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Howe Sound offers a golf adventure

A standard round of golf is 18 holes. You arrange your foursome, book your time, show up, and play.

A standard round of golf is 18 holes.

You arrange your foursome, book your time, show up, and play. Yet a day of golf can also be an adventure and, if you do a little planning, you don't have to travel far to get in a memorable round that's really out of the ordinary.

There is no shortage of great local courses, but this month we opted for something special: The Howe Sound 18: nine holes on the newest course in the Sea to Sky corridor and nine holes on the oldest.

Bowen Island, the newest course, has steadily improved from solid beginnings to become one of Southwest B.C.'s real gems.

Gleneagles, the fifth oldest course in the Lower Mainland, has recently undergone some serious upgrades and changes in philosophy that are nothing short of remarkable.

To pull this off, planning is the key. You need to check the Bowen Island ferry schedule and book your times to allow for travel betwixt and between. Gleneagles' location, close to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, is very helpful.

But, you say, "you can't reserve a time at Gleneagles."

All that has changed.

For decades, Gleneagles' laissez-faire policy of first-come-first-served often led to some extremely long waits, or getting out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to get nine holes in. This also led to unpredictable spots during the day where there was little or no wait at all.

While part of the course's idiosyncratic charm, in the increasingly competitive golf market it wasn't that great for local golfers. Now, at long last, you can phone up and book your tee time in advance and plan your day around it.

Whether you start on the mainland or on the island is up to you. A Sunday night commitment made finishing in West Vancouver the most sensible arrangement so a morning tee time on Bowen was set up, followed by an afternoon at Gleneagles.

Ferries leave Horseshoe Bay for Bowen every hour on the hour. There's not usually a lot of traffic on the early morning sailings, but getting there about 40 minutes before departure is a good idea.

Again, check the schedules at

It was a Sunday and our foursome assembled. I was joined by Larry Verigin, also of the North Shore News, Dan Rothenbush of Lady Jane Landscaping and local garden designer Don Hartwigger. To keep the group together and save on the ferry tariff we loaded into one vehicle and off we went.

Starting the day with the mini-cruise across Howe Sound to Bowen's Snug Cove was a great beginning and gave the outing a real vacation feel. The sky was overcast, but it was clearing to the west so we kept hopes of sunshine alive.

It's about a 10-minute drive to the course once you land and it's a relaxing trip through Bowen Island's southern highlands. There are farms, lakes, local merchants, artisans and homes perched off the road, veiled by ancient fir and cedar trees.

We arrived at the Bowen Island Golf Club with a few minutes to spare, loaded up the power carts and headed for the first tee.

I like to play Bowen at least once a season because there's always something new. This great little course is a labour of love for the locals and their justifiable pride shows in the quality of the playing experience. Improvements here are always incremental, with the first order of business making sure the course is in top-notch shape.

Designed by Sechelt's Russ Olson of Olson Beatty Hnatiuk Golf Design and Construction, Bowen is a 3,075-yard par-35 track that gives you a chance to test every shot in your arsenal.

The opening hole is an honest 394-yard par-4 up a gentle u-shaped strath to the green beyond. A tee shot landing centre right of the fairway gives you a good look at the putting surface and takes the left green-side bunker out of play.


Yes, the winter had been mild and there was no snow to contend with, but we were all very impressed by the condition of the fairways and greens. The grounds crew here have always done great work, but it just gets better every year.

Fairways were close-cropped and well drained; the greens were slick and judging speed on your putts was a ticklish business. I've seen resort courses in worse condition and this was mid-April.

Seniors in particular catch a break here. Right now there's a special that coincides with B.C. Ferries' policy of letting seniors ride at no cost (you still pay for your vehicle) weekdays from Monday to Wednesday. Golden-agers can golf all day for $25 and power carts are available at half price. It's terrific value on this superb little course.

There is plenty of challenge on this course: doglegs, blind shots, elevated greens, water and environmental hazards. Add in views of West Vancouver, Point Grey and Vancouver Island, and you've got a spectacular setting for your round.

That's how it is on Bowen. The vision of the club's directors and staff has created a course that will stand among the local best in the long run. Local pride is also evident in the new hole maps at the tee boxes. Created with real craftsmanship, each is sponsored by a local business and there are also lovely wooden benches dedicated by Bowen residents.

When we reached the green on the 510-yard par-5 second hole, the sun came out. Eagles and hawks soared in the updrafts and one of the first genuinely warm days of the year began in earnest.

