Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 17, 2017
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Seeing green

A new Muskoka golf trail is changing Ontario's cottage country

Muskoka. Just saying it lowers my blood pressure. It conjures up memories of lazy cottage weekends. Dangling my feet off the end of a dock. Skinny-dips at midnight. A morning paddle on a glassy lake. Basking on a warm pink granite rock. The call of a loon.

And now golf. Until about a decade ago, Muskoka wasn't a hot contender on the list of links destinations. But Ontario's most coveted cottage country has become a fashionable playground for the rich and famous. When the likes of Shania Twain, Goldie Hawn and Martin Short start buying real estate, prices skyrocket. Along with multi-million-dollar "cottages" and gourmet restaurants, a number of stellar designer courses now form Muskoka's golf trail. Acclaimed architects, including Thomas McBroom and Doug Carrick, have created a quintessentially Muskokan design aesthetic that capitalizes on the region's unique granite outcroppings, mature forests and sparkling lakes.

It's Taboo
In May 2003, the Muskoka Sands Inn in Gravenhurst, Ontario became Taboo Resort, Golf & Conference Centre. A year before, when the management signed up Mike Weir to name Taboo as his home course, they had no idea that the affable lefty would win the Masters at Augusta. Even before Weir's big win, golfers were already raving about architect Ron Garl's deft design that seems to empathize with the natural environment.

Now it's become a trophy course for Canadian swingers and the first stop on the new Muskoka Golf Trail. The 7123-yard wild track takes golfers through wetlands, slabs of Canadian Shield and a forest of birch, pine and balsam. You won't forget number seven, a long par-three chiselled out of two walls of striated pink and grey granite, or the rocky road that runs across number four where a sign reads, "Taboo rocks -- use at own risk."

In keeping with its plucky new name and image, Taboo's Wildfire restaurant offers sophisticated cuisine described as "contemporary Asian with traditional Chinese, Japanese and Thai ingredients." Those with adventurous palates might want to sample the chef's multi-course menu. Recently I indulged in foie-gras dumplings, black cod seared on Muskoka stone, venison with rice wine and a summer fruit mixture with juniper Chantilly cream. Traditionalists might prefer a burger at the Boathouse.

Greens fees: $145 for guests; $175 public. Cart included. Info: (705) 687-2233; www.tabooresort.com.

Land and Lake
Architects Robert Cupp and Thomas McBroom designed Deerhurst Highlands in Huntsville, the granddaddy of Muskoka's high-end courses, in 1990. From the first elevated tee overlooking the Peninsula Lake, the par-72 course takes full advantage of the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield. It's a bit like stepping into a Group of Seven painting. The course's granite outcroppings and dramatic terrain shifts are epitomized on the 10th signature hole where a sheer granite rock face runs the length of the fairway. An errant slice here will produce an undesirable pinball effect. Except for the open links-style on holes four, five and six, the course is a tough roller coaster and not for the faint of heart. To restore your confidence, take a swing at Deerhurst's gentler, shorter Lakeside course, a par-65 that meanders around Peninsula Lake.

Greens fees: Lakeside $35 to $65; Highlands $50 to $145. Cart included. Info: (705) 789-7878; www.deerhurstresort.com.

 

Grand View, Tough Course
Almost across the road from Deerhurst, 1998 British Open and Masters champion Mark O'Meara made his design debut in 2001 on his eponymous championship course. ClubLink Corporation, Canada's largest owner-operator of golf facilities, has been a driving force in the development of Muskoka golf and the O'Meara course is their third in the area. (First came the Lake Joseph Club, then Rocky Crest.) Normally ClubLink courses are only open to members but a new Muskoka Golf Trail package (see Don't Trail Behind page 70) has opened up access.

From the first hole, you'll see why this course will be no walk in the park. The dogleg right requires an intimidating carry over a ravine. Stands of pine, white birch and hemlock separate the holes, giving each its own identity. Blind shots, wetlands, forced carries, menacing rock faces and an unforgiving 18th green perched atop what could be a ski hill, make for a memorable challenge.

Cool off with a dip in Fairy Lake at Grandview Resort, then join the evening astronomy adventure at the nearby Echo Valley Observatory.

Resort Info: (705) 789-4417. Golf Trail Packages: (800) 465-3034/(905) 755-0999.

Part of the Club
About an hour west of Huntsville you'll come to two more ClubLink gems: the Lake Joseph Club and Rocky Crest. Both are the creations of Thomas McBroom who by now has perfected the technique of using exposed Canadian Shield to give his routing character.

Recognized as the Best New Canadian Course by Golf Digest in 1997, the 6985-yard championship Lake Joe slices through woods and careens across wickedly undulating terrain with generous views of one of Muskoka's most prestigious lakes and its pricey real estate.

Opened in May 2000 at the north end of Lake Joseph, the aptly named Rocky Crest has the feel of a classic country club -- no tricks or gimmicks, just pure golf and a few grand granite canyons. But beware of ricochets!

Quench your thirst at the log-cabin clubhouse, arguably the best in Muskoka. In nearby Rosseau, pop into the general store for some vintage Muskoka ambience.

Lake Joseph Info: (705) 765-2000; Rocky Crest Info: (705) 375-4688. Golf Trail Packages: (800) 465-3034/(905) 755-0999.

Boating to Bigwin
You know you're deep in cottage country when the only way to the Bigwin Island Golf Club is via the club's water ferry. En route to the driving range, you pass the log-and-stone Rotunda Lodge, a reminder of the glory days of the Bigwin Inn back in the 1920s and '30s. Clark Cable and Carole Lombard honeymooned here. Renowned designer Stanley Thompson built a golf course in 1922. Alas the Great Gatsby era eventually came to an end. The Bigwin Inn fell on hard times and the resort and course closed in the '70s.

Happily, a group of investors bought the island and hired Doug Carrick to design a new course (which opened two years ago) on top of Thompson's original tract. Inspired by the rolling terrain, Carrick has created one of Canada's most beautiful and playable courses. On the first hole, one of many deer on the course was bounding through the bunker. (She didn't rake.) Elevated tees on the two most memorable holes, six and 18, offer fantastic vistas down to the island-studded Lake of Bays. Wildflowers, the distant hum of a motorboat, the joyful sounds of kids playing in the water all add to the magic of the experience.

Bigwin is currently open to non-members by reservation after 10am on weekdays and after 2pm on weekends and holidays. But, as soon as it sells its lots and 300 golf memberships, it's scheduled to go private and won't be part of the Muskoka Golf Trail. So don't putter around: pack your clubs and head out.

Greens fees: $155-175. Boat shuttle (from Norway Point off old Highway 117), cart and range access included. Info: (705) 635-2582; www.bigwinisland.com.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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