Vancouver Island is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Canada, which is not surprising given its beauty. The isle’s main city and capital of the province of British Columbia, Victoria, is just a short scenic flight from Vancouver and is
Vancouver Island is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Canada. And its main city, Victoria, is the gateway to a golfing holiday you won’t forget, writes Matt Cleary.
The lowest temperature ever recorded in Canada is -63°C at Snag in The Yukon, February 3, 1947. The Canadian town of Eureka in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of northern Nunavut boasts an average temperature of -19°C. The top third of Canada is within the Arctic Circle, home to polar bear and artic fox, and the sea creature with the horn of a unicorn, the narwhal. Canada is a big snow country. Ice country.
And thus you might surmise that Canada is not overly conducive to golf, at least not for several snowed-under months of the year. And if you talk of The Yukon or the Drumheller Badlands where they shot Leo DiCaprio in the extremely cold-looking film The Revenant, then you would be correct.
But in the south-west corner of the mighty nation-state of Canada lies British Columbia, which by dint of its oceanic climate and highland geography enjoys several micro-climates. BC can be described as “Mediterranean” for six months May-October, while outside that think winter in southern Tasmania, or Canberra by night. Cold? Sure. But golf? You bet.
BC is where Canadians go to golf when their own course is under snow. Many retire here. Its most populous city Vancouver is cool like Portland or San Francisco. It’s where micro-brew gastro-pubs sell bison burgers, and you can walk downtown and watch Canucks playing ice hockey (or “hockey” as they call it) and enjoy the live action from a sports bar as a beautiful woman brings you a beer. Vancouver has it going on.
A 12-minute flight from Vancouver (I timed it) is Vancouver Island where you can find several fine and fun golf courses, notably Cordova Bay Golf
Club, a regular stop for tour groups given it’s halfway from the airport to the funky little capital, Victoria.
Cordova Bay boasts poa and bent greens, and Colonial bent fairways. There are goats and deer and a rooster called “Gordie”. Sea eagles squawk above. Wild geese fly in formation. There are
BC IS WHERE CANADIANS GO TO GOLF WHEN THEIR OWN COURSE IS UNDER SNOW. MANY RETIRE HERE. ITS MOST POPULOUS CITY VANCOUVER IS COOL LIKE PORTLAND OR SAN FRANCISCO.
crayfish in the ponds and streams.
“Do you eat ‘em?” I ask club professional Jim Goddard of the crayfish. “Darn right,” replies Goddard. Goddard says Cordova Bay recently underwent a “tree program” which was, eectively, to get rid of them. Those that remain are sparsely placed and more than pretty decoration than something to get in the way of your ball. Detritus is cleaned out of rough. You won’t lose a ball here unless you hook it OB into cedar forest. They don’t want you to lose a ball. They want you to be happy.
It’s rainy and misty this day, with lift-clean-andplace in place. Towels are worn on belts. Locals apologise: “It’s not normally this wet.” But it’s fine. It’s just damp. And our divots are like great thick beaver pelts, flying in the fog.
And so we wander about in the rainy wet mist and fashion fun golf shots, and watch the ball shoot into the low fog like hail stones into cotton-fog. Super fun.
Next day we drive by a statue of running man Terry Fox (a hero, Google him), onwards past what was once the world’s biggest totem pole, and through coastal streets where fine old houses have views of Washington (USA) across the Juan De Fuca Strait. We slice past Clover Point where in the gold rush there was a saloon and lots of fighting, past Foul Bay (which is really quite nice) and hug the coast by Trial Bay. And we cruise into Victoria
Golf Club. And for no reason I can really put a finger on, I love it instantly.
What is there about it? Something old world. Something ... rustic. It’s been around since 1893. It heads out from the clubhouse to the coast and under the nests of massive bald eagles. Greens are bordered by spiky golden heather. There’s kelp on the rocks and the snow-caps of the Olympic Mountain Ranges across the Strait. And they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. VGC has small greens with tee-boxes nearby. The fourth tee hits almost over the third green. They eectively share a fairway, up and back. The fifth hole, “The Bay”, whacks out across the bay and feeds upwards to a super-fast green. The sixth has a blind tee-shot and a blind approach bar the top of the flag. It is a very cool, old golf hole.
