By now most Canadians are aware that the Winter Olympics will be played out in the Vancouver and Whistler regions of British Columbia in 2010. While much focus will fall on that region in the Olympic year the truth is that you don’t have to wait until then to find excitement there. Especially of the golf variety.
As a premium golf destination, the region has been in bloom for almost two decades, a time that has seen the arrival of so many outstanding facilities that it can be hard to keep track of them all. New attractions seem to pop up constantly. Not only because the Olympics are coming, but just because this has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of real estate on the earth, something that happened long before the Olympic announcement, and a situation that will reign for long after.
Despite a fairly close proximity of two hours on the Sea to Sky highway – Vancouver and Whistler present some diversity in their overall settings. The contrast makes them an ideal pairing on the same journey. On one hand you have an urban, multicultural city built on a delta next to the ocean, while in Whistler you have a mountainous ski village originally conceived as the host of the 1968 Olympics. Determining how you mix the two on your own trip is your call, but neither should be missed.
Vancouver: Naturally Spectacular
Like most people when they visit Vancouver, Canada’s emerald city on the Pacific, I fell in love with the place on my first visit. The impressive towers of commerce that reach for the sky, the shimmering expanse of ocean that seems to never end, and the vibrant colours and activities of a place where life rumbles along at a busy yet casual pace.
Not only do over two million people now call the eighteen municipalities in Greater Vancouver home, more than six and a half million overnight visitors, according to the Greater Vancouver Convention and Visitors Bureau, join those permanent residents during the year.
As vibrant as the city of Vancouver itself is, the sense of attraction to it is only heightened by the recreational opportunities it provides. With a unique four-season climate that blends seamlessly, it is one of few places in the world where you can golf, ski, and sail – all in the same day!
Greater Vancouver boasts over twenty-four thousand available accommodations. More than thirteen thousand of these are located in the downtown core. Here, you can get a real feel for the essence of this urban environment. The average rate is just over one hundred and twenty dollars but rooms can range from as little as sixty dollars to more than a thousand a night. October through April offer the best deals on rates. If you are looking to book a hotel or motel anywhere in British Columbia, the province offers a toll free reservation service that can be accessed by calling 1.800.HELLO.BC.
To The Links
At the core of Vancouver golf is a group of courses that have joined forces in an effort to promote Vancouver as a golfing destination. Seven golf clubs formed ‘Golf Vancouver’ just a few years ago and this collection of clubs provides all that any die-hard golfer could ask for: stunning designs in magnificent settings that are a joy to play.
Located northeast of Vancouver, the mountain setting for Westwood Plateau Golf Club makes it a favourite for many golfers who enjoy rugged scenery. As the surrounding peaks dwarf you, a layout that encompasses a number of unique characteristics appears. Golf course architect Dr. Michael Hurdzan is said to have wanted to create a “wow effect” when he set out to build Westwood Plateau and he has certainly accomplished that. Set on the Coquitlam Plateau at almost four hundred metres above sea level, distant views of mountaintops are matched with tumbling fairways that take advantage of every bit of the natural topography.
The Redwoods, also just east of Vancouver, draws its name from its scenic site that is lush with flora including many mighty stands of trees. The golf course is set on several levels starting at the peak elevation and working its way down before rising back to the clubhouse.
While tree trouble abounds, Redwoods remains very playable with tee decks ranging from five thousand four hundred yards to just over six thousand five hundred yards. Architect Ted Locke created a layout that runs down and along the undulations, setting green and fairway sites in what seems to be very natural locations.
Golfers seeking a golf course more suited to a gentle walk rather than the plummeting fairways of Redwoods or Westwood Plateau will find their needs to be met by Mayfair Lakes Golf and Country Club in Richmond. The former home of several events on the Canadian Professional Golf Tour, Mayfair Lakes may lack in elevation but draws attention for its great conditioning. The number of lakes and waterways that the holes are routed around provides the real challenge at Mayfair Lakes. Water comes into play on thirteen of eighteen holes.
Four sets of tee decks make it playable by all golfers who must manage their game well to avoid donating golf balls to the water. This can be even more complicated than planned, as the wind can be prominent on the rather open property.
Mayfair Lakes has not been the only course in the Vancouver area that has been host to the pros. Northview Golf and Country Club in Surrey was the site of the PGA Tour’s former Air Canada Championship. The sprawling four hundred and twenty acre property at the club is home to not one, but two golf courses: the Canal Course and the Ridge Course. Both golf courses are Arnold Palmer designs.
The Ridge course was the home of the Air Canada Championship and as could be expected of a PGA Tour quality course, its condition and playability is top notch. You can even try to match Mike Weir’s famous holed eight-iron shot on the last hole that was part of his first PGA Tour win. It is one of the few courses in Canada where you can try and match your game to those of a PGA Tour professional.
The Canal Course at Northview winds its way through several environmentally sensitive areas and plays almost as tough as its sister course with even more length. It has more of a links feel that the Ridge Course giving you two different looking courses on the same property.
