Muskoka Bay Club

By Sean Dudley

The Muskoka Bay Club in Gravenhurst, Ontario is a spectacular new semi-private golf course built on the rugged and wild landscape of the Canadian Shield.

Scheduled to open in July 2006, Muskoka Bay is part of a large residential development encompassing over 800 acres. Architect Doug Carrick says the site is characterised by a series of dramatic granite ridges and narrow wooded valleys. "The ridges and valleys run in a more or less parallel fashion from north to south, revealing the pattern and movement that the great glaciers took during the last ice age," he explains. "The resulting effect is a series of barren rock ridges, cliffs and outcroppings that range in height from 20 feet to over 100 feet.

Many of the narrow valleys are just wide enough to accommodate playable golf holes. The valley floors tend to be relatively flat and in many locations are blessed with a fine silt or sand soil composition suitable for golf." Carrick explains that the more desirable flat terrain and finer soil conditions also happened to be more suitable for the development of residential streets and housing lots. "The prospect of blasting roads and services through solid bedrock was going to be an expensive and daunting task," he says. "As a result, the rugged terrain, unsuitable for development, was delegated to the golf course. This decision proved to be both advantageous and worrisome at the same time. The benefit of using the more rugged, rocky terrain for golf, outside of the obvious one of putting it to good use, included the use of a vast canvas of over 300 acres in which to site the golf holes. It also provided a tremendously scenic and dramatic backdrop for the course. The worrisome part of the equation was to find a sensible routing for the golf holes, in order to create an enjoyable and playable golf course, without breaking the bank." Achieving the objectives of the residential development, along with the goal of creating a challenging and playable golf course for a budget of less than C$10 million, would prove to be a challenging task. Any miscues or mistakes in the routing of the golf holes would have resulted in either quirky, even unplayable holes, or an increased budget.

The first and most vital step in the process was to have the property accurately surveyed. Fortunately the developer did not take any short cuts in this regard. As a result the topographic survey that was prepared for the development of the initial routing concepts was very accurate. Every topographic feature that was evident on the survey turned out to be an accurate representation of what was actually on site. "This is not always the case with topographic mapping," says Carrick.

"Inaccuracy in topographic mapping occurs more than one would like to think.

This often results in the need to make onsite adjustments that can sometimes be quite costly, especially in rugged, rocky terrain. The high level of accuracy in the mapping paid huge dividends for the project by allowing for the development of a final routing plan that fit into the natural rugged landscape extremely well." Nearly every hole on the golf course begins from an elevated tee giving golfers a scenic vantage point from which to survey the fairway and the shot at hand.

"The holes weave through a series of wooded valleys framed by dramatic rock cliffs and outcrops, over natural beaver ponds, up onto heaving rock ridges and through narrow gaps of rock reminiscent of the Straits of Gibraltar," says Carrick.

"Ten of the 18 holes sit on top of a solid bedrock base and required a cap of sand to be placed one metre deep over the rock in order to create a suitable base for irrigation, drainage and healthy turf. The other eight holes fit predominately within the flat bottomed valleys, where sufficient soil cover allowed for more typical golf course construction to occur." Only 30,000 cubic metres of rock was blasted to create the golf course and almost a third of that total was used to create suitable grades for the continuous cart path system. "The construction of holes over the rugged rocky terrain was more an exercise of following the patterns of the natural contours in the rock with the capping of sand, rather than trying to create features by moving earth and shaping the soil. The outcome of this approach to golf course design and construction is a very unique and natural looking golf course, where the rugged terrain, the rock outcrops, the trees and the beaver ponds provide most of the character and hazards in the layout of the golf course," says Carrick. As a result only 31 bunkers were used in the layout of the course.

The nature of the glaciated rock ridges and the flat bottomed, sand filled valleys resulted in an overall development plan where the residential lots only come into contact with the golf course along the eastern boundary of the course.While this limited the lot frontage on the golf course to just two holes, the resulting property values have yielded a substantially higher return than expected, due to the unique and dramatic nature of the golf course.

"While the project is still in its infancy as a golf course community, it has proven to me that an unconventional approach to golf course/residential development, on a dramatic and rugged landscape, can pay unexpected dividends to the developer," says Carrick.

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