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Squamish simply gets it

Sea-to-sky course ready to welcome the world

Video: Squamish simply gets itRejoice, dear golfer, rejoice.

Our run of phenomenal good fortune continues.

While our basic luck has us living in one of the most beautiful places on earth and surrounded by golf courses, there are two factors at play right now that are ensuring an improved golf experience for us all at more courses, more often, for years to come.

The first factor is competition.

There are more public courses available for play, right in our own back yard, than ever before. In order to attract paying customers many at these facilities are staying up late and thinking of ways to add a "wow" factor that will generate some buzz among public players, boost bookings and attract large groups.

The second factor driving the market is, dare I say it, the Olympics.

Consider this: with improvements to British Columbia's transportation infrastructure in advance of the Games in place or nearing completion, it is already easier to get around to get a round.

Add in the fact that world media and tourism attention has already started to hone in on the Vancouver and Whistler areas and you'll find golf course owners and managers thinking of new ways now for people to walk away thinking "I must come back."

These two factors come together splendidly just a few minutes up the improved Sea to Sky Highway in the relaxed environs of the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club.

Even with the odd pause as busy construction crews finish their mammoth task, Squamish is now just 30-odd minutes from West Vancouver on a road that's as spectacular an introduction to British Columbia's wild beauty as you'll find anywhere.

The transportation improvements elevate Squamish from a remote, full-day golf trip to one of the most easily accessible courses available to North Shore golfers. It's closer than the Fraser Valley, Delta, and even some of the Surrey courses.

If it's been a few years since you've played Squamish and you think you know the course, think again.

Slowly, quietly, Squamish has been on a steady program of enhancement and fine tuning that's turned it into a truly great destination. The members are low key, love golf and take justifiable pride in the playability of their course.

Since opening in 1967 the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club has undergone a series of upgrades. Today there are further improvements -- some obvious, some only noticeable when you play.

The obvious improvements are changes to the 15th and 16th holes, where greens have been rebuilt and a small lake has been added to increase difficulty and visual appeal. Not so obvious are the changes in how the course superintendent manages the turf.

The biggest advance is the way they care for the greens. By using smaller tines and more per square inch when aerating the putting surfaces, thatch build-up is reduced and greens recover quicker. The result is a healthier, more consistent green.

A group of us recently took a Monday off and made the trip to try it out for ourselves.

It was a wet morning and I was joined by friends Dan Rothenbush of North Vancouver's Lady Jane Landscaping and Larry Verigin from the North Shore News. Our fourth, local carpenter Steve Jones, decided that the weather was too much for his delicate constitution and begged off.

When we arrived at the course there were odd droplets of water still swirling around the air, but for all intents and purposes, it was as close to dry weather as a wet day can get.

Squamish is becoming an increasingly popular destination for regional tour events. In 2005, it was the scene of the Canadian National Women's Amateur Championship and on the day of our visit, was hosting the Vancouver Golf Tour.

Stepping up on the first tee box, we were amazed at the lush condition of the grass. The brutal winter had damaged many local courses and we expected Squamish to have suffered with the rest.

Course Superintendent Keith Strom and his crew have done a magnificent job of protecting playing surfaces and they were almost in mid-summer condition.

Much of the course looks wide open, but it's deceptive.

At first glance down the fairway of the par-5 opening hole, you think you're in for a flat lie and easy second shot but you're wrong. The playing surface is a perplexing minefield of tiny mounds and scalloped hollows that really force you to think about your next move.

That's just the beginning.

Each hole has a little something that can administer a series of tiny shocks to your confidence -- punctuated by the occasional kick to the shins. From elevated domed greens to nasty pot bunkers, there's something to humble most egos and the condition of the course leaves you no one to blame but yourself.

It's perfect.

On the front nine, the spectre of trouble lurks in earnest on the third, sixth, seventh and ninth holes and like all spectres, it's just in your head.

