Thursday, March 30, 2006

Muskoka 2003: Bigwin Island

Bigwin Island Golf Club
Lake of Bays, Ontario, Canada


Course Architect: Doug Carrick
Established: 2002
Personal Rounds Played: 2
Low Score: 80

I had the good fortune of meeting two new friends during the spring of 2003. I met Jay and Ryan, friends themselves, at the club when I was looking for a game one day.

Both Jay and Ryan were about five years younger than myself but we hit it off right away. So much so that they asked me THAT FIRST DAY if I was interested in going on a Muskoka golf vacation later that summer.

A bit odd in the timing but the thing that makes golf the greatest game on earth is the way it makes friends of strangers so quickly.

I was in.

Ryan's buddy Brian joined us to make it a foursome. The plan was to stay in a Holiday Inn in Huntsville for the majority of the vacation and we'd just commute to each of the courses on a daily basis.

So we were on the road for the four-hour drive from Niagara to Muskoka on Monday morning. First up was the South Muskoka Golf & Curling Club in Bracebridge, a 1974 Robbie Robinson design.

The course features a lot of dramatic elevation changes, customary for the Muskoka region. It also masks its short length (6400 from the tips) with clever doglegs and treelined fairways.

It certainly isn't a memorable course by any means but it was pleasant for sure. Great value in fact, as we played for less than $40.00. Unfortunately, my game wasn't on for this round or most of the trip for that matter, as I ended up making a quad on my way to an ugly 85.

We were up at the crack of dawn Tuesday for the trip to Bigwin Island Golf Club, pretty much the BIG DAY for the vacation.

I'll try to enlighten my readers who may be unaware of Bigwin's interesting history.

The Island used to be a getaway for famous socialites back in the 1920's and Stanley Thompson layed out a nine-hole course in 1922, with the second nine built eight years later.

Bigwin would become the hotspot of choice for Hollywood celebrities and all the rich and famous by the 1940's. Clark Gable, Ernest Hemmingway and the Rockefellers were regular guests.

However, the Inn fell into disrepair in the late 40's and lost most of its luster, eventually closing by 1970.

The land was eventually purchased by a couple of businessmen in the late-80's and Doug Carrick was commissioned to lay out a new 18-hole course.

You have to take a five-minute boat ride to get to the island, which is a thrill in itself. The picture above shows (left to right) Ryan, Jay and Brian after we arrived on the island. The gorgeous clubhouse is in the background.

I think the course itself is a bit overrated, likely due to its incredible setting. The fairways are unbelievably wide and the par threes, in my opinion, are too similar and pretty weak as a whole.

All that said, I'd likely still rank it in my all-time personal top-ten as far as courses played. At least I think so...that's a list I'll have to draw up sometime...another fun project for me!

Highlights start with the 181 yard par three second (shown above), a downhill one-shotter with a glimpse of the Lake of Bays behind the hole through the trees.

The 523 yard par five third hole is another pretty hole (see above). The hole is called 'Serpent', likely for the way it snakes from right to left and back to the right again at the green complex. The hole features a very wide fairway, with a bailout area on the right but carry bunkers on the left side - attempt to clear those bunkers and you're left with a much shorter second shot - and one that can get home in two. This hole was notable for the deer that were grazing about two feet from the cart path, completely at home and comfortable with golfers standing five feet from them.

Very cool.

Number five is a 404 yard uphill par four called 'Tower' for the structure resting at the top of the hill on the right side. The tantalizing climb to the top leads to the best view you can possibly imagine when you get to the sixth tee.


'Lookout' is a 462 yard par four that drops at least 100 feet from tee to fairway. I can't properly describe the feeling of hitting a tee ball that seemingly stays in the air for 20 seconds - pure joy about sums it up. The first photo is a shot of me literally STEERING the ball down the fairway while the second shot is of Jay. The hole certainly isn't tight but when you're THAT HIGH, you feel as if you're forced to guide the ball.

I think we all reloaded at least three times before making our descent. :)

It's pretty hard to top that hole but there are still a couple beauties out there. Nine is a neat 408 yard par four with great options off the tee due to a double fairway that's split by cross bunkers.

The fourteenth hole is called 'Twister' and is a 403 yard, almost 90 degree dogleg left that drops severely from tee to green. Needless to say, the name is very fitting.

And the finishing hole is just beautiful, a 574 yard downhill par five that bends around the Lake of Bays. I've heard reports that this hole alone costed well over a million dollars - I'm not sure if any of my readers can substantiate that but it certainly makes for an interesting tale either way.

We were able to play 36 holes at Bigwin and the pro was nice enough to allow us to play the second 18 for only the cart fee.

I shot rounds of 82 and 80 and I can say without doubt that this day was one of the best golfing experiences of my life.

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