Course Reviews – Smuggler’s Glen – An Eastern Ontario Must Play
East of Kingston, Ontario the 401 highway offers an exit called The Thousands Islands Parkway. This scenic drive brings drivers very close to the St. Lawrence River and quickly on your left Smuggler’s Glen Golf Course along with the Glen House Resort. The course opened for play in 2005 and was designed by Boyd Barr who created an enjoyable resort course on what Robert Thompson called a “cool piece of property”. With a river view from the first tee deck, surprising elevation change (used most effectively off the tee on many holes) and outstanding conditioning, this course is one of Eastern Ontario’s best courses. The course hosted a PGA Tour Canada event in 2012 and while not overly long – just over 6600 yards from the black tees – it possesses a 134 slope rating that will demand your attention.
The opening hole is an awkward hole, a par 5 called The Gorge, as players need to position their tee shot over a gorge into a precise landing area with prominent granite outcroppings making a play of less than driver smart. The course finds it groove very well on the third hole, as Barr’s intelligent use of the terrain featuring many elevated tee shots to generous fairways The 4th hole, ‘Bio Challenge’, is a well-designed risk-reward par 5 that provides players several options to play the hole. Conservative or aggressive, a long yet thin green will make your approach shot very important.
I was very impressed with the course routing and its overall conditioning. Being a resort course, it is very playable for golfers of all skill levels and the course supports this through five sets of tees, their Green tees measuring at just over 4700 yards. The greens were consistent and in excellent condition. The tee boxes were generous and in very good condition given it was peak season. Staff were outstanding – professional and courteous – and if you can afford the time, their patio allows for excellent views set high and overlooking the river. Our group made time to add up the scorecard, enjoy a beverage and a bite to eat.
The back nine, after looping back to the clubhouse, features three memorable golf holes. The 12th is a shorter driveable par 4. Called ‘The Gambler’, this uphill hole does provide a good birdie opportunity. The 13th – ‘The Rock’ – features the prominence of the Canadian Shield and is aptly named. The rock wall is impressive. The closing hole, another par 5, makes up for the awkwardness of the opening hole and is an intelligent design, challenging players to consider an aggressive approach shot or a more cautious layup. The strong finishing hole capped off a fabulous golfing experience and left me impressed about Smuggler’s Glen as a fun, resort golf course which will provide a test for golfers of all levels.
Aura – 7.5 out of 10 – Playing a course where professionals play is always a special experience. The course is more active in marketing itself but its location within a more underrated part of the province in terms of golf keeps it more of a hidden gem. Excellent conditions combined with the scenery – in and around the course – made more a memorable golf round.
Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10. Peak fees are $92 and this includes cart; solid for what you get. I did not expect to enjoy the experience as much as I did; Smuggler’s Glen is truly one of the more underrated courses I have played in Canada. I could only imagine how beautiful this course would play in the fall season with leaves changing set against the rock and the lush green fairways.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10 – I really enjoyed this course. The conditioning was consistent and superb. I appreciate the intelligent use of the terrain to create many vistas for confident and visually impressive tee shots. The awkwardness of the opening hole and its focus on precision was a contrast to the rest of the course and being a first time player, I now know how to effectively play that hole. The warm up/practice facilities were under construction; one step back to take two important steps forward. Good to see that investment being made.
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8.0 out of 10 – Smuggler’s Glen anchors an impressive and underrated golf region in Ontario. Eastern Ontario is not prominently thought of for golf, with water activities along the river leading recreational interests. But this course was fantastic and for golfers who are seeking a relaxed and challenging golf experience I urge you to visit and play a round. Like myself, I am confident it won’t be your last.
Highlight (what is great about the course) – What’s great? The people, most definitely. The course, like the golfing experience overall, has few weak points. Playing with a couple buddies, we were able to enjoy a friendly, relaxed round which rewarded good play (them) and penalized errant shots (me). The property and its location capped off a fabulous day, and being only 3 hours east of Toronto I look forward to returning to play it again (and again).
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – Absent a truly memorable ‘signature hole’ (there’s many options) the course offers a level of consistency and quality which players will enjoy. The resort feel at Smuggler’s Glen is on point.