IT was a memorable year: the first manned voyage to the surface of the moon, the playing of the first Superbowl, the maiden flight of the Boeing 747 airplane, and the opening of Burnaby's first championship-length public golf course.
When it opened for play in 1969, the Burnaby Mountain Golf Course was one of a handful of golf courses available for public play in the Lower Mainland. Laid out on the rolling bench land in the forest at the foot of Burnaby Mountain, space was plentiful and the new course took advantage of it.
Designed by B.C. Sports Hall of Famer Ernie Brown, it was a local course in the best sense of the word. Brown grew up in Vancouver and started out as a caddy when his doctor suggested he get outside more to recover from pneumonia and pleurisy.
He went on to become a pro at Jasper Park, then moved home to the old Jericho course, the original Quilchena and the Seymour Golf and Country Club before turning his talents to course design. Other courses that bear his signature include Chilliwack, Vernon, Prince George, Pender Harbour and 15 others around British Columbia.
At 6,431 yards from the back tees, Burnaby Mountain is a lot of golf for your money. There's something to please almost every level of player. Most fairways are wide and forgiving for higher handicappers and there's plenty of length for the big hitters. It's surrounded by forest and parkland, so the sense of being away from it all is very much part of the experience.
It is one of the busiest golf courses in Canada, and over the years a round at Burnaby Mountain became equated with slow play. No longer. The people at the City of Burnaby know they are in a competitive market and are conscious of delivering a top-tier playing experience. Tee time intervals have been increased and pace of play is closely monitored.
Course condition has also been significantly upgraded. A massive investment in a wall-to-wall drainage system has left the course playable after even the most torrential rainfall. Aggressive turf maintenance is a year-round focus and bunkers have been re-filled and rebuilt, incorporating the improved drainage process. Tee boxes have been rebuilt and expanded to add length, making for a more interesting range of choices in the daily setup.
There is a new state of the art, two-storey driving range and learning centre and a full list of CPGA teaching pros ready to help you with your game.
I was joined at Burnaby Mountain recently on the first full day of summer by friends Dan Rothenbush, Don Hartwigger and Larry Verigin. I have to confess that I was among the local golfers who had written Burnaby Mountain off as a destination a long time ago. New information gave me hope and we were there to see if it was all true.
It had rained very heavily a few days prior but fairways and bunkers were dry and ready to go. We checked in and went off to the practice green. Because it had been so long since I had last played the course, it was like playing it for the first time.
My overall impression was of size. This course was built when land was fairly available and construction costs a little lower. You spend your round surrounded by forest and there are no houses jammed along the fairways. It's just you and your playing partners.
The opening hole is a west facing, 462yard par 5 over a ridge to a large green. A long tee shot gives you a peek at the green, but for most of us, your second shot is a hit-and-hope proposition. The good news is that there is plenty of real estate on the other side of the ridge and little trouble if you're relatively straight.
Fairways were lush and well-tended. The roominess of the course layout made it easier to relax and concentrate on our shots. Even if your line was a little off, the wide playing surfaces and lack of serious trouble meant a safe landing and a good look at your next target.
The putting surfaces were in very good condition and held their lines well. For a course this busy, it was the sign of an excellent overall turf care program.
Holes two to six weave their way back and forth across the ridge alternating between heading west and heading east. The third hole, a 505-yard par 5, has a pond in front of the green and, for most players, it's a blind shot back over the ridge, so consider yourself forewarned.
Water is also in evidence on the pretty 171-yard par-3 fourth hole. This is slightly uphill and judging distance was tricky. It was almost as if the sheer scale of the course made distances appear deceptively closer than they really are. Number 5 is a big, swooping dogleg left
from a slightly elevated tee box. The shot here was centre right to a (by Burnaby standards) narrow landing area. It wasn't as tight as it looked, but that's one of the conjurer's tricks of Brown's design. At 390 yards, it plays all of that and more.
The length continues on the eighth. At 404 yards from the tips, a generous landing area again gives you a chance to let out a bit of shaft and go for it. It's rated the toughest hole on the course but a carefully managed slice leads to little harm and there's plenty of room to recover.
The length continues on the back nine. Number 10 is a 406 yard par-4 back up and over the ridge beside the first fairway.
For me, the quintessential hole at Burnaby Mountain is the 399-yard par-4 11th. It's a long poke, with a generous landing area to a green that's bigger than it looks from the fairway. There are no distractions from the outside world and the faint rumbling sound of distant planes approaching the airport mingles with birdsong.
It's quietly lovely. The short par-4 12th and long par-3 13th give way to a three-hole stretch of difficult play.
At 439 yards from the tips, the par-4 14th is a long uphill dogleg brute. The green is hidden from view of the tee box by dense forest and if you're too far left or right, you are dead. Dense undergrowth waits to punish the wayward and only a long, very carefully crafted draw will give you a shot at the green in two. Bogey is a respectable result on this one.
This is followed by the 185yard uphill 15th. The highest point on the course, there is dense bush at the very back of the green so overshooting is not an option. Again, judging distances was tricky and our group went between one to three clubs more than usual to reach the summit.
At 552 yards, the par-5 16th is another tall order. It's a big downslope dogleg right and if you don't know what's in store, there's a tall cedar tree that rises from the fairway down the right sight line from the tee box. If you can manufacture a fade, aiming for the tree and letting it drift right should give you a good result, but beware: there's water and woods down the
right toward the green and you can end up in a world of trouble.
The last two holes offer a bit of respite. At 344 yards and 352 yards respectively, the gently rolling final pair give you a chance to recover a bit of dignity if you lost any along the way.
Having written Burnaby Mountain off as a serious destination years ago, I was absolutely stunned at how far it had come. Pace of play was as quick as any Lower Mainland course and quicker than some. On-course staff were friendly and courteous. It had a real local feel, like Squamish or Northlands, and everyone I saw was having a good time.
For the conditions, convenience and overall golf experience, Burnaby Mountain is excellent value. Weekend adult high season green fees are $49.50 including GST and Monday to Thursday it's $39.
If it's been a while since Burnaby Mountain Golf Course was on your radar, time to re-calibrate. This is a very enjoyable golf destination.
Check it out.
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