Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bigwin Island Golf Club

Bigwin Island Golf Club
Lake of Bays, Ontario, CANADA


7166 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 74.4/136
COURSE ARCHITECT: Doug Carrick (2001)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://bigwinisland.com
ROUNDS PLAYED: 3
LAST PLAYED: October 4, 2014.
LOW SCORE: 75 (+3)


ACCOLADES -
- Golf Digest Best New Canadian Course 2002
- Golf Digest Top 30 in Canada 2015: #15
- Golfweek Best Canadian Modern Courses 2015: #14
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014: #29
- Canadian Golf Magazine Top 100 in Canada 2015: #28


In the spring of 2002, I was lucky enough to meet two new members at my home club who became very good friends of mine in Jay B and Ryan D.

In fact, we hit it off so well that we were talking about a potential Muskoka golf trip that first day we played a round together! 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 Bryan 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 Canada Day 2002, a Monday morning. First up was the South Muskoka Golf & Curling Club in Bracebridge, a 1974 Robbie Robinson design.

The next day was the one we were all waiting for: our first trip to the newly-opened Bigwin Island GC. There was a ton of hype about this place and we were hellbent on checking it out.

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 huge thrill in itself.

The first picture below shows (left to right) Ryan, Jay and Bryan after we arrived on the island. The gorgeous clubhouse is in the background.



We basically had the run of the place the day we played. It's a rather remote location, obviously, so there were maybe about 15 groups or so the entire day at the course.


The first hole, as seen above, is a pretty solid opener, a 392 yard par four that doglegs to the right. The second shot is uphill to a slanted green that protected in front by two deep bunkers.

The second hole, shown above, is a 181 yard par three that offers the first highlight, a downhill tee shot with a peek of the Lake of Bays through the trees in the background.

The 523 yard par five third hole is another pretty hole, as seen 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. The third is a very strong golf hole.

The fourth hole, shown above, is a 166 yard uphill par three cut into a hillside and features a wide yet very shallow putting surface.


The par four fifth hole, shown above, is called "Tower" for the old observation tower located near the greensite. This is another strong hole, a 404 yarder that climbs well uphill to the highest point of the property.

The view off the 6th tee, as seen above, will literally take your breath away. It's a stunning par four, measuring 462 yards that falls over 100 feet from tee to fairway.


The first shot above shows me pretty much steering my tee shot down the fairway while the second photo is of Jay ripping one off the tee. 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. I think we all reloaded about three times before finally making our descent to the fairway. This is one of the best par fours in Canada.

The seventh is a 536 yard par five that works back uphill while the tough eighth, perhaps the most difficult hole on the entire golf course, is a 451 yarder with a slightly elevated green.

The intriguing ninth hole is a 408 yard par four from an elevated tee with a double fairway. The easy play off the tee is to the wide-open right fairway but that leaves a very difficult second shot uphill and over two gaping bunkers. The heroic play off the tee is to the left, which is a much longer carry over the cross bunkers. However, a successful strike will leave an open shot to the green. Really good risk/reward hole here.

The back nine begins rather plainly, with a couple par fours measuring 411 yards and 452 yards respectively.

The 12th hole, a 208 yard par three as seen above, is the longest one-shotter on the course. The green slopes sharply from back right to front left and sits in a very tranquil setting.


The par four 13th is a cool-looking hole, as seen above. It's 404 yards and pretty straightaway but position off the tee is of paramount importance in order to avoid a treacherously deep bunker in the front right of the elevated green.

The 403 yard 14th hole at Bigwin, as seen above, is one of my favourites. It's called "Twister" and for good reason - the hole doglegs close to 90 degrees right to left and is a tremendous risk/reward hole off the tee. You can play safe out to the right of the gaping fairway bunkers but leave a semi-blind approach shot that plays well downhill or try the alternative and blow your shot over the bunkers. If you succeed, you'll be left with a much shorter approach from the lower portion of the fairway to the green set up in the hillside. A real treat to play.


The par five 15th, seen above, is a 515 yarder that also moves from right to left off the tee. Carry the bunkers with a bold play and you have a chance to reach the green in two but play safe and you're destined to play the hole as a three-shotter.

The 16th is the longest par four on the course at 472 yards and it's a true brute. It swings from left to right and you need a bit of a fade here to get into good position to reach the green in regulation. The greensite is well protected for a long par four, with a deep bunker left and grass depressions to the right.

