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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.
The publication-ready story, “Vancouver Island Golf – Land of Undiscovered Gems”, was written for Tourism British Columbia by golf travel writer Ian Cruickshank. You are welcome to publish the piece free of charge and images to accompany the article are available by contacting our Media Relations Team at the email address below. If you do print the story we would appreciate receiving a copy of the published piece. Tourism BC wholly owns the rights to “Vancouver Island Golf – Land of Undiscovered Gems”.
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This (Bear Mountain Resort – Mountain Course, on the Vancouver Island Golf Trail) is my new favourite golf course – I just love the layout. It’s really one of the prettiest golf courses I’ve played in my life, I’ll come back here on vacation, it’s that good.
Scott McCarron, PGA TOUR Champion
I always treat golf courses as how many poor holes there are. This (Bear Mountain Resort – Mountain Course, on the Vancouver Island Golf Trail) is a very good one. There’s not one poor hole on this golf course.
Colin Montgomerie, PGA TOUR Champion
Great job on the initial booking and subsequent changes requested. Easy check-in at the golf courses and the hotel made the trip hassle-free. Nice touch with the driving directions and discounts at recommended food and beverage establishments. Will definitely recommend your service to friends and business associates.
Vancouver Guest, Corporate Golf Outing
Terrific trip: well presented website, knowledgeable staff, and the golf and accommodation were second to none.
Couples Golf Trip
We will make this trip an annual April vacation. We will definitely book with Golf Vancouver Island again in 2017!
Annual Couples Golf Trip
Very much enjoyed our trip and staff were great to deal with - we'll be booking more trips through Golf Vancouver Island in the future.
Buddies Trip Golf Package
Wonderful trip, well planned and organized. Fantastic golf. Wish we stayed longer.
Buddies Golf Trip
I have used Golf Vancouver Island a number of times and have found them very helpful and professional. Everyone in our group had a great time, the courses and accommodation were first class.
Repeat Customer, Buddies Golf Trip
Staff did an amazing job! So easy to work with. I am already looking to book another trip next year, making this an annual event.
Annual Buddies Golf Trip
Personalized, quick response, good customer service and reasonable price. Overall experience was great.
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