Holes two through five, the mid section of the course, traverse a level plateau and gave us a chance to enjoy what was shaping up to be a great day of golf. We took our time, soaked in the sun, shook off the early season rust and relaxed in the quiet of the moment. It was perfect.

The ninth tee box looked down the fairway and across Howe Sound to West Vancouver, our next destination. As we made our way to the final green, we tapped into the island's vibe: look around and enjoy. Leave your worries at home.

After putting out, we loaded up and drove back to the ferry. Snug Cove, with its funky shops and restaurants, is a great place to dawdle.

We had about 45 minutes before departure, so we popped in to Doc Morgan's -- one of Snug Cove's great little eateries -- and ordered some take-out to eat on the ferry. There was also enough time for a beer and reflection on the day so far. We were all thoroughly enjoying the trip.

Back on the mainland, it was about a five-minute drive to the parking lot at Gleneagles. The sunshine continued and our tee time was waiting.

As mentioned, there have been changes at Gleneagles, and not just in the booking policy. The old pro-shop, a quirky, ramshackle hut beside the first tee, is gone. The grounds crew are in the process of building a new first tee on what was once one a practice green on the left side of the walkway as you approached the clubhouse, extending the first hole by some 50 yards or so.

This is a great development as the current first hole, a 417-yard par-5, was really too short to be a par 5. The extra real estate will ad some challenge and earn the course more of the respect I think it deserves.

The real change, however, is the rehabilitation of the old Panabode Clubhouse by the District of West Vancouver. Once the setting for countless weddings, banquets and early morning breakfasts, the Clubhouse included a Great Hall, a Members Lounge and restaurant.

For many years the structure sat idle as citizens and council debated what to do. Extensive upgrades were needed and no amount of grandfathering could solve the problems of getting it up to code.

Construction on the revitalization of the building began last year and is now complete. There is a full service pro shop, the Great Hall has been restored to greatness and, as of May 2, there is a restaurant where golfers and visitors to the area can grab a pre- or post-game snack.

The old restaurant faced the ninth green, was a bit dark and seating was limited. You paid your money, you took your chances.

The new restaurant is on the west side of the building with a view across Apple Valley -- Gleneagles' sixth hole -- out to Passage Island and the Strait of Georgia. It's one of the finest views available on a very scenic course and the large windows give you a chance to really enjoy it.

The Great Hall also takes advantage of the view and, as one of the North Shore's largest meeting and party venues, is bound to be the setting for a whole new generation of weddings and celebrations.

West Vancouver is to be congratulated on reviving a vital and historic community gathering place. They have done a magnificent job.

The course itself has also been upgraded. Drainage and turf conditioning have taken top priority and it shows in the playing experience.

If you had experienced the course in wet weather before the upgrades, you could be forgiven for writing it off as a place to play.

Now, rain or shine you're guaranteed an enjoyable round.

We stepped up to the first tee and began the back nine of our round that day. Fairways were lush and in great shape. Greens, though different in pace from Bowen Island, were also in top notch condition. The grounds crew here seem to be paying more attention to the little things.

On the par-4 third, Cardiac Hill, the slope had been cut in the middle to fairway length, giving those who land on the hill a better chance at reaching the green. Also on some holes, a second cut of rough -- new at Gleneagles -- made shots that just rolled off the fairway a little less punitive.

I love Gleneagles, both for its place in my own golfing history, and its place in the history of Vancouver golf.

Designed by A. V. Mackin -- who created a number of B.C. courses including the original and current Shaughnessy courses, it opened for play in 1927 and stands, along with Grouse Mountain, as one of the oldest continuously operated recreation facilities on the North Shore.

As we approached the course's ninth green, our 18th of the day, we all felt as though we had done something special. Golfing is a wonderful pursuit, and any time you can get out beats working, but with a little thought and planning you can turn a round into an adventure, something few others have attempted.

In mid-April, the restaurant wasn't open yet though we eyed it hopefully. We retired to the cozy confines of North Vancouver's Queens Cross neighbourhood pub and debriefed. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable outing and those we shared our story with were, without exception, intrigued and impressed.

For us though, the doing was the reward. We will all look back and remember this golden day. Use your time to create your own memories and you'll have a treasure trove to last you through the winter months when golf is just another four letter word.

All it takes is a little imagination.

This season all stories featured in Tee Time will be available to see in online video. This is the second for 2010. 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.