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Chateau Whistler: a monument to play

Fairmont Chateau Whistler course bears witness to our need for recreation

VIDEO: Chateau Whistler Golf ClubHuman needs are simple: food, shelter and play.

Since people first began to gather in tribes and villages, once the cupboard was full, thoughts would turn to filling the idle hours between hunting and gathering and running in terror from sabre-toothed tigers.

Wonders of the ancient world have survived to bear witness to the importance of games. The incredible durability of Rome's Coliseum, the stadium at Olympia in Greece, the tlachtli court at Monte Alban in Mexico, and other facilities like them around the globe are testimony to the importance of their place in the societies they served.

Today our need to play is as compelling as ever. With the cupboard largely stocked and the sabre-toothed tiger threat at a manageable level, we are increasingly creatures of play.

We on the North Shore live in close proximity to one of this brave new world's grandest stages: Whistler.

Originally developed primarily as a ski destination, today Whistler remains so, but it is also a lot more.

Whatever you're looking for, you'll find. From cycling and bungee jumping to skiing, snowmobiling and golf, the facilities at Whistler have evolved into some of the finest of their kind in North America, all with that Whistler edge.

With courses designed by some of the game's greatest names: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones II, golf in Whistler attracts players from around the world

Two great names come together in one unique destination: the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

The Chateau Whistler course, etched into the side and lower reaches of Blackcomb Mountain, is a superb example of mountain golf in British Columbia. With the amenities of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort close at hand and Canada's only David Leadbetter Golf Academy, this 6,635 yard Robert Trent Jones II course is perhaps the brightest and most complete jewel in the Whistler golf ring.

Having learned course design at the feet of his revered father, Robert Trent Jones II has gone on to create landmark golf destinations around the world, including the Wailea and Makena courses on Maui, Australia's National Golf Club and Washington state's spectacular Chambers Bay course, home of the 2015 US open.

Leadbetter, the world's number one golf instructor, chose the Chateau Whistler course for his academy deliberately. It places demands on every aspect of your game, making it a perfect spot to practice and improve your play.

I was recently invited by friend and local woodsmith Dan Foster to play the Chateau course for the first time. We were joined by Andrew Skuse of North Vancouver's Biopacific Diagnostics and Roman Prociw of Bancroft Western Sales, pulp mill systems specialists.

I had heard comparisons of Chateau Whistler to Northlands and Furry Creek, but the correlations are not exact. It's hilly, like the others, and there are gullies and environmental hazards, but there's an indefinable quality -- a personality if you will -- to each course that makes them distinct.

We were fortunate with the weather. The late weekdays had been grey and a little wet. That Saturday morning, the sun was out in full vigour and the conditions were ideal for a day on the course.

A round at Chateau Whistler includes shuttle transportation from the hotel to the club house. It's not far, but there's no parking at the course, so take advantage of this service.

Arriving at the field of play is an interesting experience. The broad roof of the clubhouse guards the view of the course, blocks the uninvited, and adds an air of mystery to what lies beyond. Passing through and out to the practice green and patio area is like entering into a different world. There's a stillness as the course begins to reveal itself.

The first hole leads you up and nto the woods and the final green is right beside the practice putting surface. It's a journey into the heart and soul of everything that is Whistler.

At 505 yards from the back tees, No. 1 is an inviting prospect: a wide fairway bisected by a creek at 300 yards leading ever so slightly uphill to the green beyond. It's a terrific start to a challenging course and gives you a chance to build confidence as you head further away from the clubhouse.

The first three holes ascend the side of Blackcomb Mountain, gradually at first, then with increasing robustness past some of the luxury lodges and condominiums that make this destination so alluring.

The front nine winds you up and out, gradually surrounding you with the shaggy embrace of old growth fir and cedar trees. The course levels out a little on holes 4, 5 and 6 and begins its descent on number 7.

Glaciered mountaintops across the valley float above it all and other than the course itself, there's little sign of human activity. The ancient woodwork produces an absorbing silence that aids relaxation and enables concentration on your game.

Power carts are equipped with a GPS system that gives you distance to the pin and distance to the groups ahead and behind. With the numerous hollows and hillocks that lurk on every fairway, it's a good way to keep pace and stay safe.

All playing surfaces are all well kept and in excellent health. Scars from the long hard winter have healed and the greens are maddeningly inscrutable.

The most challenging hole on the front nine is the long par-four 6th. At 457 yards from the tips, it's a long, left curving dogleg beast. I was fortunate to be the only rookie on the tee box that day and helpful hints to stay left-centre paid off with a hard-fought bogie.

The prettiest hole on the opening nine is the 212-yard par-three 8th. The elevated tee box looks down on a large pond to the left of the green and a large rock face to the right. You catch an initial glimpse of what is revealed in full on the back half of the course: paradise.

While the rest of us soldiered on, Andrew was beginning to catch hold of a solid round. After some initial wobbles, his balls were long and on target. The best was yet to come, but more of that later.

As remote as the front half of the course feels, the back side is a visual wonder. The staggering scale and scope of this playground called Whistler unfolds at your feet in stunning perspective and you're given the briefest glimpse of precisely why the world is coming here in February.

Beyond the course, the town peeks at you here and there between forest gaps and, above it all, are the ski runs and alpine meadows of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Trams and chairlifts, mostly idle, wait for the coming snow and tremble at the promise of the winter games.

As you claw your way back downhill to the final green it's impossible not to stop and stare, checking your senses to make sure you haven't gone mad.

The elevated tee box on the 13th hole is a prime example. At 349 yards from the back tees, this straight-away par-four is rated 14th most difficult. Yet while you should be studying the wind and selecting a landing area, you find your attention drifting to the vista beyond.

In a game with no shortage of distractions, the Chateau Whistler Golf Course can overwhelm you if you let it.

The challenges on the course as you descend often mirror those faced on the way up: creeks and ravines, rock outcroppings, and bunkers waiting on the sly to undo your round.

The 15th hole, another elevated tee box, gives you one last look at the broad arena of the Whistler valley. You stare and try to imprint the moment in your memory.

The final three holes lead you back to the Orpheus-like clubhouse emerging from the underworld into the light of day. You look back, and what you thought you saw is gone.

At the end of the long 18th, the clubhouse sits -- a portal back to the world you knew, yet somehow things are different. Was it all, perhaps, just a dream?

No. On that day we came away with concrete proof. Andrew Skuse, a fine golfer who now hits a long ball, was a formidable opponent as a junior back in the day. That Saturday he walked away at level par and we were privileged to witness it. Well done.

Online video: This season all courses featured in Tee Time will also be available to see in online video taken the day we played. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Course is the sixth and last for 2009. Go to and click on the link to the Tee Time section (link on the left margin index). Find the video of your choice and check it out.


Reservations are accepted via telephone by calling 1-888-403-4727 or online at

There are numerous packages available, including "stay and play" options. Contact the course for details at: 1-877-938-2092

Daily adult green fees are $195, Matinee greens fees are $159, Twilight green fees are $139 and Sunset fees are $79.

Until Sept. 20, Matinee begins at 1 p.m., Twilight at 3 p.m. and Sunset at 6 p.m.

From Sept. 21 until winter closing, daily green fees are $125, Matinee fess are $99, Twilight $79 and Sunset $69.

From Sept. 21 until winter closing, Matinee times begin at 1 p.m., Twilight at 2 p.m. and Sunset at 4 p.m.

Note: there is a dress code at the Chateau Whistler Golf Course. Proper golf attire is required: tailored pants or shorts and collared shirts. Soft spikes only.