Nestled amidst tender fruit orchards and rock quarries in Fenwick, ON, lies a golf course that has often been referred to by golfers as the “Jewel of Niagara”. It’s no secret, because on the Peninsula Lakes Golf Club website, they aren’t shy about making this claim.
The golf course was designed by late Canadian golf course architect Rene Muylaert. Mr. Muylaert might be one of the most underrated golf course architects that the golf industry has known or at the very least, in Canada. In fact, there’s a good chance that if you’re a golfer that’s played a round of golf in Ontario, Canada, you might have played one of his tracts without being none the wiser. Generally speaking, his designs are very unassuming. But then, there’s a design like that of Peninsula Lakes Golf Club (Pen Lakes).
Operated by Copper Creek Golf Group, Pen Lakes is a 27-hole golf facility that boasts no shortage of beauty. Featuring amenities like it’s stunning clubhouse, where the vistas that look out and over the Niagara Escarpment are second to nobody. Pen Lakes features a fully-stocked Pro Shop featuring Adidas and TaylorMade Golf products, a driving range, and its “FORE Restaurant” is known for its excellent cuisine.
The three separate nine hole layouts are really what differentiates Pen Lakes from other 27-hole golf facilities in the area (there are three others). The use of the land where Pen Lakes was designed is both resourceful and unique.
Quarry – Is the shortest of the nine hole courses at Pen Lakes. The Quarry is a Par 35 that measures 3240 yards. The aptly named Quarry was the original and descends to the bottom of what was once a quarry. Eventually wrapping it’s way back up to the clubhouse area, along the way, you’ll encounter four large lakes where the water comes into play on holes 1, 2, 5, and 6. The elevation changes are obvious going out from the clubhouse and coming back in.
Orchard – This nine hole course sits across the Cream Street, and is thought to be the most scenic of the three nine hole courses. Measuring just a little longer at 3,279 yards this Par-35 course features what is said to be the nicest Par-3 hole in all of Niagara (Hole #2). While the Orchard does feature some elevation change, the bulk of the holes do lay in lower sitting areas.
Hillside – The Hillside nine is the longest of the three nine hole layouts, and it also just happens to be a Par-36. Water hazards abound here, as ponds come into play on hole numbers 4, 5, 7, and 8. There’s no shortage of imagination used in the design of the Hillside. The 8th green features an island green that stands out when looking down at Pen Lakes from above. Some golfers feel that the 4th hole is the “hardest hole in Niagara”. A hole where you need to make four good shots to make a par. It’s quite possible that the Hillside features the most photographed bridge and willow tree in Niagara.
In Niagara, we’ve been very fortunate to be able to experience an extended golf season. In a way, it’s almost like that it was meant to be considering the late start of the golf season due to the pandemic. But, here we are.
I always love fall golf, and when I got the chance to take advantage of a discounted golf round through GolfNow at Pen Lakes, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Up until now, Pen Lakes was a golf course that I hadn’t played and was a golf course that I passed by every day while I was in high school. More often than not, I would sneak a glance out of the school bus window and to this day, every time that I drive down Highway #20, I still take a quick peak. The glistening water and green of the aforementioned 8th hole of the Hillside nine never fails to get a look as I pass by.
The grounds at Pen Lakes are meticulous, and as soon as you pull into the driveway off of the highway the conditioning of the facility stands out. Well-manicured lawns with the appropriate mow patterns of a golf course greet you. As you drive down into the former quarry you take in the views of the lush greens of the course as it melds into the background, very much looking like a painting. It isn’t long before the impressive clubhouse comes into view as well.
On the day that I played, the weather was on the cool side (9*C/46*F) and there was a significant threat of rain. The skies were supposed to open up during my afternoon round. For what I assume was the result of the weather, the parking lot was nearly void of any cars. Checking in for my round, I learned that I’d be playing the Orchard/Quarry combination, inwardly, I was hoping for the the Orchard/Hillside combination. But this is Pen Lakes, and I’m just happy to be able to take advantage of a great deal for some November golf at a facility with the reputation of Pen Lakes.
***The Orchard/Quarry was roughly 6,500 yards, Par-70 with a 71.0/127 rating.
Checking in was fast and before I knew it, I was directed to the first tee of the Orchard which awaits across the street. Upon crossing Cream Street, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. As I looked around admiring the view from where I stood on the first tee, there wasn’t a soul in sight. It felt like that it was “my” golf course. I always play poorly when I don’t have the chance for a warm-up and on my date of play, the driving range had already been closed for a few weeks so looking down at the first fairway, I deliberated back and forth on which club to use.
