Somewhere between a round of golf and a golf holiday lies a road trip – a day, or two or three, when you can get away from home, enjoy some great golf and wonderful hospitality. Whether you call it a road trip, a stay-and-play or something else, it’s an escape, an opportunity to let someone else take care of the daily details and allow you to enjoy a memorable golf experience.
Bigwin Island is definitely one of those “memorable experiences” with its award-winning Doug Carrick designed golf course and idyllic setting on Lake of Bays. With the launch of its new Club Cabins earlier this spring, Bigwin also made a bold statement in the stay-and-play market, something that golfers in Southern Ontario will want to add to their Bucket List.
My wife and I enjoyed some Bigwin hospitality recently and to say it was first class, barely does it justice.
As it says on the website, “It all starts with a boat ride.”
Anyone who has grown up with a cottage or enjoyed summers at a lake knows there’s something magical about a boat ride. The anticipation starts when you first book your visit to Bigwin, but nothing you read or see online can fully prepare you for the impact of arrival – sunlight sparkling on the water, a powerful outboard motor purring at the end of the dock, the wonderful aroma of pine-scented Muskoka air and the absence of the normal sounds of civilization.
It’s just a five-minute boat ride to the Island but our anticipation grows exponentially as the clubhouse comes into view and parts of the golf course can be glimpsed along the shoreline. On the dock we’re met by Hillary, our personal hospitality co-ordinator who arranges to have our clubs put on a cart and baggage stored for safekeeping. As we walk to the Pro Shop for check-in, she briefly describes our itinerary and enthusiastically tells us that if there’s anything else we need, to just give her a call.
It’s not our first visit to Bigwin to play golf, which raises the anticipation level another notch. Wonderful memories of previous rounds combine with the sights and sounds of being back on the Island. Bigwin is one of those courses you never tire of playing.
Doug Carrick has fashioned a player friendly golf course through the rugged Muskoka landscape, using the ample height of the island to provide spectacular views of Lake of Bays and elevated tees on many holes. The dense forest is a backdrop to the brilliant routing that finds greens perched on hillsides and fairways that trundle to a precipitous drop. Each hole is crafted to maximize the scenery and deliver unique challenges: the 6th, with its panoramic view of the Lake drops a hundred feet to a valley and drives seem like they hang interminably in the air; the 9th with a fairway so wide, you’re not sure where to aim; the 14th with a blind tee shot over a ridge to who knows where; and the 18th with a magnificent sweeping fairway that delivers you back to the water and demands that you capture a few photos.
Bigwin is fun to play, which is the highest rating I can give. It won’t beat you up but delivers enough challenge that you have to consider your strategy on every hole and execute your shots accordingly. No two holes are even remotely alike, so you’re constantly inspired. As noted, the scenery is awesome and as you’d expect from an exclusive private facility, the conditioning is exceptional.
After golf, there are several options for a beverage and snack. The Dockside Lounge is the best bet since it puts you waterside with a cooling breeze off the lake, a lively atmosphere and great view of the boats buzzing by. The verandah off the Marine Dining Room is another option that delivers a quieter ambiance with lake views. Both feature some interesting local craft beers including a Lake of Bays IPA that is first rate.
Soon it’s time to visit our cabin.
The word ‘cabin’ has different connotations depending on what part of Canada you’re from. On the west coast, regardless of design or style, all cottages and summer homes are called cabins. In the East, a cabin can be anything from a rustic wooden shelter for hunters and campers to a more elaborate log home on a lake or in the woods. The Bigwin Cabins are none of the above.
They’re a unique blend of rustic and modern with wrap around glass walls, wood siding and decks and porches to maximize seating options and the panoramic views of the 18th hole and Lake of Bays. Inside, gorgeous wide-plank wooden floors and a feature wall with a gas fireplace and multiple electronic entertainment devices, compete with a soft décor that is at once inviting and relaxing. The floor to ceiling windows deliver brilliant light and amplify the natural surroundings.
There are currently three cabins, the first stage of a development that will eventually see 40 in total, carefully spaced along the 9th and 18th fairways. Each cabin is slightly different in layout – 1300 square feet of luxury and comfort – but all feature two bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms and easily sleep four. There’s even a pull-out couch in the Great Room, which allows for an additional two guests.
An ultra modern mini kitchen (not that anybody expects you to cook) has a fridge stocked with water and juices and a coffee maker to ensure there’s no waiting. Continental breakfast is part of the service and warm croissants, muffins and pastries are delivered each morning. As noted earlier, anything else you may desire is just a phone call away.
After getting settled away, we amble back to the clubhouse for dinner. A shuttle is available but it’s just a short walk and another opportunity to enjoy that wonderful Muskoka air.
We’re joining two other couples for dinner in the Marine Dining Room, where Executive Chef Domenic Grimaldi has blended classic and modern cuisine and thrown in a taste of local flavour too. I opted for the pickerel, which is a personal favourite, but the eclectic menu includes everything from thin crust pizza to beef tenderloin.
The Marine Dining Room harkens back to the historic beginnings of Bigwin, when big bands would entertain resort guests for dining and dancing as part of a holiday escape to the northern woods. Overlooking the Lake, with the sun setting, it’s a magical place to enjoy an exquisite meal. And maybe a dessert too. There’s something on the menu called Molten Lava Cake that’s indescribably delicious.
Following a great night’s sleep, with the air conditioner off and the windows wide open, we awoke to the sunrise glistening on the water out the front window and the dew sparkling on the 18th fairway. That’s a view that’s worth the price of admission alone.
Our delectable continental breakfast arrived right on time and over coffee and croissants, we decided that the only thing better than a stay-and-play at Bigwin, would be a second night on the Island. It would be so nice to be heading back to the golf course, rather than down to the dock. The boat ride is great but staying another day would be superb.
Oh well, another time.
As noted, Bigwin is exclusively reserved for its members and their guests in July and August but is also available to lodging guests too. For more information about stay-and-play options, click HERE.
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