Golf Whistler in the Summer Wind

Chateau Whistler Golf Course (Image: Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort)

Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Chateau Whistler Golf Course is carved through the lower slopes of Blackcomb Mountain. (Image: Fairmont Chateau Whistler)

Pack your golf clubs, hiking boots and maybe even your skis for high-altitude summer fun in Canada’s famous Olympic village.

Who knew that slashing the top off a champagne bottle with a sabre requires much the same balanced finish as a golf swing?

Thoroughly exhilarated and ready to celebrate at the end of a week of alpine golf, hiking, mountain biking and other adventures in Whistler, our group found itself at posh Bearfoot Bistro enjoying a late-night lesson in the fine art of sabrage. Dating to Napoleonic times, this flamboyant technique was perfected by French Hussars celebrating their emperor’s victories.

“The trick,” said Bearfoot’s owner and sabrage master, Andre Saint-Jacques, who in 2005 broke the Guinness World Record by sabering 21 bottles in under a minute, is to “follow through” like Rory McIlroy at the moment the top of the bottle flies off with the cork attached. Several decapitated bottles of Veuve Clicquot later, credit cards maxed out, we reluctantly called it a night.

Bearfoot Bistro sabrage (Image: Bearfoot Bistro)

Another champagne bottle goes pop at Bearfoot Bistro. (Image: Bearfoot Bistro)

A two-hour drive north from Vancouver on the wondrously scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway, Whistler is a fun-packed town no matter the season. In winter, skiers from around the world challenge the slopes of a British Columbia village that, together with Vancouver, hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. Whistler boasts a greater variety of terrain than any other ski resort in North America, including 8,100 acres of slopes, 16 alpine bowls and three glaciers.

Yet, these days, more visitors come to Whistler for golf and its other summer attractions than for the snow. Whether you want to fill every minute between tee times with heart-thumping outdoor activities, or prefer to stop and smell the mountain wildflowers, Whistler is an ideal getaway during Canada’s peak summer months of July and August.

With three top golf courses within a five-minute taxi ride of town, and another just 25 minutes up the highway, Whistler ranks among the best and most convenient golf destinations on North America’s Pacific Coast.

Golf was added to Whistler’s tourism mix in 1983 when municipally-owned Whistler Golf Club opened within shouting distance of a colourful, walking-only inner village—called The Stroll—that includes dozens of restaurants, hotels, shops, bars and outdoor patios.

Designed by Arnold Palmer, this strong layout is set in a serpentine valley dotted with nine lakes and cut by two creeks. Forced carries and tricky greens put teeth in a design where a definite highlight is the par-four 16th, aptly called The Gallery. Hikers and bikers on the Village Trail pause to watch and sometimes giggle as you nervously wallop your tee shot toward a fairway booby-trapped with water hazards.

The club’s charming outdoor patio, overlooking the 18th green, is an ideal spot to ponder how to spend the rest of your day. Adrenaline junkies might opt for white-water rafting on the Green River, a zip-line trek across Fitzsimmons Valley, summer skiing on Horstman Glacier, or a mad charge down the slaloms of the world’s largest downhill bike park.

Peak 2 Peak Gondola (Image: Whistler Tourism)

The Peak 2 Peak Gondola is an essential Whistler experience. (Image: Tourism Whistler)

A less taxing, though equally thrilling, Whistler experience is the almost three-mile journey between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the world’s longest and highest unsupported lift. For ultimate bragging rights, switch over to the Peak Express chairlift to reach snow-capped Whistler Summit. The sweeping views of the Coast Mountain Range in the thin air 7,089 feet up are literally breathtaking.

No one who visits Whistler is ever disappointed by the scenery. Keep your camera at the ready to snap an especially stunning cloud-shrouded mountain peak, or a coveted shot of one of the black bears that wander the lower slopes and make guest appearances on Whistler’s golf courses.

We spotted a mama bear and her two cubs rambling alongside a fairway at Nicklaus North Golf Course, only the second course in the world the great Jack Nicklaus deigned to lend his surname to. Opened in 1995, Nicklaus North has done more than any other local course to spread Whistler’s fame. Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Fred Couples and Nick Faldo played a skins competition here in 1997 televised around the globe.

In contrast to the severe courses Nicklaus built early in his design career, this one is fair and fun, though no pushover. Slowly building momentum, the layout switches into high gear on a back nine featuring three strong par threes, all of which bring water into play. Best of the bunch is the 226-yard 17th, set beside a glacial lake at the base of snow-capped Wedge Mountain. The green, swaddled by bunkers on three sides, was constructed by dumping thousands of tons of boulders into the lake.

