LIVING on the North Shore gives us access to a host of destinations, all with excellent golf facilities.
In a way, one of the closest is one of the farthest - Vancouver Island. We tend to think of a trip to B.C.'s "Big Island" as something of an ordeal, but having the ferry terminal in Horseshoe Bay can - with a little planning and a few reservations - make it an easy and relaxing journey.
Once you land, the possibilities can be overwhelming; where to stay? Where to play? Vancouver Island has a host of excellent courses and some great accommodations.
Fortunately, the people at Golf Vancouver Island have worked with local courses and accommodation to create the Vancouver Island Golf Trail, a selection of travel packages featuring courses and hotels around Victoria, Duncan, Parksville/Qualicum and Courtney/Comox.
Victoria area courses include Arbutus Ridge, Bear Mountain, Highland Pacific and Olympic View. The venerable Cowichan Golf and Country Club, designed by A.V. Macan, is your tour stop in Duncan and the Parksville/Qualicum area features Fairwinds, Morning Star and Pheasant Glen. Farther north, Crown Isle and Storey Creek make it an even 11 and open the doors to the wonders of the Comox Valley. Hotels include some of the Island's finest waterfront destinations and combining them in package form makes it easier on the wallet.
Joined by friend Dan Rothenbush, I recently booked off a couple of days in July to explore the Central Island. Our itinerary included golf at Fairwinds in Nanoose Bay and Morningstar in Parksville and we stayed at the Beach Club Resort, right on the ocean in downtown Parksville.
I made ferry reservations for the return trip and the little bit it adds to the ticket price is nothing compared to the convenience of removing ferry lineups from your travel calculations.
Our first tee time was early afternoon at Fairwinds. We caught the 8: 30 a.m. clipper and were at the course with enough time to warm up at the range and grab a bite to eat.
I have played Fairwinds many times and always look forward to the opportunity to return. Designed by Les Furber, the Fairwinds Golf Club is part of a golf, marina and oceanfront community on the Nanoose Peninsula, about 20 minutes north of Nanaimo. It has spawned a sizable community as city dwellers build seasonal homes and retirement residences along the area's forest paths and byways.
Named BCPGA Facility of the Year in 1999, Fairwinds is consistently ranked among the top courses in B.C. for its superb course condition and customer service.
At 6,151 yards from the back tees, it's a walkable course and takes you up and down through deep coastal forest of Douglas Fir, cedar, arbutus and oak. There is always plenty of wildlife and views across the strait to the mainland. It's gorgeous.
It was sunny and warm when we arrived and checked in. A trip to the course's outdoor driving range and practice facilities gave us a chance to limber up and prepare to face the first tee.
The first hole at Fairwinds gives you a good introduction to what lies ahead. At 310 yards, this par-4 dogleg left has water down the right side and seven bunkers guarding the green to the left and right. A long iron or fairway wood leaves you in position to attack the pin, but you have to think carefully or the sand will bring you to a world of woe.
That's one of the great challenges of Fairwinds: you have to think. Les Furber, designer of many courses on the West Coast, messes with your head - introducing conflict and troublesome thoughts when you don't want to be thinking about anything.
A great example is the 206-yard par-3 second. It's mostly straight away, but there are bunkers at the left of the green, a creek to the right and a small lagoon behind. He's teasing you; trying to con you into missing the hazards rather than hitting the green and he's a master at it.
We played with another twosome: Jan, who lived in Qualicum, and her brother Barry who was visiting from Toronto. Neither had played Fairwinds before and both were struck by the sheer beauty of the setting. That day there were plenty of deer about, wandering the fairways and paths; does with young speckled fawns, taking their first uncertain steps and young bucks, sprouting early season velvet antlers. Not the sort of thing you see at the corner of Bay and Bloor.
That too is part of the fun of a golf getaway - you get to meet new people and perhaps learn a thing or two. We all chatted as we played and by the time we putted out on the 18th, our worlds were a little fuller for the encounter.
There are many memorable holes at Fairwinds; the 336-yard par-4 eighth is wide open and a chance to really wallop the ball without bringing too much grief into the mix; the 359-yard par-4 11th is a dogleg right with slicers facing water all the way down to the putting surface; the 546-yard par-5 13th is all uphill through a narrow tree-lined trough.
