BRAMPTON, Ontario, Canada - Lionhead Golf and Country Club isn't shy about boasting its Legends Course as Canada's most difficult golf course: 77.5/155 rating from the back tees.
The championship tees aren't even listed on the scorecard, however. Daily golfers are strongly encouraged to play the golds or blues, both still a formidable test. Course architect Ted Baker simply says he intended to design the golf course where "par is elusive."
Located just west of Toronto in Brampton, Lionhead is also home to the Masters Course, and the two deliver the most upscale of six Kaneff Golf properties, founded by Bulgarian Ignat Kaneff, a Toronto-area business mogul. He decided to build his own golf clubs after being denied membership at an area private club.
"He wanted to build a golf course that is every bit as good as the best clubs in town but would be open to the public," said John Dickie, director of marketing and sales and former head golf professional here for 10 years. And while Lionhead's price point is the highest of the bunch, properties like Carlisle Golf & Country Club and Century Pines Golf Club are in the $40-$60 range.
Lionhead Golf and Country Club: The courses
The two Lionhead golf courses are set on 520 acres of rolling hills and wetlands, and the Legends plays over the Credit River numerous times. This is no wee burn, either, with a carry of about 60-80 yards across. The back nine is especially wetlands heavy, built in environmentally protected areas, requiring some very tight shots and carries over the river.
The front nine is the more straightforward of the two nines with one exception: the 425-yard, par-4 first, which plays over the Credit River on the second shot to an elevated green protected in front by four bunkers.
Considered the course's signature hole, even Arnold Palmer remarked it was one of the most difficult openers he's ever seen. It has the look of a back nine hole here at the Legends. In fact, that was originally the case.
"We flipped the first and 10th hole a few years back," said Dickie. "We were noticing a lot of backups starting on the 10th tee, so we made the decision to start with the original 10th."
Once you play the 10th, a 378-yard par 4 with a wide fairway and where the Credit River is in play only for those who duff a tee shot, you'll realize the stark difference in difficulty.
The birdie opportunities are out there, though, especially if you're wise enough to select the right set of five tees for your game. Do so, and the course won't completely shred you up. No. 15 is a prime example. It plays just 489 yards from the championship tees but is a stiff dogleg right, so only those who can hit a power fade will want to hit driver. Place it right, however, and you've got about 200 yards into a green that is protected by a pond short and left.
With two of the remaining three holes on the course being long par 4s, it'll probably be your last shot at a red number.
Lionhead Golf and Country Club: The verdict
Lionhead gets a lot of corporate play, though the groups tend to prefer the slightly tamer Masters Course over the Legends. The Masters is still plenty challenging with a 75.3 rating from the back tees (and is actually longer than the harder Legends), but the wide Credit River isn't in play, and you won't find any long carries over it.
Facilities are suited to corporate outings, with large function space and dining facilities. A full pro shop is also on site, as well as driving range and practice area.
Green fees peak out at $175 CAN, but by booking online, you can play as low as $99, and there's a special going on now that includes free breakfast for golfers who book morning times.
Stay and play in Toronto: The Le Germain Boutique Hotel
For luxury, chic accommodations in the heart of downtown Toronto's entertainment district, check out the Le Germain, a new boutique hotel that is certainly a city standout.
It's located right off King Street next to Second City comedy club and Wayne Gretzky's restaurant, not to mention a few clubs where lines are formed outside all night in the summertime.
The 11-story, 122-room building is a bold red, and inside, it doesn't get much less showy. The lobby is comfortable and stylish, and guest rooms are even more so. And if your putter wasn't cooperating at Lionhead that afternoon, you can head up to the rooftop putting green and stroke a few putts with a cocktail overlooking the city skyline.
Amenities include all the latest guest room fixtures, including an exceptional overhead showerhead, free WiFi, 24-hour fitness center and a nifty cappuccino station in the lobby that offers everything from mocha lattes to a selection of coffee beans.