Forest Golf Club and Inn – My greatest value play

Forest Golf Club and Inn

http://www.golfforest.ca/

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Back in 2010 – a much warmer weekend then 2017 – my Dad tees off on hole 1.

It’s a subtle re-brand, changing the name from Forest Golf and Country Hotel to Forest Golf Club and Inn.  New course ownership, under the GolfNorth consortium is bringing about some changes but what remains the same is 27 holes and some of Ontario’s best value in golf.  You won’t find Forest on top course listings; in fact their 18-hole course doesn’t have a hole over 400 yards.  As a par 66, this windswept course offers value, fun and enough challenge to bring golfers back.

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Looking off the 7th tee to the 6th green and the 4th fairway.

I play this course annually on the last weekend of April with a group of 24.  This year marked our 17th year visiting this rural farming community about 45 km east of Sarnia, Ontario and just south of Lake Huron.  Over the years we’ve experienced hot, summer-like conditions, late winter wet snow and pretty much everything in between.  In addition, Forest has a 9-hole course but it is set more in a valley and is prone to early season dampness or flooding.  This year all 27 holes were open and the course was lush and played long.

The course has a hotel on site along with a restaurant so it is possible for visitors to park their car and not start it back up until it’s time to leave.  The restaurant is not as lively as it once was, with other places in town (only 5 minutes away) providing some stiff competition.  However, despite this, Forest Golf Club and Inn remains one of the best value golf destinations I have experienced.  The shoulder season special of 2 days/2 nights unlimited golf is $140.00. Most of our players come a day before and their 3 day/3 night special is $190.00  They promote the “Unlimited Golf Package” year round so even in the peak season there is value to be had.  Now this does not include cart fees which for our group – given our collective age and skill level are mandatory but for a group of golfers of diverse skill who are all seeking two rounds a day, this is perfect for us.

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Bundled up and battling cold winds, the approach on the island green at 11 is even tougher.

The course starts in the valley for the first two holes with a straightaway par 4 and a par 3.  Moving up, the wind and water come into play.  Despite the 3rd hole being a short 124 yards (and often playing shorter) a crowned green and strong spring winds make it a tough hole.  The course is well protected by water on 8 holes.  Even at only 4600 yards, this provides the course some teeth.  Renovations over the past few years feature Lambton County’s only island green on the par 4 11th.  The approach, always into a strong breeze any time I have played it, makes the short iron approach much more challenging than that yardage would indicate.  The longest holes – 12 and 14 (368 yards and 380) are made tougher by the fact one of them is always directly into the wind.  One year, our group factored four extra clubs because of the wind and still came up short on the approach.

The conditions are consistently good but more attention to the greens would take this course to another level.  But make no mistake, this course is without pretense and provides relaxed, enjoyable golf for players of all skills levels.  Their second set of tees make the 18 hole course just under 3900 yards.  The nine hole course is a par 33, with 6 par 4’s and 3 par 3’s.  At 2057 yards, it uses elevation changes to create fun and challenge.

 

The hotel is clean and built to accommodate groups exceptionally well with one wing extending just adjacent to the 18th green making it convenient to leave the clubs in the cart over lunch before a second round.

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On the tee at Hole 10.  A longer straightaway par 4.

My favourite stretch on the course is holes 4-6 which wrap around a large pond and reflect the risk-reward aspect of Forest.  Driveable greens for sure, with holes 4 and 5 playing 264 and 267, but water and OB await any errant shots.  The 9th hole is also a fun one with players seeking to cut the corner on the dog leg par 4 over water and make their second shot as short as possible.

Forest Golf Club and Inn does not try to oversell itself; it is a shorter, fun and very approachable golf course.  With a focus on value yet possessing enough challenge for all players it remains the home of the Pitch, Putt and Gimme group based in Hamilton, Ontario and next year will be year 18.  Maybe next year I can finally get a birdie on the challenging downhill par 3 17th, only 109 yards but I have bogied that hole more than I’ve parred it and have yet to birdie it in 17 years!  Always good memories, good golf and exceptional value.

For this value conscious golfer looking for a relaxed, fun golf experience this is the place for you.

 

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With 40 km/h winds, approach shots need to carefully thought out.

Aura – 5 out of 10 – Perhaps too far removed from major golfing markets, but under the GolfNorth banner this may change over time.  It has a small but faithful following and focuses wisely on its golf value.

Value (cost / experience) – 10 out of 10.  The focus, given the location, is the stay and play deals and Forest is smart in its marketing efforts.   Even in the peak season, our group could enjoy 3 days accommodation and unlimited golf for $265 pp.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 6 out of 10 – I quite like the layout and appreciate the investments made over years (improvements to bridges and fairways).  The greens remain inconsistent and have been that way for many years now.  And while some feel a par 5 would help add to the course, I like that focus on shorter playability.  Our group includes several retirees who don’t play much golf yet everyone feels they can play this course and contribute in a scramble.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 7 out of 10 – This course is a fun way to kick off my golf season and after the Masters is done, I focus my attention to Forest and the start of my golf season.  I like the fact that the course mixes shorter, more forgiving holes with some challenge (water, design and wind).

