Smuggler’s Glen – An Eastern Ontario Must Play

Course Reviews – Smuggler’s Glen – An Eastern Ontario Must Play


From the first tee deck you’re so close to the St. Lawrence River.  The relaxed feel is consistent throughout the course.

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.


A well designed hole, the 4th will give players who drive it well a chance to reach in two.

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.


My playing partner Greg was putting on a stripe show hitting fairways all day.

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.


The Canadian Shield is a prominent feature throughout the course and the rock outcroppings frame landing areas exceptionally well.

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.


Even waiting on the tee has a relaxed feel to it!

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.


The clubhouse patio overlooks the river and is set at a high point at the club.  A great way to reflect on a fun round of golf.


Lookout B.C., Ontario now offers year-round golf

Lookout B.C., Ontario now offers year-round golf.

Here is my somewhat tongue-in-cheek creative brief for marketing year round golf in Ontario. After all, given this bout of mild weather – which has no end in sight – it is inevitable.

British Columbia is blessed. People living on Vancouver Island and parts of the mainland can enjoy a full, uninterrupted 12 month golf season. Well, now people in Southern Ontario can enjoy all the benefits of a 12 month golf season. Trade in the snow shovel for a sand wedge. Start buying golf toques for fashion purposes and book your Ontario winter tee time today. The off season is now one day long, December 25. (Seriously, you can play golf at Tarandowah, outside of London, ON in February…record temps help, of course).

Weather nerds are already in the know. But for those who can’t tell what Cirrostratus clouds are and may not know the dangers of Cumulonimbus clouds forming when you’re at the turn – pay attention. There are websites which offers 30 day weather forecasts (ok, projections) and this is what every Southern Ontario golfer needs this ‘winter’. As Ontario enjoys an incredibly mild December with temps which feel more like October it was great to know you can plan ahead to see which days in January you should consider calling in well and booking a round at your local muni. Calling in well? Here’s my take…anyone can drag their sick carcass into work and put in 8 hours. We’ve all done it. But for those warm winter days when the weather is too nice and you’re feeling too good to go to work, the golf course is calling you…well, you get it. But where was I? Yes, it is time to program your golf course number into your phone for speed dial.

Consider the possibilities here. You could surprise the family with a golf and ski trip. Sounds exotic? It’s nothing a two-hour drive to Wasaga Beach can’t cure. Golf in the morning (trust me, there won’t be any snow) then ski in the evening (the ski resorts can make snow). Everybody wins. You can thank me later. Understand that the only flaw in this plan is the limited daylight. Global warming or this El Niño has nothing to do with the annual adjustments for the earth’s axis and the limited daylight; simply it is what it is. But you’re planning ahead, armed with a trusted weather forecast and a willingness to play ‘ready golf’ (along with some snappy toques) so you’ll be set to go.

Let’s be honest. We’ve all driven along in the extreme shoulder season of the golf year only to see a foursome or a solitary single playing golf and our first thought is, “that should be me”. Well friends, with the advent of a 364 day golf season in Ontario you can be that guy or gal. So what are the benefits of a year round golf season? Aside from the obvious of course…you can be a star and plan the odd day at home for those rare days when the temps drop below 4c. Using the 30 day forecast, too, you can align cooler days on the calendar with the warmth of quality time with the family. Yes, I’m a problem solver.

Really, there is no downside to a 364 day golf season. BC can boast about the Rockies. Sure, flowers bloom on Vancouver Island in March. Big deal. Ontario is now the next place for year round golf…and we’re closer to Quebec so our access to authentic poutine makes it even that more enviable. You’ll excuse me, I have a ski rack I need to sell to some unsuspecting non golfer who doesn’t know better. Play well and keep that flask filled…only to cut the chill of a damp morning tee time.

