When most people think of an island vacation to get away and get some golf and relaxation in, thoughts usually drift off to places like Hawaii, the Caribbean and tropical destinations in South America.
But the destination of choice for more and more travelers during the warmer months of the year is in the other direction—north to Canada to Vancouver Island, which continues to add great vacation experiences, golf courses and resorts that has earned this 300-mile long island off of the West Coast of Canada numerous accolades from the travel and vacation media. Conde Nast Traveler Magazine has included it as the top North American island destination for the past decade.
Accessible by either ferry or a short plane trip from either Vancouver or Seattle in the United States, Vancouver Island has come to be known as THE golf resort area for all of Canada because of the quantity and quality of the golf choices, the temperate weather and ease of access from most major areas of North America. In addition to the city of Vancouver only 30 miles across the Straights of Georgia by either boat or plane, the island itself has several regional airports that connect with major Canadian and American hub airports.
Among the 11 golf courses along the Vancouver Island Golf Trail (www.golfvancouverisland.ca) are a variety of scenic and recreational opportunities—not to mention some of the best golf anywhere on courses designed by renowned architects like Jack and Steve Nicklaus, Les Furber, Graham Cook and Bill Robinson.
The central and northernmost reaches of the island feature more seclusion and a variety of resorts with their own special feel that you will have a hard time finding anywhere else—from a deep forest filled with nature to beaches and marine areas rich with sea life and water recreation.
This portion of Vancouver Island is easily accessible from ferry terminals in Nanaimo and Campbell River—as well as airports in Comox and Campbell River—that connect with the mainland.
Anyone arriving on BC Ferries in Nanaimo towards the central portion of the island only has a 30-minute drive to one of the more charming and rustic places on the entire Vancouver Island Golf Trail. The Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort and Conference Center is nestled above some of the island’s best sandy beaches and features 192 unique log-cabin rooms spread out over the expansive 22-acre grounds that reminds one of a camp along the ocean.
While many of the rooms face the ocean and the beaches below, it is only a short walk to see open sand flats and warm tide pools along the sandy beaches.
Rated as the No. 1 Spa in Western Canada, the 20,000 square foot Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara is an experience that should not be missed. Treatments include facials, body wraps, body glows, massages, manicures and pedicures, many with a focus on West Coast natural ingredients. All spa guests receive complimentary access to the Grotto Mineral Pool, invigorating cool splash waterfall and whirlpool on the day of their treatments. Designed to emulate a natural stone grotto, the 2,500-square foot warm water pool is infused with natural minerals and trace elements to detoxify the body and rejuvenate the spirit. The Relaxation Lounge features complimentary fresh fruit along with a selection of teas and coffee.
The dining experience at the Treetop Tapas & Grill following a treatment is also unique as you enjoy your meal in your spa robe and sandals while overlooking the surrounding forest. This is available exclusively for spa guests. Endless Tapas is a concept based on a progression of gourmet menu items created by the restaurant chefs to allow you to savor a wide variety of taste sensations. With local seafood, antioxidant cuisine and delectable desserts, the tapas sized portions are perfect for sharing—and anyone eating everything presented during this experience that takes about two hours deserves a medal—it is indeed an endless presentation of savory food—but an experience that should not be missed.
Less than 20 minutes away from Tigh-Na-Mara is Fairwinds Golf Club located along the edges of a rugged peninsula along Nanoose Bay in the Fairwinds community of rustic homes and cottages built along portions of the course, which is a Furber design. Like many of his other Vancouver Island layouts, this course takes strategic advantage of the natural forests where it isn’t unusual to have the local deer watching as you tee off.
Fairwinds is not a long golf course but is tight—stretching to 6,200 yards from the back tees and 5,699 from the white markers–but it has plenty of challenges. A Par 71, this course takes some strategic knowledge and using a driver off the tee is something you should think twice about in trying to work it into the tight landing areas. Long irons, hybrids and fairway woods are best used from the teeing areas and accuracy is at a premium on this course.
Fairwinds is a popular choice on the island for both locals and guests, and with its excellent clubhouse facilities, dining and staff, is an essential stopover when visiting this part of the island.
