May 14, 2009
I met Tom and JoAnn Schwalm at the Ottawa Gatineau Golf Expo in March 2009 and after a pleasant conversation the Schwalms kindly offered an invite to experience the golf and history of the Thousand Islands Country Club. We arrived on a quiet and prospective rainy Thursday afternoon and were greeted by the pro, Fred Dobbins. We quickly got our act together as the threatening skies gave indication that a complete round may be in doubt. After a rainless nine holes JoAnn Schwalm stopped by and along with Fred they overloaded our minds with tips and historic facts about the golf club. If the clouds hadn't tapped us on the back with a few warning drops I'm sure we would have talked the rest of the day away.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Thousand Islands was considered to be a prime summer vacation area. Many of the area's first visitors were American governors, senators, presidents and legislators. A flood of favorable publicity made families want to come to the area and as a result large luxurious hotels began to spring up. As many as 20 trains a day were required to bring all the summer visitors and during this time many homes and mansions were built.
The area is also know as a famous fishing destination with world record catches of muskellunge at 31.397kg (69 lb. 14 oz.) and a sturgeon at 105.5kg (235 lb. & 6 feet long).
The Thousand Islands Country Club is located on Wellesley Island, one of the larger of the 1865 islands in a 50 mile span between Kingston and Brockville, Ontario. The club is rich in history. George C. Boldt originally built a nine hole course (in 1894) to entertain his friends and over the years the course was expanded to 18 holes. A tee shot from the signature par 4 "Windmill Hole" (the 11th) you can view the fabled Lake of the Isles beyond the green. Sadly, it is not known which of the 18 holes comprised the original nine created by George Boldt.
Adjacent to the Old Thousand Islands Course is the Lake Course. The Lake Course was originally not part of the Thousand Islands Country Club but was purchased by Tom and JoAnn to give the club a full 36 holes. A maze of protected gondola canals can be encountered throughout this course giving it a distinctly different feel from the Old Course. The Lake Course is much shorter but still provides a great challenge.
Although both the Old and Lake course are located on the American side of the border I was informed that the bulk of the play is from Canadians. A number of the Stay and Play golfers made comment to me that they found the pricing very reasonable and didn't know how the club could offer such a package for the price.
A review of the Thousand Islands Country Club can be read here.
On the western side of the island the Wellesley Island State Park Golf Course can be found. This 80-year-old 9-hole course, formerly known as the "Golf Links", offers rolling fairways and challenging approach shots through the valleys created by Thousand Islands pink granite outcroppings. We didn't get to play this course but I understand it's a "diamond in the rough" with some spectacular views that shouldn't be missed.
Minutes away on Canadian side of the border, just west of the Thousand Islands border crossing, is Smuggler's Glen Golf Course. Smuggler's Glen opened to opened to rave reviews in July, 2005. This course is another must play. A review of Smuggler's Glen can be read here.
Dining & Accommodations
The Schwalm's treated us to a wonderful meal at Hackers, located upstairs of the clubhouse. We were informed that the cooking staff travels with Tom and JoAnn as they head south during the winter to enjoy some golf when the Thousand Islands Country Club closes for the season.
Each room at the Country Club was uniquely decorated and ours was a welcome site, both for our between game nap and after our imbibition night at Hackers.
I can't speak enough about the hospitality that was offered to our foursome the day we were at the Thousand Islands Golf Club. JoAnn even made a trip to a local shop and picked up a few local history books which I have thoroughly enjoyed.
At the turn-of-the-century (1900), George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, set out to build a full size rhineland castle in Alexandria Bay, on picturesque Heart Island. The castle was to be a display of his love for his wife. In 1904, tragedy struck as Louise, his wife, died suddenly. Boldt telegraphed the island and commanded the workers to immediately stop construction. For 73 years, the castle and various stone structures were left to the mercy of the wind, rain, ice, snow, and vandals. When the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977, it was decided that through the use of all net revenues from the castle operation it would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. Since 1977, nearly $29 million dollars have gone into restoring the historic landmark.
Boldt Castle can be visited from Canadian from various boat tours such as Gananoque Boat Line, 1000 Island Seaway Cruises, or Rockport Boat Line. From the American shore Uncle Sam Boat Tours offers tours our of Alexandria Bay stopping at both Boldt Castle and Singer Castle. Boat tours out of Canada do not stop at Singer Castle.
Construction of Singer Castle began at approximately the same time as Boldt Castle and was the only castle on the river to be completed, fully furnished, and resided in during the heyday of the Thousand Islands. It remained in the possession of the original Bourne family from its construction in 1905 until the mid 1960's. In 2003 the castle was opened to the public with many of the original furniture and artifacts repurchased and returned to their original setting.
Both Singer Castle and Boldt Castle are highly recommended visits. Both castles are unique in their own way and well worth price of admission.
Antique Boat Museum
The Antique Boat Museum located in Clayton , NY, has some wonderful historic exhibits. Quest for Speed features the history of powerboat racing and water speed records spanning over 80 years. And you definitely won't want to miss a tour of La Duchesse, the legendary 106' boathouse once owned by George Boldt.
More information on tourist attractions can be found at http://www.visit1000islands.com. The Thousand Islands area has a surprising number of interesting attractions and even a drive along the shoreline on either side of the border can produce a lot of pointing fingers.
Sadly, in late July 2009, Thomas Schwalm passed away in his sleep. Although I only met Tom twice I found his personality to one that only attracts good people and I wish that I could experience his company again.