Oviinbyrd: A review

Designer: Thomas McBroom
Opened: 2005.

Few courses in Canada have been so discussed — yet so rarely seen. To many, Oviinbyrd must seem like the Muskoka version of Magna: Big, bold, exclusive and expensive. The reality is quite the contrary. Oviinbyrd is subtle, yet intriguing, and smart where Magna struggles.
Conceived of by Peter Schwartz, a former tech CEO and partner in the project, Oviinbyrd’s attention to detail is impressive and rarely matched in Canadian golf. Everything seems to have its own place – right down to the clubhouse and how it fits into the scale of the overall project.
But it is the golf that everyone wants to know about, especially given that with only 175 members so few have had a chance to tackle Oviinbyrd.
In discussing Oviinbyrd, one has to take away the notion of exclusivity to determine just how good the course is. There are several great golf experiences in Canada — including Redtail, with its tiny membership, and Magna, with its valet parking and ostentatious nature. But exclusivity doesn’t make a golf course great. It is the land, the greens and the layout that make a golf course stand apart, and thankfully Oviinbyrd had all of that to offer and more.
The course starts easily enough with a straight ahead 441-yard par four. The green, in many ways, is indicative of what’s to come throughout Oviinbyrd: it rolls more dangerously than it appears, seeming subtle while actually featuring some bolder contours. The bunkering is typical McBroom — flashed up sand faces that have been seen on many of his recent courses, though they differ significantly from attempts at bolder traps, as can be witnessed at Firerock in London.
The routing of Oviinbyrd is interesting for several reasons. First, it isn’t two loops, which means it never returns to the clubhouse. Instead it wanders out from the clubhouse, hitting its peak at 11, before turning and leisurely heading back in. That makes Oviinbyrd one of the easiest walking courses in recent memory and is a big plus over much of what’s been built in Muskoka. It also gives Oviinbyrd a classic feel, very unlike many of the modern courses that have opened in the area, like The Rock, Seguin Valley (which has remarkably long stretches between holes), or even McBroom’s Rocky Crest, which returns to the clubhouse after nine.
McBroom has also found lay of the land opportunities for many of his greens (like the extremely friendly looking third), a factor that makes Oviinbyrd appear quite natural.
The quality of golf and mix of holes is also top notch. McBroom presents players with a moderate opener and then ramps up the proceedings, peaking at the 12th, before taking it down a notch. The course toughens up again in the stretch of strong fours — 15, 16, 17 — before concluding with what may be one of the only average holes on the course, the 522-yard par five closer. With water down the left side of the fairway and green, 18 feels like something you’ve played before, and you are likely right.
McBroom deserves credit for not going overboard with anything at Oviinbyrd, while not playing it too safe. The par fives are all a reasonable distance — no 600 yard monsters here — which may take some of the teeth out of the course, but surely makes it more fun to play. Here’s a modern course that doesn’t seem at all worried about holding a Canadian Open, and since it only measures 7,138 yards from the tips, it is truly a members’ course. The only exception is the 14th — which plays a reasonable 198-yards from the member tees, but can be stretched to 230-yards (or longer) from the tips. Though it is downhill, it has a small green and is well bunkered, making it among the trickiest holes on the course.
If there is a miss on the course, it is the short 494-yard par five ninth, with its narrow fairway and risk/reward green situated over a large pond. The fairway is so tight compared to everything else that hitting driver seems unnecessarily risky, leaving a dull combination of fairway woods and wedges for par.
Inevitably Oviinbyrd will be compared to The Ridge at Manitou, McBroom’s other recent private Muskoka effort that also opened all 18 holes this summer. Everyone knows the Ridge has struggled to find members, but that shouldn’t be a factor when determining whether the course is actually comparable to Oviinbyrd. The truth is that McBroom took more risks at �viinbyrd (like the short 327-yard 10th, the blind tee shot on the 12th, and the tiny green on the 8th), and those chances mean Oviinbyrd has more to offer the Ridge. The Ridge at Manitou is a fine collection of holes, but with the exception of the a handful on the back nine, everything is good, but little is great. It is strong, but you may have seen it before. Oviinbyrd has some holes that are unlike anything in Muskoka.
At Oviinbyrd, great holes abound, including the 2cnd, with its difficult drive, the short 10th, the wonderfully clever long 12th with its amazing green site and the 15th, with its tee shot being struck majestically over a vast watery expanse.
Oviinbyrd is certainly exclusive, but thankfully it is also a rock solid course where Thomas McBroom’s risks have become the player’s reward. It’ll be a tough project for Tom to top.

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Jeff Lancaster

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I want to get in to Cassidy lake beside the golf course, and I’ll need an invitation from a member. Can you connect me with someone there?

  • Having worked at Oviinbyrd for three seasons after leaving Rocky Crest, I can say without hesitation that Oviinbyrd is hands down the greatest golf club in Canada!!! From the moment you arrive to every inch of the course to the exquisite meal afterwards….its the best!!

  • This is a wonderful course, replete with holes that challenge golfers of all skills levels. Of course, like Woody Allen, I’d never belong to a course that would have me, and the big O would never have me. For people like this, it’s not just the colour of the money that matters.

    • Funny, played with a member last week….and get this his skin colour was not white!
      Jonathan you appear to be a racist, which no one at this club appears to be.

  • The very first day we we working at Red Leaves, and the John O’Mara designed golf course out of the clubhouse, pre-opening for Red Leaves which still under construction, we play golf!

    They had over 100 green golf carts, and sent them back for red ones.

    We worked out of the kitchen, doing all of test menus.

    We had a blast, very long hours and inflexible staff in consideration of all of the labor statutes.
    Evently, they brought on 40 tractor trailer boxes packed with all of the contents of the hotel.
    They screwed down plywood in the huge balllrom, and off loaded.
    We unpacked Everything.
    Every fork and knife, wrapped in plastic.
    Bellman’s carts….
    The course turned out to be so difficult during the Summer, they came in during the Winter, and reengineered the entire thing 18 hole layout.

    Lots of cash being handed around at the clubhouse.

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