The Georgian Bay Club property sits on a beautiful tract of land on the Niagara Escarpment where it reaches Lake Huron and, prior to the 2004 course opening, over thirty course routings were discarded by architect Jason Straka from the Hurdzan/Fry design company before a final layout was decided upon.
Even though the 18 holes can be stretched to a championship length of over 7,100 yards from the back tees, Georgian Bay was not constructed with the intention of attracting top competitions. Instead, the brief was to fashion a member-friendly, playable course that would still offer golfers a range of strategic decisions during a round.
With that in mind, fairways were constructed to be spacious and generally forgiving off the tee. However, with green contours favouring an approach from a particular fairway position, those landing areas have been cleverly guarded with man-made and natural hazards.
Many of these hazards are oversized, flash-faced sand bunkers, built in a large scale to match the surrounding “big” panoramic vistas from the course and the positioning of the sand traps make golfers think twice about playing the hero shot every time they line up for their next stroke.
The routing brings into play a number of ravines, creeks and ponds – even a relocated old farming wall between holes 10 and 13 – at the same time avoiding other environmentally sensitive areas like the wooded turkey habitat on the 7th hole.
The 194-yard, par three 3rd is a spectacular hole on the front nine, played from an elevated tee to a plateau green that sits in an old gravel quarry with dramatic fall offs on three sides.
The tees at the 466-yard 16th are also positioned at a high point on the course – indeed, the club supply a buggy to take golfers up and down the hill for their shot – and drives from this position are struck against the fantastic backdrop of Georgian Bay, Nottawasaga Bay and Wasaga Beach.
Jason Straka, course architect, kindly supplied the following article:
Georgian Bay is actually part of Lake Huron and an important recreational and commercial destination. The site is directly linked to the bay by three streams that are important fish spawning grounds for salmon and trout. In addition, the wild turkey, reintroduced after decades of absence, (has) taken hold in the region and prospered on site.
The topography is characterized by a portion of the Niagara Escarpment named the Nippising Ridge (which) splits the site in two (meaning) the elevation drops nearly 100 feet instantaneously. There were several gravel quarries located on the ridge which were impacting the quality of the streams.
The project was to include limited home sites (so) the course design not only had to be environmentally correct, it also had to accommodate the water runoff and treatment from the development.
Avoidance of the resource areas was key and where that was not possible the holes were routed into the abandoned quarries to help stabilize them. In this way the course could transition to other areas of the site without disturbing pristine habitat.
Where any golf holes do cross the deep ravines significant bridging was installed from top of bank to top of bank to avoid any grading in the stream corridor itself. This avoided any potential erosion and allowed us to keep trees and shrubs to shade the water and keep it cool, a prime requirement for salmon and trout waters.
The control of storm water had its own challenges. The course was to be kept dry but the streams need a delicate balance of water flow. Too little volume meant the fish lost their habitat and too much overloaded the streams (so) detailed flow analysis were conducted.
In regards to the (housing) development, there are two large retention ponds that are planted with native wetland vegetation to filter any contaminants.
The irrigation water for the course comes from a nearby ski facility. The ski resort uses its water for snowmaking in the winter but does not utilize its resources in the summer. The course reached an agreement to use the excess summer water by installing a two-kilometer pipeline to feed its irrigation pond. In this manner, no water resources are disturbed on site and the groundwater can fully contribute to the base flow of the streams.
The protected stream areas also provide large corridors for animals to freely move around the site and onto adjacent properties. The most significant of the species would be wild turkeys. Key ground water seeps were avoided that provided drinking water in times of drought and important nesting grounds were saved from alteration. The most critical nesting area is between the 7th and 8th holes (and) we introduced water around both these holes for resident turkeys.
Salmon, trout and turkeys were not the only species that were important to the site. Years ago, the Audubon Association wrote about the importance that rock walls play in animal habitat. Some of the Georgian Bay Club was farmed at one time and the farmers had built lots of walls to rid the fields of rock. We saved as many as we could then rebuilt those that had to be temporarily dismantled. Today, many red foxes can be seen using the walls for dens to have and raise their pups.