BARRIE, Ontario -- In a land of snow and ice it's easy to forget that many of Canada's ski destinations are often overlooked as golf options.
Horseshoe Valley has been known as a skiing spot for years -- one of the Greater Toronto Area's most accessible in an elevation-challenged province -- but it's probably a better golf and resort destination. That's because two 18-hole courses and Horseshoe Resort's emerging reputation as an 'adventure' hangout have turned it into a handy destination for both day-trippers and holidaymakers.
Intersected by Horseshoe Valley Road, the resort just outside Barrie, Ontario, has two golf courses -- one a stalwart for decades, the other now open for about 10 years and maturing nicely -- on a property that offers its guests and the public much more than just golf.
Horseshoe Resort's Valley Course
The first 18 holes make up the Valley Course. It starts out literally at the foot of one of the ski hills and has a reputation for its great conditioning and intelligent but tough design. It's not unfair, but the Valley forces players to be accurate off the tee; any perception that the course plays leisurely due to its relatively short length of 6,204 yards (par 70) is a flawed approach.
Your strategy for playing the Valley should be to use an iron off the tee when necessary and take your medicine when you get into trouble. There is no shame in taking a bogey knowing a double or a dreaded 'other' was a distinct possibility if not for common sense winning the day.
Wind is another tricky variable on the Valley. It may seem relatively benign but as soon as your ball ascends above the thick canopy of trees, you could be in for a surprise.
The Valley has one of the best finishing holes in the area -- a sharp, left-turning par 5 with a tee box perched at the highest point on the course. The view from here is lovely, just like your chance at a birdie or eagle will be if you cut the corner over the trees at the correct angle and taken proper account of the aforementioned wind.
Horseshoe Resort's Highlands Course
Further up Horseshoe Valley Road, the Highlands Course has been open for a few years now and is longer at 6,901 yards from the tips, with more room to take chances off the tee without sacrificing much of a scenic feel still evident on many holes.
There's plenty of variety as you cut your way through the property overlooking the valley below, and like its Valley counterpart down the road, the Highlands is in outstanding shape.
On the back, the Highlands layout has benefited enormously from the maturing that has taken place since it opened. The finishing stretch is a terrific risk-reward trio of two par 4s and a par 5. The par-4 14th is the best hole on the course, a straight-ahead 438-yard gem that forces you to hit it right-center off the fairway as everything kicks left if you get caught on the wrong side of the slope.
The Highlands was the venue the Canadian Tour twice held its season-ending championship a few years back. Before that, the Valley has been the site of many AJGA events, meaning both golf courses at Horseshoe Resort have seen many present-day stars from both the LPGA and PGA tours pass through in the relatively recent past.
Horseshoe Resort off course
Adrenaline junkies have always taken a liking to Horseshoe Resort, but many related pursuits are available to those who don't necessarily crave it but want to test their nerve while on vacation. The resort has done a wonderful job at bridging the gap between dedicated thrill-seekers (who still flock to the area) and weekend warriors and vacationers in the mood to have their heart rate pick-up without having the bejesus scared out of them. Treetop climbing, mountain biking and motorized off-roading are available in abundance. If you really want to hit your adrenaline sweet spot, the Zip Flyer is a must. You go up the chairlift and fly over the valley at speeds of up to 45 km/h while descending more than 2,000 feet.
Who knew simple gravity could be so much fun?
Horseshoe Resort's overall strength is that it's just a good spot to hang out. Whether it's playing golf, lounging in one of the three restaurant/bars on the property, visiting the spa or being fortunate enough to reside in one of the immaculate homes that dot the fairways around both golf courses, Horseshoe Resort just makes you feel relaxed no matter what it is you're doing -- unless you've just taken a double, or flying through the air above the treetops, of course.