7166 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 74.4/136
COURSE ARCHITECT: Doug Carrick (2001)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://bigwinisland.com
ROUNDS PLAYED: 3
LAST PLAYED: October 4, 2014.
LOW SCORE: 75 (+3)
– Golf Digest Best New Canadian Course 2002
– Golf Digest Best 30 Courses in Canada 2020: #26
– Golfweek Best Modern Courses Canada 2019: #5
– Top100GolfCourses.com Canada’s Top 100 2019: #29
– ScoreGolf Top 110 in Canada 2018: #20
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 laid 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.