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Fairwinds worth the ferry ride

The adventure continues, and then some. This month we took another cruise via B.C. Ferries to Vancouver Island where we stayed in Parksville and played the Fairwinds Golf Course at nearby Nanoose Bay.

The adventure continues, and then some.

This month we took another cruise via B.C. Ferries to Vancouver Island where we stayed in Parksville and played the Fairwinds Golf Course at nearby Nanoose Bay. In a spring of inconsistent weather, we scored sunshine and made the most of it.

Joining me were friends Dan Rothenbush, Steve Becker and David Hanley.

We stayed in Parksville at the Tigh-Na-Mara Resort. It's a family and pet-friendly getaway spot that offers great accommodations in log cabins or units overlooking the ocean. There are tennis courts, a playground for the youngsters and a very good restaurant, but you can cook in your room if you prefer. There's also a spa that's gained a reputation as one of the province's best, though we didn't take advantage of it.

Our destination, Fairwinds, was a 15-minute car ride away and is one of the finest examples you'll find anywhere of a planned community with a recreational focus where the needs of visitors, residents and the surrounding ecosystem are cared for in remarkably effective harmony.

On a fully Audubon-certified course, the grounds crew at Fairwinds go out of their way to ensure their policies and practices benefit the surrounding environment; more about that later.

Conceived in the early 1980s, the Fairwinds project succeeded where others failed by having a long-term vision and sticking to it. They took their time, working with local groups and the Nanaimo Regional District to produce a destination that, over 20 years later, just keeps getting better.

The Fairwinds community includes the Schooner Cove Marina, the Fairwinds Golf Course, some 30 kilometres of forest trails, a 20,000 square foot community centre and thousands of homes tucked discreetly in a 1,350-acre site that's still largely undeveloped.

In the next few years, the Schooner Cove neighbourhood plan includes the addition of housing, shops and services in a mixed-use waterfront village that will improve public access to the ocean and save people the drive to Parksville for shopping.

There will also be phased development of single and multi-family housing, additional parks and another community centre on the ridge between Enos Lake and Dolphin Lake.

Area residents share a common facial expression: they look happy. This is the kind of place people who work hard all their lives reward themselves with either as a holiday or retirement home.

It's all here: walking and cycling trails, boating and of course, golf.

The Fairwinds Golf Course is a voluptuous Les Furber-designed come-hither teaser. Like his other signature courses -- Vernon's Predator Ridge and our own Northlands in North Vancouver -- it's not the longest in the world at 6,204 yards from the blue tees, but the challenges...oh, the challenges.

Fairwinds rolls with nonchalant ease into and around the low hills of Vancouver Island's eastern shore. You play among arbutus groves and tall stands of ancient evergreens that blot out the rest of the world and keep this peaceful place quieter still.

There is abundant wildlife. That day the course was alive with deer -- blacktail fawns and yearlings in mid-moult. They were everywhere and had little fear of golfers, even after watching us tee off.

The tranquility you get to experience is just as well. With every group that plays the course, there is a silent partner: Les Furber. He lurks, unseen, on doglegs and par-5s, in bunkers and creeks, dips and dales, waiting to expose the weaknesses in your game.

It begins on the first tee. This 310-yard dogleg left gives you a taste of what's to come. A long iron or fairway wood takes you to a narrow landing area guarded by bunkers on the left and water all the way down the right -- a classic Furber visual intimidator.

He gets in your head right away, directing your focus to the hazards and away from any swing thoughts you might be trying to generate.

Some I suppose call it target golf, but the reality is that Furber forces you to think. There's little room for grip-and-rip golf and plenty of woe unless you're very sure of yourself.

The front nine, on the western side of Fairwinds Drive, loops north along, up and down a ridge that forms the spine of the Nanoose Peninsula. There are two par-3s, one par-5 and six par-4s.

At 418 yards, the fourth hole is a long gangly beast that's much farther than it looks and rated most difficult on the course. There's water in front of the tee and laying up on your second shot may be the best choice as the heavily bunkered green is separated from the fairway by a creek.

Three young deer watched from the putting surface as we augered our way toward them. It's just as well they can't talk.

Or laugh.

