The annual golf trip review: Whistler

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief  Ω

Every summer I try to do a tour of some B.C. golf courses outside our own magnificent region. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the fantastic tracks we have right here in Kamloops (look for my local courses review piece in the August edition of The Omega) but sometimes it’s nice to try some others — even if it’s just once so I can say I’ve played them.

Last year I shared with you my assessment of a few courses in B.C.’s northwest (Terrace, Kitimat, Prince Rupert), which you can find at theomega.ca.

The end of June 2013, however, saw me in Whistler on a three-night, four-round excursion. After careful consideration, I have ranked the four premier courses of that area for you, in case you’re ever up that way with your clubs — or want to book a package as we did.

Let me first say that you can’t go wrong picking any of these courses over the others, and it feels weird saying that some are “worse” than others by ranking them, because they’re all phenomenal tracks. If you only have a weekend, though, or want to play a couple of courses twice (as is my plan if I ever go back) here are my rankings and the reasons for them so you can make the most of those opportunities.

Trent Heppner tees off on the signature par-three 17th at Nicklaus North. We both managed to keep it out of the water, and I’m not going to brag about how I got a par and he did not, but this is a true statement.  —Photo by Mike Davies

Trent Heppner tees off on the signature par-three 17th at Nicklaus North. We both managed to keep it out of the water, and I’m not going to brag about how I got a par and he did not, but this is a true statement.
—Photo by Mike Davies

4. Nicklaus North

Opened for play in 1996, for some reason this course feels like it still has some maturing to do. I’m not sure why, and really feels weird to put it at the bottom of any list considering it would still be in my top-10 of courses I’ve actually played.

Nicklaus doesn’t put hazards (bunkers, ponds, long-ass rough) everywhere on his courses to threaten you and make you feel intimidated. Instead, he has this seeming obsession to put bunkers exactly where your draw from the tee wants to end up and water hazards in plain sight so you shoot away from them forcing a difficult next shot to try to recover and save the hole.

It’s a “lull you into a false sense of security,” kind of layout in this regard. Also, since rich people for some reason like to have really expensive houses right next to golf courses where they can lose windows and lamps — and Whistler is full of rich people — keep that slice in check. Even clubbing down to a fairway wood on many tee boxes won’t keep you out of some American’s second-home back-yard (and possibly leave you with a hefty repair bill if they happen to be there that day).

19th hole: We had lunch before the round. The wait-staff was friendly and the food was excellent. Pricey, though: panini, fries and a pint of Whistler Brewing Company product was $35 including tip.

The patio at Big Sky overlooking the green of the par-five 18th. Take it down the left side to take the pond out of play, and lay up short of the creek in front.  —Photo by Mike Davies

The patio at Big Sky overlooking the green of the par-five 18th. Take it down the left side to take the pond out of play, and lay up short of the creek in front.
—Photo by Mike Davies

3. Big Sky

Voted the number one public access golf course in B.C. in 2012 by the BCPGA and securing a spot in the top 30 Canadian courses list compiled by Golf Digest, this one is truly a gem and it again pains me to put it at number three on any list.

Designed by Bob Cupp (who incidentally worked with Jack at Nicklaus Designs for 15 years before going off on his own) and opened for play in 1994, this is the most open layout of the four — but that’s not to say you can just haul off and spray the ball anywhere off the tee.

Water abounds on this par-72 layout which plays 7001 yards from the tips (I played it at 6037) and hitting the rough isn’t much less of a penalty as you’ll find yourself chopping your next shot up the fairway instead of attacking the greens.

Also, try not to lose yourself in the magic of Mount Currie looming over you and its streams and waterfalls cascading to the valley floor — it’s an easy thing to do. You’ll never catch Shigeki Maruyama’s course record of 64 if you lose yourself in the scenery.

19th hole: We had lunch before the round and a couple of patio-pints after. Let’s say that Big Sky would have leaped past Whistler GC to number two on this list if my Chicken Caesar Wrap had some food in it and they would have had even one decent beer on tap to choose from.

Overlooking the 18th green at Whistler GC, you don't really get a feel for what you're in for, but that's a good thing, as you want to find out about it as you go.  —Photo by Mike Davies

Overlooking the 18th green at Whistler GC, you don’t really get a feel for what you’re in for, but that’s a good thing, as you want to find out about it as you go.
—Photo by Mike Davies

2. Whistler Golf Club

Whistler GC was designed by the one-and-only Arnold Palmer and is the original Whistler golf course (I guess that’s why it got to have the name). You can feel its age — but that’s a good thing. It’s the most mature of the region’s courses and has really melded into the landscape, as is Palmer’s goal with all of his 300 (or so) layouts around the world.

