The Glen Abbey Trail
Price, Value, Selection& Canada Has It All!
By: Dr. Barry Lotz
Plunk down five dollars for two beers and still get five dollars in change! Canada offers a phenomenal exchange rate equating to a discount on golfing at some of the very best golf courses on the North American continent. And English is spoken! The “Great White North” can also be the Great Green North.
The Province of Ontario offers many superlative choices; The Glen Abbey Trail and Niagara are two of the finest.
The Glen Abbey Trail is akin to the Great Smoky Mountain Golf Trails mountain golf
None of these “trails” are “manufactured” courses. Each course was extracted from the land and partakes of its natural topography, not imposing on it. The entire “Trail” courses offer genuine championship layouts that will stand the test of time and pose major tests of golf for years to come. The rationale: No one talks about or remembers the easy courses. What lodges in a golfer’s mind is the one brilliant shot that (momentarily) conquers a tough hole and the aesthetic ambience of the course itself.
The Glen Abbey Trail is all about golf in the cosmopolitan, big city of Toronto, amid the beautiful scenery and great outdoors of Muskoka’s cottage country and near the awesome wonder of Niagara Falls.
Included in the Trail are six of Ontario’s finest courses: The Lake Joseph Club, Rocky Crest, Grandview, Ushers Creek, Battlefield and the mighty Glen Abbey, scene of many a Canadian Open triumph.
The predominant feature of most of northern and central Ontario is the Canadian Shield. This is a layer of granite bedrock dominating the subterranean landscape. The granite sits just a few feet below the surface, endearing itself to golf course architects’ creativity, but at the same time a curse to farmers.
Tom McBroom, Canada’s premier golf course architect, is acknowledged to not only be the best of the modern day architects but on the same level as Player, Palmer and Nicklaus. No golf course architect has taken as dramatic advantage of the natural rock outcroppings as Tom McBroom. McBroom has designed 60 courses in Canada, including several dazzlers in the little known, but amazingly golf-rich region of Muskoka, less than three hours north of Toronto.
“Rock can provide great beauty, character and strategic nuance in golf design,” McBroom said. “The Canadian Shield provides a brilliant canvas for courses with natural beauty. Instead of covering the rock we should uncover it.”
Uncover it he has, and with extraordinary results.
Just outside Toronto sits Glen Abbey Golf Club (7112 yards). This Jack Nicklaus design is assured a place in history, for it was here that Tiger Woods hit one of the most famous shots of recent years. He hit an amazing 218-yard six-iron 10 feet from the pin, out of a fairway bunker (all carry over water) on the final hole of the 2000 Canadian Open. With the championship on the line, no other golfer would have even attempted that shot. It clinched the Triple Crown for Woods, making him only the second player in history, along with Lee Trevino, to capture the U.S., British and Canadian Opens in the same year.
Glen Abbey is a beautiful parkland design with rolling hills and sometimes-drastic elevation changes, the most significant being the par-4 eleventh with a 200-foot drop to the fairway. The plummeting tee shot is followed by a long approach over 16 Mile Creek. The creek is in play on three outstanding valley holes to follow; the long, difficult par-3 12th, the beautifully framed par-5 thirteenth and the risk/reward 14th. This is a true players course, tough, yet fair. Glen Abbey is the only Trail course open to the general public.
The Lake Joseph Club (6985 yards) is chock full (perhaps rock full?) of fun holes, often spectacular, on terrain that flatlanders or the faint of heart might deem better suited for a billy goat. Walking is a tall order over this up and down terrain, but driving a golf ball between the granite slabs and over wetlands is exhilarating, particularly if the ball stays in the short grass. There’s little water to be found on the course, just a shade less than 7,000 yards from the tips, but much angst in the way of woods, marsh, and narrow, sloping fairways.
“It’s quite the roller coaster ride,” said Tim O’Connor, communications director for Clublink, Canada’s largest owner, operator and developer of high end resort golf courses.
“There’s a liberal mix of holes that allow you to spray the ball, and others where if you wander into the bush, you have to reload. Lake Joseph is a true shot-makers course because you must really choose when to lay back off the tee or to fire for a pin. The course is ranked No. 8 in the country by SCORE Golf Magazine, jumping from 29 in the rankings two years ago.”
Muskoka is an outdoor paradise of freshwater lakes, dense forest and abundant wildlife. Known as “Cottage Country” to the locals, it became a summer destination over the last half-century. Delta’s Resorts fit in beautifully with the surrounding development, exuding a rustic New England charm. On site restaurants consistently deliver delicious meals.
Rocky Crest (6943 yards) is the crown jewel of the Muskoka region, which also includes Mark O’Meara’s first signature design at the nearby Grandview Resort.
McBroom continues to refine his technique at using the granite outcroppings indigenous to the area, and the two-year old Rocky Crest is simply magnificent. In building Rocky Crest, McBroom and his staff faced the formidable task: how to grow grass on land that is almost entirely granite. However, after seven months of trucking sand onto the property, the result is a surprising lushness that weaves its way seamlessly through swaths of tall pines and hemlocks that guard the fairways like majestic sentries.
What separates Rocky Crest from so many courses, is that it is outstanding in all regards. Not only is each hole a treat, but also the all-pine rustically handsome clubhouse is a breathtaking design with high ceilings, meticulous detailing and a regal presence that embodies the country elegance of the Muskoka area.