The 204 yard 17th, seen above, features a redan-type green that funnels toward a deep bunker running along the left side of the putting surface.



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 cost well over a million dollars to build - I'm not sure if any of my readers can substantiate that but it certainly makes for an interesting tale either way. The hole is lovely and tantalizing and the approach shot is no bargain, especially if you're trying to challenge it in two shots with the lake beckoning on the right. It's a worthy finisher on a top-notch track.

This course was a victim of the hype machine out of the gates and was also quite overrated upon its opening, with ScoreGolf originally rating it as the 6th best course in Canada in 2004, the first year it was eligible for the list. It has since fallen to 21st and is likely in a pretty good position right now - it might fall a few more spots in this year's rankings but is definitely top 30 material in the country.

Bigwin was a huge success for Doug Carrick and this course contains many of his trademarks, like wide fairway corridors to enhance playability, many downhill tee shots, tough uphill approaches and a few other common touches, like his version of the redan.

The architecture, like a lot of Carrick's work, is very solid but not superlative. For instance, I think the par threes are extremely average out here but the course can get away with it because of the few visually spectacular holes like the par four sixth and the par five closer. I'm also a big fan of the dual fairway ninth and tremendously fun 14th.

The conditioning was very good when I played the course eight years ago and service was also outstanding. The professional let us play a second round that day for the price of the cart, a very nice gesture on his part.

The views are spectacular and the overall ambiance is among the best Canada has to offer, starting with the boat ride in to the facility from the dock in Baysville.

I definitely feel that Bigwin Island is among the strongest courses in all of Muskoka and I'd rate it right up there with the Muskoka Bay Club and Oviinbyrd as far as quality goes, with Deerhurst Highlands and Taboo slotting in right behind. In my opinion, any trip into the area would be incomplete without at least one round at Bigwin.

I shot rounds of 82 and 80 and can honestly say that the day spent at Bigwin Island offered one of the finer golf experiences in my lifetime.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

And So It Begins...

Well, I'm happy to say I was wrong about my prediction in my last post about when our golf course would be opening for play in 2010.

I predicted the weekend of the 27th but I got a call from Stevie G, our assistant superintendent on Thursday morning (March 18th) that the course would be opening at noon that day, beating last year's record opening by a single day.

I missed out on first day golf action due to having a ball hockey game that night but Steve, Cal and Harry all played their first nine holes of the season in the mid-afternoon under glorious weather conditions for late winter.

I had a pretty hectic day at work on Friday and figured I'd have to wait until the weekend to get my first swings in. However, fate would intervene when my wife decided to take our son to Grandma's house for dinner, giving me the chance to get in nine after work.

So around 5:50pm on Friday March 19th, with Cal and Mike F watching, I teed up a 5-iron on our short par four opener and hit a big push fade into the trees.

I've never been so happy after hitting such a poor shot!

I'd proceed to match par just in trees hit on the first hole, nailing four in a row on my way to a triple bogey seven to start the year in style! Hehe.

I stuck with my plan of weakening my grip and hit yet another big ole fade right into the driving range net well right of the second fairway. From there, I'd absolutely nail the wire that holds one of the driving range net posts up, duff another shot, then hit my fourth into the greenside bunker. I'd blast out to 20 feet and make the putt for a smooth double.

+5 through 2.

After hitting yet another big push fade on the mid-length par four third, I decide to hell with my new found neutral grip and go back to my Paul Azinger special.

Crazy game but that's all it took. I'd hit a perfect 7-iron that drew beautifully to the back pin, leaving about a ten footer for birdie. An awesome shot from the trees, at least that's what I was telling myself after three-whacking for bogey. Haha.

+6 through 3.

Things did improve. I'd leave myself about a five footer for par on the fourth and call my shot before hitting the putt, saying "here comes my first par of the year" while Cal and Mike shook their heads.

Thankfully, it went in and I was off. I'd bogey the fifth, make par on the sixth then hit a perfect 6-iron on the par three seventh that stopped about 3 feet away. I'd slip that in the side door for my first birdie of 2010 and follow it up with solid pars on the last two holes to finish one under par on my last four and +6 overall, not bad after the triple/double/bogey start.

