It's summertime in Canada, where great golf abounds from coast-to-coast. Not sure where to start? We asked our travel experts which destination is ideal for your first golf trip up north:
Jason Deegan: Muskoka Lakes, Ontario
While I love the ski villages, mountain views and golf courses of Mont-Tremblant and Whistler, no Canadian golf destination can compete with the sheer depth and quality of the Muskoka Lakes region.
A two-hour drive north of Toronto, Ontario’s “cottage country” is revered for its hundreds of lakes, but golf has become a major player as well. Deerhurst Resort, home to the Highlands and Lakeside courses, a spa, fine restaurants, plenty of excursions and live theater, isn’t as glitzy as Canada’s iconic Fairmont golf resorts, but the place would make a great home base for any trip.
Host of the G8 Economic Summit in 2010, Deerhurst continues to improve under new owners, Skyline Hotels & Resorts. Nearby, the Rocky Crest Golf Resort in Mactier offers another SCOREGolf Top 100 course.
The Muskoka Bay Club, designed by Doug Carrick, remains the best of the extreme layouts cut from exposed rock outcroppings of the Canadian Shield. That said, nearby Taboo might be tougher and more scenic.
The best time to visit Muskoka could be fall when the leaves change colors and all the tourists leave. In the shoulder season, private Bigwin Island Golf Club begins offering outside play. Set on an 800-acre island in the middle of the Lake of Bays, it's a playable Carrick design that opened in 2002 on the site of an old Stanley Thompson course. The five-minute boat ride to reach the club feels like an escape to the days of yore when the rich and famous gathered on the island for parties and dances. Toronto’s corporate elite arrive by seaplane flying overhead.
Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa near Victoria
Mike Bailey: Vancouver Island, B.C.
Like the United States, Canada has a wide variety of golf landscapes. But if I had to pick a favorite destination, it would be Vancouver Island.
The main city of Victoria, just a short ferry ride from Seattle or Vancouver, makes a perfect home base for a golf trip. Stay in Victoria Harbour, where seaplanes come and go, and you've got a number of charming hotels on the water as well as the 'Ale Trail,' a collection of microbrew pubs and restaurants that offer some of the most unusual beers and ales in the world.
Or, stay just outside the city at the all-inclusive Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa, which boasts terrific restaurants, luxury accommodations and the only 36-hole Nicklaus Design resort in Canada. The original Mountain Course really is a bear. But the newer Valley Course, opened in 2009, is more player-friendly and arguably just as scenic as the original, overlooking Victoria Harbour.
While Bear Mountain is a must-play, it might be best to spend 7-10 days exploring the whole island. A great vacation would be to combine golf with activities like on- and offshore fishing, zip-lining or bungee jumping for the more adventurous. If you love the outdoors, this is your place.
The rest of the golf courses on the island run the gamut and aren't terribly expensive to play, especially if you book a package. It's not hard to get around the whole island; it's just a couple hour's drive from the beauty of Olympic View Golf Club outside Victoria (with two signature waterfalls) to the luxury of Crown Isle Resort in the north.
Throw in Vancouver Island's ocean breezes and the best climate in Canada, and you've got a perfect escape.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Brandon Tucker: Alberta's Canadian Rockies
Your first golf trip to Canada should focus on one of golf's greatest marriages: Stanley Thompson and the spectacular national parks of the Canadian Rockies.
Thompson, Canada's most prolific Golden Era golf course architect, has several designs in the most prime of Canada's real estate. But the best one-two punch is in Alberta's Canadian Rockies: Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, separated by a three-hour drive along the glacier-laden Icefields Parkway. Thompson built both in the 1920s when commissioned by the Canadian National Railway to lure tourists to this spectacular part of the country. Nearly 100 years later, golfers keep coming.
Jasper Park Lodge, located west of Edmonton in a remote mountain town, is among my favorite golf courses in the world. Thompson was a master at framing holes and shaping bunkers to accentuate their mountain backdrops. Every hole here is a postcard, yet each is so different.
Down the road at Banff Springs, the towering chateau-style hotel looms over the course on the foggy mountainside, and rushing water from the Bow River runs a string of holes on the back nine. Lest we forget, the front nine also has one of golf's most famous par 3s, 'Devil's Cauldron.'
There isn't much else for golf around Jasper Park, so book a few nights and rounds here before heading to Banff, which has some solid modern courses nearby like Stewart Creek and Silvertip. Sadly, 36-hole Kananaskis Country Golf Course, home to my one-and-only grizzly bear and cub sighting, was washed away during the area's summer floods and its future is in doubt. But as long as Jasper and Banff are around, the Canadian Rockies are worth the trip from wherever you are in the world.