We arrived at Bigwin
Island to visit the newly revitalized Bigwin Island
Golf Club. It’s a stunning new Doug Carrick-designed
championship golf course that has received much
critical acclaim since it re-launched in 2002. The
club was borne out of the ruins of the old Bigwin
Inn resort. Bigwin was the big swinging place to
spend the summer back in the 1920s and 30s. Built
on a grand scale, Bigwin was very much a symbol
of the elegance and excess of this era in history.
It had also boasted a
wonderfully designed Stanley Thompson golf course.
Originally laid out in 1922 as a 9-hole course -
it was expanded to 18 holes within a few years.
Unfortunately things just weren’t the same
for Bigwin after the coming of the Great Depression.
The original owners sold and the resort changed
hands a number of times over the years, to the point
where it was finally abandoned in 1970 after a number
years of mismanagement and neglect.
In its time, the
Bigwin Inn was the grandest resort in all of Eastern
Canada and attracted an unbelievable clientele.
Names like Eaton, Rockefeller, Weston and Sifton
were commonplace at the Inn during its heyday. Hollywood
stars like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard visited
Bigwin, as well as noted literary giants Ernest
Hemingway and H.G. Wells as well as Prime Minister
John Diefenbaker. Guests would arrive by Muskoka
steamship to spend the summer in style and elegance.
Tennis, shuffleboard, croquet and badminton (and
of course golf) were popular activities by day,
while Bigwin’s enormous 12,000 square foot
maple dance floor played host to scores of waltzing
ladies and gentlemen by night.
Developer Alan Peters
purchased the land the land from the local Lake
of Bays Township in 1986. Originally intending to
subdivide and sell off the land to create an island
cottage paradise, his plans changed when he met
financier Jack Wadsworth. They decided to include
in their plans a high-end golf course on the island,
built right over top of the old layout. They soon
contracted noted golf course architect Doug Carrick
(Angus Glen, Greystone, King Valley) to layout the
new course and decided to resurrect the old Tudor-style
dining hall to serve as the new clubhouse.
A rising star in Canadian
golf course architecture, Carrick relished the opportunity
to revive this classic Stanley Thompson design.
“Doug Carrick’s passion for this project
right from the beginning was unbelievable,”
noted Francine Peters of Bigwin Island “he
really appreciated the history of the site and the
immense opportunities that lay in rebuilding a course
designed by his mentor - Stanley Thompson.”
He certainly has done a nice job of incorporating
his trademark flashed fairway bunkers while also
using much of the original routing from the original
course. All in all, the result was a fresh new course
design that not only accentuated the natural beauty
of the island but also incorporated much of the
look and feel of the old Thompson design.
visit to Bigwin Island was on a placid Monday
morning in early summer. We were told that
there were 4 or 5 other groups of golfers
out on the course, but you would have never
known it. The solitude of the day was broken
only by the occasional worker or course marshall
driving by. We felt like we had the entire
island (and golf course) to ourselves.
After hitting some practice balls at the
impressive new range we set out on course.
The first hole is a strong
par 4 that doglegs right to an elevated green that
is protected by a series of deep, steeply sloped
bunkers. The fairways seemed quite firm, but unfortunately
the greens still had not fully recovered from a
recent aeration session.
We were quite taken by
the third hole as well. It is a sweeping S-shaped
double dogleg par 5, that boasts a massive network
of strategically placed fairway bunkers. The hole
gradually winds its way uphill to an elevated green
that has a deceiving false front. Be sure to try
and hit the ball at least hole high on this one.
Another impressive hole
was the par 4 - 9th. From an elevated tee you encounter
a challenging risk-reward tee shot. There are a
series of deep fairway bunkers that cut across the
left side of the fairway, however a well-struck
tee shot should carry these bunkers and position
you for a short iron to the uphill green. The view
from the tee on this hole is great one.
off at the par 4 - 11th hole we encountered
a small herd of deer. Amazingly they seemed
very unconcerned with our presence. According
to the pro shop staff, seeing wild animals
on the course is quite common, with deer,
moose and even the occasional bear swimming
across the lake (or walking across the in
the winter season) to feed on the island.
This was certainly a surprising and delightful
The award for the best
hole on the course might be a toss-up, between the
par 4 - 6th hole and the finishing par 5 - 18th.
Both these holes are world class.
The 6th hole provides
a wonderful panoramic view of the Lake of Bays as
you tee off from a set of elevated tees down to
a manicured fairway more than a hundred feet below.
You would certainly be hard-pressed to find a more
picturesque golf hole anywhere in this province.
The beautiful 18th hole
provides yet another wonderful vista that overlooks
the magnificently rebuilt clubhouse from the tee
decks above. The hole wraps itself around the natural
contours of the land as it hugs the bay that separates
Bigwin Island from the island they call Little Bigwin.
The hole has a wide, well-manicured fairway that
doglegs right to a 2-tiered green, that sits neatly
adjacent the newly remodeled resort. With this great
a view and its sweeping layout, it is certainly
a wonderful finishing hole.
The Bigwin Island Golf
Club has no doubt done a wonderful job of putting
together a first-class golf experience. One that
most golfers will not soon forget. But, be sure
to visit this course soon, as it may be converted
into a private facility in the next few years once
all its memberships have been purchased. Or at least
be sure to take the water taxi across for a spot
of lunch in their posh new dining room.
Bigwin Island Golf
Club is about 3 hours from Toronto on Old Highway
117 in Norway Point, Ontario. Take Hwy 11 to Hwy
117 East and turn onto Old Hwy 117 after Baysville.
Green fees range from $135-195. Bigwin can be reached
at 800-840-4036 or visit www.bigwinisland.com.