Stroke a few balls on the practice area that’s more of a putting garden than a putting green, and you’ll get a taste of what lies ahead on the golf course itself. This is golf on a grand scale, a faultless and spectacular design that combines the scenic attributes of Lake Joseph, but without the reliance on blind shots or prohibitively penal design philosophy.
Players will find mostly generous fairways with additional room to maneuver from off the short grass.
There are only 35 bunkers on the property, because the Canadian Shield, uncovered to fabulous effect, provides both target line and hazard. The vast majority of players shouldn’t attempt the tips, but every player should take in the view from the back tee box on the sixth, a par 5 where the drive must carry a three-acre granite gorge to reach a bent grass fairway 180 yards away.
It’s a breathtaking sight, one unique to this incredible, but mostly undiscovered golf region of Muskoka.
Mark O’Meara has a reputation as one of the PGA Tour’s nice guys, but he shows a darker side of his personality in his first signature design at the nearby Grandview Resort (7065 yards). O’Meara has made a memorable debut on a canvas full of white pine, hemlock, wetlands and the omnipresent rock. But his golf course, while indisputably beautiful and bold, is something of a bear for the legions of resort players who lack the requisite power game to reach the crests of many a fairway.
“This course has been a big hit,” said O’Connor, a long-time golf journalist. “It’s obviously quite spectacular, combining the rock, vistas and forest of The Canadian Shield, but I think the key thing is that it is a lot of fun to play, provided you play the correct tees. Better players should play the blues and average male players should hit from the whites, otherwise you face some tough carries over rock, water and some doglegs where you have to bust it over the trees, otherwise you’ll be blocked out. That said, if you choose the correct tees, the course can be a lot of fun because there’s holes where you can bite off more of the dogleg or play it safer.”
Bear in mind that long before the high profile golf courses came to fruition, Muskoka was known as a rustic getaway with many recreational options.
Thankfully, that still holds true today, and area resorts like Rocky Crest and Grandview
Swim or canoe in sparkling Lake Joseph or Fairy Lake. Hike the nature trails, play tennis
Legends on the Niagara
Niagara is fast becoming a preferred golf destination, with the Parks Commission making a commitment to golf development. According to Minister of Tourism Cam Jackson, golf is quickly becoming the most popular sport in Canada. “In fact,” he says, ” Ontario is fast becoming the South Carolina of the North,” a reference I assume, to Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head. A recent study identified Niagara as a prime area for golf development, with more than 12 million people coming through each year. The newest game in town is the golf facilities at Legends on the Niagara.
Legends on the Niagara is a sprawling complex spread across 700 acres. The development includes two championship courses, Battlefield and Ussher’s Creek, a nine-hole short course, an 18-hole putting course and an expansive, 360-degree practice facility. Also on site is a full-fledged golf academy and beautiful clubhouse. The property is adjacent to the Niagara River, just a few miles from the thundering Niagara Falls.
Putting Course at Legends on Niagara
A pair of golf course architects deemed to be the “Rees Joness'” and “Tom Fazios’ of Canada have designed the two outstanding courses at Niagara Falls. The Battlefield course was designed by Douglas Carrick, while Ussher’s Creek was designed by Thomas McBroom.
Battlefield derives its name from the proximity of the course to the site of the Battle of Chippawa in the War of 1812, fought between American and British troops. Both courses have been designed to be user friendly, with ample fairway landing areas.
Ussher’s Creek (7309 yards) has an understated look that blends with the natural landscape and presents endless challenges for even the most proficient golfer. The dominant feature is a 12-acre lake, with Scottish fescue dotting the landscape. The course has capitalized on the existing terrain, which consists of a mix of water holes, Scottish links-style holes, and woodland holes with moderate, tree-lined fairways. Water comes into play on nine holes. Number six plays over the lake, which must be carried off the tee and on the approach to the green, certainly not for the faint of heart. Where water does not come into play, clusters of strategically positioned fairway and greenside bunkers do, and several holes have both.
Battlefield (7180 yards) contains a 19-acre man-made lake that comes into play on no less than four holes. And from the thirteenth hole you’ll get a view of Niagara Falls in the distance. Golfers of all skill levels will no doubt find this course both beautiful and challenging. A preserved, mature Carolinian forest camouflaging its fairways around the course, along with a sea of bunkers ready to snare any wayward strokes, present an intimidating optical illusion.
In addition to the natural wonder of the falls, visitors will enjoy gambling (a soon to be finished casino will be the largest in Canada), award-winning area wineries, and a wide range of cultural activities and cuisine. Any “to do” list at the falls should include one, if not all of the following; Journey behind the falls, a boat trip to the base of the falls or a helicopter view from above.
Information on Ontario golf and tourism can be obtained from the following: For the Niagara area contact 1-866-GOLF-NIA or www.niagaralegends.com. Information on Delta Resorts is available at 1-888-244-8666 or www.deltahotels.com. For ClubLink or the Glen Abbey trail, go to www.clublink.ca or www.glenabbeytrail.com. For more information on golf in Ontario, call 866-447-4558 or go to: www.ontariotrails.canadagolf.com
Barry Lotz, J.D., Ph.D. is the director of the Professional Golf Teachers Association of America. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the California Golf Writers Association, and serves both as a Consultant and Mediator to the golf industry. He is also the author of numerous books, including “333 Best Web Sites for Golfers” and his current book, “How to Build Business Relationships Through Golf” is in the Top Ten Golf Business Book’s best seller list.