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Options for the budget-minded tourists in Ontario

John GordonBy John Gordon,

The first two parts of this series dealt with two of Ontario's burgeoning golf destinations - Niagara-Greater Toronto and Muskoka-Georgian Bay. In this installment, we offer more options for the budget-minded golfing tourist, especially those motoring through the central and southwestern regions of the vast province.

Wouldn't you love a leisurely drive to a vacation destination offering great golf, fine food and comfortable accommodations? Look no further. That seemingly elusive destination is right here in Ontario.

Search the Web for "golf in Ontario" or regional golf publications such as Ontario Golf News, Bay Area Golfing, or Tee To Green. Check the exchange rate ("Whoopee!), open the road atlas and plan your trip. (Most courses have their own Web sites, as well.)

Throw your clubs and luggage in the trunk, fill up the tank and away you go. If you're extra value-conscious, you might want to arm yourself with a discount coupon book, available at bookstores and golf shops throughout Ontario.

In addition to playing on some beautiful courses, you'll travel through some of the prettiest scenery in Ontario. Take, for example, the Huronia tourist region, whose southerly border begins just a few miles north of Toronto, up the multi-laned Highway 400.

Closely defined, Huronia is synonymous with Simcoe County; for ease of understanding, think of it as the area centered around Barrie and extending north to Midland, west to Collingwood, east to Orillia and south to Bradford.

The vast majority of Huronia's courses - mirroring the situation throughout Ontario -- falls into the recreational and value-conscious categories. As a result, competition is fierce, resulting in great value for the average golf visitor. (All prices quoted are in Canadian dollars.)

"Recreational" and "value conscious" should not be construed as demeaning. Rather, the majority of Huronia courses are interesting for golfers of all calibres; better, or more masochistic, players can get all the testing they want at most of these courses simply by stepping to the back tees. Just don't clog up the course; four hours or less is the norm around here.

A little south of Barrie, on Highway 89 about seven miles west of Highway 400 near Alliston, sits Nottawasaga Inn. The Valley course charges $44 while the longer and tougher Ridge 18 will set you back $69. The 575-acre property, recently named "Best Family Resort in Ontario," offers many recreational opportunities, including a sports dome and extensive children's activities. Nottawasaga also offers great packages. For example, for $240 per couple, you receive golf, accommodation, and country buffet breakfast.

North of Barrie a few minutes is scenic Horseshoe Resort with its 36 holes at the base of ski hills. About $200 per person gets you unlimited golf with cart, accommodation, breakfast, and dinner.

In the nearby Orillia area, tackle Hawk Ridge's 36 holes. After a (hopefully) successful outing at the world-class Casino Rama, try Lake St. George, a par-72, 6,300-yarder. Around Barrie, Simoro Golf Links is a fun outing and Midland's Brooklea Golf and Country Club offers an executive nine, a links-style nine and a parkland nine. These, like most courses in the region, have arranged attractive package rates with local motels. Another possibility is the venerable Midland G&CC, a tree-lined shotmaker's paradise dating back to 1919.

On the other side of Georgian Bay, in the Collingwood area, the semi-private Blue Mountain Golf and Country Club welcomes visitors. The Coney Island-like atmosphere of Wasaga Beach is home to a couple of passable public courses for those who want a break from beach, boats and bikinis.

All these Huronia courses are well under an hour's drive from Barrie and only a little farther from Toronto. Decent accommodation is inexpensive and plentiful. Various stay-and-play packages are available are available all over the province, but seem more plentiful north of the Greater Toronto Area.

Let's head south for a change. Not south south, but just half an hour south of Brantford where, for $114 per couple on weekdays, The Greens at Renton offers two greens fees, a cart and two dinners. Stop in at the Erie Beach Hotel in quaint Port Dover the next day for a feed of its renowned local perch on your way west.

West? Darn tootin', pardner. Some of the best courses in the province are located in the southwestern region stretching from London to Windsor.

How about a little warm-up at the Holiday Inn in Sarnia, with its onsite nine-hole executive course? For a stronger test, tour Huron Oaks GC where PGA Tour star Mike Weir honed his skills or the excellent St. Clair Parkway course in nearby Mooretown. It's a great layout with huge greens and is always in fine condition.

The town of Forest is a superb spot to set up camp for a couple of days. Renowned for the theatrical performances at its outdoor amphitheater, the area also boasts some fine golf. On top of your list should be Indian Hills GC, a tough but inexpensive 6,500-yard outing with weekday greens fees of $32.

For one-stop shopping, try the Forest Golf and Country Hotel with its 27 holes. Weekend package deals include unlimited golf, accommodations, and full use of the recreation center for $200 per couple. Arkona Fairways is always in great shape, and a treat for walkers with an average green fee under $30.

In the Chatham region, the Wheels Inn Resort is a good base from which to try city courses like Indian Creek or Country View. And everyone fortunate enough to play it says the historic Blenheim GC is one of the province's best-kept secrets. Others worth playing in this area include Ridgetown G&CC and Deer Run.

If you want to sample Windsor's gambling establishment, you will want to stay in the heart of the city, close to the major arteries that will whisk you away to some terrific golf.

There are some 20 courses in the metro area, but the pick of the litter has to be the city-owned Roseland Golf and Curling Club. Designed by famed architect Donald Ross, it is always in nice shape and provides a pleasurable challenge for golfers of all abilities. Located about half an hour from Windsor, the 27-hole Kingsville Golf and Curling Club is another gem.

Two others you must try are Fox Glen and Royal Estate GC in nearby McGregor. And before you head home, go to Canada's most southerly course, Erie Shores G&CC at Point Pelee.

There are, of course, hundreds more golf courses in Ontario, the vast majority of which are friendly, enjoyable and relatively inexpensive. Too often, it seems, golf vacationers focus only on the high-end destinations when their dollars could be more wisely spent. Uninformed opinions to the contrary, a golf vacation remains affordable to just about everyone, be they hardcore golfers, families, couples or seniors.

Why not break away from the pack and try some of these or, if you're so inclined, discover your own hidden gems? It's worth it, in so many ways.

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.

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