The Briars – Classic, Iconic Canadian Golf

The Briars Golf Club – Classic, Iconic Canadian Golf

http://www.briarsgolf.com/

The more I play Stanley Thompson designed golf courses the more I appreciate his work. The Briars is a prime example, with the Thompson-designed opening nine holes set amongst the pines of the resort town of Jackson’s Point. Take the final turn onto Hedge Road and it feels like you’ve gone back in time. And while the cottages have been modernized, the feel is of a resort community golf course set close to the Lake providing solitude and isolation, allowing players a tranquil golfing experience. Stanley Thompson designed the original nine holes in the 1920’s and fifty years later, his protégé Robbie Robinson completed the back nine. Together, the two nines are complementary and create a seamless routing that players of all skill levels will appreciate.

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Standing on the first tee at The Briars.  Course is in mint condition.

Playing on an overcast summer morning with a member (it is a private course) the location exudes a calm, relaxed feel which staff embody (mixed in with a commitment to service and professionalism). The clubhouse is large and comfortable, the pro shop well stocked. The 1st and 10th tees are in close proximity, the back nine taking a longer route away from the clubhouse than the front. Standing on the first tee, it was one of the more relaxed opening shots I have enjoyed in some time. The opening par 4 has a subtle dog leg right but it’s an otherwise inviting tee shot. The holes on the front are straightforward in their layout, cut from the forest and with sloped greens back to front and well framed bunkering, both tee shots and approaches are manageable for players. Errant tee shots are relatively easy to find as the course has done excellent work clearing growth below trees.

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Crossing the Black River heading to the 11th tee.

The Black River cuts the course, almost in two, with holes 11 to 17 playing on the south portion of the property. Here, the course has a slightly more open feel and the terrain is more undulating but make no mistake, this course is very walkable. And at only 6300 yards from the tips, playing 27 or 36 are entirely possible. The course offers four sets of tees which are inviting for players of all skill levels.

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Staring down the 14th fairway.

I was particularly impressed with holes 1, 5 and 14. The opening hole provides players an excellent sense of what to expect on the opening nine. Tree-lined but with generous landing areas and approaches that allow for players to run the ball up but with bunkers framing holes to capture errant shots, it represents the brilliance to Thompson design; the natural terrain is showcased. Hole 5 is a beautiful short par 3 with a large green and bunkers framing the hole short and left. The 14th was a Robinson design and I found it to be the toughest hole on the course. A stout par 5 requiring a long and straight tee shot and a strategic lay up (for hitters who can’t get there in two anymore). An old farm silo is set off to the left on the fairway and provides both character and a reference from where to aim on lay ups. The sharp dog leg 17th is stunning also, with the green protected beautifully by the river behind it.

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Going long or left on the 17th will bring you face to face with the Black River.  The tranquility of this course is captured well on this green.

It is a course design I love and could play over and over again. I invite you to view this course video developed by my playing partner and head of Eat Sleep Golf who provided https://player.vimeo.com/video/141221227“>aerial footage for his home course. Thompson and Robinson partnered on a Classic which ranks up as one of my more underrated favourites in the country.

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Cottages off the first green.  And across the road is Lake Simcoe.

Aura – 8 out of 10 – I love the sense of history here which is so pervasive at the Briars Golf Club. The drive down Hedge Road was one I hope to experience again. The Briars Resort and Spa (same name but no formal affiliation with the course), provides resort guests access to the course, so that is one option for non-members to access this gem.

Value (cost / experience) – Golfers should seek opportunities to play this Thompson design. While a private course, one other opportunity for access is through a reasonable membership within the Stanley Thompson Society. A course ‘passport’ of all his designs across the country makes courses accessible for public players. You will see this is an impressive, historic track. I am not apologetic nor shy about my bias of Stanley Thompson designs. Intrigued? Membership information can be found here.