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The 18th hole and its proximity to the hotel can provide a gallery at times.  For our group, add a couple drinks and the pressure of the approach or birdie putt on 18th becomes more pronounced.  Like the 16th at TPC Scottsdale, the 18th at Forest has taken on an enjoyable life of its own on late afternoon rounds.

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Spring 2016 – one of my favourite golf pictures. 14th tee at Forest, Dad and I.

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Impressions of the 2017 Toronto Golf and Travel Show

http://www.torontogolfshow.com/

I’m losing count but my guess would be that this is my 7th Toronto golf show in the past 8 years.  My motivation for attending has changed considerably over the years.  Gone are the days when I would show up early and line up to access the quality free golf giveaway (which still exists and creates significant buzz).  Now, I am interested in building and maintain relationships.  I have been fortunate to make friends in the golf industry in Canada and this event provides me a regular touch point to connect with key people in golf in Canada.

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Meeting golf ball inventor and legend, Dean Snell.

Let’s not kid ourselves here…there is an energy and buzz to this show which gets any golfing enthusiast excited for the season ahead.   Add to it exhibitors keen to share information on their products, courses, services and organizations and I was no different than the multitude of attendees.  So as I reflect back on the Golf and Travel Show, here are my impressions:

  1. There is something for everyone.

There really is.  Whether its discounted retail outlet shopping; numerous jurisdictions providing information on golf and travel escapes; access to local, national and international golf with strong promotional offers; chances to try new equipment; access to lessons from CPGA teaching professionals; draws and giveaways; speakers; and more.  The Toronto International Centre is sufficiently big enough to host an event of this magnitude and organizers had things clearly marked inside.

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Such a pleasure to meet and chat with Jim Burton.  For those active on Twitter, you’ll know him as The Grateful Golfer (@TheGratefulGolf)

  1. Make time to meaningfully engage.

The crowds are such that some people feel they should only spend a brief moment and gather information.  But I have learned that it is possible to strike up a conversation, ask questions and learn more about courses, organizations and golfing regions.  Carve out the experience you want from the show.  I appreciated the chance to meet The Grateful Golfer, a fellow golf blogger who does exceptional work (and possesses an exceptional golf game).  I spent time with my friends at Snell Golf Canada.  Highlighted here was the chance to meet Dean Snell, inventor of Snell golf balls and whom I most recently interviewed.  The booth got busier as the afternoon went on and I was happy to share my positive experience with these golf balls with attendees.

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It’s an annual tradition for me to head over and visit my good friends at Golf PEI.  Appreciated that Mark McLane could take time to talk and share insight on new initiatives.

I spent some time talking with my friend Mark McLane from Golf PEI and learned about some of the new golf initiatives happening on the gentle island.  It was a pleasure to meet Graham Hudson from Highlands Links who was at the Golf North booth.  Graham was excited to share some of the great developments happening on the course.  I met an old friend from grade school who heads up the On The Tee magazine.  And I had a chance to connect briefly with Jay from the 36 Golf Company, an amazing golf apparel company based in Canada.

I met and networked with many others.

  1. Grab now, read later.

I like to learn about new getaway destinations but I also like to learn about what courses in my area – the western part of the Greater Toronto Area – offer in terms of early season specials and promotions.  This approach of gathering as much information as possible truly helped me plan for my 2015 PEI golf trip and I find that once I am back in the quiet of my own home I can sift through the materials I have gathered and identify new courses to play, destinations to consider and products to learn about.  Along with making a direct connection with someone, I love this part of the golf show.

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As with any trophy, it’s only to be touched when you win it.  The base of the RBC Canadian Open trophy is being extended to allow for more winners to be added.

4. Shopping for Golf Gear

This part appeals to me less than others listed above.  The Golf and Travel Show has expanded over the years to include retailers offering discount product.  Often models which are older, there is value to be had but people need to be discerning in looking at product.  And if you can imagine it, they sell it.  Carts, bags, training aids, clubs, balls and apparel are all available.  I counted three separate discount retailers this year.  I grabbed a new putter grip but that was all.

  1. Education and Youth Engagement

This part excites me as the Golf and Travel Show works to engage junior golfers.  Being there on a Friday I did not see many kids (as they’d be in school) but understand that allowing kids to enter free and offering a real hands on experience in terms of contests, trying clubs, lessons and more, will provide people (kids of all ages) with a great opportunity to learn about the game and engage more within it.

I attended the Dean Snell talk and he provided a true master class on ball fitting which contradicts many approaches companies utilize today.  I learned a great deal from Dean during his 30 minute talk, including Q & A.   The speakers line up was diverse and impressive.

