Story by Miguel Strother
Vacay.ca Sports Editor, Western Canada
WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — After the 2010 Winter Olympics, it’s hard to contend that Vancouver, with its golf courses and ski slopes tucked into a sophisticated urban landscape, is anything other than a world-class recreation destination. But it can be argued that Vancouver actually built its reputation an hour and a half north, on the back of its more beautiful little sister, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, British Columbia. And anyone who comes to Vancouver and doesn’t make it a top priority to take the short trip up to Whistler to ski, golf and indulge in the outdoors is missing out big.
Whistler has lapped up recognition as a winter resort including being named as Forbes.com’s “World’s Best Ski Resort” and TransWorld Snowboarding’s “Best Apres/ Nightlife” spot, and making Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s “Best Places to Ski and Stay in North America.” What many travellers fail to realize, however, is that there is actually way more to do in Whistler in the summer than in winter. As somebody who eats, sleeps and breathes for his next opportunity to float on fresh powder, I recently rediscovered that as much as I love ripping turns in the fresh, I actually far prefer spending time at the resort in the summer. From Rainbow Lake to Brandywine Falls, outdoor dining to outstanding golf courses, there is so much more to do in Whistler after the snow melts.
Recently I made my way up to Whistler without my skis for the first time in many years. I traded my Salomons for Titleists, ready to hit all three of Whistler’s golf courses (Whistler Golf Club, Chateau Whistler Golf and Country Club and Nicklaus North) in just three days. Now 54 holes in little more than 60 hours is an absolute marathon for a duffer like me and I was a more than bit concerned about whether or not I could keep up to the company on these immaculately kept golf courses. However, easing my unease was the chance to spend three full nights in what has become one of my favourite hotels, the Whistler Westin Resort & Spa. Between the great company, gorgeous greens and fresh mountain air, it was one heck of a reminder of why after travelling across the world, I still love mother Whistler the most.
Joy of golf (and other pursuits) in Whistler
First up on my golf adventure was the Whistler Golf Club, the most established course in town.
Now, the first time I walked the course at the Whistler Golf Club was nearly 20 years ago, long before the addition of the high-end clubhouse and bent grass greens, and I had no golf clubs with me at all. No, I actually wandered on from the bike trail, swinging high on a gossamer thread, fresh out of high school, arm in arm with a beautiful girl I hardly knew; I was drunk on the smell of her perfume, the dewy grass and the 3 am mix of mountain-glow and moonlight bouncing off the backs of the Fitzsimons Range from the open fairways. Let me tell you, times have changed, both for me and the Whistler Golf Club. And while I came back with my golf clubs (and family) this time, in terms of having fun amidst the mind-altering beauty, the song remains the same.
Consistently ranked among Canada’s top 50 public golf courses, this Arnold Palmer design opened in 1983. The Whistler Golf Club offers excellent season’s pass options starting from $995 and green fees that range from $59-$139. The club’s exceptional practice and training facility sits right across the street from the Whistler Westin and in fact you can watch players work on their swings and short games from the indoor/outdoor pool deck. The hotel wisely offers stay-and-play package deals throughout the year and a short walk (no need at all for a car or cab) from the impressive lobby you’ll find the first tee. Frankly, you won’t wind up in a more convenient place in all of Whistler for a golf holiday. Even the Chateau Whistler Golf and Country Club and Nicklaus North are within reasonable distance and the hotel is happy to shuttle you there, if you decide not to walk yourself.
After dropping off my family and quickly surveying our most excellent room and its mountainside views, I set out to meet Whistler veteran Breton Murphy — a classic case of a Canadian east coaster who came to the resort for a year and has lasted nine — for a 3:30 tee time (pm this time, people).
Golf is an excellent excuse to escape from reality for four-plus hours and get a little exercise for both the body and the mind. But make no mistake, Vacay.ca pays me because I am (presumably) a good writer, not a good golfer. I will on occasion put together a good round and rarely fail to have at least a few good holes, but the primary weapon I have in my golf bag is that I always have a good time on the course. My only complaint about the game, other than the fact that it is the most ridiculous, nonsensical sport ever invented by man, which frankly fits my personality, is that on occasion you run into people who take it, and themselves far, far too seriously. Today, would definitely not be that day.
Murphy started in his role as host by delaying the tee time just slightly to allow me to catch my breath after the trip up from Vancouver. And while I found a new Nike putter to put to the test/blame for our round of golf, he politely asked me a few questions about myself. After I answered those candidly, including the one about my high handicap, he quickly and correctly assessed my personality and promptly ordered a cooler full of beer from the clubhouse to attach to our cart. And from there, in the late afternoon sun, in the best resort in the world, it was game on.
I found the Whistler Golf Club to be a very fair challenge, and likely the “easiest” of the three course I would play in Whistler. It is very well designed, however, and a great test. From the first hole it felt like I was forced to use a variety of clubs and work my way wisely through the 6,004 yards off the white tees (it plays to 5,348 from the ladies’ and 6,722 from the tournament tees). And while there are penalties and hazards worthy of the wilderness terrain, there are also plenty of chances to let loose with the big sticks. In fact, the best moments on the course in my mind, other than the flashbacks, were those on the 11th, 12th and 13th staring up into the massive mountain vistas that mesmerize and tease, almost daring you to hit it just a little harder.
The new greens are just that in a few places, but I had my new Nike putter to blame, and I did see at least one person in our group pour in a couple of long putts. The greens will mature over time, as most things do, and the views of Panorama Ridge and Rainbow Trail, and the memories they elicit, make the course worthy of playing over and over again.
The summer is coming to a close. Get to Whistler Golf Club while you can. I promise you will remember it for a lifetime.
Next up on Miguel Strother’s tour of Whistler’s golf courses: The Chateau Whistler Golf and Country Club.
MORE ON WHISTLER GOLF CLUB
Location: 4001 Whistler Way , Whistler, BC (see map below)
Greens fees: $139 daily rates ($99 for BC residents) from June to September; $99 ($79 for BC residents) from October-May; Sunset rates, $59-$69 ($49-$59 for BC residents); Play 5 holes after 5 pm for just $19
Vacay.ca suggestion: Golf and Dine for $109 after 1 pm on Tuesdays-Thursdays during prime season (June-September). Deal includes 18 holes of golf and a $20 dining credit in Palmer’s Gallery Bar and Grill.
View Larger Map
NOTE: Photos courtesy of Mike Crane/Tourism Whistler