Whitewater Golf Club Officially Opens With Fanfare!
by Scott A.Sumner
The official opening of Thunder Bays new Whitewater Golf Course was an emotional affair. At least 300 people lined the deck and hills beside the 18th green to listen to politicians and others including architect Tom McBroom and owner Silvio DiGregorio talk about the spectacular project. It was motivational to hear and something very positive for the communities we live in to be proud.
John Gordan is the Golf Analyst for Rogers Sportsnet and author of 4 volumes of the great golf courses of Canada. He attends the Masters, US Open, PGA, Canadian Open and Presidents Cup each year and was one of several media flown in from Toronto to play and experience Whitewater on a media day. Gordan also hosts a TV show called Across the Fairways on Sportsnet and about 10 years ago ran SCORE magazine, Canadas national golf magazine.
"Whitewater was long overdue in Thunder Bay. I think Tom McBroom over the years has evolved his design concepts to the point where he is producing golf courses that people want to play again and again. I think Whitewater is a really good example of that. It is a very straight forward, honest golf course. The setting is tremendous with the river and every hole is framed by trees. It gives you a BC or Alberta feel," notes John Gordan. "What you see is what you get and I think if they grow up the rough and contour the fairways a little tighter this could be a very, very, good test of golf. I think the Canadian or Nationwide Tours would have their hands full playing here."
"These are pretty straight forward greens which is something that Tom McBroom wasn't necessarily noted for earlier in his career. The bunkering is very good with excellent sand. Overall I was very impressed with the golf course and the whole facility. The attention to detail is obvious," notes Gordon. The fairways are wide - from tree line to tree line there is lots of room. Once you are outside the tree line though you are dead. I think he has used the property very astutely. The river comes into play as a backdrop. The loop around the water is kind of fun. The whole atmosphere is really nice. When you are doing a golf digest ranking there are 14 different categories and one of them is ambience. The whole atmosphere is so conducive to golf at Whitewater. It is a golf club, not a big fancy country club. People want to go out and golf and I think any type of golfer could have fun here. There are lots of spots where you can take the aggressive line - a risk reward equation. If you want to gamble you could get yourself into a lot of trouble and not find your golf ball. I think Silvio deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the iniative to bring golf writers and broadcasters up from Toronto and Minnesota to have a look at this golf course. As a course ranker you cant get up here very easily on your own."
Tom McBroom is the creative genius behind the Whitewater Golf Club. "I have only played a few holes, not a continuous round so the opening day tomorrow will be my first full round. It may sound surprising but it is just the way my schedule is these days." notes Tom McBroom. "We have four courses in construction right now which is about normal for us at any time. There is Collingwood - The Raven, a high end private course in the Eastern Townships in Quebec near Sherbrooke as well as two in the Okanagan, at Kelowna and Kamloops."
"We started Whitewater in the fall of 2002 and seeded in 2003 with nine holes open in 04, but really 05 is the first full year. I was here about once per month and I had an associate designer, Chris Nelson here about once a week. That is the way we like to handle things. Obviously I can't be here all the time but I like to keep an eye on the construction as it proceeds," notes McBroom. "Chris, who has been with me as my senior designer for 15 years loves the detail of the construction and gets to our projects every week. We have 7 or 8 people on staff including 2 or 3 site people. I'm the lead designer and do all the course strategy and routing and client work."
McBroom looked at two or three properties with Silvio. "I think I surprised him because I choose this over some others he had his eye on, but I liked this one for a number of reasons. One was principally being on the banks of the Kam river which for a southern Ontario boy looking at the scenery of a grand northern Ontario river valley is just very special. The rapids on the par three produced the name of Whitewater. That was the inspiration - white water rafting and canoeing," smiles McBroom. "It is a big property with a third nine planned and residential homes totalling about 500 acres. You like to have framing and definition and some vertical scale for the holes. The third nine will contrast the first two as it will have no trees. It will be a sandy barrens type of course with dramatic dunes and fescue hills. I can hardly wait to get going on the new nine."
"I am delighted with the course. The last time I was up was last fall with a members function. I played a few holes and toured the course. It was gorgeous. I think Silvio has done a great job here. Obviously he has the resources through his various companies to get the thing built. Most of his empire involves construction and material supply - trucks and loaders, machines and bulldozers. Golf course construction involves all of those heavy trades and he was able to supply a lot of the horsepower and the manpower to get the thing built," notes McBroom. "I think it is a very good golf course on a very scenic and special piece of land. It is not for me to say whether the course will be nationally ranked. I do think it has a chance to be a highly ranked nationally course and is not unlike what I visualized. That's what I get paid to do - to see a golf course when others can't see it and to organize the skills that are needed to bring it to fruition. I knew with an owner like Silvio that he had those resources. He also shared the vision for the land and really a bigger vision of creating an attraction for Thunder Bay to become an national and international destination. The market we are hoping will go well beyond the local market and are hoping to bring golfers from the Northern States and southern Ontario. It's a bigger picture with the residential. Silvio and his brother have a lot of civic pride wrapped up in this and we had a lot of fun building it. I have really come to respect Silvio and his capabilities. He is a fun guy."
"Golf has been a a huge upswing for about 25 years now. I see it reflected in my business. Golf is related to tourism. It is one of the main attractions in tourism and hotel conferences. Golf is usually number one on the hit parade," smiles the 5 handicap McBroom. "I love my job. I've been a golfer since a kid. I live and breath golf. Thunder Bay needs to find its nitch in regards to tourism. Above and beyond scenery and rivers and so on people are looking for something to do and quite often a great golf course can be the magnet to attract people to the area. Like Banff Golf Course to the Rockies, Crowbush Cove to PEI or Lake Joseph to the Muskokas. Whitewater can be the same thing to Thunder Bay and really help to put it on the map. I know Thunder Bay is struggling a bit economically but it is a beautiful area. It just needs some major attractions and push."