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On The Thompson Trail– Publicly Accessible Stanley Thompson Courses In Ontario

A statue of designer Stanley Thompson greets you on the 1st tee at Highlands Links in Nova Scotia. The architect also did plenty of work in his home province of Ontario

Golfers who do not belong to the world of private club golf are painfully aware that often some of the best course designs are not available for everyone to play. But sometimes they are.

In Canada, no classic golf architect is more revered than Stanley Thompson. The “Toronto Terror” created some of the most lauded layouts in the country (nearly 150 of them). He did some of his best work in Ontario. Many of those courses are private but fortunately, he did some work that is publicly accessible as well.

I am lacking the space to provide a description of all his Ontario work that you can play openly, but here are a few highlights.

Allandale Golf & Country Club

Originally known as Mardon Lodge, this Barrie-area was a private build for wealthy businessman General Donald McDonald Hogarth and his wife Margaret.

Now public, for $40 you can play eighteen holes on what many believe is a very intact Stanley Thompson design.

Expect a low-key affair that is an easy stroll, but off-line shots will remind you that the pines the course was cut from have grown abundantly since it created in 1932.

Many golfers especially enjoy that the nine holes have three par threes, three par fours, and three par fives.

Allandale GC

Bridgewater Country Club

Originally known as Erie Downs Golf and Country Club, this Niagara Region course has been a multiple-time home of the Ontario Open. That included the occasion in 1933, a decade after it opened, when Sam Snead was took the title.

Bridgewater is an easy course to walk and the surrounds of dense trees will give you a constant park-like feel.

Keep on guard for hole #6, appropriately called Chameleon. It can serve up different levels of trouble each time you play the par three.

Unaccompanied rates range from $50-$79.

Brockville Country Club

Dating back to 1914, the Brockville Country Club was a nine-hole design when Stanley Thompson re-designed it. Seven of those holes remain intact, two located south of the “King’s Highway” have been lost to time.

Now a semi-private club, Brockville welcomed Thompson at the start of the 1930’s, a period when he was re-designing the private Cataraqui G&CC forty-five minutes down the road in Kingston.

Peak rates at Brockville CC are $75 with twilight starting as little as $35.

Brockville Country Club, 1st hole. Photo: Scott MacLeod, Flagstick.com)

Cedarhurst Golf Club

A cottage favourite in Beaverton, Ontario, near the shores of Lake Simcoe. This club is the regular hangout of former LPGA member Karen Mundinger, who was the first to insist that I make a visit.

The layout will not overwhelm you with the layout but that does not mean it is short on challenge. Cedar-lined fairways are happy to reject your errant tee shots and approaches.

The course started in 1922 as a three-hole layout, and Thompson lent his hand to the 9-hole expansion in 1926. Those holes are now the front nine if you happen to be short on time. Make an effort to play 18 if you can though, the nine holes Bert Turcotte added in 1964 are a fun play as well.

Eighteen-hole rates run from $35-$53.

Kawartha Golf Club

Of the Stanley Thompson courses in Ontario that you can play without being a member or guest, this Peterborough course is a favourite.

Highly respected architect Ian Andrew, who has done work on the layout, calls it, “The most underrated Stanley Thompson course of all.” That quite an endorsement from the well-educated craftsman not known for lending an opinion without much thought.

The bunkering is delightful, and Thompson squeezed the most out of the landscape.

Call in advance regarding rates, only members and guests were being welcomed early in the 2020 season.

Kawartha G&CC

Kenora Golf & Country Club

Appropriately found on Golf Course Bay on the Lake of The Woods, Kenora G&CC had an affiliation with Stanley Thompson right from its start. Thompson laid out the first nine-hole design in 1923, which was completed by the next year. It was expanded to 18 holes just over thirty years ago.

I first saw this layout in 1987, and my lasting impression is of expansive lake views from the peaks of the property. A rugged layout but one that really shines in the fall colours.

It’s exceptionally affordable, with rates topping at $48.

Norfolk Golf & Country Club

Dating back to 1895, this Lake Erie region course was a frequent stopover for bothers Nicol and Stanley Thompson. There is not a lot of evidence that they actually re-tooled the layout but experts agree that they undoubtedly influenced it. The hallmark of Thompson’s work is apparent, and photos exist from visits.

It is a delightfully rolling property, consisting of just nine holes, but so intriguing that few are not willing to hand over the $40 tariff required to play two loops as a guest.

Playing this course with a set of hickory-shafted clubs was a delight.

Norfolk G&CC

Saugeen Golf Club

The recent host of the Ontario U19 Junior Boys’ Championship, Saugeen (est. 1925) is one of those mythical level courses. Those who grew up playing it retain romantic notions about it and those recently introduced leave impressed, mostly by the green surrounds and surfaces, which can be confounding.

From tee to green there are some spots that may feel awkward at first for the aggressive player, but the more you play it, the more you realize the nuances needed to score successfully.

Twilight rates begin at $35 in the shoulder season and a main season, weekend round will run you $60. 

Whirlpool Golf Course

One of the later designs by Thompson, the 18 holes benefit from a location along the clifftops just down from the famed Niagara Falls.

With green fees topping out at $69, the course endures as one of the best in the region despite the arrival of several other designs. Renovation work just over two decades ago brought up the standards of the bunkers, polishing what has become an aging beauty.

A must-play when you stop by the area, Whirlpool has the length and difficulty to challenge even the strongest of golfers but tee decks as short as 5200 yards make it playable for even novices.

Whirlpool GC (Niagara Parks Photo)

Fast Facts

Stanley Thompson Society

www.stanleythompson.com

Courses

Allandale

www.allandalegolfcourse.com

Bridgewater Country Club

www.bccgolf.ca

Brockville Country Club

www.brockvillecountryclub.com

Cedarhurst Golf Club

www.cedarhurstgolf.com

Kawartha Golf Club

www.kawarthagolf.ca

Kenora Golf & Country Club

www.golfkenora.com

Norfolk Golf & Country Club

www.norfolkgolfandcountryclub.com

Saugeen Golf Club

www.saugeengolf.com

Whirlpool Golf Course

www.niagaraparks.com

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