by Adam Stanley, Contributor, Flagstick.com
Vancouver has seen a lot these past 18 months or so, and could arguably be called the greatest sports city in Canada right now.
February 12, 2010 saw the beginning of the 21st Winter Olympiad, where Canada won the most gold medals ever. June, 2011 saw the hometown Canucks make a wild run to the Stanley Cup, only to lose in Game 7 at home. Then July 21-24 some of the world’s best golfers descended on Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club for the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.
Yes, it certainly has been quite the ride for the city of Vancouver of late and it was top of mind when thinking about a vacation destination for the final week of July.
Somehow, while visiting for five days, not a single drop of rain fell and the two rounds of golf played were unaffected.
Teased by the pros on Sunday while watching the final round of the RBC in person and enjoying the incredible scenery at Shaughnessy, the excitement was building if this was what was to be expected playing golf on the West Coast.
Everything just seems different there, but in the best of ways. In Ontario, one does not see signs that say: “Be bear aware” causing someone be wary of walking into the extremely thick brush to try to retrieve a lost ball – which happened more than once on this trip.
The lushness of the greens and the crispness of the air provided a golfing atmosphere unlike any I had experienced before. The views of pristine water, coupled with cloud-covered mountain tops and sky-high trees of all kinds gave both courses unique layouts which punished errant shots but thoroughly rewarded the fairways-and-greens player.
For most of the trip I caught myself saying, to no one in particular, ‘wow’ as I became overcome by not only the scenery, but of the eerie calm which seems to take over the land in rural Vancouver. A stark contrast to some of the layouts that I’ve been accustomed to playing.
Teeing off early in the morning both days allowed for the two courses to be at their most gorgeous – the sun rising over the tree tops, the misty dew rising off the freshly cut greens, and the light breeze coming up and down each fairway just encouraged you to breathe deep and take it all in.
Seymour Golf and Country Club
Seymour, located only 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver, is a semi-private facility open to the public on Mondays and Fridays. The approximately 60-year-old club is immaculately groomed and is an eloquent challenge for golfers of all kinds.
Located at the base of a mountain range in Vancouver’s north shore – glimpses of Deep Cove are rare but beautiful sights on the back-9 – the golf course features narrows fairways and slick greens which only add to the challenge. Each green seemingly elevated just slightly which will encourage shot-making and skill at every turn.
With a constant stream of people lining up around the first hole to tee off, the public certainly can not get enough of Seymour and somehow, the marshal and course facilitators kept things moving smoothly. Despite the seemingly never-ending line up of golfers, we did not experience a delay throughout the day – other than our own, invoked by a desire to enjoy the scenery.
As mentioned, the quick greens and tight fairways will test every part of your game, but each hole is so pristine that you feel encouraged to make good shots, as if you’re on a first date with the course and you’re hoping to impress it.
With the courses’ unique location, the wind whipped up and down through most of the day, causing club selection to usually go back-and-forth before finally settling on an appropriate one.
The whistling wind, along with elevation on nearly each fairway and green will definitely give low-handicap golfers a test, however, even the high-handicap player will enjoy the challenge that Seymour provides.
The 6,300 yard layout is at it’s best early on the back nine. The 11th, a 164 yard downhill par-3 is, on paper, a welcome hole after the very challenging 10th. However, one must be right on with their distance off the tee, otherwise they will get punished by either the creek running through the middle of the hole, or the small pond to the right of the green. The pin positions are usually, I’m told, tucked near that creek as if to taunt golfers to try to go for the flag.
Aim left and hope for a par, but also enjoy the stroll down the elevated tee box with a view of Deep Cove and the mountain range off in the distance.
Swan-E-Set Bay Resort & Country Club
For now, one could say that Swan-E-Set is best known as the host club for Happy Gilmore’s triumph over Shooter McGavin (Happy Gilmore was shot mostly at Swan-E-Set, along with another Vancouver-area golf course, Furry Creek), but for Vancouver area golfers, they know that the course is much more than just a Hollywood destination.
About an hour from downtown Vancouver, Swan-E-Set is located in the small rural town of Pitt Meadows, British Columbia where fresh berries grow in fields as far as the eye can see and the cathedral-like clubhouse stands out from miles away.
The Swan-E-Set Bay Resort features two courses, the ‘Resort’ course and the ‘Links’ course. Only getting a chance to play the ‘Resort’ course, the ‘Links’ has already been penciled in for a return trip.
Designed by Lee Trevino, both championship courses feed back into the massive 65,000 square foot clubhouse which truly remains the jewel of the resort. Trevino dug through the pristine and quiet Pitt River Valley to provide golfers with views of some coastal mountains along with natural streams, lakes, and forests which act as homes to much wildlife.
The peaceful surroundings of Swan-E-Set provide you with a very quiet golfing experience, the setting too pristine and calm to allow for any anger or frustration to surface. The only outside noise one will hear is the hovering of a helicopter or small plane across the farm-fields adjacent to the course (chalk the helicopter noise up to something you “don’t hear while playing golf in Ontario”).
The course couldn’t get off to a better start with hole no.1. A long, 611 yard par-5 greets the golfers with trouble right and trouble left. Your best bet is to keep it down the left side of the fairway, in order to have a good line for a lay-up on the second shot around a slight dogleg. The green is guarded by bunkers to the left and a pond to the right and, as usual with Vancouver greens, one will have to contend with slight undulations.
Swan-E-Set is flat by comparison to other courses in the region, but remains in good shape. The sheer number of rounds that are played each year contribute to the few patches of the layout which could stand to be improved – but as a semi-private course that is always open to the public and resort guests, this is expected.
A friend who calls Vancouver home, mentioned that he played golf during the Olympics last year, and to me, it was odd to see that some courses have ‘Winter’ tee-times and prices. One can only assume that if a course is getting played 11, 12 months a year it will certainly go through some wear-and-tear.
Travelling there I packed my clubs in an OGIO straight jacket travel bag, my first time ever going on a plane with my children (err… golf clubs). Despite feeling slightly tentative at the softness of the bag, it provided my clubs with excellent protection there and back. The wheels on the bottom were smooth and the overall weight of the bag balanced out nicely with my normal travel bag. I was able to fit my set of clubs inside, along with two pairs of shoes, and, without question, I could have fit in more. I did feel the need to wrap my clubs in a towel and then put them into the bag for added protection but I’m not sure if it would have needed it. As the old adage goes though: better to be safe than sorry.
If you’re not bringing your clubs with you, not to worry, as both aforementioned courses have a selection of rental clubs for use. A small mention of being from the GTA gave a friend (who didn’t bring his clubs) the premium set for the basic price at Seymour, and at Swan-E-Set, the pro shop attendant brought out a shiny new bag full of the 2011 line-up of Taylormade clubs making me think that perhaps I should have left my clubs at home, too.
Vancouver continues to grow as a bustling metropolis in Canada, and hosting the Olympics certainly helped that. I was lucky enough to spend five days in North Vancouver with a friend, but any of the hotels in the downtown core will allow for relatively simple drives to the multitude of golf courses in the region. The weather was also a welcome change from the mid-30 degree temperatures I’d been experiencing in Toronto, which made everything – from golfing to sightseeing – all that more memorable.
– Adam Stanley is a graduate of the Carleton University Journalism Program and a regular contributor to Flagstick.com. He maintains a personal Blog “Adam’s Touch” here.