Not far from Northview is the home of the British Columbia Professional Golfers’ Association, Morgan Creek Golf Course. Designed by popular Canadian golf course architect Tom McBroom, Morgan Creek may be almost seven thousand yards long but strategy is as much a priority as brute force. “The strength of this golf course is the number of options it presents golfers with,” says McBroom. “You have to make a lot of choices on how you plan to avoid the water and environmental areas.” Patience is also necessary if you plan to get past the devilish four-hole stretch at Morgan Creek from the eighth hole through the eleventh. Here you will be challenged by a two hundred and thirty yard par three and three par fours that AVERAGE over four hundred and fifty yards long.
Meadow Gardens is a public golf facility with few equals. This Les Furber design is consistently ranked among the best public golf courses in both British Columbia and Canada.
You know you are in for something different at Meadow Gardens as soon as you make your way up the long and winding driveway. From there you can spot the eighteenth hole, a par five that is actually built on a series of three islands.
The varied land types that Meadow Gardens encompasses include trees, sloughs, marshes and five lakes. Both the Gold Ears and Coast mountains are always visible as you make your way along the course’s more than seven thousand yards of fairways. Several tee decks are even built on their own islands.
North of Vancouver but well worth the drive along the picturesque Sea-To-Sky highway that brings you to Whistler is one of the most photographed golf courses in all of British Columbia: Furry Creek Golf and Country Club.
Set along a mountainside on a site that falls some four hundred feet to Howe Sound, a tongue of the Strait of Georgia, Furry Creek is renowned as one of the most scenic in all of British Columbia. The course, designed by Robert Muir Graves, recently underwent several renovations to make it more playable and enjoyable. From the cliffside tee box of the first hole with both the Sound and mountains in sight, you realize that this course is something special.
Not long at just over six thousand yards from the longest tees, Furry Creek is a solid test of golf but clearly its appeal is visual. Any camera that accompanies you will get a workout!
Whistler: Four Season Playground
Following a logical trail from Furry Creek, the golf courses of Whistler are ready to greet you with even more dramatic settings than anything you will find in Vancouver. If you love to play in the outdoors, you will find your ultimate mate in this charming alpine village. It is revered for it’s skiing opportunities but the golf options are on an equally impressive level. And in between play you can enjoy more than 90 eclectic restaurants and bars.
Four top rated golf layout are to be found in Whistler, each with a unique personality but peers when I comes to providing an awe-inspiring place to tee it up.
Be warned, your time spent in Whistler may cost you a few hefty dips into your wallet, but you can be assured of a long lasting memory as your payoff.
For those looking to keep their budgets somewhat in check then the first consideration should be the Big Sky Golf & Country Club, technically located in Pemberton.
Big Sky is technically located in Pemberton, B.C., but is still a part of the Whistler Village golf community. This flatland course is set in the valleys between mountains rather than along their sides making walking a viable option for those who have this preference. At 7001 yards this Bob Cupp creation is highly rated by any who have had the pleasure to visit its fairways. For those looking for a less “stern” experience there are four sets of tee decks measuring all the way down to 5208 yards.
The course was given a more interesting shape through the movement of a massive amount of soil during its creation – some 350,000 cubic feet. The result is tumbling features that look as natural as the mountains you see in the distance on every hole, including 8,450-foot Mt. Currie.
After Big Sky, the Whistler golf menu moves up to the big boys, the premium locales of Whistler Golf Club, Nicklaus North, and Fairmont Château Whistler.
Nicklaus North is familiar to many golf television viewers as a former home of the Skins Game (1987 and 1995) and even a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf Match between Ernie Els and Fred Couples in 1998.
It’s reputation was first established when it was chosen by a major publication as the Best New Golf Course in Canada in 1996. The layout has only matured with age. A dramatic lakeside setting just minutes from the heart of the village enhances the entire package, Designed by Jack Nicklaus, it is a thoughtful and playable design for golfers of all abilities.
Also in Whistler Village, sharing an elevation of almost 700 metres is Arnold Palmer’s first Canadian design, The Whistler Golf Club.
Renovated to the tune of $2.2 million dollars in 2000, Whistler Golf Club is popular for its playability, scenery (if you like mountain views) and feared for the many lakes and bunkers that dot it’s eighteen-hole layout.
Unlike many modern courses, the Whistler Golf Club is cut through mature stands of trees and the interplay of nine lakes spices up the interest level.
Unlike the other trio of Whistler golf properties, the Fairmont Château Whistler provides a “rugged” mountain golf experience. Rather than being set in a valley it plays along the side of Backcomb Mountain, leading to some tumultuous lies and striking, airy, views.
The Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design swings up and down the mountain, with a variance of some 400 feet. Exposed rock, terrifying ledges, and scenic waterfalls complete the visual appeal.
The best new golf course in Canada in 1993 is very deserving of any accolades and is my choice as the “must play” for the area.