The first hole on the Orchard course has you teeing off from an elevated tee down to the fairway below. This hole is a dogleg left, Par 4 hole measuring 383 yards. With no warm-up I made the strategic decision to start off with a 3-wood. A solid opening tee shot found my ball in the fairway down the right side. I was pleased with my shot, until I got down to my second shot. I had no clue how much more I had left into the green. The first green is quite a bit uphill and has a false front, making this 383 yard hole play much longer. Maybe, I should have tried driver. An opening bogey.
The second hole on the Orchard is known for being one of the prettiest Par 3 holes in Niagara. This is a point that I would concur with, especially when you factor in a little bit of fall foliage into the equation. Other highlights of the Orchard were the 5th hole which is a longish Par-4 made longer by the weather conditions of the day (wet and no roll), the 6th which is an elegant downhill Par-3 that is well-guarded by not one but two ponds and a bunker. Take a little bit more club here than you might think. The 572-yard Par 5 which for us mortals, is a three shot Par 5. My eye really liked this golf hole, and I’m sure that the lake that guards this green played into my sentiments. I finally ran into two golfers on the Par 3 8th, which is no “ugly duckling” by any means. They happily allowed me to play through, even though I initially declined. I was just enjoying my round so much and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded joining them at all. Wrapping up my front nine, I made the turn, switched back, and made my way to the first tee of the Quarry Course.
The tee shot here, is sort of similar yet different to the first tee of the Orchard. The tee shot is downhill, after all, you are descending into what was once a quarry and a large lake sits at the bottom of the left side of the fairway. This dogleg is of a large, sweeping variety and it’s a hole where centre-right is really no good. Favour the left side and flirt a little with the water. Because, a tee shot landing centre-right will turn this into a Par 4 and a half. Helping me to make my point, on the scorecard this hole is a Par 5 for the ladies. Finishing up this hole, a Par 3 follows which allows you to catch your breath. Quite honestly, I think that the Quarry might be a little prettier than the Orchard, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I was quite fond of the dogleg left Par 4 3rd hole, the 4th hole is a comfortable mid-length Par 4 hole. I really enjoyed holes 7 and 8, which consequently, are the Par 5 holes on the Quarry course. The 7th hole works its way uphill the entire length of the hole, so clubbing up isn’t a bad. The green complex here gently wraps around a modest dogleg to the right. Meanwhile, the 8th hole actually works its way back down into the quarry. From tee to green, the change in elevation could be construed as relatively dramatic. I liked how this fairway “chokes out” a little bit halfway down and there are trees on either side that are just standing there, hoping to swallow up your ball and ruin your score.
The Quarry ends with a Par 3 and if there’s something that I don’t like when looking at golf course design, I dislike it when a course architect incorporates as Par 3 as a beginning or ending hole. But I understand, it’s about the use of the land.
There is a lot to love about Pen Lakes. First of all, the greens here are remarkable. The greens roll true and are for the most part blemish-free. While I did fix a few ball marks, the amount of ball marks evident on the green were minimal. Meanwhile, the tees were level and matched the conditioning of the greens. Overall, the conditions at Pen Lakes are outstanding, and the superintendent and his staff have done an amazing job, as most come to expect at this facility.
This is a golf facility that is very high-quality, and it lives up to the mantra that Copper Creek Golf Group sets forth for its golf courses. Copper Creek Golf Group strives “to offer the best–in–class services for public golfers in the GTA and Niagara Region” and Pen Lakes lives up to this ideology.
The layout is fun with some challenges, but I think that if there’s one key adjective to place on it, I would choose “fair”. The layout is fair for golfers of all skill levels. Actually, I always thought that Peninsula Lakes Golf Club was a Par 72. It just looks longer than the scorecard says.
Is it the “Jewel of Niagara”? The clubhouse is stellar, the course conditions are even better, and there is some definite beauty at Pen Lakes. But at the same time, reflecting back on my round while writing this review, there was somehow a sense that it was a little blasé too. Maybe it seemed “sterile” or that it lacks character? Maybe it was the overcast conditions of the sky or maybe my expectations were too lofty. Or maybe this is the unassuming design of Mr. Muylaert’s design philosophy.
***Then again, does any of this really matter if the course conditions are “top-notch”?
Perfect greens, lush fairways, cart path throughout the entire golf course, elevation changes, a fair layout and picturesque golf holes. All of this could a round at Peninsula Lakes Golf Club well worth your while.
Until The Next Tee!!