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The par 3 13th hole.  Robinson builds off Thompson’s bunkering work to frame the hole.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10. It has been a damp spring and summer in Ontario and no surprise, the course was in superb condition. The rain held off allowing us to enjoy and appreciate the sensational work of the superintendent and grounds crew. Tee boxes which were well mown, fairways that were clearly identified, rough which was not too penal, and greens which were true and not overly fast. A shorter course, accuracy off the tee of more of a need than length.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – I loved it. I could play here every day. It was a comfortable, relaxed yet respectful golf experience – 9 out of 10

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Standing on the 2nd tee.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – There are three things that stand out for me with my experience at the Briars: The drive to the course was heavenly; it is only an hour north of Toronto but feels a world away. Two, the staff and members create a relaxed feel and that translated all the way to the opening tee. Last, the course provides sufficient diversity of play which I cherish; I used all 14 clubs and can’t always say that.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – There’s a part of me that wishes this was publicly accessible…but in doing so it would change the character of the course. I have provided two options for public players to access The Briars Golf Club. Perhaps it’s best to leave it at that and maintain the tranquility of this course which is such an asset.

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A break in the clouds as we head up the 18th hole.

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International Women’s Day and Golf

I am sharing this submission which will be edited and posted on http://www.golfchat.org/ GolfChat is a forum that connects and engages golfers from around the world every Tuesday on Twitter (#GolfChat).

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I drafted this on March 8, International Women’s Day as a response to a call from the #GolfChat Author’s Forum on the topic of Women’s Objectification in Golf Media.  There are many places to take a topic like this and issues of social media, objectification, demographics, sexuality and history are all themes which I am certain we will see woven throughout submissions.  Any my guess is that some authors will explore the issue from a deficit model, specifically, critiquing what is not right about how women are perceived in the game today.  All understood, all recognized.  However, I am going to try to take a different approach.   Here, I want to look at the richness of the game because of women’s participation and where golf media gets it right.  I am not trying to put my head in the sand here.  I want to look at this issue and let people know there are success stories; there is some good taking place.  I am an optimistic person and believe we all have an ability to affect positive change.  Our attitudes and behaviour matter and today, while we pause to reflect and respect the incredibly important role of women in the world, here’s what I love about women’s engagement in golf.

My favourite golf commentator is Judy Rankin.  It’s not even close between her and a second choice.  She is a consummate professional.  She is intelligent, articulate, engaging and honest.  Her knowledge comes from experience on the LPGA Tour as a 26-time winner and World Golf Hall of Fame member.  She takes the time to get to know the players and helps viewers build important connections to them as golfers.  I like the fact that the team during LPGA coverage is focused on their professional roles.  The fact that she is a woman is irrelevant to me, she’s just excellent in her role and I appreciate her work.  Juxtaposed to this is Morning Drive (and I use that only as an example).  Here, I struggle to make sense of why the male co-hosts can enjoy a relaxed role – khakis, maybe even spikeless golf shoes.  Women? Cite the day where any co-host has not had on a dress and likely heels (on odd occasion one may wear flat shoes), which makes any demonstration of golf skill awkward.  This shows the pervasiveness of the issue in question.

Last summer I had a chance to play a semi-private course in Toronto, called The Ladies Golf Club.  I wrote a course review and while the course was designed by one of Canada’s foremost golf course architects, Stanley Thompson, the person most important to its development is Ada Mackenzie.  Her story of a woman golfer seeking greater access for play in Canada around 1920 is well documented.  Her perseverance and drive resulted in the development of TLGC in 1924.  This course “is the only private golf club in North America where women have priority access to tee times, and where both women and men can enjoy golf in a welcoming atmosphere.”  And while Ada was battling for greater access for golf for women around the time of women’s suffrage there is a more pervasive challenge for women as they choose to enter into the world of golf.  Cassie Norris, fellow #GolfChat author and blogger wrote a brilliant piece (https://bandwagonersguidetogolf.com/2015/12/30/bandwagoning-the-boys-club/) that shows the extent of this issue today for her as a young woman new to the game of golf.   Beyond that, Cassie makes important contributions to golf through her blog and coordination of #GolfChat.

