When the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada players arrived at Osprey Valley Golf for this week’s Osprey Valley Open, which will play out Thursday through Sunday, they discovered a golf facility that defines the cliché “hidden gem.”
But make that “gems.”
While the tournament will take place on the Toot course, it is just one of three terrific, but very different, courses located on 600 acres on an obscure side road an hour northwest of Toronto.
Toronto-based course architect Doug Carrick, a past president of the American Society of Golf Courses Architects, designed all three, starting with the Heathlands course in 1992.
“It was a unique situation, to have that much property with such varying characteristics,” he said. “Heathlands is so natural, with so much character. I got my inspiration from a trip to Ireland where I just loved Portmarnock, for example. When I saw the setting for the Hoot, I thought about courses like Sand Barrens [in New Jersey]. And the Toot is such a great traditional parkland course.”
Now about those names.
Heathlands is self-explanatory. While not a true links, obviously, the inspiration comes from the origins of golf with dunes, plentiful bunkers, fast-running fairways, fescue and native grasses. Despite the attractions of the other courses, Heathlands remains the arguable favourite among long-time Osprey aficionados.
“One of the great things about the three courses is how distinctive each of them is, with traditionalists preferring the classic Heathlands layout and others preferring the fun of the Hoot and the playability of Toot,” said Brian Decker, Osprey Valley’s director of marketing and communications. “Speak to 10 different golfers and you will likely find 10 different descriptions of what they love about Osprey Valley.”
The Hoot and the Toot courses, both of which opened in 2001, owe their names to the sounds the trains make when running along the track that bisects the property.
The Hoot is littered with expansive waste areas and stately stands of towering pines.
“Much of this was an old sand and gravel pit, which had been partially rehabilitated,” Carrick said. “The result of the low water table was that there are some beautiful ponds which look quite natural and some great contouring with long, sweeping lines. We worked with that, making this a natural, soft, ragged-style course.”
As for the Toot, Carrick recalls, it was designed to be a user-friendly layout with wide, welcoming fairways. At one point, perhaps jokingly, the owner told Carrick he wanted a course where, theoretically, a golfer could putt the ball from tee to green.
While the Toot will provide a good test for the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada players, Carrick wishes he could have seen how they would have fared on the Heathlands with its narrower fairways and more punitive nature overall.
Renowned golf writer Lorne Rubenstein, a Toronto resident, is honorary chairman of the 2018 Osprey Valley Open. He is a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and recently received the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. He was named chairman not just because of his formidable writing reputation, but because of his deep attachment to the place.
“I can’t think of another public facility that offers three courses that differ from each other so much in design,” he said. “Heathlands makes me feel like I am in England, roaming courses such as Walton Heath and Sunningdale. The Toot is a classic parkland course with sweeping views. The Hoot puts me in mind of Pine Valley with its massive waste bunkers.
“How highly do I think of Osprey? This highly: I hosted a charity tournament for a foundation in which I am involved for some 25 years and held it at Osprey most every year. Each and every participant relished the outing. It was a golf adventure on courses that are always maintained beautifully.”
Golf at Osprey Valley is as affordable as it is enjoyable and entertaining, and includes a play all day rate and the intriguing possibility of playing all three courses in a single day. The understated clubhouse overlooks a terrific practice area and offers homemade meals and cold craft beers to be enjoyed in the dining room or on the patio.
While the tantalizing prospect of on-property accommodations remains a “high priority,” according to Decker, visitors who want to stay and play must look to nearby Orangeville, Caledon, Bolton and Brampton for motels and hotels. More local alternatives include the outstanding Millcroft Inn and Spa and Forks of the Credit Inn as well as clean and cozy B&Bs.
John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario.