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Golf And RV's Make a Great Combination

 by Scott A. Sumner

When I got an email from Scott Thurlow who performs public relations for the industry group Go Rving Canada it was a quick answer  yes to try golfing three of Muskoka best courses and travel and stay in motorhomes. I had an interest in doing this for some time after hearing about the golf trips of local RV dealer principle Scott Smith each fall and winter. It seemed like a good idea and I got to find out how just how good for myself this May. After a quick flight to
Toronto on Air Canada it was off to Motor Home Travel Canada Inc. at 7200 Highway 27 North in Woodbridge a short 10 minute drive from the airport. This company will rent you a class A or class C motorhome for a day, week or months. The units are owned by individuals who use
their motorhome for part of the year and have the company rent them out to others when they don’t need them. It seems like a good idea and with the relatively low cost of owning a motor home on a long term basis anyway this helps you pay the costs. Our group of two other media
types from Ottawa and Winnipeg and myself from Thunder Bay were joined by Huw and Scott from Impact Analysis of Ottawa who have been handling the national Go Rving account for several years. They were both old hands at driving and setting up an RV overnight. Our two motorhomes include a class A which is a larger unit and a class C which is based on a cube van type chassis. Both were very luxurious and included a shower, television and a private bedroom at the back of each unit.   After loading up the units with our golf clubs, suitcases and food it was off to play our first course BigWin Island. This was a 2 hour drive from our Toronto location and allowed us to see the beautiful cottage country north of Toronto.
BigWin Island
  It was kinda fun to pull into the golf course parking lot with two large motorhomes. It makes quite an impression! The first unique feature of Bigwin Island is the course is on a island. That’s right, you can only get to the golf course by boat and there is only one truck on the island that the course uses for maintenance. We put on our golf clothes, shoes and hopped on the boat for the 10 minute ride to BigWin Island arriving at the impressive clubhouse facility. In
the past this was a whole dining, entertainment complex including dancing built in 1921 by an American noted Jonathon Gee, GM of BigWin Island. The golf course was originally a Stanley Thompson design, a pitch and put of 5300 yards then. The dining was the biggest component then. The golf course has an interesting history as the old Big Win went bankrupt in 1972 and sat there before a new group bought it in 1986. The new owner was Jack Wadsworth, an American working at Morgan Stanley Investments in New York whose family had came to Muskoka since 1904. They had this idea to do a golf course and cottage properties.
  It took quite a while to get things developed. In 1999 they started construction of the golf course with Doug Carrick as designer and it was completed in July 2001. “ It’s is a great members layout out with generous fairways but with tremendous shot making value and no
water except we are surrounded by water,” said Jonathon Gee. “ No 6 hole was ranked best par 4 in Canada. No 18 has been ranked best par 5 in Canada by Score magazine. It has a 180 foot drop to the fairway and you look dead east to the Lake of Bays. There are large fairways, 75 bunkers and if you miss the green you have a tricky shot  to get up and down.”
  “ We are a private equity golf club but because our membership does not typically come until the end of June we allow public play. Currently we have 184 members equities at $75,000 with our target 300 and then we will turn it over to members. We allow outside play  in May, June and September at a cost of $150 to $190 per round including cart, range and ferry service,” said Gee. “ It is extremely fair and the best course in my opinion that has real value
for the beginner right through the pro. From the back tee it is a challenge and the best course I have seen for ladies. Typically a course is designed from the back on. Big Win Island is designed for all. It is fantastic.”
  After playing Big Win Island I was very impressed with the layout and conditions. Everything for this course had to come by barge and boat and Muskoka has much rock to deal with. The constructing of such a spectacular course must have been a true challenge. Big Win Island opens from the middle of May to Middle October. It has been ranked no 1 in Ontario and 15th in Canada by Score magazine and gets 15,000 rounds per year of play. After our great day of golf we had a spectacular meal in the panoramic dining room which has great views of the water from all seats. It was  then back onto the ferry boat back to the RVs and off to our first nights campground. Setting up the RVs was fast including opening up the slide outs and after some nice conservation we were off to bed.
  Our next day started with a great breakfast made by Scott our host. His bacon and eggs were excellent and we were soon leaving for our next course to play, The Rock.