Just a little further north in Qualicum Beach is Pheasant Glen Golf Resort, a par 72, 6,900-yard championship layout that goes by the slogan of Nature’s Golf Course. With no homes or highways on its borders to disturb the tranquility of this natural setting, Pheasant Glenn offers the ultimate rural feel yet has generous fairways, especially along the front nine. Interestingly, the slope for the Black tees at 6,900 yards is the same 128 as the Blue Tees at the much-more manageable 6,300 yards. The course rating from the tips is 73.5 while the Blues are 69.8.
The Back nine has more of a forest feel and the elevated tees add some nice variety. With more generous landing areas, feel free to give your driver a workout here, but getting off of the fairways will cost you strokes. The setting remains tranquil with grassy meadows, west coast woodlands and a spectacular view of Mount Arrowsmith. Pheasant Glen is also home to the renowned Brent Morrison Golf Academy.
Going north up the island to the city of Courtenay is the resort and golf community of Crown Isle. This 831-acre, master planned community is the jewel of the northern part of the Vancouver Island Golf Trail in the heart of the Comox Valley–and one of the favorites for those on a golf trip.
From the Villas at Crown Isle for nightly accommodations that line some of the fairways and the marquee 48,000 square foot club house just steps away with a fitness center, meeting space, cognac room and classic car museum–this resort has everything imaginable for either a one night or extended stay.
With the Beaufort Mountains in the background, this majestic course can be played over 7,000 yards and offers generous landing areas and wide fairways that meander among the high-end homes and forests. It is a very playable Cook design with a variety of holes and more of a resort and country club feel than some of the other courses in the area. The length gives the course its teeth, but it has a good variety of holes where you need to be strategic because of the 11 lakes. Director of Golf Rod Prieto and his staff have done a wonderful job of keeping this course in top shape.
If you are lucky enough to stay at one of the villas overlooking the first tee, you can see that your first shot needs to be a big fade into the dog leg right—too far and you are in the forest. The Par 5 10th is a favorite—it goes 535 yards from the Blue and 570 from the Gold Tee. You are going to use more clubs on this course, but with the seven choices of tees ranging from 7,025 to 5,169 yards, so, depending on skill level, you will be able to find a comfortable distance. This, as one of the most prestigious courses on the Island, has hosted professional events and is a course that everyone should play while visiting.
There are also plenty of other activities to enjoy while in this area, such as Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, which is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. You can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering ancient Douglas fir trees, majestic pillars untouched by the modern world – some more than 800 years old.
The world-famous Mount Washington ski resort is an easy drive from Crown Isle, and has the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop on one side and scenic Strathcona Park bordering the other, making it the perfect playground in both winter and summer. One of the favorite things to do during the colder months is to go skiing in the morning and drive down the mountain to Crown Isle to play 18 in the afternoon.
In the summer, the mountain and surrounding resort community transforms itself into a major destination for hikers and summer alpine enthusiasts. The Mile High Scenic Chairlift Rides are one of Vancouver Island’s most popular summer attractions and the views are literally second to none.
Stunning views of the Comox Valley, Campbell River and the glimmering Georgia Straight make for an unforgettable summer experience on the chairlift. In addition to sightseeing, Mount Washington offers a range of fun family activities and on-mountain dining. Ted’s Bar + Grill offers panoramic views of beautiful Strathcona Park while serving up a West Coast-inspired pub menu.
The newest addition to the golf repertoire on Vancouver Island is actually on neighboring Quadra Island, which is a short ferry ride from Campbell River on the northern part of Vancouver Island to this rustic, laid-back area that is well-worth a longer stay at the April Point Resort & Spa, that overlooks Discovery Passage and Gowlland Harbour.
After a delicious seafood lunch at the April Point Resort, you can walk down to the dock below to take the Wildlife Zodiac Adventure Tour on a Hurricane Zodiac boat where a trained naturalist takes you through the Discovery Passage to see whales, black bears, sea lions and dolphins during a two-hour tour through the many island inlets and coves that are uninhabited—save for the local BC wildlife. This is an experience you won’t soon forget as the wind and salt water spray pour over you as you get to view one of the most scenic areas of Western Canada!
Once you get your sea legs back after the tour, there is still time during the longer summer days to play the newer Quadra Island Golf Club–a nine-hole course that was designed by Furber that meanders through the forest with standing stone formations and some tricky elevation changes that will test your golf game.