Upper Canada Golf Course – Play Where the Pros Play

Upper Canada Golf – Playing Where the Pros Play

Seeking to mix some pleasure with business, I was intrigued to explore the options for quality golf in Eastern Ontario. At or near the top of most lists was Upper Canada Golf Course in Morrisburg, Ontario. The course is administered by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission which explains why I was not able to find out until I arrived that the course hosted the 2013 Greater Waterway Classic, one stop within the PGA Tour Canada season, now officially called the Mackenzie Tour. The Parks Commission focuses marketing on their site around the host of family and tourist options in the area rather than a pure golf focus. Fortunately, other local golf sites like provided some additional information about this course. And as has happened in the past, I was fortunate to share an early morning round with two members and they were able to fill in many of the gaps for me.

This course is about one hour from Ottawa, Montreal and Kingston and is very easy to access south of the 401 highway. The course was designed in the 1960’s by Robbie Robinson, protégé of Stanley Thompson, and the relaxed, expansive layout complements the parkland style design. But make no mistake; while this course is an enjoyable walk, it is a stout test of golf. The course offers four sets of tees for players of all skill and plays 6435 yards from the whites and an impressive 6926 from the blues. Robinson was able to make the most of the terrain, carving challenging golf holes out of the evergreens and alongside water.

The back nine offers the most scenic holes, with a three hole stretch set – 13 to 15 – along water. This par 3 – 5 – 3 stretch offers scoring chances amongst long and challenging par 4’s. With the par 3’s being relatively short, the course played much longer. A strong tee game and solid ball striking is essential to score well. The greens are intelligently protected with bunkers which are not too penal. They frame the holes well. The greens are sensational, rolling very true. Members take great pride in this course as there were very few, if any, ball marks on the greens. The short par 3 3rd hole is followed by the very long and difficult par 4 4th hole, the most difficult on the course. But truth is many of the par 4’s are challenging. There is very little elevation change throughout the course but the terrain is used well in requiring precise approach shots.

The first hole at Upper Canada, carved out of the forest

The first hole at Upper Canada, carved out of the forest

The pro shop is understated, but do not be fooled. This course will challenge your game. As with any good course, it is possible to score well but wayward shots are penalized. I will admit it has been some time since I have played a course with so many 400+ yard par 4’s. Playing with two members provided me a chance to learn about the 2013 Waterway Classic, some history of the course, the incredible benefits of membership here and insight to the sensational conditioning of this course. I should preface that the course had encountered some winter damage on their fairways. Having first learned about this from the Superintendent of Dakota Dunes in Saskatchewan, I know this is a temporary issue. The grass will grow back after some warm sunshine and the course will be back to ideal, lush and very playable conditioning. As mentioned, the greens were ideal. Tee boxes were also well maintained.

It was a pleasure to find a course of this quality along the eastern part of the Toronto – Montreal travel corridor. I look forward to a return trip and when I do return I hope I will have a better tee game. This is a challenging but very enjoyable course and makes the most of its terrain. While it lacks a real wow factor compared to modern course design and ultra-manicured country clubs, this is a very good golf experience. Robinson has done the best he could with the land made available and the Parks Commission and course staff have demonstrated strong stewardship in its maintenance.

Aura – 7.5 out of 10 – As mentioned in previous posts, playing a course where professionals play is always a special experience. But perhaps it is geography or that the Parks Commission is administering the course but I had heard very little about Upper Canada Golf Course.

Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10. The rates are very reasonable. I was able to pay $45 on GolfNow and there are many opportunities for even better deals on their site. The peak greens fee is only $52 plus taxes. Playing with two members provided me great insight to the history and highlights of this course. From all accounts this is one of the best courses in the area.