And then you arrive at “The Point” – holes 7, 8, 9, 10. And you realise why they call Victoria “Canada’s Pebble Beach”.
Seven runs down-hill, curves dog-leg left around the beach, everything sloping to the coast and the hole thereon. There’s a sharp drop-o into the sea left though you can play o said beach, if you’re lucky. The green is huge and undulating. It’s a cracking golf hole.
The tee-box on eight is surrounded on three sides by the sea. It’s a short, 105m par-3, uphill, protected by the course’s three biggest bunkers. The tee-box on 9 feels like you’re standing on the deck of an old ship heading out to sea as seals and killer whales tool about in the bay. And the 10th takes you back o the coast, a par-4 up the hill with death-heather left and many angles in. And the view is one you’ll turn around and photograph.
At the halfway house we enjoy a Coors and a hot
dog with everything on it as two mighty bald eagles take o out of the trees, and fly over our heads, wingspan of military drones, the world’s biggest eagle.
Animals abound at Fairwinds Golf Club where signs warn of wild deer and orcas swim under pleasure craft in Nanoose Bay. The course weaves through mighty Douglas fir and shaggy red cedar. There’s a quiet, autumnal, “Silence of the Lambs” feel to the place, you could see Clarice Starling jogging through it in her FBI sweats. Canadian Armed Forces practice manoeuvres hereabouts.
The club is part of a “residential community” populated by families and older couples who don’t fancy the long trip to Florida endured by many of their fellow “Snow Birds”. And they live in fine old homes that poke out of the cedars and abut the course. And they golf at Fairwinds, and do whatever they want.
Later we find a pew on the fine deck overlooking the 18th hole and enjoy a salmon burger and a beer, as golfers sti shots into the receptive green.
And so up to Bear Mountain where you’ll find the paw-prints of the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, who’s created 36 holes typical of Nicklaus: wide fairways, spectacular vistas, and dicult approaches to undulating, protected greens.
Any bears in these woods? There are not. You could find the odd cougar, bald eagles, and all the deer you could eat. And millions of Douglas fir trees, the dominant organism.
The whole joint is called the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort Spa and has a “ski resort” sort of feel. It’s alpine and crisp, and people enjoy hiking about without hitting a golf ball, if you can believe it. The restaurant is all-time and there’s fine wine tasting in an underground cellar. In 2016 Spaniard and very interesting man Miguel Angel Jiminez visited Bear Mountain to play in the PGA Tour Champions event, the Pacific Links Bear Mountain Championship. Naturally he found the cellar where he proceeded to point to those wines he desired. “I’ll have that one, and that one, and that one, and that one, and that one…”, and so on.
The golf? There are two courses – Mountain and Valley, which as you’d expect sit across the former and wind through the latter. They both sport spectacular views and signature holes (though Nicklaus reckons there are 36 signature
of them). The trees are really, really tall and if you go in them, there is no getting out above them. There are changes in elevations, holes play up and down, and across escarpments. There’s water, fescue, mighty bunkers and large, undulating greens. Old mate Golden Bear hasn’t missed Bear Mountain. At the other end of the spectrum in terms is
Nanaimo GC, a public “muni” style course much loved by locals. It threads through sparse weeping willow that’s had a haircut, and for golf as the locals know it, accept no substitute. Back over to Vancouver and we play the fine
University Golf Course, the number one public access course in Vancouver for the last 10 years. Just 15 minutes from the CBD, it sports long, narrow fairways lined by mighty old fir trees, with enough variety here to entertain golf hounds. On the 17th tee you can drop into the BC Golf Museum and Hall of Fame.
And if you’re in BC outside of the cold and snowed-asunder months (roughly November through March), it would be remiss not to play the other-worldly-looking Tobiano in Kamloops and the Nicklaus North with views of snow-capped Whistler peaks.
Cold? Sure, sometimes. But as any old Scot would tell you, there’s no bad weather, there’s only bad clothing choices. The beanie is your friend. And so is British Columbia.
AT THE HALFWAY HOUSE WE ENJOY A COORS AND A HOT DOG WITH EVERYTHING ON IT AS TWO MIGHTY BALD EAGLES TAKE OFF …
WESTIN BEAR MOUNTAIN
VICTORIA golf club
cordova bay golf club
The view of Victoria and its picturesque waterfront.
VICTORIA GOLF CLUB
cordova bay golf club