It’s no longer 1924 but the challenges of Cassie’s participation in this game are – in my opinion – only wrapped with new and more modern layers of pervasive gender bias.  So today, of all days, it is important for us to understand the contributions that women make to our world.  Many of us will look to our mom, maybe daughter or a friend as a woman who have inspired and supported us.  Drawing from this process and in the spirit of the day here are some ideas we can employ to make golf less the ‘boys club’ Cassie wrote about.  Some simple ideas for golfers: scrap the term ‘Ladies Tees’ and let’s call them Forward Tees; consider support for Fairways Fund (https://www.facebook.com/fairwaysfund/) which provides opportunity for young boys and girls to play this game; and embrace anyone who is new to the game – boy, girl, man, women.  Learn about and support initiatives like Golf Ontario’s ‘She Swings She Scores’ (https://gao.ca/she-swings-she-scores/). It’s all about respect. I feel golfers can understand that principle, but let’s expand the circle of respect to everyone who participates in the game, in any capacity. I really believe our individual actions can truly make a difference.  As opposed to waiting for change, let’s be the change and start calling out those who engage in disrespectful behaviour.

2 UNDR -Golfers Performance Underwear

Product Review – 2 UNDR

https://2undr.com/ca/

My first thought, being honest, was ‘c’mon, they’re underwear’?!

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Designing ‘performance’ underwear and marketing these to golfers seemed a little confusing to me.  However, having purchased a pair to try I will say this: they are extremely comfortable; highly durable; and the innovative Joey pouch creates unique comfort I have not experienced in other underwear before.  So much so I went out a bought a second and third pair.  It’s more than just the material which has a cool, comfortable feel.  The pouch for your ‘boys’ provides a literal layer of protection which on a hot day on the golf course is appreciated.  And that is the truly innovative part, the “The Joey Pouch”.  As the Canadian 2UNDR website states, it helps  “to separate a man’s most valuable assets from bodily contact to reduce unwanted skin-on-skin contact, providing less chafing, more control and an altogether more luxurious feel”.

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Now you may read this and scoff and say, as I did, ‘c’mon, they’re underwear?’  The 2UNDR ‘Swing Shift’ model retails at Golf Town for $32.99 and comes in several colour options.  It is possible to order them off the 2 UNDR website as well.  They’re not exactly cheap, and make no mistake there’s nothing cheap about them.  And as is often the case you get what you pay for.  Consider it an investment.  The truly notable difference is when you go back to your standard underwear and realize, as I have, that they’re simply not as good or comfortable.

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I am not going to go overboard and say they’ve transformed my golf game; c’mon they’re underwear, but comfort matters on the course.  I can say with confidence that they’re the only underwear I plan on wearing on to play golf, so bring on the heat because I’ll be ready!

The Ladies’ Club – Celebrating all that is good in golf.

Course Reviews – The Ladies Club – Celebrating all that is good in golf

http://www.ladiesgolfclub.com/

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The downhill par shows that designer Stanley Thompson gave this course plenty of challenge.

First, it’s important to dispel some misnomers: First, The Ladies Club is not just for women.  Their website says it best, “Ladies’ is the only private golf club in North America where women have priority access to tee times, and where both women and men can enjoy golf in a welcoming atmosphere”.  Second, if you think the course must be a boring push over than think again.  Set at just over 6000 yards from the tips, this Stanley Thompson design is fair, playable, but in typical Thompson fashion it is the terrain which sets the design parameters and this undulating layout will test the game of all players.  The course, like the facilities and its people, is first class.  Playing there this summer was a highlight of my golfing year and I highly recommend this course.

