Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taboo Resort

Taboo Resort Golf & Spa
Gravenhurst, Ontario, CANADA


7340 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 75.6/153
COURSE ARCHITECT: Ron Garl (2002)
ACCESSIBILITY: Resort
COURSE WEBSITE: http://tabooresort.com/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 3
LAST PLAYED: September 28, 2013.
LOW SCORE: 82 (+11)

ACCOLADES -
- Golfweek Best Canadian Modern Courses 2015: #13
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014: #53
- ScoreGolf Top 59 Public Courses in Canada 2015: #32
- Canadian Golf Magazine Top 100 in Canada 2015: #91


"When we first stepped foot on this property, it felt like we had found a piece of land intended for golf. A golf course that would provide challenges of both skill and mind, while never letting you forget about the breathtaking natural vistas that abound. Simply put, playing Taboo will be something very, very special."
- Ron Garl

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 calibre 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 to this date in the Masters Tournament.

I've had the opportunity to play Taboo twice as of this writing, including the first summer the course was open in 2002. That was part of a cool Muskoka golf vacation that I took with friends Jay, Ryan and Bryan where we would see South Muskoka G&CC, Bigwin Island and Deerhurst Resort's Highlands Course.

The Taboo portion of the trip was much-scrutinized in the planning stages - we were essentially flying blind since the course hadn't even opened when we were putting the trip together and the exhorbitant $150.00 green fee for a brand new course seemed like a recipe for disaster.

After much debate, we ended up biting the proverbial bullet and included it on our rotation. It would be our last course in Muskoka before heading off to Hawk Ridge GC in Orillia on our way back to Niagara so we were already on a high, especially after our 36 hole days at Bigwin and Deerhurst the previous two days.

I'm happy to say Taboo did not disappoint - it is one of the prettiest courses I've ever seen. 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.

We had a glorious day weather-wise, as you can see from the photo of us taken on the first tee above. That's Jay, Bryan, Ryan and myself from left to right. Oh, how I long for the days when I was 29 years old and didn't have a care in the world!

The first hole of note is the 3rd, a 204 yard par three, shown above. I sense that Garl got his inspiration for this hole from Pine Valley, as there is a waste bunker that runs the entire length of the hole. The green is framed by a massive granite outcropping in back and it certainly comes into play as I found out the first time I played the course, hitting it with my tee shot and seeing the ball ricochet well right to the back of the green.

The fourth hole is a 553 yard par five that plays uphill at the end. A player looking to go for it on their second shot will have to successfully navigate an outcropping that runs right through the fairway about 60-80 yards from the green, as you can see in the photo above.

The fifth hole, shown above, is a 430 yard par four with a hazard that bisects the fairway about 300 yards or so from the back tee. The second is played to a green protected by bunkers left and has a ridge that runs diagonally from back left to middle right.

The 6th hole is an eye-opener. A 443 yard par four from the tips that has a very wide stream that winds through the entire hole, running from the front of the tee all the way down the right side of the fairway before bisecting it about 100 yards from the green.

The approach shot is shown above, with granite outcroppings galore and a wicked greensite set between the trees. This is a hell of a golf hole and is super intimidating from the tee.

The wow factor hits its peak on the 7th hole, a 218 yard par three that plays entirely uphill and features rock walls running down both sides of the hole from tee to green. As you can see above, it's an awe-inspiring view and I'm sure it's the most photographed spot on the course. It's another hellacious test of golf and I say that with admiration.

The ninth hole, a 449 yard par four that doglegs right and plays uphill to a neat greensite is a strong finish to the outgoing nine

The 10th hole is a 460 yard par four that plays well downhill off the tee, as seen above and is framed by towering pines down the right side. The second shot continues downhill to a narrow but long green surface that is protected by a bunker on the right side.


A bit of repetition sets in on the 206 yard par three 11th. In basic terms, it's the twin sister of the par three 3rd hole in that a waste bunker runs the entire length of the hole, only this time it moves to the left side as opposed to the right side. Just like the 3rd, the hole is framed in back by a granite outcropping.