It felt SO GOOD to get back on the course after five months away from the game. I actually hit the ball pretty well, especially with my irons. I didn't hit a fairway with the driver though - every single drive went right so that's something I have to work on.

There wasn't any golf this weekend - weather was supposed to be bad yesterday so I scheduled a long-overdue haircut. Of course, it was sunny and about 9 degrees mid-morning and really didn't cool down until later in the afternoon so we could have at least played nine.

We didn't play today either but no matter - golf season is finally here and I can't wait until we get back out again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Golf Season Approaches...

We got blasted with a good amount of snow here in the Niagara Peninsula back at the beginning of the month. There was likely close to a half a foot on the ground, maybe more and with that being the case, thoughts of playing golf in March looked hopeless. This was even more depressing when you consider that my home course opened on March 19th last year, the earliest opening in the club's history.

Well, things have changed drastically in these past two weeks. We've been blessed with exceptionally warm temperatures for the last ten days or so, with most days seeing highs in the mid-teens (mid to high 50's Fahrenheit). The photo above from behind the first tee was taken this past Tuesday - there was still a bit of snow left on the course at that time, as you can see.

We've seen even more positive developments over the past few days - we got doused with rain almost the entire weekend, which I have to imagine has melted the last of the snow covering the course.

My prediction on Tuesday at lunch was that the course would be open for business by Saturday March 27th, perhaps even a day earlier, with the short course being open by the 25th.

If I'm right, two weeks from today I'll be swinging the sticks for the first time in about five months!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Angus Glen Golf Club - South Course

Angus Glen Golf Club - South Course
Markham, Ontario, CANADA


7407 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 76.0/143
COURSE ARCHITECT: Doug Carrick (1995)
ACCESSIBILITY: Public
COURSE WEBSITE: http://angusglen.com
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: July 31, 2001.
LOW SCORE: 83 (+11)


ACCOLADES -
- Golf Digest Best New Canadian Course 1995
- ScoreGolf Top 59 Public Courses in Canada 2015: #50


Many courses have their selling points. For great private clubs like St. George's, The National GC of Canada or Hamilton, it's the fact that their courses always are ranked in the top five in the country. A place like Glen Abbey can't compete with those three from an architecture standpoint yet it is still the most famous course in Canada due to the exposure from hosting an unprecedented 25 Canadian Open championships.

For Angus Glen Golf Club, the notoriety comes from the fact that there is no course that can match them for service excellence and for that reason, it's the most popular corporate and tournament destination in Canada.

It doesn't hurt that the club has 36 holes of solid, Doug Carrick-designed golf, with the older South Course rated within the top 100 in Canada by ScoreGolf.

Angus Glen was a labour of love for Arthur Stollery, who began the process of building the golf course in 1992 on this 1200 acre parcel of farmland. He would pass away two years later but his family made sure to complete his vision and the South Course was born one year later in 1995.

I had the chance to play Angus Glen in July 2001 as a guest of one of my business partners. My father joined me for the round, which included the two principles of the garbage bag company we were doing business with at the time. The North Course had just opened to mixed reviews so we were playing the much more heralded South Course on that day, which would be hosting the Canadian Open for the first time the next summer.

The first hole is quite an intimidating opener, a 475 yard par four with a partially blind downhill tee shot. The player is immediately at attention on the approach, with bunkers left and a pond short right protecting the green, as shown above. This is no warmup hole! I'd hit two good shots here but three whack for a bogey to start.

The second hole is a 167 yard par 3 that is heavily protected by bunkers, as you can see in the photo above. Another 3-putt here for bogey.

I'd settle down and make a couple solid two-putt pars on the par four 3rd and 4th holes. The 405 yard par four 5th, shown above, features a creek that runs down the right side before cutting in directly in front of the putting surface, which is also protected by a pond on the right. Tricky hole and another solid two putt par to keep me at +2.

The 6th is a 208 yard par 3 from an elevated tee played to a long, narrow green surface protected by water front right and bunkers left. The photo above shows my father flanked by Paul and Mohan, our two hosts on the day. This hole would bring a smile to my face, as I'd stiff my long-iron shot to about a foot or so and tap it in for the crowd-pleasing birdie. +1 on the day!

The 7th hole is a beauty - a 530 yard, reachable par five played from an elevated tee, as seen above. I'd smoke my drive here and give it a go for my second, nailing it perfectly right at the green. My ball barely went through the green but there was a hazard back there that I was unaware of and I'd end up having to drop with a penalty. I'd end up hacking it back into one of the greenside bunkers and do well just to escape with a double. This hole got me!


