06 AUG 2014: Ahh Muskoka! Just saying it lowers my blood pressure. It conjures up memories of blissful days: a morning canoe paddle on a lake of glass; basking with a good book on a warm pink granite rock; the call of the loon; golf in a Group of Seven setting.

Ontario’s most coveted cottage county has become a fashionable playground for the rich and famous. When celebrities such as Shania Twain, Goldie Hawn and Martin Short started buying real estate, prices skyrocketed.  Five-star resorts with golf courses by acclaimed Canadian architects, including Thomas McBroom and Doug Carrick, have created a quintessentially Muskoka design aesthetic that capitalizes on the region’s unique granite outcroppings, mature forests and sparkling lakes.  

Gateway to Muskoka

Though you’re only minutes from the town of Gravenhurst, dubbed Gateway to Muskoka, a round at Muskoka Bay is a walk in the wilderness with fairways winding through mature forests and across majestic wetlands that have been incorporated and preserved in the layout.

Designer Doug Carrick elevated many of the five tee decks to give golfers extraordinary fairway views and eliminate blind shots. The phenomenal number nine requires a high-flying tee shot from a precipice over wetlands to an uphill and increasingly narrowing fairway squeezed on both sides by granite outcroppings.

Swing thought: thread the needle! Number nine and numerous more brilliant fairways have put Muskoka Bay on the list of best places to play in the major golf magazines, including Golf Canada and SCORE.

Stay-and-play packages include accommodation in luxury villas with up to four bedrooms and a hearty breakfast in the award-winning Cliffside Grill clubhouse with views over the infinity pool and golf course.

It’s Taboo
Just ten minutes from Muskoka Bay, Taboo Muskoka features a deft design by Ron Garl that seems to empathize with the natural environment. The 7, 174-yard wild track takes you through wetlands, Canadian Shield outcroppings and a forest of birch, pine and balsam.

You won’t forget number seven, a long par three chiseled out of two walls of striated pink and gray granite. Miss this one and your Titleist behaves like it’s ricocheting through a pinball machine!  Another rocky road runs across number four where a sign reads, “Taboo rocks—use at own risk.”

After your round, what could be more Canadian than a Maple Sugar Body Scrub at the newly renovated spa?

Gourmands have been known to drive north from Toronto to sample Taboo’s ultra sophisticated cuisine.

Taking the spotlight on weekends is the Culinary Theatre where chef orchestrates six-course tasting menus in front of guests who gather around a custom crafted island table. My recent splurge included lobster tail with a foie gras and shitake mushroom terrine, elk tenderloin with a chestnut mushroom and sweet corn emulsion and a trio of pineapple desserts.

ClubLink’s Three Muskoka Gems

ClubLink Corporation, Canada’s largest owner-operator of golf facilities, has been a driving force in the development of Muskoka golf with three superb tracts. Normally ClubLink courses are open to members only but guests at the Sherwood Inn have playing privileges at all three ClubLink courses.

Both the Lake Joseph Club and Rocky Crest are the creations of Thomas McBroom who has perfected the technique of using exposed Canadian Shield to give his routing character.

ClubLink’s first Muskoka course was the award-winning Lake Joseph Club, a gem carved through the hills and valleys of a hardwood forest at Lake Joseph Club Resort. Recognized as the Best New Canadian Course by Golf Digest in 1997, the 6,995-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 some very pricey real estate. One of Muskoka’s signature holes is Lake Joseph’s par-three eighth, where golfers hit from a wildly elevated tee to a valley green dwarfed by a giant wall of striated granite.

McBroom exposed even more granite at ClubLink’s Rocky Crest Golf Club, in the nearby district of West Parry Sound, where rolling fairways twist through a thrilling mix of towering fir trees and marshes. 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. Beware of ricochets! Quench your thirst at the log cabin clubhouse for the quintessential Muskoka experience.

1998 British Open and Masters champion, Mark O’Meara made his design debut in 2001 on his eponymous championship course at Grandview, near Huntsville.

From the tips of 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 eighteenth green perched atop what could be a ski hill, make for a memorable challenge.
The ideal place to stay and play the three ClubLink courses is the Delta Sherwood, in Port Carling on the shores of Lake Joseph. Part of the “curb appeal” here is the smoky aroma of a hardwood fire outside the entrance to the main lodge, originally built in 1939.

Choose from a variety of cozy rooms in the lodge, several cabins and probably the only Boathouse Suite on the Muskoka Lakes, complete with king sleigh bed, large bathroom with whirlpool tub, living room with fireplace and a balcony that’s ideal for enjoying the sunrise over Lake Joseph.

Bala is Ontario’s Cranberry Capital and minutes from Sherwood, Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh and Muskoka Lakes Winery is popular with guests, especially in fall when the tart berries are harvested. At the Bala Cranberry Festival, always held the week after Thanksgiving, visitors can take a tractor-pulled wagon ride around the marsh. Johnston’s Cranberry Emporium sells everything from award-winning fruit wines to preserves and candles made from those versatile scarlet berries.

While you work up an appetite exploring the antique and design shops over in Port Carling, or paddling a canoe back at the Inn, chef de cuisine Everett Bell might be preparing line-caught pickerel for tonight’s dinner. Bell, who is actively involved in the local Savour Muskoka culinary organization, likes to use locally grown products and smokes his own salmon and bacon.

Sherwood has received the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence every year since 2006. Recently, they converted the lower level of the lodge to a Wine Cellar and Captain’s Table that guests may book for chef’s tasting dinners paired with some of Sherwood’s 2,000 bottles of wine.

Deerhurst: Granddaddy of Muskoka Golf

The G8 Summit in 2010 may have put Deerhurst on the world map but the Deerhurst Highlands Golf Course maintains bragging rights as the granddaddy of Muskoka’s high-end, championship courses. Built in 1990, it was the brainchild of architects Robert Cupp and Thomas McBroom.

When Deerhurst opened its doors in 1896 it stood on four acres and the cost for a week’s accommodations with three meals per day was $3.50 per person. Those days are long gone! Over the subsequent years the property has undergone considerable growth, now encompassing 760 acres, and many owners. It is now a Skyline Resort.

From the first elevated tee overlooking Fairy 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. Bold granite outcroppings and dramatic terrain shifts are epitomized on the tenth signature hole with a sheer granite rock face in play along the length of the fairway. Inevitably, my ever-reliable slice produces an undesirable ricochet.

Except for the open links-style holes four, five and six, the course is a precipitous and muscular romp—not for the faint of heart! Fortify yourself with a protein bar. To restore your confidence, take a swing at Deerhurst’s gentler, shorter Lakeside course, a par-64 that meanders around Peninsula Lake.

When the sun goes down the curtain rises at Decades 2014, the musical revenue where Shania Twain was discovered. One of Canada’s longest running shows, it’s been delighting guests since 1981.


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Anita Draycott

Quite aside from being an award winning writer, whose travel articles and photography regularly appear in golf and lifestyle publications and websites, Anita Draycott is a self confessed golf fanatic, who has chased dimpled white balls over five continents.  

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