I birdied this sucker on my first attempt so I can't be too upset but it's a bit puzzling that Garl would design two holes that look, feel and play the exact same way on the same course.

The par four 12th hole, shown above, is a 421 yarder that plays off an elevated tee and has a creek that runs diagonally through the fairway about 270 yards from the back tee. It's an interestingly designed hole - you can play a long iron or fairway metal over to the left side to give yourself a good angle at the green that is framed by a bunker to the right. Or, you can hit driver to the right side to shorten your approach but that bunker is now directly in front of the putting surface and needs to be navigated. Pretty solid golf hole but I wonder if the strategy isn't mixed up a bit - shouldn't the bolder play off the tee be rewarded with the easier shot?

I'm willing to bet that the greensite on the 13th hole was one of Garl's favourites. The routing here seems a bit forced, as the player has to make a long drive from the 12th green to the 13th tee, only to hit the tee shot back towards where you came from. That doesn't detract too much from one of the stronger two-shotters on the course. The tee shot is played over a vast waste area to a narrow fairway framed by a bunker on the left and a granite outcropping on the right.

The approach must clear a creek that runs about 50-60 yards in front of an elevated greensite with a huge false front and is framed in back by an immense granite wall. It's a truly gorgeous hole and features a pretty awesome green too.

The 14th is a very tough, 444 yard par four that requires an exacting approach shot. The 16th hole was the biggest disappointment for me the first time we played in '02 - it was a 484 yard par five that doglegs hard to the left with a tall tree sitting in the middle of the fairway in the target area. The tree is only about 250 yards from the tee and anything that runs past it hits the rough. Unless you have a controlled right-to-left shot in your bag, it might be best to leave the driver in the bag, which was a flaw in the design in my opinion. It seemed that this hole was 'forced', like they wanted another par five on the course in order to get to a par 72 - even the tee shot is played from a chute that required some quirkly routing from the 15th green to the 16th tee.

I strongly felt this hole would be better if they cleared some trees down the left side and made it a shorter par four. Well, I kind of got my wish - by the time I played the course for a second time in 2006, the hole was changed to a par 4 but it was still playing the same length as before and I don't think they cut down many trees, meaning you still have a hard time keeping a driver in play and having a long iron or fairway metal into a green designed to be a par five is a recipe for disaster. So, at the end of the day, I still think the hole is weak.

The 17th is a beauty but again, there is some repetition here as well, as this 436 yard par four is eerily similar to the 10th hole from the tee box. Both play off elevated tees, both dogleg right around the trees but thankfully, the approach shots to each hole are unique.

The 18th is complete eye candy as you can see above, a 563 yard par 5 that plays well uphill and features granite outcroppings all over the fairway the entire length of the hole. The second shot is likely blind to the elevated greensite that features an open front and you'll likely be pretty exhilarated after finishing on such a high note. A bit over the top, but a fun hole to play.

We were one of the only groups on the course the first time we played so we were hopeful of getting a replay round in before heading out later that day. Both Bigwin Island and Deerhurst allowed us to play a second 18 for only the price of the cart but the stubborn folks at Taboo would have none of that, saying the only discount available would be if we played after 4pm for their twilight rate, a hefty $95.00. We were a bit put off by their snobby attitude, especially since they weren't busy at all and were still operating out of a trailer at that point but hey, it's their golf course.

We didn't play a replay round but that didn't diminish the experience too much for us. I shot a group best 85 that first time out and followed up by shooting 82 (+11) in 2006, playing well both times, for the most part. Good courses penalize bad shots and reward good ones and I felt that the place was more than fair in that regard, even with the bold design and the prevalence of the granite.

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 and hinder the score in this category. I think Garl's vision here is strong and the way the granite matches with the blowout waste areas is unique and captivating. That 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.

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 couple years back.

They have a fancy wooden clubhouse now, as you can see above 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 strongly urge 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.

ADDITIONAL NOTE -
With the exception of the group shot on hole #1, the approach shot on #6 and the tee shot on #12, all of the photos in this post were taken from Taboo's Official Website.



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