Fascinating artwork on a tree off the first green

Fascinating artwork on a tree off the first green

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 7.5 out of 10. The winter kill issues on some fairways did not detract from my experience at all and to me was irrelevant to the playable condition of the course. Greens were outstanding; some of the nicest I had experienced all year. The slope ratings reflect the terrain but fact is the length and tree lined fairways that give this course its teeth. The layout lacked any wow factor and the course presents itself in an understated manner. But there is no denying the overall conditioning, which is excellent. A more dynamic layout would improve this rating considerably.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – I had a great golfing experience at Upper Canada. This is a very good golf course and worthy of its ranking as a quality play in Eastern Ontario. The staff were friendly, accommodating and helped provide a quality golf experience. I would certainly return and look forward to it. 7.5 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The conditioning more than makes up for a layout which is as good as the terrain allows.  The greens and bunkering are the best I’ve played all year.  The people are sensational; helpful and very friendly and it all combines to make for a great golf experience.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I am not a course designer so I cannot get into specifics but the layout is something I would consider changing. Holes 9 and 10, for example, are simple and straightforward. That said there are some stout holes which challenge a player and provide sufficient reward for good play, such as the 4th hole. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this course!  One other note, for fellow travelers, the website is not the best.  It does not reflect the quality of the course.

Just So You Know – Get there early and enjoy a replay round for only $25. It’s a very walkable course and the experience from your earlier round may help improve your score on the second round.

The scenic par 3 15th hole at Upper Canada

The scenic par 3 15th hole at Upper Canada

My Best Shot – The par 3 15th hole is a beautiful golf hole and from the white tees played 155 yards. After a tee shot which looked like it was going in the ball settled about 6 feet below the hole. Let’s just stop the story there. It was the best struck ball I hit all day. And like my friends say, hey, 18 pars and it’s a career round. Tap in pars are never bad.

South Muskoka – Not to be missed on your Muskoka golf trail

Carved out of the forest in the town of Bracebridge is a hidden gem amongst the onset of newer resort courses in the area. Set at just over 6300 yards from the tips and offering six yardage options set from four tee blocks, South Muskoka Curling and Golf Club provides fun for golfers of all levels but will challenge the most skilled player. I loved the fact I was able to use all clubs in my bag over a round. Reflecting back, the layout offers incredible diversity in holes and shots required. While walkable it does offer some nice elevation change, both in terms of elevated tee shots but challenges in terms of some elevated greens.

With the Ontario summer being cooler and damp the course was very lush, damp in parts but overall in superb condition. Tee boxes were consistently flat, mown down and approach areas easily identifiable. Rough helps stop some wayward tee shots but the surrounding forest frames holes very well and creates a feel for each hole playing in isolation of others, with very few exceptions. Greens were some of the best I had played all season, albeit a little slower than I was used to but recent rains kept them moist and a little slower than normal. They rolled true and had very few ball marks on them. Friendly staff greeted me and their pro shop is well stocked if you’re seeking a souvenir of the round or need a jacket for a cool morning tee time.

14th hole at South Muskoka

14th hole at South Muskoka

What stood out for me was the true variety of golf holes. Holes 2 and 3 require real precision off the tee. Holes 13 and 16 require length and invite using driver with wider landing areas. The par 3’s are all beautiful and have nice variety to them in their yardage, elevation and defences. My favourite holes are the par 5 12th which challenges the golfer to position their tee shot past the lone, tall pine which is in the middle of the fairway and the tough par 4 13th which demands length off the tee before a precise second shot guarded by trees left and a pond right. The short par 3 14th, set over a pond, may be a signature hole; it’s stunning. The closing stretch of 16-18 offer no breaks after a challenging round. The 16th is the longest par 4 on the course and is set up beautifully with an elevated tee box. 18 will require an accurate tee shot to have any chance of hitting the green which is protected by a small valley to catch shots coming up short.

With a membership of almost 600, I was surprised it had a private course feel but teeing off at 7:00 am on cool wet summer mornings may have something to do with that too. Over the two rounds recently played, there was ample evidence of wildlife – birds, deer and wild turkeys. No birds on the card mind you. Greens were fair in their size and slope.

