Courses and Travel

Niagra Falls Golf

Photo: Clive Barber/Golfshots

Glen Abbey Golf Club

It's one thing to play the same courses as the pros, but quite another to hit the same shots. Still, optimistic golfers have to try. Case in point: Visitors to Pebble Beach routinely drop a ball by the 17th green and try to emulate Tom Watson's U.S. Open-clinching chip-in from 1982. For the past three years, golfers who come to Glen Abbey Golf Club in Ontario, Canada, have been trying a still more hopeless play.

Leading by a shot in the final round of the 2000 Bell Canadian Open, Tiger Woods hit his drive on Glen Abbey's 502-yard, par-5 18th into a fairway bunker. What followed was one of the best shots of his career: a 6-iron that flew 218 yards over water and onto the green, securing his birdie and the win. Since then, Ontario's finest course has seen countless would-be Tigers take their shots.

Fancy your chances?

The home province of 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir has more than 300 courses, and some of the best are in the 90-mile corridor between Toronto and Niagara Falls. Add a favorable exchange rate for Americans and you've got a plunge worth taking.

Glen Abbey lies 20 miles west of Toronto in Oakville. Designed by Jack Nicklaus in 1976, the course will host its 23rd Canadian Open this year. The closing stretch on this 7,112-yard masterpiece was described by Tom Weiskopf as the best in golf. The 516-yard 16th is a reachable par 5 that sweeps left to a perilously skinny green fronted by a cavernous bunker. The 436-yard 17th has a treacherous U-shaped green flanked by bunkers, while the closer made famous by Woods is a gambler's dream: It's reachable in two for some, but a watery grave awaits anything insufficiently Tigerish.

From Glen Abbey it's 20 miles south on Queen Elizabeth Way (known as the "QEW") and a short hop on Highway 403 to Mount Hope and Willow Valley Golf Course. Designed by Graham Cooke and opened in 2000, Willow Valley uses fescue and water to bolster its 6,522 yards. The best hole is the 545-yard 11th, where the fairway sidesteps bunkers all the way to a green perched atop a ridge and beyond a gully.

From Willow Valley you can take a one-hour drive west on Highway 6 to the town of Petersburg to begin a golf course loop that will return you to the Toronto area, or you can continue on the QEW along the shoreline of Lake Ontario to the Niagara Peninsula.

In Petersburg, you'll find the newest course in the area, Rebel Creek Golf Club (6,942 yards). Trees are as scarce on Rebel Creek's front nine as in midtown Manhattan, but wherever designer Alan Chud found one, he used it. For example, an old apple tree pinches the driving area on the 497-yard 9th. Ben Hogan once described the par-3 10th at Winged Foot's West Course as a 3-iron into someone's bedroom. Well, Rebel Creek's 208-yard 3rd is a 4-iron from someone's kitchen. The tee is set into the stone foundation of a farmhouse that was preserved during construction. There is also an entertaining way to settle ties here: a short 19th hole with an island green.

The Osprey Valley Resort is 75 miles northeast of Rebel Creek in the bucolic Caledon Hills region. Despite the resort in the name, there are no accommodations here, but there is an abundance of fine golf, with three courses designed by Doug Carrick, an architect who has been called "the Trent Jones of the North."

Osprey's 6,810-yard Heathlands course is complemented by the amusingly named twins, Toot and Hoot. Toot, a 7,106-yard spread on gently rolling terrain, is so named because train whistles from a nearby railway line regularly punctuate the air. Hoot (7,091 yards) is Osprey Valley owner Gerry Humenik's reminder not to take the game too seriously. Both tracks are characterized by bunkering that is plentiful but not unduly penal, adding more confusion to club selection than strokes to your scorecard.

Crib Sheet: Ontario
Glen Abbey Golf Club
Greens fee $235; 905-844-1811
glenabbey.com

Hunters Pointe Golf Course
Greens fee $75; 877-714-4659
hunterspointe.ca

Legends on the Niagara
Greens fees $130-$140; 866-465-3642
niagaraparksgolf.com

Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club
Greens fees $35-$45; 905-468-3424
notlgolf.com

Osprey Valley Resort
Greens fees $70-$85 (Heathlands), $90-$105 (Hoot), $80-$95 (Toot); 519-927-9034
ospreyvalleyresorts.com

Rebel Creek Golf Club
Greens fee $90; 519-634-8666
rebelcreek.ca

Royal Niagara Golf Club
Greens fees $65-$90; 866-769-2518
royalniagara.com

Whirlpool Golf Club
Greens fees $64-$90; 905-356-1140
niagaraparksgolf.com

Willow Valley Golf Course
Greens fees $74-$79; 877-651-7041
willowvalleygolf.com

All figures in U.S. dollars at press time. For more information, visit tourism.niagara.com, niagaraparks.com, shawfest.com or niagaraonthelake.com.

Golfers who choose to follow the QEW from Willow Valley out to the Niagara Peninsula will find another Carrick-designed challenge. His Battlefield course is part of the 700-acre complex Legends on the Niagara, which also houses Ussher's Creek, designed by Tom McBroom.

Battlefield (7,263 yards) plays through wide-open terrain dotted with gaping bunkers and is named for its proximity to the site of the Battle of Chippewa during the War of 1812. This was the last war between the U.S. and Canada -- unless you count last year's Masters playoff between Weir and Len Mattiace.

At 7,251 yards, Ussher's is all about the creek, which makes more unwelcome appearances than Anna Nicole Smith. At the 553-yard 9th it skirts the trees on the right, slashes across the fairway on the lay-up, and reappears in front of the green. Ussher's gusher also baby-sits the green at the brutish 467-yard 18th.

As a counterpoint to the new sheen of Legends on the Niagara, check out a couple of curiosity courses nearby. Whirlpool Golf Club in Niagara Falls looks across the gorge toward the U.S. (Hell of a carry, though.) Formed in 1881, the nine-hole Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club is 20 minutes from the falls and is the oldest club in North America that still plays over the original land.

Just 13 miles from Niagara Falls in the town of Welland is Hunters Pointe Golf Course (6,884 yards). The most striking holes here close each nine. The 529-yard 9th bends right around a lake and demands a gut-wrenching approach. Next door at the 513-yard 18th, water lines the left side and bisects the fairway 300 yards out. Cherish any one-putt on this mighty tough green.

A great finale on the peninsula tour is the 3-year-old Royal Niagara Golf Club, where many holes sit in the imposing shadow of the Niagara Escarpment. Royal Niagara offers three distinct nine-hole loops -- the Escarpment, the Iron Bridge and the Old Canal -- and any combination totals roughly 7,000 yards. The Iron Bridge loop has an industrial feel. The tee at the 375-yard 4th sits at the entrance to an abandoned mine, while the green at the 601-yard 6th hole is elevated above the walls of a canal. The Old Canal nine, predictably enough, might be better navigated by canoe than by cart. The 410-yard 3rd is a beautiful dogleg-left demanding a pinpoint approach over water and sand to a small green.

Off the course, the Niagara region is known as the Napa Valley of Ontario. This promises -- and delivers -- some great 19th holes. Try the Vineland Estates Wineries (vineland.com) or the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery (jacksontriggswinery.com). The food and drink at both are superb.

Any tour of Ontario ought to end in Toronto's Greektown district -- more specifically, at Allen's on Danforth Avenue, where you will find the finest selection of single malts in the province. Order a sublime shot of 12-year-old Macallan's, kick back and tell us just how close you came to hitting that 218-yard 6-iron from the bunker at Glen Abbey.

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