If there’s any knock against golf resorts, it’s that they often have middling courses. Good enough and well-conditioned, certainly, but not great. This is understandable – the courses must appeal to a wide range of skills and the emphasis is on fun rather than challenge. People are on vacation, after all. Who wants to get beaten up?
That said, Canada is blessed with plenty of exceptions to the rule. From Humber Valley and Highlands Links in the East to Banff Springs, Jasper Park and Whistler in the West, Canada has resorts that combine top-notch accommodations with truly great golf. While the latter examples are well-known and well-documented, here are another five in Canada that are either emerging or perhaps a little less known.
1. CABOT LINKS, INVERNESS, N.S.
STAY: The contemporary design of the resort’s 60-room lodge stands out in this former coal-mining village in Cape Breton, but the building’s low-slung profile and low-key luxe feel right for a beachy setting. The most outstanding feature might be the views: cleverly, every room looks onto Cabot Links and the ocean. Another 16 rooms are available in villas.
PLAY: Cabot Links, regarded as Canada’s only true links, has captured the attention of golf aficionados, and for good reason. Rod Whitman designed an epic playground of wonderful holes in a stunning seaside setting. When the wind blows, it’s even more fun.
LET’S PLAY TWO: Any of The Lakes, Le Portage or Bell Bay nearby would do, but let’s be honest: Cabot Cliffs, a sister course to Cabot Links that’s perched on a cliff, as its name suggests, is the world’s new bucket list course so it’s the one to insist upon. It opened this past Canada Day.
BEYOND GOLF: The Cabot Trail along Cape Breton’s coast is one of Canada’s most scenic drives. Lots to do along the way, from kayaking and hiking to whale watching and local dining.
2. COBBLE BEACH, KEMPLE, ONT.
STAY: The Nantucket-style clubhouse has more than just the typical golf amenities, such as a pro shop and 19th hole. The upper floor is an upscale inn with 10 rooms, all with different layouts and capacities. How cool is it to sleep right in the clubhouse?
PLAY: Architect Doug Carrick has courses that are more highly regarded, but Cobble Beach is surely his most fun. The hummocky fairways ensure a lively ground game, the wide fairways on the front nine give way to tighter passageways on the back, and his ingenious use of the sloping property provides a view of Georgian Bay from every hole. Yes, every hole.
LET’S PLAY TWO: The Golf Club at Lora Bay isn’t exactly next door – it’s nearly an hour away – but the Thomas McBroom design is worth the drive. It’s scenic, features lots of elevation changes (the first tee shot is dazzling) and has a pleasant detour through a former orchard on the back nine. Play well and you’ll score well.
BEYOND GOLF: The Tom Thomson Art Gallery in nearby Owen Sound is the rare small-town museum with big-city cred — a terrific showcase for one of the Sound’s most famous sons.
3. ROCKY CREST, MACTIER, ONT.
STAY: Suites, villas, cottages and cabins are nestled in the trees beside Lake Joseph at this authentic Muskoka resort. It’s family oriented (pools, water activities) but it’s also great for buddy trips, given some of the suites can comfortably hold four or more.
PLAY: Rocky Crest doesn’t pack as big a wow factor as some Muskoka courses, and is perhaps better for it. Rock outcroppings are integrated but not overused or intrusive, fairways are framed by forest and wetlands but playable. Setting it apart from many resort courses, it’s walkable.
LET’S PLAY TWO: Rocky Crest is owned by ClubLink, which has two other courses in the region (Lake Joseph and the Mark O’Meara Course at Grandview). They’re just fine, but Ridge at Manitou, 45 minutes north, deserves more love than it gets, if for nothing else because of its gorgeous 18th hole and its intimate clubhouse.
BEYOND GOLF: Muskoka is dotted with villages and towns that make for a pleasant shopping or lunch excursion, say Port Carling or Bracebridge. Algonquin Provincial Park to the north is Canadian nature at its best. You might even see a moose.
4. WOLF CREEK, PONOKA, ALTA.
STAY: A two-bedroom cabin sits just off the ninth hole on the resort’s Links course. A large, full-serviced campground can accommodate plenty more visitors. So bring your RV or even your tent.
PLAY: The Old Course at Wolf Creek is the original and tighter of the resort’s two layouts. It is strong early work from designer Rod Whitman, who has gone on to create other masterpieces, including Cabot Links in Nova Scotia and Sagebrush in British Columbia.
LET’S PLAY TWO: The resort’s second 18, the Links, is also a Whitman creation but has a more expansive feel. The back nine, added in 2010 to an existing front nine from 1996, is especially good.
BEYOND GOLF: What’s a trip to Alberta without a little cowboy culture? The Ponoka Stampede, held the last week of June each year, is a smaller version of its Calgary cousin and features six days of rodeo and chuckwagon racing.
5. PREDATOR RIDGE, VERNON, B.C.
STAY: The main lodge has panoramic views of the Monashee Mountains and parts of the resort’s two courses. More intimate retreats are available at the cottages and villas built along the 17th and 18th holes on the Ridge course.
PLAY: The Ridge is fun, very playable, winds through mountainous terrain, and features extraordinary elevation changes and provides some of the most jaw-dropping views in Canadian golf. Your best shots of the day might be with your camera.
LET’S PLAY TWO: With its views of Lake Okanagan, the Golf Club at the Rise also delivers lots of eye candy. Anyone with a big game – and time to travel – might also head to Kamloops 90 minutes away to play Tobiano, a course that’s demanding but spectacularly unique (and vaguely lunar) in its appearance.
BEYOND GOLF: It might seem odd for guests of one outstanding resort to spend time at another resort nearby, but Sparkling Hill in Vernon is worth a look, if only to see the 3.5 million pieces of Swarovski crystal incorporated into its design. Otherwise, the Okanagan Valley is wine country – take a guided or self-guided tour of the many vineyards.
Seek the Unexpected
This article was originally published in the September 2015 edition of Golf Canada Magazine. To view the full magazine, click the image to the left.