Word & Photos By: Grant Fraser
In the classic baseball movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner receives a premonition to turn a corn field into a baseball diamond. “If you build it, they will come,” were the soon-to-be famous words whispered into the character’s ear. While I doubt Canadian golf course designer Thomas McBroom received the same directive, it was his foresight that turned a few hundred acres of pristine Muskoka forest into what is known today as The Lake Joseph Club (Lake Joe).
McBroom’s vision for a championship golf course in the Muskoka region came to fruition in 1996. Given the property’s proximity to the shores of Lake Joseph, selecting a name for the new golf course was a no-brainer. Back then this was ground-breaking, in every sense of the word, as the number of quality golf courses in the area could be counted on one hand. In many ways, Lake Joe blazed the trail for other Top 100 Canadian courses including Rocky Crest, The Ridge at Manitou and Muskoka Bay. Deservedly, Lake Joe was named best new course in Canada by Golf Digest a year after opening its doors in 1997.
Just like the iconic Duke and Ditchburn mahogany boats that cruise the lakes of Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph, The Lake Joseph Club has stood the test of time. Having recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, the golf course, Water’s Edge restaurant, and outdoor recreational amenities have made the Club a go-to destination among Muskoka Lakes cottagers. At Water’s Edge, it is not uncommon to find yourself seated on the patio with a glass of wine or cold beer in hand beside an NHL hockey player or Hollywood celebrity. It is here where the famous and well-healed come to mingle, dine and “be seen.”
At centre stage of the Lake Joseph Club is its golf course, a 6,838-yard design that features similar granite outcroppings and tree-lined fairways as its younger sibling, Rocky Crest. Of the two, Lake Joe is a much more difficult course to walk, almost impossible for anyone accustomed to a golf cart. That said, I did walk Lake Joe the first time I played it – just to say I did. I should note that my follow up round was played from the comfort of a golf cart making the day significantly less strenuous and considerably more enjoyable.
I don’t think there is any dispute about Lake Joe’s signature hole. The 143-yard, par 3, 8th hole earns this title as the hole is as beautiful as it is deceptive. From atop an elevated tee deck, a well-protected green awaits 75 feet below. A giant granite rock wall provides a spectacular, if not distracting, backdrop. The green is narrower than it is deep making this a thought provoking, short-iron approach.
The 475-yard, par 4, 9th hole is worthy of mention because it is the only hole on the golf course where you can see Lake Joseph. Given the severity of the slope of the landing area midway down the fairway, it’s no surprise that this is the No. 1 stroke hole.
Perhaps the most memorable and redeeming design feature of Lake Joe is its transition from being tight and tree-lined to more open and parkland-style on three of the back nine holes. The 11th, 12th and 13th holes lead you through the most open and lowland area of the golf course providing some relief for errant shots. I recall standing behind the 11th green and looking back down the fairway pleasantly distracted by the red flags of the 8th and 12th greens swaying in the distance.
The 18th hole at Lake Joe is a strong 428-yard, par 4 finish that features one of the few water hazards on the course. A cluster of granite rock comes into play off the tee forcing you to decide which side of the fairway to play your final approach from. The green is nestled below the clubhouse patio and protected by a large pond. A fitting conclusion to a golf course that continues to get better over time.
Located 10 minutes from Port Carling and 30 minutes from Bracebridge, the Sherwood Inn is the ideal end to a day of golf at either the Lake Joe or Rocky Crest golf clubs. Situated on 40 acres along 2,500 feet of untouched Lake Joseph shoreline, the Sherwood Inn has been providing an authentic sampling of the Muskoka good life since 1939. The Inn itself is tucked among century old hard and soft woods and features 49 guestrooms and cottages; many equipped with wood-burning fireplaces and whirlpool tubs.
The Sherwood Inn is a special place that celebrates a bygone era when steamships and mahogany boats were the modes of transportation for the fortunate few who made this area home in the summer. Fast forward nearly 100 years and this once best kept secret is now one of Canada’s favourite holiday destinations.
This is a peaceful place where quiet and tranquility are the norm. Guests of Sherwood Inn come here to relax and unwind whether on a deck chair overlooking the calming waters of Lake Joseph or on a comfortable sofa in front of a wood burning fireplace. Not surprisingly, couples have embraced Sherwood Inn as an ideal place to reconnect.
Among its many amenities, Sherwood Inn also offers a spa and wellness experience to its guests. Appropriately called True North, this is the perfect place to indulge with a pre and/or post round massage. Appointments are required. Contact 705-203-5813 or book online at www.massagebook.com/biz/truenorthmvmt
Sherwood Inn is open year-round; however, weekends only (Friday-Sunday) throughout the winter months. For more information call Sherwood Inn at 1-866-844-2228 or visit www.sherwoodinn.ca
When staying at Sherwood Inn you would be remiss if you didn’t have at least one meal at the award-winning Vintages restaurant. Looking back, I’m not sure what I enjoyed more. My rounds of golf at Lake Joe or my dinner at Vintages. Described by a long-time restaurant manager as, “culinary romance on the shores of Lake Joseph,” Vintages is the Inn’s signature dining establishment where guests are treated to a casual, fine dining experience featuring “Muskoka inspired” cuisine. There are a variety of exceptional meal and dessert options that you’ll find equally tempting and delicious.
Your dining experience at Vintages would not be complete without a visit to the Inn’s private dining room and wine collection where groups of 14 can share an intimate culinary and wine tasting experience. Featuring an assortment of exceptional wines from around the world, Sherwood Inn’s private cellar has won multiple Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence.
Other Things to Do at the Lake Joseph Club
In addition to a few rounds of golf, on either the championship course or 9-hole Academy Course, there are so many things to do at the Lake Joseph Club. Summer activities include swimming, tennis, volleyball, boating, fishing, biking and hiking.
Another mainstay at the Lake Joseph Club is SOAR, a weekly summer camp experience for children from the first week of July to the last week of August. Adults can partake in their own summer fun on board a private boat tour/charter on Lake Joseph. SOAR is available to guests of the Rocky Crest Resort and Lake Joseph Club. To book a private boat tour/charter contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay and Play Packages
The best stay and play packages that include the Lake Joseph Club and Rocky Crest Resort are offered in May/June and September/October. Depending on the time of year and availability, prices start at approximately $400. I recommend 4 rounds of golf (two at Rocky Crest, two at Lake Joe) and a 3-night stay for starters. Having recently experienced this stay-and-play package, my only complaint was that I couldn’t stay longer. For accommodation details contact the Rocky Crest Golf Resort at 1-866-323-3305 or visit www.rockycrest.ca or Sherwood inn at 1-866-844-2228 or visit www.sherwoodinn.ca