Life Travel

Stunning scenery in Whistler, B.C., means your biggest challenge is paying attention to the ball


WHISTLER, B.C. — Every golf instructor will stress the importance of keeping your eye on the ball.

When you tee it up in Whistler, that’s easier said than done.

Whether you’re a scratch-handicap or a self-admitted hacker and even if you have plenty of previous experience golfing in the thin mountain air, you’ll constantly have to resist the urge to look up to sneak a peek at the ... er ... peaks that provide the backdrop for B.C.’s famed playground.

“People just love watching their ball fall against the mountains,” said Nick Droulis, the director of golf at Fairmont Chateau Whistler. “We have one of the most spectacular golf courses in the country. There are panoramic vistas from every single hole, and it’s just a place where you can kind of get lost in the surroundings. It’s such a beautiful place to be.”

Even if you can tear your eyes away from the snowcapped scenery, there’s still the possibility of distraction at ground level.

It’s not uncommon, especially in the spring or fall months, for one of Whistler’s four-legged residents to play through. In fact, during a round at Whistler Golf Club last July, I watched from the sixth tee-box as a black bear jumped into a water hazard for a dip.

“We have a photo in our golf shop of three bears right in the middle of the first fairway that — I kid you not — was taken on the opening day in 2013,” said Alan Kristmanson, the GM at Whistler Golf Club. “When we tell people that, it’s like ‘C’mon, it must be photo-shopped.’ No, it’s not.

“People are pretty blown away when they’re out there and they see a bear.”

Whistler gets plenty of publicity, but it’s usually being billed as a bucket-list destination for ski bums, snowboarders and other winter-sport enthusiasts.

Which means you probably haven’t seen enough photos of this happenin’ resort area — located about 135 km north of Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky Highway and site of most alpine, nordic and sliding events for the 2010 Winter Olympics — without all that fluffy white stuff on the ground.

Take it from us ... This stunning setting looks even better in green. You certainly won’t head home wondering why Golf Digest once crowned Whistler as Canada’s best golf destination.

Fairmont Chateau Whistler offers exactly what you’ve come to expect from this leading luxury brand — a top-of-the-heap hotel and a golf course that is maintained to the same lofty standard. Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s 18-hole design was carved into the rugged wilderness, with loads of elevated tees and a handful of knee-knocking approach shots over mountain-fed streams.

Jack Nicklaus was so proud of his handiwork at Nicklaus North Golf Course that he agreed to lend his name to the project — the Golden Bear has completed only three signature designs in Canada, and this is one of ’em — and even played a couple of rounds during made-for-TV skins games. Spread across the valley floor, Nicklaus North boasts arguably the best finishing stretch in the area.

Whistler’s original championship course was also the work of a superstar designer, with Arnold Palmer mapping

out the holes at Whistler Golf Club. The King’s first layout on Canadian soil is located just a couple of iron-shots away from the village hub but still has that middle-of-nowhere charm, especially if you spot one of the ‘locals’ on Hole 13, which is known as Bear Mountain.

The fourth member of the Golf Whistler marketing group is Big Sky Golf and Country Club, which sits in the shadow of Mount Currie and is absolutely worth the half-hour drive north to Pemberton. The putting surfaces at Robert Cupp’s Big Sky were re-surfaced for this season, a necessary step as they aim to regain their status as one of B.C.’s best-conditioned facilities.

“For a golf getaway, you’ve got four great-quality, world-class golf courses, and each of them are different and they’re distinct. That’s what makes Whistler great — every time you step on a new golf course, it’s a different look,” said Michael Zuccolin, the GM at Nicklaus North.

“It’s amazing how distinct the courses are. Our 18th tee-box is basically 320 metres from the 10th hole at Chateau Whistler, but it’s a completely different experience.”

“Four golf courses — that’s kind of the magic number, I think, for a really good golf resort,” Kristmanson added. “And when you ask people what their favourite course is, you always hear a different answer.

“I think that’s really good for a golf destination when everybody has a different opinion. If you have four buddies, you might all disagree on which one you like best. I think that’s a really good sign.”

Thing is, the arguments won’t end there.

If you tee off in the morning, there could be a friendly dispute over the best way to spend the afternoon. You could wander from shop to shop on the cobblestone streets, fly through the forest with Ziptrek Ecotours or soak up the views from the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which connects Blackcomb and Whistler mountains.

With nearly 100 restaurants and bars to choose from, there could also be a debate over the best spot to fuel up for the next day. You could share the bone-in rib steak at Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Grill Room, sample the one-of-a-kind sake margarita at Sushi Village or dine at Bearfoot Bistro, where you can bundle up for drinks in the Ketel One Ice Room, the coldest vodka-tasting room in the world.

“I really think Whistler is beginning to be known not only as a ski resort, but also a great spot to visit in the summer, as well,” said Woody Bishop, the GM at Big Sky. “Whether you’re a group of guys, a group of women or a family, I can’t imagine many places that could fulfill everything you’re looking for in a vacation like Whistler can.”

“Outside of golf, the Whistler lifestyle is fantastic,” Droulis added. “The accommodations, the restaurants, the shopping, the spas ... There’s just so much to do, in addition to golf, that just makes a really unique and a really great experience.

“We think this is a real special golf resort, and we think those other activities just enhance what the golfer can do when they come to Whistler.”

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