For me, the hole that comes to mind when I think of Fairwinds is the 518-yard par-5 18th. This closing hole has all that's best about Fairwinds - there's water all the way down the right side, two fairway bunkers down the left and 5 more around the green. Lovely homes, just visible through the salal and cedar, hint at a different pace of life and beyond the green the clubhouse, and a promise of a good post-round meal or beverage, looms.
That afternoon though, we had an appointment in Parksville and a dinner reservation at the Pacific Prime Steak and Chop House at the Beach Club Resort.
A new addition to the Parksville hotel scene, the Beach Club Resort offers studio, one-and two-bedroom and penthouse suites, all with private balconies and views. Our second-level rooms looked out on Parksville's oceanside walkway and vast sandy beach. It's a spectacular setting and part of the Mount Arrowsmith ecosystem, named by UNESCO as one of only 13 Biosphere Reserves in Canada.
It was possible to have meals delivered to your room, but the beach-front patio of the Pacific Prime Steak and Chop House beckoned. We made our way outside and settled in to watch the sunset and await our meals.
Chef Michael Sproul has created a series of menus with heavy emphasis on local products and Oceanwise sustainably harvested seafood. A day of club-swinging had left us hungry and while seafood sounded nice, it was also prime rib night.
Dan opted for the prime rib with Yorkshire pudding and fresh vegetables. I went straight for the 16 ounce rib-eye with a red winethyme sauce, but gave a nod to the local seafood by starting with a quartet of oysters served with lemon, horseradish and cocktail sauce. Everything was fresh and very well presented.
On the rare occasions that I looked up from my meal, I noticed that not only was the patio full of visitors and locals alike, but that everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves. I will definitely be going back.
The next morning, we had a tee time at Morningstar Golf Club, just a few kilometers northwest of town.
Named to the "Best Canadian Public Golf Course" roster in 2009 by Score Magazine, Morningstar is a gem of a course and a favourite among the locals. At 7,018 yards from the championship tees, this is a course that has hosted the Canadian Golf Tour and numerous serious tournaments.
Another Les Furber designed facility, there are around 70 bunkers - most guarding the greens - and you can bet the farm you'll find yourself in more than one of them as you make your way around the course.
As befits a locals' course, the pro shop and clubhouse are unassuming and all the action is on the playing surfaces. Very well tended Blue Grass fairways lead to large bentgrass greens and there is water on 12 holes to add to the fun.
We were joined on the first tee by Bill and Michelle, both members of Morningstar and nearby residents. Having their course knowledge was very helpful as Morningstar's many doglegs mean the occasional blind shot.
The opening hole was a 378-yard par 4 and a severe dogleg right from about the 150 yard marker. Bill was able to give us a target and we were able to get close to it. From there, it was a matter of avoiding the five bunkers around the green and we were on to the second tee.
Once off the second green, you move from open country to deep forest at the par-5 508-yard third tee.
Once again, wildlife was part of the experience. There was a pair of does with their new-born fawns wandering the byways as well as Bald Eagles, quail and young rabbits. Little green tree frogs, about the size of a dime, rummaged about the grass looking for unwary bugs. It was extraordinary. Make no mistake, Morningstar is a very challenging course.
Number 9, a 538-yard par-5, was a double dogleg with water to the right off the tee and down the left toward the green. Bill was able to help us navigate but couldn't swing our clubs for us and we each found water before the hole was finished.
The 12th hole, a 404-yard par 4 downhill dogleg right had water sitting at 306 yards at the base of the slope and the shape of the land gives you plenty of roll. From there, the green was fronted by an enormous wooden-walled bunker that looked like something out of Dante's 9th circle of Hell.
We managed to avoid the water and sheer terror kept us short of the sand. We carded a couple of "others" and moved on.
Soon we arrived at the par-3 14th. At 215 yards from the gold tees, this is reputedly Les Furber's favourite hole. There was a creek all the way down the right and the hole sloped from left to right, with bunkers on the left to catch anyone trying to avoid aquatic misery.
My favourite hole was the par-3 17th. At 207 yards from the tips, it was water down the right to the green and a slicer's nightmare, yet the rushes around the pond and the evergreens behind the green gave it a savage beauty.
As we putted out on the 18th and bade our farewells, I reflected on the trip. We get so accustomed to scenery and first-class facilities that it's easy to forget how fortunate we are to live where we do, with so many choices.
Golf Vancouver Island's packages give you the best of West Coast golf and accommodations and BC Ferries' reservation system takes the agony out of making the trip. It's one of the best golf getaway ideas available. Check it out.