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Golf at Whistler on a perfect day

Nothing in the world is perfect. Yet -- even with all its tribulations -- life offers us the potential to grasp moments that transcend, that combine to produce quietly extraordinary experiences we barely comprehend until they are almost past.

Nothing in the world is perfect.

Yet -- even with all its tribulations -- life offers us the potential to grasp moments that transcend, that combine to produce quietly extraordinary experiences we barely comprehend until they are almost past.

If we are lucky, they might last an entire day and we'll realize what we've got soon enough to savour it before it's gone.

It began, as it often does, innocently enough. We had booked a round of golf at the Whistler Golf Club and arranged to meet at Gleneagles to breakfast at Larson Station, the new restaurant in the rejuvenated clubhouse complex.

It was the kind of grey, drizzly morning that the weatherman was ordering by the truckload in the spring: not quite rainy, but not quite dry. I was joined by friends Andrew Skuse of North Vancouver's Bio-Pacific Diagnostics, local carpenter Dan Foster and Dan Rothenbush of Lady Jane Landscaping.

A confession: I was one of many who were very fond of the old restaurant at Gleneagles. With its seedy charm, casual disdain for culinary trends and good basic food, it was just the place for pre- or post-round grub and I felt the North Shore lost something when it closed.

The new dining room was set up to provide a nice view, but I wasn't willing to switch loyalties easily and arrived with low expectations.

Wow.

Larson Station is beautiful. As you enter from the clubhouse's new lobby, there's a lounge on your left, the dining area on your right and in front of you a view of the sixth fairway, the ocean and the islands beyond.

The lounge has a great little bar, flat screen TVs and enough seats for you and all your cronies. There's also a big patio that, if the sun ever comes out of hiding, will be worth a return visit to explore.

Okay, it was pretty, but what about the food? Probably little smidgeons of preciously prepared gastro-art too beautiful to eat, right?

Three words: Dungeness. Crab. Benedict. Served with hash brown potatoes.

It was early morning so we were working off the breakfast menu, but selections were interesting, portions generous, prices reasonable and quality high.

There are favourites like omelettes, waffles, French toast and egg-meat combos, but there is also organic bison hash, an egg white omelette option and some creative scramble combinations.

Main course prices started at $8.95 for two free run eggs with your choice of bacon, Black Forest ham or country sausage and topped out at $16.95 for the Dungeness Benedict.

The others probably ordered food of some kind, but I was too engrossed in my own choice to notice. Big juicy chunks of Dungeness crab on an English muffin topped with a poached egg and freshly prepared Hollandaise.

The setting is magnificent, the food fresh and flavourful. You don't have to be a golfer to appreciate any of that, and I'm going to make a point to return for dinner to try the evening menu.

After the meal, we loaded up and headed off down the Sea to Sky Highway and onwards to Whistler. It's hard to overstate how big an improvement the change to the highway is. Travel time is reduced, safety is enhanced, and if you want scenery, this is the place.

It was still cloudy, sprinkling on and off, and there was plenty of time before we teed off, so we made another stop along the way at Whistler's Function Junction. Perhaps the weather would improve.

Our destination? A tour of the Whistler Brewing Company on Millar Creek Road in Function Junction.

The Whistler Brewing Company opened in Function Junction in the early 1990s. It made some inroads into local restaurants and word of its products began to spread.

In the late 1990s however, it was bought by a larger company and the brewery moved to Kamloops. Eventually, as a Whistler beer in name only, it just sort of withered and in 2005, the large company decided to sell.

Working as a consultant for the seller, Bruce Dean decided to buy. He put together a group of investors and what began as a small craft brewery returned to its roots and re-opened a few paces away from its original location.

Open Tuesday to Friday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m., the Whistler Brewery includes a brewing and bottling facility as well as the Tap House tasting room and shop, and their daily tours are a great way to get to know the products.

Our guide that day was Whistler Brewing's Derek Pasenow and he showed us the remarkably simple process that results in the range of fresh, full bodied beers that are garnering increasing accolades across Western North America.

Back in the Tap House we sampled some of their staple products as well as a few seasonal brews. Whistler's current line- up includes a classic pale ale, a honey lager, a premium export lager and a cherry Weissbier that will be perfect for summer.

Now that we have one.

Derek was a fountain of knowledge on beer, food and all things Whistler. It would be worth dropping by the Tap House just to find out what was really going on in the valley, and the delicious beer would be a perfect accompaniment to his tales.

It would have been nice to linger, but we had a tee time. And not just any tee time: a tee time at the Arnold Palmer-designed Whistler Golf Course. Of all the Whistler golf courses, this is my favourite.

Opened originally as a nine-hole course in 1981, the course was re-shaped by Palmer into a full 18 holes that opened for play in 1983 and raised the bar for everyone else. Since then, Whistler has added Jack Nicklaus' Nicklaus North and Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s Chateau Whistler courses; while the Sea to Sky corridor has seen two courses added in Pemberton, one at Squamish, one at Furry Creek and one on Bowen Island.

All the new courses had to be excellent to compete, and this led existing courses in the area to focus more than ever on the quality of experience golfers would find when they played.

Whistler's Palmer course is the original, the Big Kahuna. Before it opened, local public courses were decidedly old-school parkland tracks where those who couldn't afford membership in a private club toiled away at their games.