From the 70s rock in the clubhouse to the bridges over the streams (one of which is modelled after iconic Hogan’s Bridge that crosses Rae’s Creek at Augusta National in Georgia), everything about this course says “classic.”

The staff is extremely (at times overly) friendly, but the course itself can be less-than convivial. Palmer makes you question your options on most tee boxes, and there is never a “right” answer to that query.

The 10th hole, for example, plays to a mere 334 yards from the championship tees (I played it at a seemingly-miniscule 301) but has you staring down a deep, huge-lipped bunker on the right positioned about 200 yards out. You can go left of it to the landing area — which seems about 12 yards wide — or you can lay-up short of it and not be able to see the green over it for your approach. Another option is to blast one over it and hope you carry it but stop between the bunker and the creek that runs in front of the green. I don’t recommend this option, but only because you’re not on the PGA Tour, making that shot all-but impossible.

19th hole: We had breakfast before the round and a pint following it. Both were phenomenal and reasonably priced — especially for a golf course, let alone an establishment in Whistler.

BONUS: They don’t have GPS carts, but they give you a card with blown-up maps of all the holes so you can plan your way around the course more effectively. Nice touch.

It's a bit hard to tell, but that green is way below your feet. Picture that perfect drive carrying an extra 20 or 30 yards and then rolling away from you down that fairway. Magic. —Photo by Mike Davies

It’s a bit hard to tell, but that green is way below your feet. Picture that perfect drive carrying an extra 20 or 30 yards and then rolling away from you down that fairway. Magic.
—Photo by Mike Davies

1. Chateau Whistler Golf Club

Simply put, this is the best golf course I’ve ever played.

With elevation changes of over 400 feet overall, this course seemingly climbs up the mountain for six or seven holes and then descends drastically back to the clubhouse with elevated tee after elevated tee.

Club selection gets difficult at times as the yardage markers and scorecard obviously don’t take into account the three-club difference sometimes needed to adjust for elevation differences, but picture a perfect drive carrying an extra 30 yards and then rolling away from you down the slope of the fairway to settle 80 yards further than normal. That feeling alone is worth missing a green or two because you picked a six-iron when it should have been a nine and lost your ball in the woods over the back of the green.

The signature hole at the Chateau course is the par-three 8th, but the highlight for me was the string of par-4’s from 11 to 15 that take you back down to the valley floor, tempting you to let it rip with the driver at every tee box and punishing you when you do.

If you love golf you need to get here to play this course. Put it on the bucket list with St. Andrews, Pebble Beach and Bethpage (because you’re not getting to Augusta).

19th hole: We had lunch before the round and had to bump back our tee time to let it digest. The “Mountain Burger” patty is made with ground beef, short-rib, prime rib and cheese curds and weighs in at something like a pound (maybe exaggerating, but it’s huge). Then they top it with bacon that’s been glazed with maple syrup, turning it into a candy-like substance that does wonderful things to you when you eat it.

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2 thoughts on “The annual golf trip review: Whistler

  1. You have the ranking exactly as I’d have done it. Particularly enjoyed the evaluation of the descending holes at Chateau Whistler GC. (I told you my “membership” there used to be $20/yr plus $20/round, right? That included a year-end wrap-up BBQ.) Sometimes the elevation changes made me long for the Whistler GC but that’s because it was always a struggle picking a club. Also, it seemed as if I always played it soft. Surprised you didn’t see wildlife. I’ve seen bears and coyotes at the Chateau, moose at Pemberton and a magical, rainbow coloured rabbit at the Whistler track once during a particularly strange weekend. Oh, and you nailed Rae’s Creek but it’s “Maruyama.”

    • Thanks for the correction on the name and your assessment of my rankings. Chateau also seemed soft to me, but I assumed it was because it had been raining for a few days prior (and was, in fact, periodically drizzling on us that day, as well). I was also a bit upset at the seeming lack of wildlife, and we commented on it a number of times throughout the week, as it was one of the things we were looking forward to based on other accounts of the region. Oh, and how about you shut up about the $20/yr plus $20/round? That’s how much that delicious burger was. Worth it.

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