Story by Miguel Strother
Vacay.ca Sports Editor, Western Canada
TERRACE, BRITISH COLUMBIA — If you’re an outdoors enthusiast of just about any measure, you’ve likely heard how great the fishing is in northern British Columbia. There are more than enough stories of lures and pound test, sockeye and chinook that could fill this publication more than a few times over.
But why don’t we play a little word association game? When I say “fishing” what is the next word that pops into your mind? Was it “beer?” For you, maybe. But for me the magic word is actually “golf.”
Yes, fishing or golfing, likely one of the two things those lucky enough to have gotten into heaven are doing right now, and for a good many of the living, the Yin and Yang of absolute recreation. And while many people who live north of the 53rd parallel seem to have at least one secret spot they can take you to dip your line, not a ton will jump to tell you about their favourite golf course. In fact, northern BC is pretty far from the conversation when it comes to greens and grass types, lofts and slope ratings despite having at the very least a few good opportunities for a round between casts, with some reasonable green fees and quality golf challenges. And at the very best, if you hit it on a good day, some of the most fun-loving hosts and underrated golf vistas in all of British Columbia.
Last summer I was lucky enough to take a Hawk Air flight from Vancouver to Terrace. I had been to northern BC nearly 20 years ago as a very young, mostly unsuccessful tree planter, where I was eager to document and observe others. I returned again to row and write about the Bowron Lakes some years later. On those trips, I was introduced to the culture of the north, and the hardy locals who were sustained by the region’s rich resources, their communion with isolation and hard nature. Most important, I was introduced to their incredible kindness. I shared the sunrises on Babine Lake, currents on the Isaac River and cold nights in Lac La Hache. Those memories, some of them literally of life and death, are etched on me forever.
Where to Golf in Northern BC
This time it was another meaningful trip north with the Kitlope, hauling halibut and salmon, and the wisdom of Haisla elder Ken Hall at the end of the line. But in between there was always time to take in some of my most guilty and meaningless pleasures — namely golf. And let’s face it, golf is a pretty guilty pleasure by any measure, so far from important it’s even a good diversion from fishing. And frankly, I am pretty sure that golf’s pointlessness — chasing a tiny, hard to control ball around the grass and woods toward a predetermined hole in the ground a significant distance away — is precisely the point! And I think that’s why I love it. There is no real chance, at least for me, to take it at all seriously. It’s a complete diversion, where the score is secondary to the company, surroundings, and just how much time you can officially get away with doing the equivalent of nothing.
I made my way to Terrace from Whistler, where I’d just reviewed some of Canada’s most renowned courses — Whistler Golf, Nicklaus North, and the Fairmount Chateau Whistler Golf Club. And while Skeena Valley Golf and Country Club doesn’t offer up the surrounding five-star hotels or top-of-the-line $2,500 sets of rental clubs, it does offer an exceptionally good golf challenge and an interesting way to take in the spectacular natural beauty of northern part of the province. The club is a four-hour romp on a well-manicured track, and in many ways a much better golf experience than in more renowned resorts. And if you schedule a round in the middle of the day between the bite, well, there is actually no comparison. The combination has all the ingredients of a perfect day: bottom bouncing for tyee — an aboriginal name that means “the chief” and in fishing describes a monster chinook, or king, salmon — in the morning and teeing off at Skeena Valley in the afternoon, and even perhaps back again for a few more casts in the evening. After all, in the right wind it looks like you might just be able to drive the bends of the Skeena River from a few of the tee boxes, it’s that close.
The Hole Story about Skeena Valley
I showed up to the club after a short, spectacular drive from Kitamaat Village to be greeted by the club pro, a reserved lanky hipster transplant from Victoria, who seemed a little shocked at his station, such a good course so far from the likes of Bear Mountain and Royal Victoria, but this one practically to himself. He told me that while golf will always take a back seat to fishing in Terrace and the surrounding communities, people, both locals and visitors alike, tend to be quite surprised at the quality of the course.
I was grouped with three well-dressed older gentlemen, which in my experience, tends to mean things will be a little more tame than I might like them. I was quick to discover that these men, active members in a member-run club, were a sales executive at the local newspaper, a money manger, and the owner of one of the largest retail stores in the region. I was also quick to discover that things would definitely not be all that tame.
Starting from the first hole, the next 6,183 yards (it’s 6,488 from the blues and 5,407 from the reds) served some of my most carefree moments of the summer; as much about the open fairways and greens nuzzled up against the rock faces, as stories about raising families and the changing economy in the north. I was particularly impressed by the views of Sleeping Beauty Mountain Trail (which I hear is a hike worth taking) from the fourth tee box, the challenging uphill dogleg right on the 10th, the relaxed but steady pace of play, and the frequency with which the beverage cart girl made the rounds.
After finishing my round I lingered to continue the conversation with my new friends and further discuss my surprise at the quality of the course and the lack of attention paid to it, when somebody pointed out that the course is rated as equal to or better than courses like Pemberton’s Big Sky Golf and Country Club and the Kelowna Golf and Country Club. So I looked it up in places like ScoreGolf.com and their assertion proved true. And when I looked at my scorecard and some of the other materials related to the course that I took with me, the only thing that was more surprising was the price of the green fees: Less than $45 a round during peak times, below what I spent on tackle in the fishing store on the way to my evening plans.
Not into golf or fishing? Not to worry. BC has plenty of other amazing activities to enjoy this summer. Find them here.
More About Skeena Valley Golf and Country Club
Note: Photos courtesy of Skeena River Golf & Country Club and Tourism BC/JF Bergeron