Service was a word in the dictionary between psoriasis and syphilis, and you were lucky if they let you on to their fairways.

After the Whistler club opened in 1983, golf in B.C. would never be the same.

It's not just the Palmer name and design, though this was his first Canadian project and he was determined to make it spectacular.

It's not just the setting, though surrounded by the snowy peaks of Whistler, Blackcomb and the other mountains in the Tantalus range, it's hard to imagine that there's any place else on Earth worth going to.

It's the Whistler Golf Club's constant dedication to providing their guests with a complete package: an outstanding golf course in an unparalleled setting with unbeatable customer service.

It's the attitude that has made Whistler famous around the world as a resort destination where you're treated with warm respect and a welcome that's hard to leave behind.

It was a tectonic shift in how golf courses viewed their patrons and it is as true today as it was when the ribbon was cut.

What was an increasingly good day got immeasurably better when we pulled into the Whistler parking lot: the sun came out.

I'm not making that up. We saw it.

We checked in, bagged up and got ready to play. Staff at the course were friendly, efficient and ready to do anything to help make our day.

It was about then that the totality of our day began to dawn on us -- a great breakfast, a tour and tasting at a craft brewery, and golf in the sun at a course that's consistently rated among the best golf destinations in the country.

If you've never played the Whistler Golf Course, you're denying yourself something special. Carved out of some of the most expensive real estate in North America, it's open to all. The course in ringed with a network of paved walkways that are accessible by foot, bike, in-line skates and wheelchair.

It's right in the heart of town, yet feels like it's a million miles from anywhere. The opening three holes are a transition zone where you move between the world you live in every day and a fleeting few hours of true golf nirvana.

At 380 yards from the back tees, the par-4 first hole is a great beginning. Wide open and favouring a left to right shot, it's a chance for a decent result and an opportunity to build the confidence you will need for what comes after.

On the 471-yard second, Palmer starts to gradually ratchet up the pressure with bunkers on the left and right of the landing area.

Number 3, a long 552-yard left-to-right dogleg, is where the fun really cranks up. Rated toughest hole on the course, it's all of that and more. To reach the green in two, you need to pound it and keep control. Too far to the right and you won't see the green, too far left and there's trees and dense bush.

For most of us, triangulating three shots down the middle will get you there, as long as the wind is down. As you round the corner towards the green, you get to see the broad mid-section of the course, snuggled down on the valley floor between the soaring mountains.

The cold spring had left a lot of snow on the surrounding hills, and in the sunshine of that afternoon, the view was spectacular. All the elements of Whistler lay before us: forests, water, stone and wind.

Lots of wind.

That day, the prevailing air currents that rage up and down the Squamish-Whistler valley system were in full vigour. If any of us were in danger of overconfidence, it was put to rest at the hands of a brisk northerly gale.

Fairways were in excellent shape and putting surfaces -- though some had suffered from the cold spring -- were in good early season form. From the third green until holing out on the par-3 eighth, managing the wind was the biggest challenge on the front half.

Club selection was difficult. High shots held up or took off and long shots faltered or ran with abandon, depending on the direction of the breeze.

The north-facing 301-yard par-4 fourth played much, much longer and the south oriented par-3 fifth -- guarded by a swarm of bunkers and backed up by a small lake -- was anybody's guess.

It was magnificent.

Things were no easier on the back nine. Number 10, at 334 yards from the tournament tees, is a gentle respite when the wind is down. The wind was everywhere but down. A dogleg right with a potential blind shot across Crab Apple Creek to the green, precision was absolutely paramount and more than one of us came to grief at the hands of the elements.

From there a dizzying procession of bunkers, water, forests and doglegs led us to one of the course's most magical viewpoints.

The elevated 16th tee box was a place to pause and absorb the moment. Poised above a small lake, there were ski runs up to the right of us, the course at our feet and everywhere mountains and ancient stands of timber. It was gorgeous.

Yet this 460 yard par-4 demands that you snap out of it and pay attention to the task at hand. Your tee shot is a 200-yard or so carry over the water to a laterally angling fairway. Short is dead and a slice will fare no better. It was all about control, and with the wind, it was a tall order.

Yet each of us found the short grass and in a round fraught with peril, it felt like we'd accomplished something.

From there, we made the trek back to base camp and a post round de-brief over at the Whistler clubhouse.

Much of the mental part of golf is about maintaining your focus in the face of visual distractions. At Whistler, the distractions are limited only by the horizon. In a beautiful part of the world, this course in this setting still has the power to dazzle.

Looking back on an epic day of West Coast life at its very finest, it was hard to suppress the grins all around

We must thank Mr. Palmer and the town of Whistler and celebrate the day they met. Golfers throughout B.C. are better off for it. If you have never played the original Whistler course, think of it as a pilgrimage to the course that helped make this province the golf paradise it is today.

You will not be disappointed.

Online video: This season all destinations featured in Tee Time will also be available to see in online video taken the day we played. Whistler is the fourth for 2010. Go to nsnews.com and click on the video tag in the red menu bar across the top of the page, then pick the video of your choice and enjoy.

If you wish to tour the Whistler Brewery, contact them for opening hours at 1-604-962-8889.

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