The small town of Gravenhurst lies to the north of Toronto – declaring itself “The gateway to the Muskoka Lakes” – and it’s here that the fairways at Taboo Golf Resort are draped over the majestic Canadian Shield, routed through towering trees and unique rock formations of Muskoka.
The spectacular par 71 Taboo course measures between 5,187 and 7,340 yards (depending on which set of tees is used) and many of the holes dogleg one way or other from tee to green. The quartet of short holes on the scorecard (at holes 3, 7, 11 and 15) is particularly attractive.
Don’t forget to warm up for the round by playing the other course on the property, the 9-hole Sands layout, designed by the late, great Stanley Thompson back in 1928. Visitors should also note that green fees for Taboo include mandatory cart hire.
Masters Champion Mike Weir is a big fan of the layout, saying, “Each time I play here, the beauty overwhelms me. The course is both playable and challenging. I love it here.”
The following article was written by golf course architect Ron Garl and is an edited extract from Volume Four of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected]
In 1994, brothers Ely and Norm Reisman, developers based in Toronto, had a vision of creating a world-class golfing resort in the Muskoka region, just north of Toronto. They scoured the area looking for a site with the potential for laying out a course which would live up to their expectations.
The Muskoka region is a vast area of breath taking scenery. Centuries ago, retreating glaciers carved great slabs of granite from the earth, leaving an incredible landscape as a testament to nature’s awesome power. These same glaciers left the landscape dappled with more than a thousand lakes of pristine water and large sand deposits covered with soaring pines and maples.
The brothers spent several years searching the region and finally settled on a beautiful, rolling tract of land on the southern tip of Lake Muskoka. It was at this juncture that I received a call from Ely and Norm’s partner, Haydn Matthews, asking me to travel up to Ontario to look at “the most significant site you will ever see”.
The proposed site was some 1,200 acres in area and was part of an existing hotel located on the very edge of Lake Muskoka. My first impression was sheer excitement at being given the opportunity of laying out a top golf course on such inspiring topography.
Less experienced designers could be intimidated by the prospect of building a golf course on the rugged landscape of the Muskokas, but I was thrilled by the possibility. I saw in the unyielding forests and ancient granite an opportunity to create a truly inspiring golf experience.
In developing the layout at Taboo a thorough exhaustive site analysis and intimate knowledge of the site was imperative. We knew we had to be patient and attentive to the surrounding environment and we spent nearly two years of time and effort on the routing of the course to work around the magnificent rock outcroppings and specimen trees.
The major influence on the routing was the rock outcrops. Changes and variations to the routing and later on in the grading of every hole was required not only for aesthetics, playability and strategy, but for economic reasons. The cost to blast and remove one cubic metre of granite is about twenty times the cost to move and shape one cubic metre of soil.
The golf holes at Taboo had to be found; the course had to sit softly on the landscape, and we didn’t give up searching for the best eighteen holes until we knew we had it perfected. The total volume of earthworks came to only 80,000 cubic metres of earth and 15,000 cubic metres of rock blasting to accommodate the eighteen holes and practice facility.
In modern-day design this is almost unheard of, where upwards of 500,000 cubic metres is commonplace. The minimalist approach we adopted at Taboo is more typical of the traditional courses of old and we were extremely proud of this achievement.
Taboo opened to a ton of hype back in 2002, having aligned itself with Canada’s best touring professional in Mike Weir right out of the gates. It was to be the centerpiece of the newly restored Muskoka Sands resort and was marketed as a destination course of the highest caliber in the beautiful Muskoka region of Ontario, about two and a half hours north of Toronto.
Taboo was marketed as Weir’s “home course” and while I’d bet that he visited the course less than a handful of times over the years, it proved to be quite the partnership for Taboo, especially when Weir won three times in 2003 and locked up his first and only major in the Masters Tournament.
I’ve had the opportunity to play Taboo three times as of this writing, including the first summer the course was open in 2002.
I’m happy to say Taboo does not disappoint – it is one of the prettiest courses in the country. Garl utilizes the wonder of the Canadian Shield to tremendous effect, routing the course around the myriad granite outcroppings on the property. The effect is stunning to say the least.