From there it's up, across and down the side of the big ridge as you make your way to the ninth green at the back of the clubhouse. Each hole has its perils, except perhaps Number 8.

True, there are bunkers to the left and right of the landing area, but the broad open fairway gives you a chance to throw caution to the wind and let out a little shaft. It's a brief antidote to the minefields you've crossed and those that lay ahead.

The back nine, on the eastern side of Fairwinds Drive, begins with a 155-yard par-3. Though not long, pin placement on the large multi-level green can leave you with a lot of work to do before you move on to the next hole.

From there, holes 11-13 lead you up a broad saddle between the hills to the shore of Dolphin Lake.

Number 13, rated the second toughest, is a narrow 546 yard par-5 upward incline with greedy bunkers to the right of the landing area. Furber is daring you to go for it. If you try to get in position to attack the pin in two, you'll need a very big poke with no room for error and a slice will play merry hell with your scorecard.

The 14th tee box leads you back down to the 518-yard par-5 18th and here we saw something remarkable.

Earlier I mentioned the care the course takes in managing its environmental impact. We saw a great example of it at work.

Canada Geese are majestic birds, a symbol of national pride and a growing nuisance in public green spaces. With its mild climate, lush fairways, lakes and creeks, Fairwinds is a goose's paradise --or would be if it weren't for Anne and Eddie.

Anne Murphy of Geesecontrol.org is a fully licensed and experienced Falconer and works with her partner Eddie, a 10-year-old male bald eagle, to keep the Fairwinds goose population on the move.

Having worked with Eddie since he was a fledgling, Anne has trained him to scare the geese away without hurting them and it's proven an effective method of keeping the course enjoyable for all.

We saw them at work on the 18th hole where the right edge of the fairway is defined by a long water hazard the geese like to visit.

Eddie perched on top of the nearby shelter at the practice range while Anne took the eaglemobile half way down to a small bridge at the pond's midpoint. She gave the signal and Eddie came swooping down the waterway. When the geese spotted him it was time to leave and Eddie came to rest on the railing of the little bridge.

No harm, no fowl.

It was just another ordinary, remarkable moment at this quietly remarkable place.

We relaxed on the deck of the clubhouse after our round and pondered it all over a post-game beer. There's something special about Fairwinds that's hard to articulate. It wasn't just the eagle, the deer, or the incredible hospitality. I think it was all those things, combined with the enlightened philosophy that has driven Fairwinds from the beginning.

Maybe that's why everyone here seems so happy. Instead of houses wedged chock-a-block along treeless fairways, the homes here are nestled in the woods at a discreet distance from the playing surfaces, with room for all to breathe.

It is indeed a fitting reward for a life of toil to live in such surroundings.

Sometimes I think we take the ease of our existence for granted. Throughout millions of years of human history our ability to sleep in our beds largely free from fear, waking up to clean streets and going when and where we please -- enjoying a weekend at Fairwinds for example -- is a very recent development.

The liberty we share and comfort we dwell in has been hard won by our parents and theirs who saw a brutal alternative rising, sometimes firsthand. But it can all disappear in the blink of an eye and we got a stark reminder of it.

That beautiful sunny Saturday at Fairwinds, surrounded by deer and enjoying a quiet round of golf, we looked up from the fourth fairway and saw a commercial jet flight with two CF-18 fighters for company; one a few hundred yards off the port wing, the other about half a mile back of the stern.

It was Cathay Pacific flight 839 and someone had called in a bomb threat. The flight's passengers were helpless and all we could do was watch. The story was still breaking and there was no news of the situation to be had.

The point is that there are those in the world whose views we and our democracy tolerate -- though they vary widely from our own -- who refuse to return the favour. Make no mistake, like it or not we are in a clash of competing visions of the world we get to wake up to each day. They have made it so and opting out is not a choice.

Savour your world, hold it close and never, ever take it for granted.

Online video: This season all destinations featured in Tee Time will also be available to see in online video taken the day we played. Fairwinds is the third for 2010. Go to nsnews.com and click on the video tag in the red menu bar across the top of the page. There is also a separate video featuring a 3 minute interview with Anne Murphy and Eddie the Eagle. Find the video of your choice and check it out.

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