BAYSVILLE, Ontario, Canada -- A special day playing Bigwin Island Golf Club starts the moment players park their cars.
The five-minute boat ride across the Lake of Bays gets the blood flowing for what lies ahead on the isolated 700-acre island in Muskoka cottage country two hours north of Toronto.
Architect Doug Carrick transformed an abandoned Stanley Thompson course in 2001 into a stunningly scenic private playground that is only open to the public in spring and fall. All 7,166 yards weave their way seamlessly through undisturbed forest. Carrick's bunkers, lined with a local golden silica sand, are as big and bold as the fairways are wide.
Forgiveness off the tee remains a Carrick mainstay, but going low takes real shot-making skills to slick tabletop greens. The vistas from the elevated tee boxes of the par-4 sixth and par-5 18th holes are among the best in North America.
The food inside the wonderfully restored clubhouse and the level of service are on par with the best clubs in Canada. ScoreGolf ranks Bigwin Island No. 28 among the top 100 golf courses in Canada.
"The course has about six signature holes. You can remember them because the view is so good," said guest Dave Myers of Baysville.
The old Bigwin Inn, a magnet for celebrities and dignitaries in the 1920s and 1930s before it closed in 1970, unfortunately collapsed. The only remnants are several brick fireplaces the club plans to reuse in an outdoor garden for weddings and functions. The allure of Bigwin Island seems to be alive and well once again. Well-heeled members bring guests by seaplane to escape.
"It's an all-day experience," said Kevin Russell, the head professional/director of golf. "It's not a round of golf. It is an experience."