Black Bear Ridge: An Eastern Ontario Surprise

Two golfers teeing off through a narrow shute of trees at Black Bear Ridge golf course near Belleville Ontario Canada. (Image: Black Bear Ridge Resort)

Black Bear Ridge rolls seamlessly through valleys and wetlands on the outskirts of the city of Belleville. (Image: Black Bear Ridge Resort)

A mainstay of golf in Eastern Ontario, Black Bear Ridge quickly evolved from a rich man’s passion project into an enduring Canadian success story. And coming soon: a $1.54 billion expansion.

From its origins as a rich man’s “folly” to today’s proposed $1.54 billion expansion, Black Bear Ridge has never failed to surprise.

Carved through a rolling and heavily wooded site on the outskirts of the city of Belleville, two hours east of Toronto, Black Bear Ridge began as the passion project of original owner Brian Magee, a Toronto businessman and avid golfer. Unhappy with the trend toward oversized and often charmless stadium courses, Magee set out to build a timeless, simple course with great practice facilities. That he decided to design it himself on a tight budget set off alarms throughout the local golf industry. Black Bear Ridge, cynics scoffed, was almost certain to be a rich man’s folly.

But it was Magee who had the last laugh when his course opened in 2005. Starting on the par-four first with a tee shot from a wildly elevated tee, Black Bear Ridge never disappoints. The 7,071-yard course rolls seamlessly through valleys and wetlands, always challenging but never unfair. Most fairways are invitingly wide, and the brush has been cleared from under trees to allow for recovery shots. Things stiffen up considerably on the back nine, especially at the eleventh hole, a 628-yard par five that sweeps around a giant marsh on a 45-degree angle. The par-four, 405-yard 12th is almost as daunting. Water guards the fairway on the left, a towering stand of cedars looms to the right, and the green is surrounded by water. Best to lay up if your drive isn’t long and straight.

Black Bear Ridge founder and amateur golf course architect Brian Magee pictured sitting in a golf cart. (Image: Black Bear Ridge Resort)

Original owner—and the golf course’s architect—Brian Magee. (Image: Black Bear Ridge Resort)

Golfers and reviewers were instantly smitten by Magee’s handiwork, which would grow to include an outstanding dual-sided driving range and a nine-hole par-three course. In 2022, Black Bear Ridge placed No. 63 in SCOREGolf magazine’s ranking of Canada’s top 100 courses.

Sadly, Magee died just before his 77th birthday in July 2020. Enter new owner Alex Sharpe, a Toronto entrepreneur who bought the course in August 2021 with the idea of turning Black Bear Ridge into a four-season destination. Sharpe brought in his childhood friend Cale Fair, a tech executive, as his partner.

First step was the addition of three housing units to encourage golfers to come for extended stays. Grandest of all is the nine-bedroom, six-bathroom Wallace House, which sleeps up to 20 guests. The house includes an indoor fireplace, a chef’s kitchen, a Sonos audio system and an eclectic mix of vintage and modern furniture and knick knacks curated by Carlo Colacci, best known for his innovative work with Drake Hotel Properties. The other two houses are The Carter, which sleeps up to 16, and The Jones, a one bedroom that can sleep four.

Plans are afoot to expand the property’s dining facilities, build a new clubhouse, and add skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and other wintertime activities. Already in place for after-golf entertainment is a nine-hole “bocce golf” course. Each player rolls a bocce ball along winding paths cut through flowing fescue until they ring a bell placed at the foot of the flag pin. Just like in regular golf, the player who takes the fewest strokes—or rather, rolls—wins.

But the really big news at Black Bear Ridge is a proposed $1.54 billion plan to build a 370-hectare mixed-use resort, hotel and residential complex. If approved by local council, the build-out is expected to include as many as 3,049 housing units and take 20 years or more to complete.

What’s not likely to change is the prominence of Brian Magee’s golf course, the passion project at the heart of one of Canadian golf’s most surprising success stories.