TORONTO, ONTARIO – Everything is bigger in Texas, except perhaps golf, which is actually bigger in Toronto, and the Canadian province of Ontario. There are approximately 1,000 golf courses to select from for a golf package that can keep you near the U.S.-Canada border on your next golf vacation. And the overwhelming majority of these stunning golf courses are accessible to the public – be sure to time your golf vacation to catch a Toronto Blue Jays game too. Nothing is better than a little golf and baseball.
While Ontario, which stretches from the shore of Lake Ontario to beyond Lake Superior, and from Quebec on the east and west to Manitoba, most visitors arrive in one of two ways: flying into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, or driving through border crossings such as Windsor, Buffalo, or Niagara Falls. The latter portal provides instant access to the Niagara Region, long known for fine wines, great cuisine, Niagara Falls and now top golf.
“I brought my family here a couple times to see Niagara Falls and was surprised at the golf courses in the area,” said Kent Worley, a golfer in the Niagara, Canada region. “Now I get here at least once a year on a golf vacation with a group of friends. It’s a quick and easy way to get a few days free from New York City.”
Canada’s WhirlPool Golf Course in the Niagara Region
No sooner does a visitor cross the international bridge than the first of the region’s almost 40 golf courses appears. Americans discovered a half a century ago, when Jimmy Demaret and Cary Middlecoff barely defeated Canadian stars Stan Leonard and Bob Gray in front of 10,000 at the official opening of Whirlpool Golf Course.
Ontario’s Whirlpool Golf Course was designed by Stanley Thompson, who gained fame with his designs such as Banff Springs and Jasper Park Lodge in the Canadian Rockies, St. George’s in Toronto, and Highlands Links in Nova Scotia.
“I’m usually a scratch golfer but even I bogeyed a few par-3s at Whirlpool Golf Course,” said Worley. “But I love the challenge. It’s an interesting place to play a few rounds.”
Whirlpool set the bar for golf in Niagara when it opened in 1951, a year before to Thompson’s untimely demise. The 7,000-yard course, owned and operated by the Niagara Parks Commission, was a forerunner of several other excellent public-access courses such as Hunters Pointe, Rockway Glen, Peninsula Lakes’ 27 testing holes, and the 27-hole Royal Niagara facility.
Niagara Region Makes for Great Golf Vacations
Ontario’s Niagara region is renowned for its temperate climate, ideal for golf courses, orchards and vineyards – its ice wines are among the finest in Canada – but its relatively unremarkable topography has forced designers to be innovative with their earthmoving. The result is courses with creative mounding, plentiful bunkers, and lakes aplenty.
From several of them, you can see and hear the Ontario’s beautiful Niagara Falls, a site that attracts between 12 million and 14 million tourists each year – most of whom neglect to sample the area’s golf courses. Those visitors are also interested in Niagara’s other attractions, including the famed Wine Route, the Shaw Festival, and picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Hunters Pointe, designed by the Graham Cooke-Darrell Huxham firm in Quebec, was, until a year ago, the most notable of the new courses in the Niagara Region in Ontario. The layout, ranging from 5,300 to 7,000 yards, makes the most of an expansive, largely barren site. Uneven fairway lies, extensive mounding covered with thick fescue, relentless bunkering and a ninth hole that crosses a pond not once, but twice, make this a great test.
Late last spring, Hunters Pointe and its peers were joined by Battlefield and Ussher’s Creek, designed by Doug Carrick and Thomas McBroom respectively.
The two, Canada’s most recognizable architects, literally flipped a coin to see who would design each course. In the end, they collaborated on the routing of both 18-hole courses, an 18-hole putting course, a nine-hole academy course, and a circular 45-acre practice facility on the 700-acre property, adjacent to a War of 1812 battlefield.
Carrick’s Battlefield course, surrounded by a mature Carolinian forest, hides its wide fairways by presenting the golfer with the intimidating optical illusion of a sea of gaping bunkers. In a tribute to Carrick’s ability, most of the fairway bunkers exist more as aiming points than true hazards, and only a poorly struck shot will find one. His greenside bunkers are another issue altogether. The Battlefield course, which ranges from 5,428 to 7,224 yards, is also notable for the 20-acre lake on the finishing hole. Mist from Niagara Falls and the nearby rapids can be seen in the distance from the 13th green.
Several holes on Ussher’s Creek blend in with the Ontario, Canada natural wooded landscape, while on other holes, McBroom has attempted to create a links style. The creek also comes into play on six of the nine water holes on the 7,300-yard layout.
Top Golf Courses In and Around Toronto, Ontario
About 90 minutes up a busy expressway from Niagara is Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Its rolling hills, mixed forests, rivers and fertile soil make the region a course architect’s dream, along with some of the finest turf grass growing conditions anywhere. As a result, more than 150 courses are within a half-hour drive of downtown Toronto, such as the high-end Angus Glen.
Designed by Carrick, the original Angus Glen course sprawls over a former horse farm and played host to the Bell Canadian Open last September.
The most famous public course in Ontario, Canada is Glen Abbey, the very first course Jack Nicklaus designed on his own back in 1977. The nearby 36-hole Lionhead layout is the darling of corporate outings, but its environmentally sensitive location makes it a potential nightmare for high handicappers. It has been called, with some justification, a course designed specifically for scrambles.
While scores of other excellent facilities bracket the Toronto area, two are worthy of special mention: Wooden Sticks to the east and Osprey Valley to the northwest. Florida architect Ron Garl and his Canadian colleague Alan Chud designed Wooden Sticks, a superlative new layout that combines some fine original holes with replica holes from St. Andrews, Augusta National, TPC at Sawgrass, and others.
Last year, Carrick added a parkland course here in the Toronto area and a pine barrens-style course to his existing course at Osprey Valley. These 54 glorious holes are just around the corner from the storied Devil’s Pulpit and Devil’s Paintbrush, built by Scott Abbot and Chris Haney, inventors of the Trivial Pursuit board game.
Enjoy Downtown Toronto on Your Golf Vacation
Time spent between games will not be wasted in the multicultural downtown of Toronto. The city of more than four million boasts the third-largest theater district in the world along with more and better restaurants and hotels than any other city its size. Museums, art galleries, clubs, and the Lake Ontario waterfront presided over by the CN Tower, the world’s tallest freestanding structure, provide more than enough distraction for any tourist.
Also, be sure to catch a Blue Jays game at the Sky Dome if you have time. It is a cool stadium and an opportunity to see one of the more successful teams in the American League East (that is if the Blue Jays happen to play the Yankees or Red Sox). Either way, Toronto, Ontario is an up-and-coming golf destination that should be considered on your next golf vacation to Canada.
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