It was a pleasant course to walk, even with the elevation changes. The only real test was between 10 and 11; the uphill walk got my heart rate up a little. The style of course reminded me of Waskesiu in Saskatchewan and The Lakes in Nova Scotia, but with a real, authentic Muskoka feel to it, complete with granite outcroppings, none more impressive than on the par 4 6th hole. If you’re travelling to golf in Muskoka, and there’s plenty of reason to do so, be sure to add South Muskoka in Bracebridge to your must play list!

Aura – 6 out of 10 – Simply put, it lacks the cache of higher end Muskoka courses. But trust me, for value seekers, take advantage of this!

Value (cost / experience) – 9 out of 10. Being able to play this course for under $70 including taxes at peak time is incredible value. The layout, conditioning and challenge of the track place it as a very high value play.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – The layout is a real plus. There is great diversity of holes. It will require the player to really think, play smart shots and pay attention to their short game. – 8.5 out of 10

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – I did not score well either day, but loved the test of golf the course provided me. I felt I had a chance to experience many shots and given the location and natural beauty of this course, it was a most relaxing experience. I loved this course and would be very happy to play this track every day. – 9 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The convenience is incredible. Minutes from Hwy 11, set in downtown Bracebridge but with a layout that leaves golfers thinking they are nowhere near town.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – warm-up facilities – simply put they are good but not great. Players can warm up their swing but using a club higher than a 5 iron is challenging. Also, I did find holes 3 and 15 (both par 5’s) a little too similar in set up, with a shorter more accurate tee shot needed to be positioned to address the dogleg from left to right. Both are very minor issues, however.

Just So You Know – So, if you’re interested in joining South Muskoka as a member (and with an annual membership rate of under $1200, why wouldn’t you) you better be patient. Membership is capped at 595 and their waiting list is currently at 130. Understandable, of course.

My Best Shot – My drive on the par 4 13th on the second round was possibly my best of the season. But my best two shot stretch was the downhill par 4 10th hole. A mid iron to the 150 marker set me up for a second shot which plays longer than it looks with a slight breeze in my face and a challenging valley to swallow shots coming up short. My approach left me with a great birdie attempt! (But we’ll stop the story there).

Eagles Nest – A Tough, Fair and Fun Test

“Remains the best public course in an urban setting. A massive, sprawling muscular course that is hard to love, but easy to respect” – SCORE Golf Review Panelist, Summer 2013

The quote above, respecting the course as opposed to loving it, really captures my feelings of Eagles Nest. On a mild and very blustery May afternoon, a good friend and I teed it up at Eagles Nest, taking advantage of a special rate which is offered annually at the Toronto Golf and Travel Show.  Buying greens fees in March for a May round seems odd, but the value is substantial.  It felt like the first really mild day all year and as a twosome in the late afternoon we were offered a chance to tee off early to avoid a foursome set to play just before our set time; a nice touch by the starter.

I quickly realized local knowledge is very helpful, as my friend constantly warned me of subtleties which make Eagles Nest even more difficult than it would appear at first glance. Playing white tees with a slope rating of 131, and with significant elevation change, a strong wind and early season fescue still very penal we knew we’d have to have a good ball striking round to score well.  The layout is a strength,  the course plays as 18 independent holes with very little risk of anyone spraying shots onto your fairway.  The conditioning is sensational, but what one would expect for a course with an opening season rate of $120 with cart.  Tee boxes were fantastic, fairways tightly mown with subtle undulations but very playable.  Greenside posed considerable challenges with extensive bunkering and tight collection areas for wayward approach shots.  The elevation change provides some scenic vistas looking over York Region and all the way south to Toronto.  EaglesNest

I played the first 12 holes with a deliberate, strategic, almost conservative approach to the game and was doing very well. My final six holes saw me take more aggressive approaches – both off the tee and in my approaches to greens, and saw my score balloon.  The takeaway from this is that mistakes at Eagles Nest are costly.  The pace was not fast and as a twosome we were held up often on the back, but the foursome ahead of us endured delays too.  I was very surprised to see only one marshal and he was stationed near the 5th hole, overseeing play on 4, 5, and 7.  We saw no one on the back nine watching over pace of play.  An almost 5 hour round was surprising and disappointing (not as disappointing as my final six hole score, mind you!)

