As a rater of courses for SCORE Golf magazine, lately I’ve been tossing the clubs in the trunk to check out some top resorts in Ontario’s cottage country. At both Hockley Valley Resort near Orangeville and Cobble Beach in Owen Sound, you’ll enjoy great golf, plus a gourmet dining and spa experience. Both resorts are family-run by folks who are passionate about their properties.
If you haven’t visited the Hockley Valley Resort for a few years, you’re in for a big surprise. The spectacular scenery hasn’t changed. Located a few minutes from the town of Orangeville in the Hills of Headwaters, the area boasts the highest elevation in Southern Ontario and is the source for four major river systems: the Nottawasaga, Credit, Humber and Grand. However, a recent $7 million renovation has transformed the resort to reflect the taste and passions of the Adamo family who have owned it since 1985.
Mario Adamo, an avid golfer himself, hired renowned Canadian golf course architect Thomas McBroom to orchestrate the challenging 6,620-yard roller coaster with nary a flat lie. The Hockley Valley course is pretty in spring and summer and absolutely magnificent in autumn when the trees flaunt their fall foliage.
A river runs down the left side of the signature 17th fairway that’s very much in play. Number 10, another par-three, uses all the elements of the natural topography with tees elevated 300 feet about a green cleverly carved out of a slope. McBroom’s 18th grand finale is a par-four with the pristine Hockley River cutting across the fairway at the 115-yard marker. Your final approach shot is all carry over water to a generous green.
These days Nancy and Mario Adamo are semi-retired and their dynamic son John Paul, formerly the resort’s executive chef, has taken over as president and owner. Much of the renovation money has gone towards the planting of a four-acre fruit and vegetable garden, vineyard and orchard. The organic garden yields myriad herbs, heirloom carrots, beets and tomatoes and just about every other kind of vegetable and fruit that can be grown in Ontario. The garden supplies about 80 per cent of the produce used in the kitchen for the three restaurants: Cabin (named for the original dwelling), 1985 (named for the year the Adamos bought the property) and Babbo (means papa in Italian) the lobby lounge.
Mario, originally from Calabria, Italy, spends much of his time learning about wine is now producing his own Adamo vintages. At the entrance to Cabin restaurant there’s a room for aging cheeses and another where Mario’s hand-made artisan salumi cures. If they don’t grow it, make it or bake it on property, the Adamos support local producers.
The 8,000-square foot European-inspired spa offers a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere where guests can linger in the lounge or out on the balcony overlooking the swimming pool. At the casual Oasis Café you may dine in your bathrobe. If you feel indulgent, try the homemade biscotti and butter tarts; or be virtuous and pour yourself a glass of detox water infused with cucumber and mint.
The signature 75-minute Organic Face and Body Ritual begins with a full body salt and sugar scrub followed by a massage using buriti oil from Brazilian palm trees. Your therapist determines your skin type and then customizes your facial using organic products. While the mask is drying you’ll probably drift off during the scalp or foot massage.
When Cobble Beach Golf Links opened on May 18, 2007 it was a proud day for Willis McLeese, its 95-year-young visionary and late owner. Since the beginning of the 574-acre project in 1999, McLeese and his family were committed to creating an environmentally sound golf course community that is harmonious with nature. That includes planting drought-resistant grasses that require minimal pesticides, geothermal heating and cooling for the resort and the funding of an intensive archaeological study so the building plans would safeguard the historic and sacred sites of the local Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation.
Toronto-based golf course architect Doug Carrick has created a rugged masterpiece that stretches from 5,200 to 7,100 yards meandering around the shoreline and bluffs of Georgian Bay, with views of the water from every hole. Small pot bunkers, closely mown chipping areas and hollows surrounding the greens provide the fast-running, bump-and-run characteristics typical of the great links courses of the British Isles.
The first six fairways create a benign warm-up for the strong par-five seventh running downhill to the shore-clinging eighth and ninth. Then it’s over the stone Swilcan-style bridge to a brilliant back nine. Beyond the green at the par-three signature seventeenth, Cobble Beach’s iconic lighthouse (actually a water pumping station) pays tribute to this spot that was used as a survey point back in the early 1800s by the British admiralty. The eighteenth par-five follows the shore, strewn with cobble stones, back to the welcoming Cape Cod-style clubhouse that serves as ten-room Inn, restaurant, bar, pro shop and spa.
The Inn’s Sweetwater Restaurant offers a glorious view of the Bay from the back patio. Executive chef Tim Johnston has created an eclectic regional menu. You must try his calamari fritto and smoked pork T-bone. The run & raisin butter tart is not to be missed.
Downstairs, The Spa offers detoxifying and hydrating wraps and facials to counteract the effects of sun and wind on the links and a series of massages, including hot stone and a couples’ experience to ease aching muscles
When you visit, try to get down to Owen Sound’s lively Farmer’s Market, open every Saturday morning. Just ten minutes from the resort, it’s brimming with local produce, crafts and characters. Visit the neighbouring Tom Thompson Art Gallery and you’ll see why playing Cobble Beach feels like stepping into a Group of Seven painting.