When Redtail opened about a half-hour outside of London, Ont. in 1992, it was generally regarded as the country’s most exclusive golf course.
Executives and sports stars jostled to become one of the club’s “roundtable” members, golfers who were invited to join for a year.
In the years that have followed there’s been an explosion of golf courses in Canada. While a majority of those courses are public, including the “club for a day” approach of high-end facilities like Eagles Nest and Angus Glen near Toronto, a handful of exclusive private courses have also opened.
Here’s a look at some of the most exclusive courses in Canada:
Redtail Golf Club (Port Stanley, Ont.)
The creation of two businessmen from London, Ont., Redtail remains one of the most exclusive golf courses in North America, with around 3,000 rounds played by its 80 members and their guests. That contrasts with a typical Toronto course, which may hold upwards of 25,000 rounds on an annual basis.
Like many exclusive courses, Redtail is well hidden. You’ll need directions from the locals to find its gates among gravel roads.
Redtail sports a particularly warm and friendly clubhouse and a particularly nasty Donald Steel golf course. It gained notoriety when Queen Elizabeth II stayed in one of the cottages on the property during a visit to Canada. Since then guests like golfer Nick Price, actor Sean Connery and many others have stayed in the course’s cottages and tested its rolling greens.
Craig McCaw’s golf club (James Island, B.C.)
Little is known about this course and rumours have suggested that even employees were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements keeping them from speaking about telecommunication billionaire Craig McCaw’s island, which is located near Victoria.
The easiest way to play this Nicklaus design may be to buy the island. McCaw, who has seen his fortune halved in the past few years, has placed the island on the market. The price? A cool $78-million.
Memphremagog (Magog, Quebec) and Domaine Laforest (Chavleviox, Québec)
The Desmarais family, arguably one of Canada’s most prominent powerbrokers who control financial conglomerate Power Corp., have two super-exclusive courses. The first, Domaine Laforest, in the Charlevoix region northeast of Quebec City, is only available for play by the Desmarais family and business partners. Said to be kept in the condition of Augusta National Golf Club, host course on the Masters, few have seen Domaine Laforest and even fewer have played it. The family’s latest foray into golf is Memphrémagog Club in Magog, Que., located about 90 minutes from Montreal.
Built by Paul Desmarais Jr. with partner Jean Monty, the former chairman of BCE Inc., the course has 50 members willing to kick out up to $200,000 a piece for the opportunity to play its fairways. Designed by Toronto architect Thomas McBroom, the course has some of the best-connected members in Canada, including the likes of former Woodbridge Co. president Geoff Beattie and RBC CEO Gord Nixon.
But it isn’t the big initiation that separates Memphrémagog from other courses across Canada. While most private golf clubs charge around $5,000 in annual dues, Memphrémagog starts at $20,000 and is expected to rise to $30,000 in coming years. That’s the cost of exclusivity and the fact the course will likely never have more than 3,000 rounds a year on its fairways, a far cry from the typical club which sees more than 20,000 players each year.
Goodwood (Uxbridge, Ont.)
Created by the late Calgary oil entrepreneur Gordon Stollery, owner of Markham, Ont.’s Angus Glen Golf Club, which hosted the 2002 and 2007 Canadian Opens, Goodwood is a golf playground outside of Uxbridge, Ont., a town about a half hour north of Toronto. Using English architect Martin Ebert, Stollery built a course on a wild rolling piece of property, with holes framed by golden fescue. For the first few years of its existence, Goodwood didn’t have any members, and rounds were less than 100 each season.
The facility—which is referred to as Goodwood, for a tiny nearby town—still lacks a formal name and clubhouse, but now has a few handful of members. Since Stollery’s passing in 2011, Goodwood is run by his family and has continued his vision of an ultra-exclusive club of players passionate about golf. There’s no huge initiation, and golfers are invited on an annual basis.
The course itself is exceptional, with devilish greens and plunging fairways that roam a piece of land with few rivals. Drop everything for an invite to this one.
The best of the rest: There are a lot of very private golf courses across Canada, but some are worth noting for either the cost of joining (Oakdale in Toronto tops out at more than $100,000), exclusivity (Oviinbyrd in Muskoka doesn’t even have a sign and good luck finding Mount Bruno outside Montreal without a map) or waiting lists (Capilano in Vancouver, Calgary G&CC and Rosedale in Toronto are tough places to join even if you have the coin.)