2002 Golf Digest Best New Course in Canada
1. Bigwin Island G.C., Lake of Bays, Ont., Doug Carrick,
2. Angus Glen G.C. (The North Cse.), Markham, Ont., Doug Carrick and Jay Morrish
3. Le MaÃƒ®tre de Mont-Tremblant, Saint Jovite, Que., (private). Graham Cooke, Darrell Huxham, Gene Bates and Fred Couples
Bigwin Island was once famous for its parties and the score of rich Americans and Canadians who haunted the island, drink in hand at the dances held for much of its history. There was also a golf course “ a short, sporty track fashioned by Stanley Thompson
In the 1970s, the course disappeared. It took more than 30 years for another to take its place, but when Doug Carrick first saw the possibilities of Bigwin Island, he must have been immediately inspired.
Sure the site was an island in the middle of a Muskoka lake, but it also had heart plunging drops in elevation and plenty of room to crave out 18 grand holes. Most talk about the 6th, a par four with an incredible view of the surrounding land and a tee shot that would make an extreme skier envious.
But it is Bigwins subtleties that make it work as a course. Many have criticized Carrick for making the fairways to wide, but the concept is part of his strategy. It allows the designer to utilize bunkers that guard carry angles which can be challenged by strong players, while allowing more novice golfers to play safely away from trouble. It is smart, fun golf with one of the best finishing holes in Canada, though the course is let down by an average set of one shot holes.
The whole Bigwin Island experience begins with a boat ride to the island and ends with a return via the same vessel. When golfers arrive back at their car many may be willing to attempt to swim back to the course, clubs firmly strapped to their backs “ Bigwin has that sort of appeal.
Where it Ranks: 16 in Canada, according to Score Golf. Probably a little high “ but not much.
Time Will Tell:Bigwin has taken a long time to establish itself as the island enclave its owners were hoping for when it was established. For the public player thats a good thing, allowing them access and the experience of the boat ride across the lake to the course. As a course it is still regarded as one of the best in Muskoka “ and rightfully so.
Should It Have Won?: Yes, though Id qualify that by saying one could make a case for a course that didnt even make the Top 3. That course would be the wasteland course at Osprey Valley (see below).
What Was Overlooked?: It turns out 2002 was a huge year for Canadian golf, with numerous course openings. The Niagara Falls Parks Commission spent millions on two courses, one designed by Doug Carrick (Battlefield) and one by Thomas McBroom (Usshers Creek). The media day for the pair was ill-fated from the start “ September 11, 2001 “ and was sort of an omen for the courses themselves. Built on land as flat as a table, both are enjoyable, but not exceptional. And both have struggled to find an audience, especially given border issues and the rising dollar.
In general it was a busy year for Carrick, who also opened two new courses at Osprey Valley, the badly-named Hoot and Toot, which I more generally refer to as the parkland (the north course) and wasteland (the south). Both are terrific golf courses and Id argue the wasteland property, with its stunning use of land, rugged bunkering and fascinating mix of holes is as good as Carrick gets “ at least until 17, when a Trumpesque waterfall was brought into play. Regardless the Wasteland is a joy to play “ and I might even prefer it over Bigwin.
Carrick also opened River Bend in London, Ont., a low profile private course in a housing development. Though it sounds like it should be awful, it is saved by a fine piece of property and several strong holes, especially on the front nine.
Of course there was also McBrooms Domaine Laforest, built for Canadian powerbrokers, the Desmarais family. But the Desmarais werent about to soil their course by allowing the hoi polloi (or even shareholders!) on property “ so its reputation is more legend than reality.
Lastly, Jack Nicklaus Northern Bear Golf Club near Edmonton was nominated. The course has struggled as a business and as a design. Not one of Jacks finest moments.
Next: A course behind a mall takes the title