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Fairways Fund CEO, Tiffany Chaisson hits her opening drive at The Ladies’ Club right down the middle

Located in north Toronto, specifically in Thornhill, Ontario, this course is conveniently located off Yonge Street but head into the grounds and you would think you’re far removed from the hectic pace of the city.  It is a course which honours it history and tradition and leverages its uniqueness as a truly women-friendly course to its advantage.  Playing with a fellow golf writer and head professional, Paddy Kelly, we were able to tee off early and enjoy a pleasant summer morning of golf.

The course boasts multiple tee decks which are allowing members to play and enjoy the game at all levels.  A new purple tee deck was something Paddy discussed, as many members wanted to keep playing but found the Red tees (just over 5000 yards) was getting too long.  A more senior and family friendly tee deck, this move demonstrated the care and attention the course makes to its membership.  Paddy demonstrated through his stories and initiatives he has introduced around instruction and introduction to the game, that the focus at The Ladies Club is participation and fun.  His energy is infectious and he combines knowledge and skill in the game with an ability to connect to people and the result is a club with an environment which could be the envy in the GTA.

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Using the terrain effectively, Thompson creates several beautiful vistas off the tee for players at The Ladies’ Club.

The Ladies Club also honours its unique and rich history exceptionally well.  The clubhouse provides a testament to the leadership of Ada Mackenzie who was instrumental in the course being built in 1924.  One of the leading Canadian women in golf, Mackenzie was able to engage Stanley Thompson in the course design.  Paddy Kelly noted that Thompson was acutely aware of the unique aspects of this project, making holes approachable with ample space to run the ball up the hole, for example.  Set on a beautiful piece of property, the course does not rest on its laurels; it has worked hard to earn Audubon International certification for its environmental stewardship.

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You can see one of Thompson’s key design elements at play; approachable greens.

The course also has another unique aspect to it; 21 holes of play.  Here, players can make a determination after 9 holes if they wish to continue for the final 9, or, take a more direct route to the clubhouse and play a 3-hole loop.  The ‘A’ holes further serve to maintain participation in the game and create diverse options for members.

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The grounds are fantastic, making it feel like an urban oasis.

Classic Thompson bunkering is featured which frames holes exceptionally well.   While just over 6000 yards, the course does provide two par 5’s over 500 yards.  A 36-34 layout, the course ends with a stunning stretch on 16 – 17 – 18.  A downhill par 3, a classic shorter par 4, and an uphill par 3 moving up the clubhouse cap off a wonderful golfing experience.   It is a course I could play over and over again.

I want to extend my thanks to Paddy Kelly and the people at The Ladies’ Club for a wonderful golfing experience.  Add this course to your must play list.

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Classic Thompson bunkering guards this 17th hole but Head Professional Paddy Kelly was able to execute this approach perfectly, including a great club twirl.

Aura –9 out of 10 – My playing partner for the day, Fairway Fund CEO, Tiffany Chaisson, specifically requested we seek to play here.  This history and the story of Ada Mackenzie was so compelling to her that she wanted this to be her first golf experience in Ontario.  The clubhouse shows off the history of this course exceptionally well but the real masterpiece is the course itself.

Value (cost / experience) – 7.5 out of 10 – With ideal location in the Toronto area, the greens fees are fair for a course of this quality.  Yes, it is open to public play and as mentioned it open to men as well as women.  The peak fee is $115 but there are shoulder season rates and a strong twilight fee which creates greater value.  Membership options are also available.

