While our mild winter has been a source of disappointment for skiers, local golfers have been licking their chops, eager to hit the links and take advantage of conditions unseen for generations.
No winter kill, no frost delays, and if you choose your venue wisely, dry fairways.
Located about an hour north of Vancouver in the heart of the Squamish River Valley, the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club is a local’s course in all the best senses of the word. It’s the hub for much of the community sporting life in this very active community.
There’s a comfortable clubhouse and restaurant, an outdoor practice range and putting green, and it’s also home to the Squamish Valley Curling Club and Squash Club. The star of the show, however, is the course itself.
With the longest season in the Sea-to-Sky corridor, it’s a great test of your game. With five sets of tees per hole and a very walkable layout its well-drained parkland layout gives players of all levels a chance to play on a first-class course.
At the Squamish, course superintendent Keith Strom and his grounds crew have the turf in what would be considered, in any other year, mid-season form. Greens are healthy and fast; fairways lush, firm and well-drained. The rough is grabby and bunkers soft.
It’s a testimony to the sensible, methodical approach taken by the team at Squamish. Constant, gradual upgrades, attention to detail, and understanding and implementing improved techniques in turf care keep the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club at the top of must-play choices in local public golf courses.
It’s not flashy but pays enormous dividends in the long run.
Over the past couple of years they have upgraded the drainage system, renovated the patio, re-sodded the 12th and 14th tee boxes and are well on their way to tidying up trees and underbrush to allow more light to penetrate to the fairways.
A recent trip to Squamish in late March was nothing short of a revelation. I had played elsewhere a few weeks prior and was actually disappointed in the course conditions, especially considering the mild weather.
Squamish Valley, after three days of rain beforehand, was in superb shape.
On that Sunday I was joined by friends Lance Olsen, Dan Rothenbush and David Hanley. We arrived early, and while I paused for a generous breakfast in the club house the others repaired to the practice range and putting green.
Standing on the first tee at Squamish, looking at the majesty of the surroundings, it was easy to see why the New York Times rated Squamish as an undiscovered treasure and a serious destination for 2015.
The front nine began tentatively. A lot of rust had accumulated in the off-season and the course got the better of us on the 520-yard par-5 first and the 352-yard par-4 second holes.
Number two is a 352-yard straightaway par 4. The fairway is narrow and avoiding the trees is a must. If you hook or slice, a fairway wood or iron off the tee will give you a decent result.
Number 3, one of my favourite holes anywhere, is a 286-yard par-4 puzzler. A severe dogleg left with big trees guarding the bend, it can be tempting to go for the green off the tee.
It’s a blind shot, however, and there is a cavernous bunker guarding the putting surface. It’s the only revetted bunker I know of in Western Canada and a nice tip of the hat to golf’s ancient roots.
We emerged with a pair of pars and a couple of bogies and were on our way.
Number 4 is a 421-yard par-4 with trees and bunkers guarding the landing area left and right. It’s one of the wider fairways but the noose tightens from there in and centre right is your best line to the pin.
After the par-3 fifth, number 6 is a serious test of your shot-making. At 472 yards from the back tees, it’s a wide fairway but narrows at the landing area.
Going to the right lands you in a world of grief. The narrow putting surface is guarded by bunkers to the right and rear, and fronted by a long pond that takes up the right half of the fairway. For most of us, a well-placed second shot down the left side gives you a decent look at the flag and chance at par or better.
Number 7 demands precision off the tee. Your first shot is over the same pond that guards the sixth green and the fairway is one of the few right doglegs on the course. You can’t see the pin from the tee box but a long iron or fairway wood will give you a good look at the large putting surface.
The par-3 eighth, at 180 yards from the back tees, is another test of accuracy. The green is only 17 yards wide and 40 yards deep and guarded by bunkers to the left, right and rear. Pin placement can play havoc with your club selection and the middle of the green is your best bet.
The final hole on the front, the 379-yard par-4 ninth, is lined with trees down the right side, and on the left of the landing area a large bunker awaits the unwary. Left centre is your best bet, but too far along and water comes into play.
The back half of the course begins with the 365-yard par-4 10th. Trees run down the right side and the Mamquam River Community Path runs down the left. Straight is better than long here and an iron or fairway wood off the tee is the prudent play.
Number 12, at 470 yards is a long dogleg left and the green is guarded left and right by a trio of bunkers that can be very difficult to escape should you find your way in.
Number 13, a severe dogleg left, has you teeing off over water to a landing area you can’t see. It’s ranked second most difficult on the course and with good reason. It’s so easy to stray a little too far right. That puts you in the trees and once in, getting out is a matter of extreme discipline. If you are lucky, it will only cost you a shot.
Challenge is woven into the DNA of Squamish Valley. Most people tend to slice, so at Squamish, most of the doglegs are to the left. Trying to escape trees puts you face-to-face with water and if only that bunker wasn’t there, you would have a chance.
My favourite par-3 on the course, the 140-yard 16th, is a great example. There’s a large pond down the centre right in front of the putting surface. The green is very narrow with bunkers guarding the back and it’s wide open to the prevailing Squamish wind. Tee shots that begin with promise are routinely held up and delivered to the pond.
Number 17 is the final par 5. It’s slightly uphill and down the left side is out of bounds. Centre right will give long hitters a chance to go for the green in two, and for the rest of us it’s a good opportunity for par or better if you can keep your tee shot straight.
The final hole is a longish par 4. Down the left centre gives the best angle to the pin, but again you flirt with the out-of-bounds, and there are three large cedar trees guarding the right side. Putting out here is a great end to what is always a great round.
Squamish stands as an equal to the best courses available to the public and it’s no surprise it’s a regular stop on the Vancouver Golf Tour and has hosted numerous Canadian PGA and Canadian LPGA tour events.
On June 1 this year, Squamish is home to one of three regional qualifying tournaments for the 2015 RBC Canadian Open Championship at Glen Abbey in Oakville.
From the clubhouse it all looks serene. The quiet forest, the soaring peaks, the snow-capped hills. I have often said that you do not play golf to relax, you must relax in order to play golf.
The course setting at Squamish walls off the outside world and gives you glimpses of British Columbia coastal scenery at its most majestic.
Always a gorgeous destination, with the new upgrades, 2015 promises to be a benchmark year for this closely-guarded local secret.
Pro shop: 1-604-898-9691 ext. 1
Toll free: 1-888-349-3688 ext. 1