Nicklaus North Golf Course (Image: Nicklaus North)

Nicklaus North Golf Course is a fair and fun design that shifts into high gear on the back nine. (Image: Nicklaus North Golf Course)

With the successful launch of acclaimed courses by Palmer and Nicklaus, golf’s two biggest stars, Whistler became one of North America’s most talked about new golf destinations.

A dozen or more luxury hotels opened to accommodate the crowds that now came year-round. The two most prominent additions, Fairmont Chateau Whistler and Four Seasons Whistler, sit almost side-by-side at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain in the Upper Village. A ski-in and ski-out hotel in winter, the Chateau Whistler is a modern and wonderfully comfortable take on a European-style A-frame ski chalet. It quickly became the preferred place to stay in Whistler following its opening in 1989.

In 1993, Fairmont, the owner of such iconic Canadian golf resorts as Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in the neighbouring province of Alberta, unveiled what purists maintain is Whistler’s only true mountain course.

Unlike the Palmer and Nicklaus designs, which roll gently across the flatlands of the valley floor, Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Course is carved through the lower slopes of Blackcomb Mountain, a short shuttle ride from the hotel. During the opening three grinding uphill holes at this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, golfers experience an elevation change of more than 300 feet. Typically fearsome is the signature 8th hole, a 212-yard par three playing severely downhill to a green guarded in front by a pond, and to the rear by a massive wall of granite notorious for bouncing errant balls into orbit.

Though thrilling, chasing your golf ball across Chateau Whistler’s roller-coaster terrain of yawning chasms, fast-rushing creeks and towering Douglas firs takes a physical toll. Happily, rejuvenation awaits a short cab ride away at Scandinave Spa.

Scandinave Spa, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

Scandinave Spa opened on the edge of Lost Lake Park in 2010. (Image: Scandinave Spa)

Opened in 2010 on the edge of Lost Lake Park, the spa was designed to appear as if it emerged organically out of the mountain landscape, an impression reinforced by the native grasses and meadow flowers that cover the rooftops of the treatment buildings. First, slip into one of two hot pools to work out the kinks in your shoulders and legs. Then, deep breath, plunge into the freezing-cold Nordic waterfall. You’ll emerge fully revived and eager to take another crack at Whistler’s vibrant nightlife.

People who love food can dine sumptuously in this town. Whistler’s top restaurants cater to a sophisticated, affluent and well-travelled clientele. The previously noted Bearfoot Bistro, where chef Melissa Craig focuses on locally sourced seafood and game dishes, is an obvious choice. Araxi, Bar Oso, Trattoria di Umberto and Sidecut Steakhouse are also highly recommended.

Then go boldly into the Whistler night to dance till all hours with the beautiful young things at the Savage Beagle. Or shoot pool with the locals at sometimes rowdy Buffalo Bill’s Bar and Grill, across from the Whistler gondola. Or sip a Bloody Caesar (Canada’s spicier version of a Bloody Mary) while watching the passing village parade from a patio table at Longhorn Saloon and Grill.

There’s so much going on in Whistler that many visitors never stray beyond the town limits. But it would be foolish for any serious golfer to come this far and not play Big Sky Golf and Country Club, about 25 minutes north in lovely Pemberton Valley.

Big Sky Golf Club (Image: Tourism Pemberton)

Mount Currie looms like a granite god over Big Sky Golf and Country Club. (Image: Tourism Pemberton)

Sheer-faced and massive, 8,400-foot-tall Mount Currie looms like a granite god over a brawny valley design by American architect Bob Cupp defined by twisting creeks and seven lakes. Beware the fourth hole, not coincidentally named Purgatory. Water snakes across the fairway no fewer than four times on this 600-yard par five.

Even the end of your stay in Whistler doesn’t have to bring a stop to the fun. The drive south to Vancouver along the winding Sea-to-Sky Highway is one of the most picturesque in Western Canada. Just past the historic mining town of Squamish, look on the right side of the highway for a 211-yard par three set on a rocky peninsula thrusting into Howe Sound. That’s the signature hole of Furry Creek Golf and Country Club. If time permits, stop and play an outrageous thrill ride of a course that’s so difficult it’s best not to keep score.

You’ll relive the cliff-top tee shots and views of Howe Sound all the way home.

 

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