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The Ladies’ Club honours its history like few courses I have experienced.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – In additional to strong environmental stewardship, greens crew at The Ladies’ Club keep this course in pristine condition.  Tee boxes, bunkers, fairways and greens were all exceptionally maintained.  The course layout was very walkable but did have some undulation to it as the course is bisected by the East Don River.  Holes 7 and 13 (both par 3’s) have challenging greens and it is imperative to keep the ball below the hole.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – A fun, playable golfing experience was not sacrificed at the expense of quality.  As a 10 handicapper, I found plenty of challenge but appreciated being rewarded for good shot making.  The course is an urban oasis and the history is on full display.  Paddy Kelly and his team are first class and exceptional at what they do. – 8.5 out of 10

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Third hole photobomb…looking back from the green across the pond to the tee deck.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – As I look back on the experience playing at the Ladies’ Club it was one of the more fun rounds of golf I had last season.  A terrific layout, brilliant design and a great day all combined to make my experience amazing.  The course creates the foundation for the clubs’ success but having a golf club which markets itself primarily to women and creates a positive golfing environment is something I appreciated experiencing first hand.  Also, there is no course I have experienced that tells its story and celebrates its history as well as The Ladies Club.

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The Don River cuts across the 16th hole in front of the green.

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The closing hole, an uphill par 3 closing off what was an excellent experience playing golf at The Ladies’ Club.

 

2016 in Pictures – Banff Springs (part 2)

In an effort to step up my photo game this year I am pleased to share 10 of my favourite golf images over the past year.  With a healthy layer of snow already in southern Ontario I hope this brings back good memories from your 2016 golf season and stokes the fire of anticipation for 2017!

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The story:  Given that these are two pictures of the same hole I don’t feel like I am breaking the rules too much.  The third hole at Banff Springs is my second favourite par 5 I have ever played (Highlands Links #7 gets top honours) and these views give you a good idea why.  While the 4th hole (see Banff Springs – part 1) gets proper accolades this is a highly underrated golf hole.  The sheer magnitude of the Rockies set against the expansiveness of this par 5 was incredible to experience.  I was blessed with a perfect morning for pictures and took full advantage.  The top image looks back from behind the green and the lower image was taken as I rounded the subtle dog leg and could see the green.  This courses is what bucket lists were meant for.

To all my readers, a very Merry Christmas, joyous and safe holidays and my best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and prosperous 2017.

In friendship, Mike

 

2016 in Pictures – The Ladies Golf Club

In an effort to step up my photo game this year I am pleased to share 10 of my favourite golf images over the past year.  With a healthy layer of snow already in southern Ontario I hope this brings back good memories from your 2016 golf season and stokes the fire of anticipation for 2017!

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The Story: The word golf enthusiast is not appropriate for Tiffany Chaisson because it simply does not properly reflect her love for the game of golf (I defer to her choice; Golf Passionista).  I have never met a golfer more passionate about the game then the CEO of Fairways Fund (which is its own fascinating story).  This is the second fellow blogger I was able to tee it up with in 2016.  Hosted by Paddy Kelly and the fine people at The Ladies Golf Club for a summer round, this photo was not staged.  No, instead, I was photobombed and the result is quintessential Tiff.  Great memories of one of the more fun rounds of golf I experienced in 2016.  The course, I would argue, is one of Stanley Thompson’s more underrated courses I have played; I loved it.

 

 

2016 in Pictures – Banff Springs (part 1)

In an effort to step up my photo game this year I am pleased to share 10 of my favourite golf images over the past year.  With a healthy layer of snow already in southern Ontario I hope this brings back good memories from your 2016 golf season and stokes the fire of anticipation for 2017!

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The Story:  As one would expect, my excitement to play Banff Springs was sky high.  Early on a cool mid-week morning the starter was able to stagger singles like myself and twosomes off at a relaxed pace.  Playing alone, I was surprised when a golf cart arrived behind me when I got to the 4th hole.  Called the Devil’s Cauldron, this is one of the country’s greatest golf holes.  The group in the cart were not golfers but tourists and asked if they could watch me tee off.  Not having issue with this, I asked in turn if they’d take a picture of me as I finished hitting the ball.  The one gentlemen was a photographer and that is how this photo came about; perfect timing really.  Captures the tranquility of my golf experience at Banff Springs exceptionally well.  It’s a round, and a picture, I’ll never forget.

Click here for my full review of Banff Springs