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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A Public Players Quest for Value

A Public Players Quest for Value

Golf value, like beauty and putting styles, is in the eye of the beholder.  My very first twitter poll some time back asked people if they would rather play one top 10 course or multiple rounds at very good courses.  The responses were mixed and that is not a surprise.  In my review of Cabot Links I placed the value as high, which seems odd to some given the greens fees were about $150 at the time.  However, the opportunity to play the best course I have ever experienced and was top of my bucket list at the time provided me strong value to pay that much.  It was, indeed, an experience.

But the context of value is much broader than justification for world class course greens fees.  The opposite end of the spectrum is something I actively seek out as well.  I have paid $8.00 to play a local 9 hole course, doing so on poor weather day which allowed me the chance to play 2-3 golf balls at one time and go around the course 3 times.  Here are some tips I utilize for finding golf ‘value’.

  1. GolfNow – Based in the USA, GolfNow is expanding across the country and around the world. With an increasing listing of courses available in the Greater Toronto Area and throughout Ontario (and really, across the country), I am seeing favourites of mine added regularly.  Here, players can go online and identify their search parameters.  Discounted offerings can be had through their ‘Hot Deals’ section on their site.  What I love about this site is its ease of use, and the ability for me to filter as a single player and what are my geographic parameters to play.  If you can get onto the tee within a couple hours of logging in, there are incredible deals to be had.  They have also added a loyalty program to further incentivize players.  GolfNow is a staple for me, especially in the fall seasons.

 

  1. Golf Course Websites – Not to be dismissed are the websites for various courses. Some have a strict policy offering lower greens fees than any other site and in many cases you can find value options for foursomes which may include carts and or meals.  It is, I find in my conversations with other players, an underutilized resource to find golf value.

 

  1. Multiple Green Fee Packages – Some courses, in lieu of memberships, offer players a chance to purchase multiple round packages. I have seen offers as low as five rounds and as high as 40.  These allow offer discounts from their daily greens fees.  I would see this as an option of convenience for people living close to a course they like.  Here, you can explore other daily green fee deals but fall back on the convenience of a pre-paid package when time or funds are tight.

 

  1. Loyalty/Discount Cards – I have also experienced courses or regions offering players a loyalty card. Some courses are centrally managed or others exist within a unique geographic area.  Loyalty programs exist to reward players who play regularly with discounts on play, or ‘rewards’ like carts, apparel, etc.  While aware of some programs, I never frequent one area of golf ‘company’ enough to warrant the value but it is interesting to see and worthy of sharing.  My fall trip to PEI allowed our group to use the Golf PEI Green Card.  Through this offer, we played 10 rounds for an average green fee of $37.90.  There were six other course options we lacked time to utilize. Buy early in the calendar year, they sell fast.

 

  1. GTA Golf Club – This Company bases it operations in regional clusters of Toronto, London, Ontario and Chicago. This group allows people to buy graduated levels of ‘membership’ which provides access to a restricted number of daily discounted tee times at courses.  Here, the player simply books a tee time at a participating course than acquires one of the limited access times available that day.  The membership provides access to these deeply discounted rates and if you’re willing to pay more, you can get a certain number of round credits added in. This is where the real value is.  Credits are for $35 credit off the already discounted rate.  Courses I love fall within this price range, so for me it is often free to play.  If I wanted to play somewhere else, it may range from $5 to about $40 or so, out of pocket.  Another surprise to me this year was a returning customer I received a discount on my renewal and some ‘free’ round credits.  This gets high marks in my book and I have yet to see a value program equivalent.

 

  1. Under Par – This is an email service all public golfers in Ontario should sign up for. Throughout the season, UnderPar will email you offers for two or four players to play at courses in Ontario.  The geographic range of courses is impressive; this is less Toronto-centric than other discount programs.  Often the offers have fine print such as deadlines for use and minor restrictions but the value is sensational and I have used these vouchers on many occasions with enjoyment and success.  It’s a nice way to treat a family member or friend to play a round.

 

  1. Shoulder Season Play – Value need not be aligned to course commitment or front-end investment. Here, if you’re willing to play early or late in the season, you can often get heavily discounted rates on some of your favourite courses.  The same concept at a twilight rate (another excellent option for the value conscious golfer), here, before and after a certain time of year you can get great value.  I love fall golf and enjoy the fact it is often less wet and buggy than spring.  The chance to play a bucket list course at a reduced rate is something I always explore and the shoulder season is a favourite strategy I employ.

 

  1. Stay and Play – Not everyone has the time and resources to enjoy stay and play options but if you’re seeking value, it is worth looking into. Some courses have hotel, spa, restaurant options and the Stay and Play special could also include replay options, creating additional value for golfers.  For destination locations, the research could prove worthwhile.  Here, I like to marry Stay and Play with Seasonal play to maximize the discount options.

 

I am sure this is not an extensive list so I welcome hearing from others about how they optimize value in their golfing experience, absent a membership of course (likely one of the best value options).  After all, I have yet to meet anyone who said they wish they spent more to play a round of golf.

Penn Classic 2014 at Cabot Links