This is a pretty interesting golf course to play. You are definitely encouraged to move your ball off the tee and accuracy is definitely demanded out here. There are some thrilling moments available on some of the par fives, specifically on the 4th and the 18th where you can challenge the outcroppings in a bid to reach the green in two shots. From a playability standpoint, the fairways aren’t necessarily wide but at least there aren’t too many forced carries throughout the course. That said, this isn’t an easy golf course for the beginner and even one of the guys in our 2002 group ran out of golf balls during his round.
This course has one of the highest course and slope ratings in Canada but I don’t feel it’s overly difficult if you’re on your game. The charm at Taboo really lies in the setting as opposed to the design. There are certainly some strong holes out here but there’s a couple instances of repetition that bother me a bit. I think Garl’s vision here is strong and the way the granite matches with the blowout waste areas is unique and captivating.
That all being said, I think that the course as a whole is slightly less than the sum of its parts.
Without doubt, the strongest part of Taboo is the aesthetics. From the striking granite throughout the course to the beautiful and mature trees lining most of the holes, this is just a beautiful setting for golf. I can’t imagine how much dynamite was used to build this place but it makes for compelling golf.
I was suitably impressed with the conditioning the first time I played here in ’02 considering the course had only been open for a month. Conditioning was fine on my follow up visits as well.
We were pretty fortunate the first time we played in that we were among the only ones on the course. That meant a pretty quick round, relatively speaking. That wasn’t the case the second time playing in a corporate event. Still, it’s a lovely setting for golf.
Some quirky routing and quite a few long green to tee transfers mean carts are necessary out here. The first hole is a huge hike from the clubhouse and the practice area is way out there too.
The resort has gone through a number of changes in recent years. First of all, Mike Weir isn’t affiliated with the club anymore, with that partnership coming to an end a number of years back.
They have a fancy wooden clubhouse now and the resort itself is pretty cool as well, as I found out during a four night stay in 2006 during a business conference. By that time, the resort also changed names from Muskoka Sands to Taboo Resort Golf & Spa, a curious decision for a resort with as much history as they had with the old name.
To summarize, Taboo is one of the prettiest courses in Ontario and it has some interesting design elements. Without doubt, it has it’s quirks but aesthetically speaking, it’s absolutely breathtaking. If you’re ever in the Toronto area, I’d nudge you to make the two hour drive to play this track and it’s a must if you ever find yourself in the Muskoka region.
For a full hole-by-hole profile and pictorial, please visit my website at http://nowontheteegolf.com/2010/02/16/taboo-resort...
Taboo Muskoka Resort is an hour or so away from Toronto but is well worth the drive. If you are in Ontario then you must venture north to experience the beginning of our “Muskoka Cottage Country”. With hundreds of lakes, majestic hilltop vista and natural rocky outcroppings from our great Canadian Shield, this region is not to be missed for any golf enthusiast. There are less elevation changes then the nearby Muskoka Bay Golf Club, however Taboo maybe the toughest golf course you will ever play. With a slope of 145 and a course rating of 75.1, from the 7,340 yard black tees, I would highly suggest you play from the whites at 6,135 yards if you want to stand any chance at scoring well here. Taboo appears to be relatively friendly off the tee, with generous well-defined tree-lined fairways, but here all the trouble becomes apparent on your approach shot. There are well placed bunkers and deep swales surrounding most greens that will surely test your short game if you are a little errand. As well the large greens have big contours making a two putt difficult depending on the pin placement. Patience and precise shot-making is paramount here. In my opinion the 12th hole optimises this course. This strategic par 4 has a river crossing the fairway diagonally so you need to decide how much to cut off with your tee shot. From there you have to cross a swampy wasteland to a wide but shallow green. My favorite hole would have to be the uphill par 5 4th hole with an intimidating stone shelf blocking the fairway on your second shot. The 18th is probably their most controversial hole on the course. This is an extremely difficult par 5 where granite outcrops protrude everywhere in the fairway. Unless you delicately place your first two swings it might feel like you are at the pinball gallery as I can attest to. This is a must play course if you want to experience our great scenery, spectacular conditioning and still do not mind being humbled a little. To read more about golf in Canada visit http://golftravelandleisure.com/category/canada/