Vancouver Island Golf – Land of Undiscovered Gems
by Ian Cruickshank
Golfers are the Indiana Jones’ of the sports world. But instead of the bullwhip and brown fedora, they’re decked out with ball caps and graphite shafted clubs, roaming the globe in search of rare gems – those terrific, much-sought-after courses tucked away in exotic locales. That’s why Vancouver Island, off British Columbia’s west coast, is a dream destination. Here, over 40 courses are sprinkled across one of the great expanses of mountain and oceanside wilderness in North America – in a climate perfect for golf. Turns out that much of the island is swaddled in a sub-Mediterranean weather zone which means moderate temperatures and golf throughout the year. Flowers bloom in January and Vancouver Island receives half the annual rain fall of destinations like Seattle and New York.
The Island course that is currently generating the biggest roar is Bear Mountain. Opened in the summer of 2003 and located 20 minutes north of downtown Victoria, the island’s largest city, the course is a design collaboration between Jack Nicklaus and son Steve. Built at a cost of around $18 million Cdn., the money behind the golf and real estate expansion comes from a coalition of former and current National Hockey League stars.
The stunning 1,000 acre piece of property is all rocks, rivers, valleys, forest and mountain peaks. Nicklaus has indeed stamped the landscape with his indelible paw print. The fairways are wide enough to keep the average player in the game but to go low, you are forced to play a heroic brand of golf. Bear Mountain has been assigned a slope rating of 152 (degree of difficulty), making it one of the toughest layouts in North America. Not surprisingly, since the owners are mostly tough guys – they love the character of the course and have commissioned the Golden Bear to build a second eighteen.
Part of Bear Mountain’s appeal is attention to detail. Instead of jumbo hot dogs at the halfway house, the menu includes both lobster and blue crab sandwiches that can be washed down with chilled shots of vodka.
However, players may require even more than that before tackling the back nine. The 11th is a tricky, 152-yard par 3 island green. Beside the tee is a gumball machine filled with extra golf balls for those who splash short of the flag. For a toonie (2 dollar coin), golfers can reload and try again. All of the money goes to charity.
The 14th hole is a 523 yard par 5 that seems to climb about three time zones, all straight up the side of the mountain. When Nicklaus was making a site inspection, he discovered a spur of land that jutted out above the 14th green. He figured it was the perfect spot for a 19th hole and shoe horned in a 141 yard par 3, with a green that seems to float half way between the mountains and the Victoria skyline.
For more adventure on the green, there are a number of other top courses in and around Victoria. Just north of the city is Olympic View Golf Club whose handsome, glass-fronted clubhouse juts out above the first hole, looking out to the Olympic Mountains in nearby Washington State. Inside the entranceway is a photo of a smiling Tiger Woods, who played the course as an amateur. In true Tiger fashion, he launched a massive drive over the ridge on 18 and finished his round with an eagle.
The front nine at Olympic View is postcard pretty but it’s in the back loop where the game really begins with a series of tight doglegs and risk and reward holes. Keep an eye out for the waterfalls that crash down at the back of the 17th green. Olympic View also boasts the best practice facility on the Island.
Not far away is sister course Arbutus Ridge, which straddles Cobble Hill, above Satellite Channel and looks out to the snow capped peak of Mt. Baker. Opened in 1987 and designed by Bill Robinson, the course is famous for its 17th hole, a knee-rattling 214-yard par 3 that plays to a peninsula green. Water swirls around three sides of the green and the other edge is guarded by an out of bounds marker. Arbutus Ridge is a terrific value, with a $99 Cdn. package that includes return transportation to Victoria, green fee, power cart and souvenir.
The Crown Isle Resort & Golf Community in Courtenay is tucked under the shadows of the Comox Glacier and Beaufort Mountains. In fact, Mount Washington is only 40 minutes away, so golfers who need a winter fix can tee up in the morning at Crown Isle and then ski all afternoon. The accommodation at Crown Isle is some of the best in the province. The one and two-bedroom golf villas are equipped with everything from high-speed Internet access to swimming pool sized Jacuzzi tubs. The adjacent resort centre is also all encompassing, featuring an English style pub, a steak house, a classic car museum, a pro shop and an exercise centre.
The Fairwinds Golf & Country Club on Nanoose Bay is another spot that offers something for everyone. The 1350 acre resort includes a hotel, a 360 slip marina, tennis, beach volleyball, exercise centre and championship golf course. The Les Furber-designed course is a nice throwback to the days when golf was more Albert Einstein than Arnold Schwarzenegger. At Fairwinds, you need to think your way around the course, not overpower it. Save some time to hang out by the Fairways’ marina where you can spot eagles, seals, sea lions and the occasional whale. Just another example of Vancouver Islands’ lineup of rare gems.
There’s plenty more golf offerings along the east coast of the island, especially around Duncan, Nanaimo, Parksville and Comox – together forming what’s known as The Vancouver Island Golf Trail.For more information on the golf on Vancouver Island contact: www.bearmountain.ca , tel. 1-866-882-2327, www.crownisle.com, tel. 1-888-338-8439, www.fairwinds.ca, tel. 1-888-781-2777 www.golfvancouverisland.ca , tel. 1-888-GOLF-239, www.golfbc.com, tel. 1-800-446-5322.
Ian Cruickshank is a freelance writer based in Etobicoke, Ontario.
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