I'd make my third three-putt bogey on the 426 yard par four 8th before heading to the majestic 9th hole, a 550 yard par five, shown above. The wide fairway has some serious slope that can propel well-struck drives up to 30 yards further. I benefited from this and had only a pitch left for my third shot. I'd end up making about a 20 footer for my second birdie of the day to finish the front side in 39 (+3), a score I was elated with back in 2001 when I really wasn't playing much. I had hit every fairway and 8 of 9 greens, numbers that are crazy for a guy who was an 8-10 handicap at best back then.

The 435 yard par four 10th is ultra-challenging. The tee shot must avoid a bunker right but there is also a creek that runs through the fairway about 290 yards or so from the back tee that must be avoided. From there, the approach is uphill to an elevated, two-tier green protected by bunkers short left and back right, as seen above.

The 11th is a bear, a 455 yard par four that usually plays into the wind. Deep bunkers frame both sides of the fairway, as seen above. The green accepts a low, running approach, thankfully.

The par three 12th, shown above, is another beauty. It's a hefty 249 yards from the back tee deck and again plays into the prevailing wind. The hole is nicely framed by two large maples but the green is elevated and protected by deep bunkers in front in addition to a naturalized hazard area that runs in front of and along the right side of the hole. Heck of a test. After getting up and down on the 10th for par and also making a four on the 11th, my two-putt par on 12 kept me at a very solid +3 on the round.

The solid scoring wouldn't last.

I'd miss only my second fairway of the day on the 445 yard par four 13th and make double and follow that by making a disappointing bogey on the long, 594 yard par five 14th to fall to +6 on the day.

I'd get my act back together somewhat by making par on the 440 yard par four 15th, a hole that is dominated by a cross bunker feature about 200-250 yards from the tee.

The par five 16th, measuring 550 yards, features an upper and lower fairway in the layup area, making the player decide whether to give it a go on the second shot and mess with the very deep bunkers about 100 yards out or play it safe by laying up well right.

It's actually a cool risk/reward hole and I got thwarted even though I took the conservative route. I would skull my wedge over the green and I'd chop my way to a crippling double bogey.

The 209 yard par three 17th, as shown above, features a reverse redan green and sits in a lovely setting. It's similar in look to the 12th, with the 'goalpost' type trees and the bunkers front right but plays differently. Pretty golf hole but another test - I'd flush my tee shot over the green and into the pasture out of bounds, making a computer double to completely kill my score.

The 18th is a terrorizing finisher, measuring 420 yards from an elevated tee down to a fairway protected on the left by a naturalized area. The second shot is then played well uphill, over a creek to a green that sits in an amphitheatre setting with the majestic clubhouse in the background. A very solid finisher that I'd bogey to shoot a relatively disappointing 83 (+11), especially since I was in such great shape after 12 holes.

This is definitely a course that was built to host tournaments. It is quite playable for every level of player, especially from the tee. This is certainly one of Doug Carrick's trademarks as a designer - he's always believed in width off the tee while trying to challenge the player with the approach shot, rewarding proper positioning in the fairway.

The architecture is solid but not particularly inspired - the course is ranked 69th in Canada as of this writing and has slid considerably since its opening. My best guess is that this course will continue to slide in the rankings and eventually fall out of the top 100 in the country, likely within the next decade.

That said, I don't want to take anything away from the place. I really enjoyed the golf course - it's a lot of fun for all players and there are some really cool risk/reward opportunities sprinkled throughout the layout. The service levels have typically been off the charts but they recently lost their general manager Kevin Thistle to Coppinwood Golf Club - Mr. Thistle was the face of Angus Glen for years and it will likely be challenging for them to maintain their service levels without him.

If you're heading to Angus Glen to play a round, I'd definitely suggest playing the South Course over the North Course. Full disclosure: I have never played the North Course but I've heard nothing but negatives after the recent work done there by Davis Love III before the 2007 Canadian Open. Why they hired Love III and not Carrick, the original designer, is beyond me.

The South is a very solid course, perhaps not good enough to maintain its lofty rating in the top 100, perhaps not good enough to travel long distances to play but it's certainly a fun and solid test of golf that won't leave you disappointed.