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Crowds were large and lineups long.  It moved steadily fortunately.  Great to see this kind of excitement.

The timing of this show is perfect, as it happens late enough in winter and before the Masters to truly pique the interest of golfers.  Based on the lineups and the large crowds on the first day, this is an event that just keeps growing and getting better and better.

Orangeville Golf Club – 9 Holes of Golfing Enjoyment

Orangeville Golf Club – 9 Holes of Golfing Enjoyment

Orangeville Golf Club – 9 Holes of Golfing Enjoyment

http://www.golforangeville.ca/

The drive from the GTA is a relaxed and leisurely one and arriving at the Orangeville Golf Club, you will get an immediate sense of a community that is friendly, respectful and passionate about its golf.  Playing there this spring on a mild, sunny day, it is hard to argue the value of this relaxed 9 hole course.  The course measures 2800 yards, but don’t be fooled to think this is a pushover nine.   I was able to get a spring rate of $25 for 18 holes and the course was in quite good condition for early in the season.

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A solitary stand of pine trees are the backdrop on hole 1, as seen from the 2nd tee.

My impressions of this course grew over playing the 9-hole loop two times.  It is not difficult, generally speaking.  But there are holes which will demand your attention.  Holes 2, 5 and 9 are especially demanding.  Hole 2 is a long par 3, measuring 212.  Following the gentle opening par 5, you better be swinging well as misses right will make for a hard up and down.  I’d contest 5 could be its signature hole, running left to right with players choosing how much of a pond to take on to minimize the approach.  The 9th hole is a dogleg left with a demanding downhill second shot to a small, sloped green.  The holes don’t have names but I am going to call this hole the ‘card killer’ as it proved itself on two occasions to derail a solid 9 hole score.  The par 5 7th hole is framed wonderfully with forest on each side and is a beautiful golf hole.  The design of the 4th hole, a short par 4, is an excellent risk/reward challenge.  There is much to like about this course, while benign on some holes it has some true challenges on others.  The slope rating of 109 would make sense, the course is extremely walkable.

Also, for public players to note, Orangeville is one of Golf North properties holdings.  This makes booking consistent with other Golf North courses using their online booking system.  But do note that GolfNow also has some tee times available at discounted rates.  The course provides a restaurant, patio, a pleasantly stocked pro shop and change facilities.  Practice facilities are limited but the space in which the course operates, within the Credit River Valley, is well utilized.  I appreciate the fact that most of the holes create a sense of safety and security.  The only place where errant shots are a risk is off the 5th tee for players who miss left or choose a route too conservative, or, as may happen on rare occasion, misses between holes 7 and 2.

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Overall, Orangeville Golf Club was a pleasant surprise.  It exceeded my expectation both in terms of quality and value.  And as mentioned, on a sunshiny day, it was a relaxed drive north with the sunroof open.   I’d go back.  And for an annual membership rate of $925 which includes access to 8 other Golf North courses, you can’t argue with that kind of value!  Value wins the day here, but the quality of this course is surprisingly solid.  It was a stronger test of golf than I had imagined it to be.  Put your clubs in a stand bag or a Sunday bag, book a tee time and walk this enjoyable course.

Aura – 5 out of 10 –  I had not heard of Orangeville golf before seeking a late minute tee time on a sunny spring Sunday.  Golf North has a marketing opportunity on their hands.

Value (cost / experience) – 8.5 out of 10.  Paying $25 to play golf one hour outside the GTA is fantastic.  If you’re a value conscious golfer, Golf North has some offerings which may pleasantly surprise.  Orangeville Golf Club is one of them.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 7 out of 10.  I was pleased.  Quite pleased actually.  The layout is pleasant, walker friendly and not too taxing.  The greens rolled slow and slightly bumpy but it was early season and they may not have had a chance to give them a good roll yet to smooth them out.  But they were not problematic and were consistent.  Tee boxes were decent, as was the fairways.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 7 out of 10. This course does not try to oversell itself and as such excels for a local 9 hole course which is of a standard and quality which promotes participation and community play.  As mentioned, the course is no pushover, offering three very challenging golf holes and enough change in its layout and design to test golfers of all skill level.  I actually wish more communities across Ontario had courses like Orangeville available to them.   As a relaxed, value play, it is easy to score this course higher for the experience.  I’d come back.  In the fall, this course would be a sight to see.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – I really enjoyed the challenge of the 5th and 9th holes; they were stout.  A par 5 opener can allow for some confidence to build early on.  The staff were courteous and friendly, and playing with two members was enjoyable and relaxed.  I am impressed that Golf North has central management of this facility.  Business practices were smooth and efficient and I assume that agronomic practices across their properties will be shared; only enhancing the quality of this enjoyable track.

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Love this view off the 5th green.

Just So You Know – People coming in from the south may be compelled to simply follow Highway 10 the entire way up, but if you can afford the time get off the beaten path and take one of the country roads up or back.  It’s a great drive.