The greens rolled fair and true, with speed but gentle slope so they were very playable. It was clear the course gets lots of play as there were already several ballmarks needing repair.  Bunkers were well maintained and the fairways had some winterkill in spots which did not detract from play.  This is a course which requires thoughtful and well struck shots from tee to green.

The proshop is well stocked with apparel and other souvenirs from a memorable golf experience. Practice facilities are very generous and helpful to navigate the seemingly constant winds they get in Maple (Vaughan, ON).  I would like another chance at Eagles Nest, feeling my experience there will help me to position shots better and ultimately score better.

This is very special course in the GTA, a strong public play option but one that has a GTA price tag; it is not an inexpensive round. Some deals can be had on sites like Golf Now or GTA Golf Club.  For an annual treat, it is worth experiencing a country club experience for public players.

Aura – 8 out of 10 – The clubhouse makes the statement. This is designed and marketed to be a special golf experience.   The website adds to the aura with stunning visuals and a polished and professional look.

Value (cost / experience) –6 out of 10. As a value conscious player I always get a little trepidation when I am paying either side of $100 to play golf.  The experience is special, the course is very nice, but I would not promote Eagles Nest as a value golf destination.  It is a quality, high end GTA golf course.  The quality of the course provided the value for me.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10. Perhaps mid to late season, when the course is lush and green I may have a difference score here.  My critique rests with the back nine layout, which I liked but did not love.  The front nine, in my opinion, is the superior nine.  That said, the course is very well maintained and the greens are very fair while being fast (even in early May).  The holes off the tee, with one exception (number 9 just didn’t suit my eye), provide a clear position to land safely.  But like greenside which has several challenging places to get up and down, wayward teeshots can make it difficult to approach the green safely and I really like that sense of challenge

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Tough, fair and fun. I would like to come back…to get a crack at those last six holes again! –7.5 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – Holes 3, 8, 12 and 18 are beautiful golf holes. The elevation changes are used well and the backdrop of the suburban and urban landscapes are sensational

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I would like to see the course maintain more consistency in its commitment to support pace of play. The staggered 10 minute tee times are an important and appreciated touch.  While I acknowledge playing as a twosome creates potential for pace issues, to see the foursome ahead of us having to wait too on the back is not appropriate.

Just So You Know – If you love the layout and course design of Eagles Nest, you can play their sister course Turnberry. This is another well -conditioned course but with an emphasis on par 3’s.  16 of the 18 holes are par 3.  Maybe based on my round at Eagles Nest I need to get over to Turnberry to sharpen up the short game!

My Best Shot – Hole 11, Out of Breath (blaw wearie), and the website calls it possibly the toughest hole on the course. A pulled drive got caught up in fescue but with a good lie and good sightlines, my 4 hybrid sailed smooth and landed soft and released up to 3 feet!  The birdie putt landed in the heart of the cup.  At that time, I was thinking ‘career round’!

Black Bear Ridge – High in Quality and Value

Black Bear Ridge – High in Quality and Value

The more I play this course the more I like it. And it has quickly become part of an annual tradition for me, where I make some extra time over business in Ottawa to stop in Belleville, ON to play this immaculate track.   I heard of it through its consistent rankings as one of Ontario’s best value courses.   Only about 2 hours east of Mississauga, ON, this course should be on the must play list for avid golfers willing to travel to play good golf.