  The Rock
  The Rock opened in 2004 at end of May and promptly won the best new course in Canada and 5th new course in North America. It was designed by Nick Faldo and is owned by Ken Fowler. Fowler with his company KFE Enterprises started Jumbo Video. “ Ken bought the
hundreds of acres to build the basically public course. The new JW Marriott hotel is opening this fall with 261 rooms. The idea is you can buy a room and when you aren’t here it goes into the rental pool. You will then get tee time privileges,” said Ron Powell, Outside Services Manager. “ We opened in 2004, 5 and 6 and closed in 2007 for renovations. The job given to Mr. Faldo was to design a course that would challenge the low handicap golfer. The problem was by the end of year two we realized we were getting anything but low handicappers but high handicappers. So basically we needed to bite the bullet, soften up some of the tougher holes that had been called everything under the sun and changes were recommended. In year three
the changes went to the architect and in January 2007 the course had shut down.”
  “ 6 holes were totally rebuilt including numbers 1, 3 and 4 on the front nine and 12, 13 and 16 on the back nine. The landing areas were enlarged and cuffed on the fringes with a generous rough to catch your balls. Previously on some of the holes you could land dead center and the ball would go into the bush, say on the 13th,” stated Gary Boyce, Head Golf Professional at The Rock. “ A Pro would call it a challenge but it was too hard for the handicap player. Changes in excess of a $ 1 million were made with more tee decks and recontoured fairways. The changes are fantastic and fair. Every hole has its own character and it is very unique playing here. You have to keep your guard up on every hole.”
  “Many come from Toronto to play The Rock and with the hotel up it will be a number 1 destination. We will have the first and only JW Marriott in Canada, basically a Ritz Carlton in a relaxed setting. Our greens fees are about $85 now, twilight $55 and in peak times $145,”
said Boyce. “ We got rid of the Muskoka beach sand in our traps and brought in manufactured sand from Ohio.”  The Rock was a beautiful course to play and certainly showed off
the Canadian Shield setting, hence its name. Our group really enjoyed playing here and wanted another chance to play the course after learning some of its unique features! We were treated to a superb  dinner in the very attractive clubhouse restaurant after our round.
The wine selection and spectacular bar finished in a dark cherry wood was very luxurious. We were off to our motorhomes and ready for the short drive to the KOA campground. After a great day of golf a campfire and some drinks to talk about our golf exploits were in order. Our
next day was to bring our final golf game on this trip at the Muskoka Bay Club, voted the best new course in Canada in 2007 by Golf Digest magazine.
  Muskoka Bay Club
  “ We are very proud of being voted no 1 in Canada last year and want to keep building on that reputation. The course took two full years to build with our shortsummer seasons here, from clearing the tees and blasting. We opened July 1st 2006. It is semi private course at the moment but our long term goal in the whole development is to grow our membership and become fully private, self sustaining with limited public access once we have the clubhouse on the cliff top,” said Kevin Hamill, CPGA Head Professional at the Muskoka Bay Club. “ Once that final piece of the puzzle, our new clubhouse is complete we will have more people joining and more members.”
  The entire acreage of the Muskoka Bay development is 850 acres, about the same size as Centre Park in New York. The golf course uses 285 acres. There are some on course condos or villas, on the golf course and the other side of the road and the Muskoka Bay community
custom built homes. You can get the model and finishes you want from developer, Peter Freed based out of Toronto. Freed is known for condos and hotels in the fashion district of Toronto and is looking to produce something up here for his clientele. Villas will start at $ 369,000 and go up to $600,000. The homes start at $489,000 and up to a $1 million. The golf fee to play Muskoka Bay Club is $175 plus taxes primetime. Memberships are initiation fees  and charges annually. The annual fee is $2,960 for a single and family $5000. Your start up   cost is $65,000.
  “The people who come here are cottage owners in the area and this is a secondary membership and second home. They are from the nicer private clubs in Toronto. It will get more difficult to play after we build momentum with the club house in terms of priority access to the tee. We are open to the public now but will be private when we sell a number of memberships. 300 to 400 members is a magic number based on the costs,” said Hamill. “ The best thing about the course to me is it is one of the best layouts I have had the opportunity to play and I have played many courses round the world including Ireland and Pinehurst. It has very unique landscapes and it is not often you can play golf and be surrounded by the Canadian Shield. You will never know it is only two years old. It looks like it had been
  here for years. All the holes blend together. You can’t find a bad hole out there. It is one of those golf courses when you walk up to the hole and say wow it can’t get any better than this and then you walk up to the next one and it is better. 18 times. The grasses are also very good. We owe a lot of credit to our greens super, Chris Goodman who helped build the place when they were clearing the stumps, seeding the greens. We have an exceptional layout by Doug Carrick who has down great work across the country and now internationally.”
  The Muskoka Bay Club left me thinking this was the best course I have played in Canada! Built at a cost of $ 20 to 25 million and with a new expensive 17000 square feet clubhouse with a great location and all the amenities including fitness centre and infinity pools the course will only get better. This is a must course for the avid golfer to play!
  After a great trip we were off to return the RVs and make a quick dash to the airport. Golfing, traveling and staying in RV’s was really a fun experience that every golfer should try.

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