I know from past play that there's a cavernous bunker in front of the green on Number 3. At 286 yards, it's a short dogleg-left par-4. Simple really, just stay out of the sand.

Yet because I was focusing on avoiding the trap, guess where I ended up? Hard against the front face of the bunker wall with nowhere to go.

Trouble on the sixth, seventh and ninth is found in two of the course's four older ponds. Again, it's all just a distraction, but that's the nature of the game. If you let it get to you, you're in for a long day.

On the back nine, there are now three water hazards. The pond in front of the 11th green makes this 189-yard par-3 a test of nerve. It's a beautiful setting, but you've got to be precise. If you're long, your ball is lost in the woods. If you're short, the water on the left side awaits.

Number 13 has a lake and a dyke right beside the tee box and your opening shot is to a tree-lined fairway that pulls hard left. A slice is in the trees and efforts to compensate for a slice can lead to real horror.

The big changes begin as you look down the 15th fairway. This 368-yard par 4 was always enjoyable. Located at the western boundary of the course, it was more exposed to the winds that can rage up and down the valley and playing to the centre-right gave you a degree of shelter.

Now, there's a large pond to the right of the brand new green that complicates your choices and adds a great distraction as you calculate your approach. It also adds a real "wow" factor to a corner of the course that was visually unremarkable.

The flip side of this change is a beautiful brand new 16th hole. At 142-ish yards it's longer than the previous layout and almost all carry over the pond. The green is wide, but the wind can swirl and what looked safe can get wet in a hurry.

The course, and its members, spent over $250,000 on this modification and it was worth every penny. It's a terrific one-two punch as you head for the final two holes and a snack in the clubhouse beyond.

Golf is largely about focus and managing distractions. With its stunning setting and subtle challenges, the Squamish Valley golf course has always had plenty. With the changes to the 15th and 16th holes, they've added a couple more and upped the quality of the playing experience.

Squamish Valley's concentration on continuous improvement shows that they listen to and understand their customers.

They know that people have a choice. In the North Shore-Sea to Sky golf loop, from Deep Cove to Pemberton, there are 10 public and two private courses. You can pay more and get less.

On and off the course the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club is great value and a lot of fun. Now with the highway improvements, it's closer than ever.

Online video: This season, all courses featured in Tee Time will be available to see in online video taken the day we played. Squamish Valley is the third for 2009. Go to and click on the link to the Tee Time section.


Public play is available daily. Reservations are accepted by telephoning the pro shop at 1-604-898-9691 or toll free at 1-888-349-3688.

Monday-Thursday Adult green fees are $61.50. Friday-Sunday (and holidays) Adult green fees are $67. Junior green fees are $29 Monday-Thursday. Senior green fees are $50.75 Monday-Thursday for 18 holes. Weekday twilight green fees are $40. Nine-hole (after 2 p.m.) fees are $27 Monday-Thursday.

May 9-Sept. 14, Monday-Thursday Adult green fees are $59.50. Friday-Sunday (and holidays) Adult green fees are $65. Junior green fees are $27 Monday-Thursday. Senior green fees are $48.75 Monday-Thursday for 18 holes. Weekday twilight green fees are $38. Nine-hole (after 2 p.m.) fees are $29 Monday-Thursday.

From Sept. 21 to closing, Monday-Thursday Adult green fees are $52.50. Friday-Sunday (and holidays) Adult green fees are $57. Junior green fees are $25 Monday-Thursday. Senior green fees are $43 Monday-Thursday for 18 holes. Weekday twilight green fees are $34.50. Nine-hole (after 2 p.m.) fees are $28 Monday-Thursday. Prices do not include GST. Twilight time subject to change. Contact clubhouse for details and current times.Clubs, power carts and pull carts are available for rental at the clubhouse. Pull carts: $5 per round; Power carts: $38 per round.

Note: There is a dress code at Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club. Soft Spikes only. Proper golf attire (tailored shorts and collared shirts) is required.

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