A taste of Canada High!

'Often I couldn

Tony Gearing
Thu, 17 Nov 2005



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Spectacular Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain, Olympic View and Furry Creek - not the kind of golf course names you'd find in my home county of Hertfordshire, where Barkway, Royston and Heydon hardly get the pulse racing. So when the opportunity came to investigate golf on Canada's Pacific coast, the picture these names painted proved irresistible.

However, I was ill-prepared on this visit to British Columbia, playing up, down and around mountains. Never mind the latest debate about metal v soft spikes - I needed crampons!

Bear Mountain Golf and Country Club resort is only a year old and when it’s finished will have 5,000 ‘doors’ (as the Canadians describe the homes that surround it) ranging from time share lodges to multi-million-dollar villas. That’s a lot of people overlooking two 18-hole courses.

Bear Mountain overlooks Victoria BC

But despite the background noise of building work for the next 20 years, this shouldn’t detract from a phenomenal first course designed by the same Jack and Steve Nicklaus combination which created Machynys on the Gower Peninsular in Wales.

From the 'grizzlies' (as this course calls its tiger tees) it’s 7,212 yards long. From the brown tees, just ahead, it’s still tough enough with holes cunningly designed through woodland with wild undulations.

The par-4 fifth funneled for nearly 500 yards between two forests with its the fairway sloping viciously to the right, demanding every shot played hard left while avoiding the concrete buggy path.

And if 18 holes of purgatory can’t produce a matchplay result Bear Mountain introduced a shoot-out par-3 19th hole, oddly sandwiched between the par-5 14th and par-4 15th to keep in your back pocket. It had a ravine between tee and green and ate two of my balls!

Overlooking the city of Victoria, the resort is the brainchild of Len Barrie, a former ice-hockey player who persuaded a handful of similarly wealthy sportsmen to invest in the project, which will no doubt make them even richer.

Olympic’s waterfall backdrop to 17th green

Olympic View was a less demanding parkland challenge, also on Vancouver Island. Ignoring the distant mountains, I could have been playing in the Home Counties

The par-4 eighth hole swept down a slope then up again, in a sharp dog-leg while crossing a pond, while the par-4 17th snaked through trees and banks to a raised green in front of a fake waterfall. If this is ‘the 35th best course in Canada’ – No.50 must be a pitch and putt in comparison.

As we headed for the mainland on the ‘Sea to Sky Highway’ to the Whistler ski and golf resort, we stopped off at Furry Creek, named after a ‘trapper’ who first hunted beaver and bear in the area.

Here, the first tee is spectacularly 140 feet above the fairway – one of many holes that were so steep, they are probably used as ‘black runs’ in the ski resort when the snows come in November.

Often I couldn’t see the fairway and had to aim at the marker poles and trust my ball would suddenly appear amid a green sward. Sometimes it did, more often it didn’t!

The par-5 11th demanded an 80-foot vertical lob to green that wasn’t so much elevated as perched on a shelf. As for the par-3 14th I had to play over 220 yards of Canada’s southernmost fjord to reach the green. I failed.

Superb par-3 14th at Furry Creek
But I enjoyed being up Furry Creek without a paddle. The course took two years to blast out of a mountain – and cost the equivalent of £12.5 to build. You could probably create three exceptional courses in the UK for a similar price.

A further £3million was invested in the stylish clubhouse made from glass and wood that clings to the mountainside overlooking golfers climbing up the 18th fairway.

It was a magical experience as we dined beside a waterfall – but I felt that I’d been conquered by mountain golf, much as I’d tried to overcome its challenges.

Fact file

Frontier Travel’s (020 8776 8709) tailor-made packages include a 10-night, three centre three centres (minimum three stars), including Air Canada flights and a car, would cost £1298 each for two people. It would not include green fees, which in Canda vary with season and day of the week. There are about two Canadian dollars to the pound.

Furry Creek varies from C$52-C$62 (October) to C$95 –C$98 (July to September). Buggies included. The mountain course is closed in the winter.

Olympic View varies from C$35-C$45 (October to December) to C$55-C$75 (April to September). Buggies extra.

Bear Mountain charges C$125 for advance bookings. Sunset rate (four hours before sunset) is C$55..

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