With a revised website, there is excellent information and pictures about the course, and very clear directions. The course itself has always been in pristine condition; it was one of the features I first noticed and one I value and appreciate.  Fairways are clearly identified and are tightly mown.  The rough has never been too penal when I have played there.  As a “traditional parkland layout” (as they advertise themself) the fairways are fair, but trouble awaits with forest or water on either side.  One of the real benefits of this course is that holes are set apart nicely from others, there is no sense of feeling crowded or congested.  The vistas are well used to create stunning tee shots, as you will soon learn on your opening tee shot.  Sprinker heads mark yardages well, but with greens that can be quite large it is advised you consider a yardage book or bring a measuring device.  And while the greens are large, they are fair and tend to run at a pace which will welcome golfers of all skill level.

With five tee boxes available, I would recommend players seek a distance and slope rating which would not make the course too demanding. I made that mistake my first time playing there and it was a stout test for my 10+ handicap skill set (my game is not yet cut out to play blues).  The course can play from over 5100 to just over 7200 yards.  The warm up / practice facilities are very good, which is nice after a two hour drive.  They also have a 9-hole executive course on site.  A shout out to the new Director of Instruction, Steve Auger, who many of you may also know for his input on the Canadian Golf Magazine weekly audio podcast.  I plan to drop by and introduce myself to Steve this spring.

The course is walkable, a good workout, but walkable nonetheless. My favourite holes are 1, 8 (which while impressive visually requires two excellent shots to get on the green) and 17 (not the most stunning, but sets up so nicely to my eye).  As others have written, I found 11 (far too long) and 16 (a very steep uphill hole, with a steeper price for coming up short – that bunker is tough) to be my least favourite.  But golf can be tough at times and I really felt like I was grasping at straws to find serious criticism with this layout. (I mean seriously, check their photo gallery)

The coffee and muffins at the snack hut near 1 was a great way to start my early morning rounds at BBR. The staff are all very friendly and accommodating.   If you’re looking for a souvenir or some apparel to remind you of your experience at Black Bear Ridge, you’ll be impressed with their selection.   As an annual tradition, this course is a real treat and a highlight of my golf season!  It simply is a great match of value and quality!

Aura –6 out of 10 – Acknowledging the improvements of the website, I may need to revisit this score.  But the drive in (even the driveway) is very understated.   But the fact is, this course really is a hidden gem in Ontario.  I hope continued positive publicity will help move this score up.

Value (cost / experience) – 9 out of 10.  The greens fees would cost you $76 at their most expensive time to play here.  For early birds like myself you can play for $50 or $60, and for what you get, it is incredible value.  They also offer great offers in shoulder seasons.  My shoulders sagged when I saw the $2800 full membership offer, courses like that in the GTA would not come even close to that value.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – The tee boxes are near perfect, the fairways pristine and the greens are very fair.  I am not a fan of large, undulating greens and while some are larger, they are fair in terms of slope and speed.  Having a GPS or laser will help given the size of the greens.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8 out of 10 – As an annual stop, this is quickly becoming a favourite of mine.  I appreciate the course condition and the style of course.  The fact that most holes are really cut out unto themselves makes for a relaxing and enjoyable golf experience.  It is a fair and tough test of golf.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The 1st, 10th and 17th tee boxes are sensational.  As mentioned, the 8th hole is a favourite of mine, requiring two very precise shots to be on in regulation.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – Since I play in the spring, I acknowledge that bugs can be an issue and it is what it is.   I am surprised the driveway leading up to the course provides such a benign feel to a course which is so beautiful.  Perhaps it is part of the allure but it does strike me as odd.

My Best Shot – I almost drained a 45 foot birdie putt on 9 in my first round there, it took the slope perfectly and just lipped out.  A tap in par on a 215 yard par 3 is something I’ll take everytime!

Timber Ridge – Scores High In Value

I have played this course several times, most recently mid-May 2013.  It is located in Brighton, Ontario, slightly less than two hours east of Toronto.  The course opened in 1999 but has a maturity that would make it pass as much older.  For early season players this course had withstood the winter very well.  Four distinct tee boxes allow for playability at all levels.  This course is well conditioned and a fair test and for the price is one of the best values in Ontario.  Added to this the fact this has been ranked in Ontario’s Top 100 and two hours won’t seem so far!

