One of the things I love most about golf is how it offers a respite from the everyday. Coming from a big city (Toronto), I often find myself wanting to get away from it all. But if you know Toronto, you know you have to travel pretty far to find a place that can be considered “away.”

I’ve searched and searched for a golf course that can offer that relaxing, laid back feel I love. But over the years, my radius has grown larger and the list of golf courses smaller — until I discovered The Briars.

17th Hole

I’d wanted to visit The Briars for quite some time and decided enough was enough, this was the year. With the Highway 404 extension finally open, it’s a smooth, quick jaunt from the downtown core and I was pulling into the parking lot in less than 60 minutes.

On the way I passed through the rapidly growing Town of Keswick and, of course, The Briars itself is located in the summer resort town of Jackson’s Point. Some might recognize the town as the place where Canadian funny man Jim Carrey grew up, and they would be right. But it’s so much more.

As I made my way through the heart of Jackson’s Point, a sign welcomed me with an interesting message, “Ontario’s First Cottage Country.” Whether it meant welcome to Ontario’s best cottage country or the first place people travelled to for an escape, all I knew was that less than 50 minutes ago I was standing among millions of people in the middle of Canada’s largest city, and now, I was in a breathtakingly charming little town tucked neatly into a peninsula jutting out into Lake Simcoe.

2nd Hole
One of many beautiful green sites at The Briars

The Briars Resort has an old time feel. Decades of history flow between its walls and you can’t help but think you’ve been transported to a different time when Toronto wasn’t so big and Jackson’s Point was considered more than just “away.” The pace is much more deliberate at this Ontario Heritage Trust protected property and worries are lost as you roam the grounds.

If you are thinking of playing The Briars, The Briars Resort is a great place to stay. In fact, unless you are or know a member, it’s the only way to play. The golf course and the resort are separate entities even though they share the same name. And though the golf course is a private member club, guests of the resort are offered the opportunity to experience the golf course located just next door. And take it from me, The Briars is very much worth playing.

I pride myself on finding under the radar golf courses. Even more so under the radar golf courses designed by Canada’s greatest golf course architect Stanley Thompson (of St. Georges, Highlands Links, Jasper Park and Banff fame). They are few and far between, but The Briars is one of them. The original nine holes here were designed by Thompson himself, and in 1977, his highly regarded understudy Robbie Robinson added an additional nine. With this in mind, the course flows rather seamlessly and it’s hard to distinguish Thompson from Robinson.

As you arrive to the golf course you are greeted by understated elegance. A small parking lot is complimented by a more than adequate clubhouse. The practice putting green lies just a few feet from the patio, and from there, the 1st, 9th, 10th and 18th unfold around you.

15th Hole
5th Hole

The wind was off the lake from the north the day we visited and the air was both fresh and brisk — nothing like an Ontario fall day. A look at the scorecard showed a course playing to approximately 6,300 yards from the back tees, so off to the back we went.

Immediately, my golfing senses tingled. What lay before me was an inviting start with nice movement, just the right amount of tree line and beautiful bunkering. Once reaching the green, I knew I was in for a round of classic old-time golf with strong back-to-front sloping greens. Walking the first fairway, I was also giddy to find a course with conditions playing firm and fast despite a full day of rain the day prior.

I can’t say enough about the joy I get from playing a course so exquisitely laid out in such a gorgeous setting. My playing partner more than once during the round commented that he felt he was at the cottage, and that’s what a round at The Briars can do — make you feel like you’re at the cottage.

Though player friendly and a great walk, the lower handicapper is challenged by well placed bunkers and holes that demand solid shot-making into mild and severely sloped greens. Just ask those who played in the Canadian Senior Men’s Amateur Championship in 2013 when only five players finished under par.

For the higher handicapper, the round is made more enjoyable by trees which have been cleared underneath allowing for punch outs, greens with openings in front accepting shots along the ground and a new hybrid set of tees.

To the back nine we go

There are parts of The Briars that reminded me of St. George’s, which I had played just days before. The 12th hole, for example, runs through its own little valley up to a green fronted by perfectly placed bunkers. Others, like the par-3 3rd and par-5 4th, reminded me of places like Waterloo’s Westmount or Peterborough’s Kawartha (all some of Stanley Thompson’s best designs).

The front and back nines here are separated by the ominously titled but beautifully winding Black River. Golfers cross a bridge on their way to the 11th hole and some of the more tumbling terrain—consisting of holes 11 through 17—lay on the other side. Stop and pause when making the crossover as this may be one of the more beautiful views on a golf course in all of Canada.

After the round, we found ourselves talking about how we felt the course played longer. Yes, there are some shorter par-4s, but they have plenty of interest. There are also some holes — such as the par-3 3rd — which can play as much as three clubs longer depending on the pin position. On other holes, well bunkered, pushed-up greens consistently demand precise approach shots.

Playing as a twosome, we reached the par-3 16th hole in torrid pace. Merely two hours in, we came up on a threesome who were kind enough to let us play through. We stopped to talk a bit as we reached the green and discovered all three were members. We told them how much we enjoyed their wonderful golf course in such wonderful surroundings and that we thought it was one of the true hidden gems in Canada. With a wry smirk on his face and a kind wink, one of the members said, “let’s try to keep it that way.”

But it’s hard to keep a secret when you find a golf course like The Briars. And though I feel just a bit guilty writing this, letting everyone reading know what a great experience the golf course provides, I do it knowing that all who visit will want The Briars to remain just the way it is for a long time so that they can return and enjoy it time and time again.

I’m glad I finally got to visit The Briars, I just wish it had happened sooner. Here’s hoping the next visit doesn’t take so long.

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