A few weeks of golf remain in Whistler. A few. Recently, my husband, William and I headed to Whistler for some alpine golf and mountain adventures. Whistler kicked up its already world-class reputation when it co-hosted (with Vancouver) the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Set into the skyscraping mountains of the Coast Range, the town has an irrepressible spirit that matches its surroundings. Things have changed quite a bit since the early days when what is now the centre of Whistler Village was a garbage dump where the bears foraged. The bears are still here but those early days when skiers swigged beer out of their ski boots have changed considerably. Whistler, the top ski, snowboarding and mountain biking resort in North America has now ascended to the heights of number one golf resort destination in Canada.
William and I love our golf as much as the next guy but a no-frills condo, a fridge full of beer and a Big Mac for dinner are not for us. Along with remarkable courses, we want stylish digs and gourmet meals. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler was the obvious choice. Staying on the Gold Floor was icing on the cake. Every morning we helped ourselves to the tasty breakfast buffet with bowls of fresh berries, scones, smoked salmon and a different egg creation. Our Gold Floor staff brought bottomless cups of steaming cappuccinos to our table. After golf we headed back to the Gold Lounge for complimentary appetizers and soft drinks. We tried to exercise restraint but the artisan cheeses, oysters, hot canapés e often became dinner.
First on our hit list was the Chateau Whistler Golf Club, where unlike the other Whistler area courses, you really do climb up and down 400 feet of dramatic alpine terrain.
“We listened to the land and harmonized with nature,” says its creator, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. An engineering marvel, the course, carved out of the bench lands of Blackcomb Mountain, traverses “Billy goat” steep ledges, gushing glacier-fed streams, massive granite outcroppings and mighty Douglas firs.
The first three holes present an uphill battle with gushing creeks transecting the fairways. Try to concentrate on your swing but you will be distracted by the spectacular mountain views, bear sightings and giddying alpine air. The eighth signature hole plays downhill to a green set off by a crystal clear lake and a massive granite cliff. The Chateau Whistler course is a true beauty queen with outstanding views in every direction. Afterwards, brag about your birdies on the clubhouse patio. I recommend the halibut roll and corn fritters washed down with Black Bear cocktail made with rum, blackberry purée, lime and mint.
When asked about bear sightings, Nick Droulis, director of golf, remarked, “It’s their home; we work around them.” He advises removing any food from your golf bags and putting it securely in the coolers provided on the golf carts so as not to tempt the furry creatures.
Smack dab in the centre of the village, The Whistler Golf Club, built in 1983, is the granddaddy of the four Whistler area courses. It was also Arnold Palmer’s first Canadian design.
“It’s a Palmer’s design with a Whistler attitude, “ said sales manager, Ro Davies. Indeed, classic rock music piped from the clubhouse, the high five you’ll get from the starter and marshals who will help you find errant balls are all part of the Whistler treatment.
The 6,700-yard, par-71 course is set amongst ancient cedars, majestic fir trees, winding streams and nine lakes. In 2012 all the greens were planted with state-of-the-art 007 Bent Grass for better playability and resistance to snow and ice damage.
The Whistler Golf Club, recently received the designation of Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, in part for staff’s extensive environmental initiatives” said Alan Kristmanson, General Manager. “There is no question their efforts have had a direct impact on both the Crabapple Creek fish population and our local bear population through enhancements of their wildlife habitats, outreach and education and chemical use reduction”
“There’s no such thing as a problem bear; only problem people,” comments Kristmanson. Indeed, before Whistler became a glamorous resort town, its centre was a garbage dump and local hangout for the resident bear population. Many naturalized areas on the course provide food and habitat for local wildlife other than the bears, such as coyote, beaver and birds. The day we played a small cub took a stroll around the patio.
The 11th, called Arnie’s Eagle is a par-five memorably double-crossed by two creeks. The day the course opened Mr. Palmer holed this risk/reward challenge in three. The signature 16th hole is a knockout with elevated tees and a carry over a sparkling lake and then a winding river. Try not to be distracted by the sensational views of the snow-capped peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.
Just down the road, Nicklaus North, designed by the Golden Bear himself, meanders alongside glacier-fed Green Lake. Nicklaus deliberately designed it to be fun, with roomy fairways and enormous greens. That said, there are over 50 bunkers and water on 15 holes to be avoided. The par-threes are strong, especially the signature 17th that plays alongside Green Lake. Although Nicklaus ‘s company has built almost 300 courses in 40 countries, only four are Nicklaus Signature tracts and one of those is Nicklaus North.
