For more than a hundred years the Muskoka Region of Ontario has attracted those looking to get away from it all. The rugged landscape, freshwater lakes and total disdain for “urban” ways shaped it into THE place for those in Ontario and beyond to recharge their lives.
The perception though, is that it has become a place for only those with mountains of disposable income. Yes, this is the land of “cottages” that take seven figures to acquire and a multitude of golf enclaves for those with the ability to own one of those properties, but there is a Muskoka for the rest of us. The natural beauty is free for all to enjoy and with some 30 golf facilities there are lots of ways to get your golf on without requiring a second mortgage.
The good people at GolfMuskoka have been working hard to promote the region and when my family visited recently we found a place that we enjoyed for many reasons, including the golf.
Autumn In The Muskoka Region
Fall is the best time of the year to visit. There is less tourist and cottager congestion and as the leaves on the trees shift in colour, there are few canvases in Ontario that are more beautiful.
From our home base at the comfortable and affordable Marriott Residence Inn in Gravenhurst we wandered throughout the weekend, visiting Bracebridge, Huntsville, and plenty of other inviting towns and villages. The locals were welcoming and helpful when we needed guidance and ensured we found the best spots for coffee, snacks, and the occasional dessert.
Best of all, we discovered the relaxing time we were looking for.
To kick off our weekend we made our way to the Muskoka Highlands Golf Club, a place I will call one of the most progressive facilities in Canada. Owner Don Mackay is well in tune with his customers and his course has many notable features. Beyond being a stunning 18 hole course, they feature FootGolf, have an indoor golf simulator, and even allow people to bring their dogs out on the course while they play.
Basically, if you breath, you are welcome.
I sat with Don for a spell and he was happy to lay out the growth of golf in the region, as well as the challenges they face with a short season. Through it all they have persevered by being open to change and adapting to the needs of their customers.
My golf clubs stayed in the van at Muskoka Highlands, a form of torture after I spotted their well-conditioned fairways. Instead I joined my wife and daughter on the back nine of the golf course where an 18-holeFootGolf course has been laid out.
It was our first experience with the sport but when you consider that Mackay is the President of the Canadian FootGolf Association, there was no better spot to give it a try.
It was odd to walk the fairways in the midst of golfers with our three soccer balls but they seemed to all enjoy the novelty of watching us play. We found out quickly that we can’t kick the soccer ball as far as we think but were able to enjoy the golf course in a whole different way. You have to like a sport that really does not require a ton of skill to enjoy and it made for a pleasant morning.
We bid adieu to Don and took to the winding Muskoka roads for a little exploring. Bracebridge, “The Heart of Muskoka”, drew us in with its quaint main street and we spent the afternoon enjoying its sights and shops before retreating back to Gravenhurst.
There, on the edge of Lake Muskoka, on the Muskoka Wharf, we enjoyed dinner waterside as the sun fell from the sky. The scenery was pure Canadiana as tourists strolled the boardwalk accompanied by the peaceful sound of lapping waves and the rugged scenery surrounding it.
That was the same sound that woke us the next morning through our balcony overlooking the bay. As tempting as it was to stay tucked in I ventured off to get in a little golf on my own while girls went sight-seeing and shopping at the many local attractions.
Taboo Golf Club
The famed Taboo Golf Club and their Ron Garl course was my destination. Acclaimed as the best new golf course Canada when it opened it did not take long for me to see why. Carved from the wilderness it was exquisite in look, routing and condition. Putting the focus on strategy, it pushes you to keep the ball in play to avoid the many natural hazards.
With 15 minute tee times and 300 acres of property to explore we played at a refreshingly quick pace, feeling small in the setting that surrounded us. My only wish was that I had time to stay for the back nine but alas, the girls were waiting back on the Muskoka Wharf.
Joining them there we concluded our all too brief visit with a cruise on the RMS Segwun. The 1887 era steamship once carried the mail throughout the lakes of the region. Now it provides glimpses of Lake Muskoka from the water for close to 200 passengers a trip.
Over several hours we cruised in the sunshine, soaking in the colourful Canadian shield, seeing the Muskokas for what they truly are. Not a place overburdened with glitzy cottages of the rich but a place that is raw, peaceful, and simply priceless.
A place anyone can. and should, explore in the Fall.