It has been a few years since my usual business travel schedule but with an early June trip to Thunder Bay I was excited to dust off the travel bag and load up my clubs for a relaxing day at Whitewater Golf Club. The course is conveniently located close to the Thunder Bay airport and the beautiful King George’s Estates homes looked as welcoming as the team that CPGA Professional Matt Simmons has assembled. From the moment I arrived, a commitment to service was consistent and positive. A midday tee time allowed me time to practice, enjoy a pregame meal and get ready for a golf experience that I was excited for. Regretfully, an injury meant I could not play with Matt, and the starter was kind to find an open spot on the tee sheet to allow me to play alone, allowing for plenty of time for photos.
The course, a Tom McBroom design, opened in 2005 with 27 holes, now plays to 18 – a Forest 9 and a River 9. 5 sets of tee boxes truly open up options for players of all skill level and with notable differences in lengths and with several dog leg holes, the tee box can impact on the experience for players. I felt a need for a more relaxed round so I played off the Whites which measured in at 6265. From the Gold tees, this championship course plays at a stout 7293. Conversely, the forward tees, Green, plays a friendly 4565. I have experienced many Tom McBroom designs across Canada and have a strong and positive bias toward them. Tom allows the landscape to shape the course and is masterful at highlighting assets of the landscape in his designs. This was true at Whitewater, too. My initial impressions standing on the first tee of the Forest nine was that this was going to be an enjoyable and memorable golf round (and it was).
The course routing is strong, with no real sense of holes playing onto others (with one exception on the River nine). The course is walkable, and though there is some elevation change throughout the course, it is nothing too stout. The course opens with a gentle opening par 4 and slowly meanders downhill until the picturesque 4th hole where players see the Kaministiquia River for the first time. Green complexes are large and he bunkering is masterful, though I will acknowledge it was early in the season so conditioning overall represented a course only open for less than two weeks. Still, this did not detract from my experience. The River nine is where the signature hole is located. The 13th hole (for me, 4th on the River nine) is a jaw-dropping dramatic downhill par 3. From 176 yards from the tips, wind, along with the elevation change, will impact club selection significantly. I was fortunate to get up and down after coming up short on my tee shot to take a par, which feels like an excellent score on this hole.
Despite being new to the course, the sightlines off the tee are very good. Even on dogleg holes, I felt confident to know where to hit it to keep the ball in play. The landing areas are generous, which is nice because most holes are tree lined. The par 3’s are consistently well protected with strategic bunkering, some of which posing significant challenges for players to get up and down. As mentioned, the greens are very large and given the early season, were running slow but consistent. I would think this course could be a real brute in mid-season. I enjoyed a locally brewed pint in their comfortable clubhouse following my round and am already hoping to get back to experience this course again!
Aura – 7 out of 10 – geography makes this tough for many Canadians to easily access, but I will say the quality of this course simply makes it a must-play for golfers who venture to, or near, Thunder Bay.
Value – 9 out of 10 – there is no time in the season where players would pay over $90 to play here. For a quality Tom McBroom design, that is exceptional value. As mentioned, this course is well suited for players of all skill levels. Membership options are available though details on costing are shared following an inquiry on the website, but for nearby residents, the long days in the north allows for greater access early and late in the day and that could create some excellent value.
Condition – 8 out of 10 – this is a mixed score. And mostly on potential, as it was early in the season. Bunkers needed some attention and greens were being eased into mid season speed. But tee boxes and fairways were excellent, and one could imagine this course at its finest and that would take this score well past 9 for me. Perhaps it is unfair to score this for early June. Facts are, I loved this course and saw it for what it will be during the season. It is an excellent course, make no mistake. Even the practice facility was in superb condition, an unexpected treat having been on a plane for a couple hours early in the day.
Overall Experience – 9 out of 10 – having had almost a full day there, the experience was so positive. Northern Ontario hospitality was at its finest. All staff whom I connected with truly showed a commitment to service and are proud of this facility. The course has a quiet confidence and a relaxed feel which was truly appreciated and welcomed.
Highlight – With 21 putts on the front nine, I was proud to make a 10-footer for par on the River 4th. It took me some time to get used to the speed of the greens. But walking off the green with a par felt like a real accomplishment. I had a chance to meet a junior member, who spoke so positively about his experience at the club. Golf is a chance to relax from playing competitive hockey and even as a 14-year-old, this lad could send that ball!
Recommendation – Come early. Order breakfast. Practice. Enjoy your round and make time for a drink on the patio while you watch other players come in. A storm popped up just as I finished so there, I stayed indoors. In fact, the pro move would be to plan for 36. It’s not a course many are likely to get to often so make the most of the experience. If it wasn’t for some work commitments, and a pesky thunderstorm, I would have done the same. I look forward to the chance to come back and play this course again, it is well worth it!