After your round, sit back and relax on what is arguably Whistler’s best patio overlooking Green Lake, the 16th fairway and the Harbour Air floatplane dock. Nicklaus North’s Table Nineteen Lakeside Eatery prides itself on having great prices on beer and wine and dishes that lures more than golfers to the contemporary cuisine.
Half an hour north of Whistler, designer Robert Cupp tucked Big Sky Golf and Country Club into the shadow of massive Mount Currie. Although this course plays in the valley below the peaks, the majesty and drama of the mountain is palpable.
Each hole presents the player with a strategic risk/reward challenge that Cupp sums up as “hard par, easy bogey.” Easier said than done, especially on number four, aptly named Purgatory. At 600 yards from the tips, you must avoid a creek crossing the fairway four times, fescue on the right and trees on the left before hitting the well-bunkered green. “If you putt this one out using the same ball you started with, you’ll be better off than most,” says the affable starter.
On a clear day the imposing Mt. Currie, with deep carved ridges and snow-topped peaks is an awesome spectacle. The 18th, named Final Approach, is another whopper with a water hazard running the length of the fairway and a humongous wrap-around bunker defending the green. Because Big Sky is located in a sheltered bowl, the temperature can be quite a few degrees warmer than Whistler but heat is no problem because the terrace at Fescues Restaurant is covered in vines and has a misting system to keep you refreshed.
For the ultimate bragging rights, Big Sky offers a heli-golf experience during which guests are flown by chopper to the top of Mt. Currie where they can warm up or cool down before or after their round by hitting biodegradable golf balls from the top of the glacier—giving new meaning to “hang time.”
Après Golf Food and Fun
Arrive in High Style
There are various ways to get to Whistler but I recommend taking Harbour Air’s seaplane from Vancouver. The trip takes about half an hour and you’ll land on Green Lake just in front of the Nicklaus North Golf Clubhouse.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Mallard Lounge lures those with a sweet tooth with its unique Chocolate Bar flights featuring “Grand Cru” premium cocoa beans from different countries.
If you’ve got a craving for a well-aged steak and a classic Caesar salad made tableside, head to Hy’s in Whistler Village. In honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary Hy’s Happy Hour specials include bargain appetizers such as candied salmon and prime beef sliders.
Whistler could arguably be dubbed the Adrenalin Capital of Canada. If golf’s too tame, consider Forged Ax Throwing or drive an ATV up Blackcomb Mountain. Try Bungee Jumping from a bridge above the Cheakamus River.
Whistler boasts the longest zipline in the Canada and the USA. The Sasquatch Tour spans more than 2km.
R&R at the Spa
Based on Finnish and Norwegian bathing traditions, Scandinave Spas are designed so guests may relax and rejuvenate by participating in a cycle of heat therapies, refreshing cool rinses and relaxation periods. The prescribed routine: spend about ten minutes warming your body in a sauna, eucalyptus-scented steam bath, hot tub or thermal waterfall. Heating the body helps increase blood circulation, which, in turn, cleanses by promoting the elimination of toxins. Then it’s time to close the skin’s pores by cooling off beneath a bracing Nordic waterfall or a dip in a cold tub. The third part of Scandinave’s routine is chill-out time. Snooze in the solarium, swing in a hammock or cozy up with a good book and a cup of organic tea.
Meet the 50 black bears and cubs that call Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains home. Tours with bear lovers and experts ($189 plus tax for adults) take about three hours. You travel in comfortable 4x4vehicles through alpine terrain to feeding habitats.
The One & Only Bearfoot
Where else can you saber a bottle of Champagne and drink it with a platter of freshly shucked oysters? Wait, the fun has just begun. Don a Canada Goose parka and sample four exotic vodkas from a choice of 50 from around the globe in the Belvedere Ice Room where the temperature (between -25 to -32 C) is ideal to savour the clear liquor. Now sample some of the finest and most innovative cuisine in Whistler concocted by Executive Chef Melissa Craig. Finish the night off with a tableside preparation of ‘nitro” ice cream—the best molecular cuisine you’ll ever taste. All of this epicurean excitement takes place at the Bearfoot Bistro.