Course Review: Smuggler's Glen Golf Course (Gananoque, Ont)

Could be Muskoka: The 5th hole at Smuggler's Glen demonstrates the similarities between this Kingston-area course and Toronto's cottage country.

Could be Muskoka: The 6th hole at Smuggler's Glen demonstrates the similarities between this Kingston-area course and Toronto's cottage country.

Course Review: Smuggler’s Glen Golf Course

Designer: Boyd Barr

I’m on a bit of a family vacation — in other words, the two rug rats are asleep in the hotel room while my wife and I type quietly on our respective laptops at the Glen House Resort just outside of Gananoque on the St. Lawrence River. Glen House seemed like a sensible place to stop given that it is 3.5 hours to Tremblant, which is our final destination tomorrow (actually today as I post this).

Despite heavy rain for part of the trip down the 401, I still managed to sneak out for a look at Smuggler’s Glen Golf Course, a Boyd Barr design that opened a couple of years back. You’ve probably never heard of Barr, but he’s done some work in Eastern Ontario, including the shaping at Black Bear Ridge, some of the reno work at Cataraqui in Kingston, and some work out in Western Canada. He’s no master designer, but the work at Smuggler’s Glen is solid enough and shows some inventiveness on a shorter course.

Rocky Start: Smuggler's tough and questionable opening hole

Rocky Start: Smuggler's tough and questionable opening hole

Though it starts with one of the worst holes on the course (kinda reminded me of Deerhurst Highlands in this regard), a par-4 over a large rocky ravine to a fairway that wrapped around to the left and then was pinched at the 200 yard mark, I thought Smuggler’s showed some moxy.

There was a lot of Muskoka in the course – some exposed rock, some big elevation changes, and some interesting strategies. Though the course isn’t long — topping out at 6570 yards — it had its moments, especially on the front nine. The third hole, with its tee shot off an elevated ridge line and playing down into a field, was intriguing, and I especially liked the 460-yard sixth, which sported a long green and allowed you to run the ball in. Two short fours (one at 260-yards!) on the back nine keep the course short, but aside from a couple of patchy spots, it was in good condition. I wonder about the 12th, the shortest of the short fours, which played uphll, but parallel to an earlier hole. It was this area of the property where holes seemed sort of jammed in, and I wasn’t convinced the 12th wasn’t created more out of space constraints than out of a desire to make a drivable par-4.

Short -- the 10th hole again uses an elevated tee deck.

Short -- the 10th hole again uses an elevated tee deck.

In many ways, Smuggler’s Glen is basic golf on a cool piece of property. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and isn’t meant as a dig on the course. Barr stays out of his own way (with the exception of the opener, which was awkward), and though it closes with a standard long par-5 with water on the left side of the fairway, there was enough solid golf to keep you interested. The strength of the holes is needed — after all, Barr’s bunkering was plain (and sometimes too removed from greens and lines of play), and the greens didn’t have tons of character (but were in exceptional condition and ran true), but with rates at $69 to $85, I think this is an intriguing alternative to Muskoka-type golf. You get the thrills of the big tees shots without the hit to the pocket book. The issue, of course, is the location of the course — some three hours from the Centre of the Universe that is Toronto. But with Timber Ridge, Black Bear Ridge and Trillium Woods on the way to Kingston, and the Glen House Resort (which is rustic, across the road from Smuggler’s Glen and right on the St. Lawrence ) right across the street from Smuggler’s Glen, the amenities and course options are present for those willing to consider something a touch different.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • “The issue, of course, is the location of the course — some three hours from the Centre of the Universe that is Toronto.”

    and this is a bad thing? If it were anywhere near Toronto, it would be 2-3x the cost. We’re happy where it is, 1:15 from where I live in Ottawa means a day trip is well within reason.

  • Just curious – What does one have to do to achieve the title of ‘Master Designer’? Do you feel any of the designers currently practicing in Canada have reached this moniker?

  • Where are you playing at Tremblant? I was there two weeks ago and the condition of Le Bete and Le Diable was pretty good while Le Geant was shockingly bad as it was completely saturated to the point of being unplayable. From a construction perspective this is interesting as I suspect the Geant’s condition is partly attributable to the surrounding geology and partly due to woefully inadequate drainage. Further, having to play that course cart paths only is an experience from hell as the path location is always on the opposite side of the fairway from where the often steep slopes will take the ball.

  • Weekender: “Master designer?” I really mean he’s not in the league of the best in the country — namely Carrick and McBroom or someone like Rod Whitman. He’s a tier-2 designer. Not necessarily a bad thing — he’ll surely be cheaper to hire.

  • RT check out Upper Canada GC 20 min east of Cornwall on your way back. Real nice value – the family can go pioneering at Upper Canada Village while you play 18.

  • tighthead – i recall a ridiculous doube-dog legged par 5 at Upper Canada… played there in the upper canada open 20 years ago or so.

    and yes, it comes with geese. lots of’em.

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