Bogeys and Boulders: Is Canada's Muskoka the toughest golf destination in North America?

GRAVENHURST, Ontario, Canada -- Lots of hazards scare golfers.

Water, bunkers, wild greens, narrow fairways, large trees and tall rough can cause havoc. When you combine all that, plus add exposed rock and dramatic elevation changes to the mix, well, the game gets crazy tough.

The Canadian Shield just might be North America's greatest defense against par. Muskoka -- a tourist region of lakes, cottages, resorts and courses two hours north of Toronto -- makes a strong case as North America's toughest golf destination. Four area courses (plus three others in Ontario) earned the dubious distinction to be ranked among Golf Advisor's 50 toughest courses as determined by online reviews from average golfers. No other state or destination had more than two.

I'm not surprised by the results. I lost a dozen or more balls playing every Muskoka golf course that made the top 50 during my only visit in 2012. I fell in love with the area's beautiful lakes and forests, but watching my ball ping pong off the rocks before flying out of bounds was a bit frustrating.

Many of the best courses play like target golf to the extreme. Golf architects couldn't really tame the land by blasting too much rock or filling in wetlands. They merely worked to find as playable a routing as possible through the natural terrain. Some were more successful than others. Here's a look at the area courses singled out in the Golf Advisor top 50:

36. Oak Bay Golf & Country Club

Location: Port Severn, Ontario, Canada
Yardage: 6,503 | Slope/Rating: 146/71.4
Architect: Shawn P. Watters
Comment: Oak Bay, expanded from nine holes in 2011, wanders through thick tree cover near the Severn Sound of the Georgian Bay. The 165-yard 15th hole epitomizes the beauty and beastly nature of Muskoka's courses. The elevated green sits on a gigantic granite outcropping above a marshy lake cove. It's a do-or-die shot that many players under club. Me included.

29. Highlands Course at Deerhurst Resort

Location: Huntsville, Ontario, Canada
Yardage: 7,011 | Slope/Rating: 140/75.1
Architects: Thomas McBroom, Bob Cupp
Comment: I'm actually a bit surprised the granddaddy of Muskoka's modern courses made the list. I'd vote for Taboo Muskoka over the more resort-friendly Highlands Course. The Highlands Course, built in 1990, features some fun elevation changes. Most of the exposed rock guards the perimeter of the routing not the actual playing corridors.

23. Muskoka Bay Club

Location: Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada
Yardage: 7,367 | Slope/Rating: 146/76.1
Architect: Doug Carrick
Comment: Muskoka Bay was my favorite round of the trip. It is kept in country club condition. The routing was fair and interesting. I even found it in my heart to forgive Carrick for the controversial ninth hole, a par 4 that climbs uphill to a green hidden behind a pair of rocky shields that pinch the fairway from either side, allowing only a narrow opening to reach the green. Beginners and women who can't get the ball airborne hate the hole. For better players, however, the challenge to hit the perfect approach induces a burst of adrenaline.

22. The Rock Golf Club

Location: Minett, Ontario, Canada
Yardage: 6,649 | Slope/Rating: 144/72.0
Architect: Nick Faldo
Comment: The Rock gets five stars for scenery and only three stars for its design flaws. There are a few quirky holes plagued by blind shots and small target landing areas. You probably need to play it three or four times before you feel comfortable. I'd like to play it again before I pass full judgment if it should be avoided altogether.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Default User Avatar
Commented on

Muskoka also has some of the friendliest courses that are only as tough as you want to make them. Conditioning is world class. Venues are varied. And there are no rock outcroppings on many. Don't let this article leave you with the impression that Muskoka is all about tough. We are the soft entry to the wilds north of us. And our courses play well if you play well. 

Related Links
Muskoka Lakes has more top 100 public-access courses than any other golf destination in Canada. Picking the top five places to play here isn't easy, but Jason Scott Deegan has done it.
2 Min Read
In celebration of Canada day, we've got the 10 best golf destinations to visit this summer in the Great White North.
6 Min Read
Canada's most expensive public-access golf courses aren't cheap but cost significantly less than the two most expensive golf experiences in the U.S.
9 Min Read
More from the author
6 Min Read
December 7, 2021
Part of the legendary teaching family, Harmon has paved his own path with an emphasis on improving the average amateur golfer.
4 Min Read
December 3, 2021
It's never been easier to design custom hats, golf balls, clubs, headcovers and more.
4 Min Read
November 30, 2021
The Jamaica Invitational Pro-Am "Annie's Revenge", one of the Caribbean's best pro-ams, introduces the fun and the sun of Rose Hall near Montego Bay.
4 Min Read
November 23, 2021
We scoured the web of golf and found holiday savings up to 50% off.
4 Min Read
November 22, 2021
Anyone can play Tom Fazio's Wynn Golf Club, which sits in the heart of the Las Vegas strip.
7 Min Read
November 11, 2021
More than 115 golf resorts can be booked using your Bonvoy rewards. We break down where you can go and our favorite properties to use your points.
November 18, 2021
GolfPass Sr. Managing Editor shows you how the Super Speed Golf training system and the 2021 PRGR launch monitor can help you add speed and yards to your game.
5 Min Read
November 20, 2021
Help the golfer in your life shoot lower scores, look and feel better than ever this holiday season with these eight golf gifts.
6 Min Read
November 30, 2021
From the home of Arnold Palmer to top resort courses and hidden gems, Orlando is loaded with options.
2 Min Read
November 15, 2021
Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and world-class instructors help you get up-and-down more often.
Load More
Now Reading
Bogeys and Boulders: Is Canada's Muskoka the toughest golf destination in North America?