge,Gravenhurst and Orillia, ever closer to crime, grime, and paying bigtime in the Big Smoke, you're more than welcome to stop at any number ofmoderately priced, enjoyable courses. By the beginning of the 2004 golfseason, four-lane highways will be extended to both North Bay and ParrySound, thus reducing the number of excuses made not to travel toNorthern Ontario.
Northern Ontario offers many fun courses, although the conditioning andamenities may not be first rate. Be advised, though, that thehospitality and value more than compensate. Eighteen-hole courses areincreasingly rare as you head north, but two laps around a goodnine-hole course can be just as satisfying in many cases. Here are someexamples.
Lively Golf and Country Club (705-692-1087) - Once referred to as thegolfing jewel of the North, Lively is typical of older courses in thisarea. Narrow, tree-lined fairways, crisscrossed by a meandering creekrequire more finesse than power. It runs $33 for 18 holes.
New Liskeard Golf Club (705-647-6611) - The only 18-hole course betweenTimmins and North Bay, New Liskeard GC is built on rolling terrain, butan easy walk. Deer, and even moose, are frequently seen on the 185-yard13th hole. It runs $35 for 18 holes.
Kirkland Lake Golf Club (705-642-3456) - Many think this is bestnine-holer in Northern Ontario. Fairways and greens are maintained witha modern irrigation system, and a creek wanders across just about everyhole. It runs $30 for 18 holes.
Haileybury Golf Club (705-672-3455) - This Scottish links-stylenine-holer is the oldest in Northern Ontario, dating back to 1921. Itsshort yardage is offset by small, sloping greens and uneven fairwaylies. It runs $30 for 18 holes.
Huron Pines Golf and Country Club (huronpines.com, 705-356-1663) - Noted architect Graham Cooke has worked his magic on this formernine-hole layout in Blind River, transforming it into an excellent18-holer. It runs $40 for 18 holes. Stay-and-play packages start at $119.
Timmins offers Spruce Needles ($36 for 18 holes) and the recentlyexpanded 27-hole Hollinger course ($39 for 18 holes).
More details on these and other Northern Ontario courses are availableOn the Web at tee-off.ca/northernontario.htm.
John Gordon has been involved fulltime with golf since he became managing editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, in 1985. In 1991, he was recruited by the Royal Canadian Golf Association to create their Member Services and Communications departments, and to revive Golf Canada magazine, their national membersmagazine which had been defunct for a decade. After successfully relaunching Golf Canada and serving as its inaugural editor, he was named executive director of the Ontario Golf Association. He returned to fulltime writing in 1995.
Signature Vacations has mastered the "all-inclusive" vacation. The Canadian company, a division of the Sunwing Travel Group, has been flying snow-weary travelers to warm-weather destinations for more than 40 years, specializing in exotic locales in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.
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