Fairways are even and consistent and easy to play off and the rough is fair and not too penal.  There is a mix of woods and fescue and some water to guard holes and each hole (with few exceptions) seemingly plays independent of others so there is no sense of being crowded by others.  Bunkers were in good shape, not pristine but playable and consistent.  They do offer a driving range to warm up which for anyone driving will help loosen up for the round.

With each hole unique unto itself, the designer has allowed for fair landing areas throughout the course.  I would not contest that driving poses the greatest challenge at Timber Ridge.  It is the large, quick and undulating greens which are a challenge.  Subtle breaks also exist and it is a course you will want to play again, and likely score better the second time knowing where to miss approach shots and how to read the greens.  Some advice is to arrive early and practice putting on their practice green.  You will get a good sense of speed and slope and its effects on long and short putts!  With the course playing 6600 yards from the Gold tees, the slope rating of 137 is justified.   The 7th hole is a long par 4, and the toughest on the course.  Set in Northumberland County, the gentle rolling hills are felt for anyone walking the course but it is quite an enjoyable, relaxing walk.

The food is fresh made, tastes great and is good value.  It is easy to order from the 8th tee so that your food will be ready for pick up after the 9th green.  Staff are helpful, friendly and very proud of their course.  I appreciate the layout and the sense that the course is straightforward and not at all ‘tricky’ or ‘gimmicky’.    I have always left Timber Ridge feeling satisfied with my experience.  I have heard from others in the past of the course being overbooked and of slow rounds, but this is nothing I have ever experienced.  It is worthy of its accolades in terms of value and for quality.  Not everyone is comfortable driving so far to play golf, but this is a real gem and one of my top three value courses in Ontario.

Aura –6 out of 10 – This is a combined score…a 4 at the offset, the course is so understated but when I left I would place it much higher, a solid 7 or higher.  There is a quiet confidence to the course in its layout and condition.

Value (cost / experience) – 9 out of 10.  Greens fees are what one might expect being almost two hours outside Toronto, quite reasonable.  Where the real value kicks in is through signing up for their e-newsletter.  Regular sales on greens fees are sent to your email inbox and the value is significant!  I was able to play Saturday morning of the long weekend for $45.  If I could have waited until 2pm, this rate would have been reduced to $30.  But make sure you save some money for the numerous values they offer in their pro shop!

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 7 out of 10 – Greens are firm and fast (a little larger than I’d like), driving areas are fair and their course books provide good information.  Yardage stakes exist, but having a GPS or laser will help given the size of the greens.  Staff work hard to maintain a good consistent quality of the course.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 7.5 out of 10 – I love this style of course.  I feel it has an expansiveness to it which is relaxing.  It is a layout and track that will test your game.  Timber Ridge staff and friendly and very helpful.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The second hole is my favourite; a beautiful, straightforward test of golf and will set the tone for a wonderful round.  The tee shot on the elevated 10th, especially if you’re able to fly it over the creek, will test your mettle.  Any one putt is a highlight!

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – Signage off the 401 is inconsistent and older; it adds a unique take on their marketing tagline as a ‘Hidden Gem’.  Once you’re off the 401 it takes about 15 min to get to the course.  Bring bug spray if you’re early in season…or day.

Just So You Know – Taking time to enjoy the patio after your round is well worth it!  You can see groups coming up to the elevated 18th, and it will help you learn how to play the approach and the challenging putt for birdie next time you play!

My Best Shot – Par 4 13th, I’ll admit it, I was lucky on my approach shot…it should have bounced on the green and rocketed off, but it spun more than a thin shot should and barely held on.  My 45 birdie putt mercifully found the cup, avoiding a certain 8’ (ok, maybe 12’) comebacker for par!