Bigwin Island is one of the most unique golf experiences in all of Canada. In addition to needing to take a boat to and from the course, the entire facility is located on an island mostly dedicated to the golf course.
Long considered a playground for a who’s who of socialites, celebrities and businessman, and home to the Bigwin Inn which opened in 1920, the island was a summer playground then and may fit that description even more today.
Prior to the course that exists now, a nine hole layout designed by Stanley Thompson (which was later expanded to 18) lay on the island. But The Inn fell upon rough times when its manager died in 1942, and so did the golf course. Continuing on under the direction of various different owners, it was never able to regain its original lustre and finally closed for good in 1966.
Bigwin Island was finally restored to its former glory in 2001 when a new Doug Carrick golf course opened for play. Using some of the existing hole corridors, Carrick fashioned what may be one of his most genius designs to date.
The challenges are subtle, but that’s not to say the course isn’t dramatic. Holes like the par-4 6th, with its incredible drop from the tee, or the par-5 18th, which wraps around the Lake of Bays, are two golf holes that aren’t only signature holes for the course, but signature holes for golf in Canada, period.
Then there’s the bunkering. Of all the Doug Carrick courses we’ve played, we feel we can say this is one of his best. A consistent style is used throughout. Strategically, we don’t think they could be placed any better. Fairways weave and wind around bunkers of grand scale imparting great carry angles and plenty of visual deception. Indeed, at many points throughout the round, we have no doubt you will be second guessing your yardage and a lot of that has to do with the scale of the bunkers, size of the greens and width of the course overall.
Bigwin Island is a great example of how large playing areas and strategy come together to create a fun course that most golfers should be able to get through without losing a ball but wondering, how did I score so high? And the subtleties we talked about earlier are what makes things that way.
Take the par-5 7th and par-4 8th for example. On first play, these holes might seem like they are pretty straightaway, but both play uphill and both work against a hard left to right slope in the land. Not only do they play longer, but putts on the green break more than you think. In other spots, like the par-5 3rd or 15th, there are clear lines of advantage. Take the easier routes and have more difficult shots, take on the risk and be rewarded.
It’s a bit ironic that we should describe the challenges at Bigwin as subtle when we think about it. We should be more clear. They are subtle in terms of perception. So, for example, when you stand on the 16th tee, the driving area looks tight, but when in the landing area, there’s more room than your average fairway. Or, when on the 18th tee, the bunkers down the left side of the fairway look like they are out of play, but the carry is 290 yards to clear the furthest one.
It’s interesting that the course is named Bigwin and one of its defining features is its large scale the wreaks havoc with a golfers perception — we are guessing it was meant to be. And this is all enhanced by keeping the course in firm and fast condition as Bigwin usually is.
To us the mark of a great golf course is one that takes multiple plays to figure out. A course that even after playing it hundreds of times reveals something new about itself — Bigwin Island does just that. And so, though we’d highly suggest a round at Bigwin, we also suggest repeat plays because each time we do, we love it even more.
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