While this course is nine holes, it can be played twice to get an 18-hole experience and 6,438 yards from the back tees and a slope rating of 134. It is a tight course with many strategic shots and offers ample length given the difficulty. It can be considered as a younger, shorter version of Storey Creek in Campbell River, which is an older Furber design but has many of the same elements and feel.
The high golf season has just gotten underway north of the border in Canada, and along the Vancouver Island Golf Trail there are many new adventures and experiences to be had.
For more information on the Vancouver Island Golf Trail visit: www.golfvancouverisland.ca
Vancouver: The Gateway to Golf on Canada’s West Coast
Golf on Canada’s West Coast really goes through the city of Vancouver, located in the country’s western most province—British Columbia—which happens to have some of the best golf in North America and is ever increasing in popularity among the traveling golf public.
Two of the most noted golf destinations in British Columbia—Vancouver Island and Whistler—are easily reached from this vibrant city of two million that sits on the Pacific Coast just 24 miles north of the U.S. border.
As the largest city in Western Canada, Vancouver was the home to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and sports a vibrant, sophisticated city that has a moderate climate and a wealth of recreational opportunities.
Since most travel itineraries will involve at least touching down in the city of Vancouver on the way to some of the more remote golf destinations in the province, the prudent approach is to stay, play and spend some time in one of North America’s most fun cities.
From diverse shopping, culture, world class cuisine, outdoor and indoor adventure, arts, festivals, sports—Vancouver has all of this—and some incredible golf courses of its own.
For a central location in downtown Vancouver, the Westin Grand provides luxurious all-suites accommodations with breathtaking views of the city and beyond. You don’t even need a car or cab to get to many of the interesting shops and attractions downtown, such as the Olympic Stadium where the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League play their home games.
Another quick walk can take you to the financial district where One Under offers a unique dining and entertainment experience. This venue has interactive golf with six state of the art simulation bays, crafted cocktail bar, lounge, meetings rooms and one of the better Italian pizza menus around. Play a round of golf on the simulator, have a pizza and you are ready for the remainder of your trip.
A little further away is Granville Island, which once was an industrial area, actually is an island right in the heart of Vancouver. It is a gathering spot for both locals and tourists—kind of an urban oasis, filled with fine restaurants, farmer’s markets, theatres, galleries, studios and fresh delicious foods. There is plenty of shopping to be done here, and unique items crafted by top local talent are in abundance in this thriving community.
In the nearby suburb of Richmond in the shadow of the North Shore Mountains, Mayfair Lakes Golf and Country Club is just a short hop out of the city center.
This scenic course that features 13 lakes on its 18 holes has a country ambiance and excellent facilities with a classy club house and practice facilities, and is another Les Furber design.
Although basically a flat course with few trees, this course can be more of a challenge than at first appearance because of the water hazards lurking on almost every hole. It is deceptively tough but very enjoyable with many interesting holes—like the Par 5 18th where you have to be very careful of your layup shot and have your yardages down if you want a chance at birdie.
Playing at 6,641 yards from the tips, this course has many opportunities to use your driver—but be careful! Mayfair Lakes has hosted many Canadian Tour events, like the Telus Open and the BC Tel Open and is one of the favorites among professionals and visiting travelers.
To continue a golf trip over to Vancouver Island, the easiest and most relaxing way is by using the BC Ferries, which has 25 routes and serves 47 ports of call throughout coastal British Columbia.
Taking the ferry from Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver to Departure Bay in Nanaimo on the central coast of Vancouver Island takes only 95 minutes, and it’s a restful, scenic voyage without unpacking your car. And you are ready to drive off and hit the road when you arrive.
For more information on golf and travel in Vancouver and British Columbia visit: www.HelloBC.com
Where to Play and Stay
Here are some suggestions on where to stay and some of the top courses you will want to play in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island.
Golf Vancouver Island Victoria (888) 465-3239 www.golfvancouverisland.ca
The Westin Grand, Vancouver Vancouver ( 604) 602-1999 www.westingrandvancouver.com
Mayfair Lakes Golf & Country Club Vancouver (604) 276-0585 www.golfbc.com/courses/mayfair_lakes
Tigh-Na-Mara Resort & Spa Parksville (800) 663-7373 www.tigh-na-mara.com
Fairwinds Golf & Country Club Parksville (888) 781-2222 www.fairwinds.bc.ca
Pheasant Glen Golf Resort Qualicum Beach (800)4074653 www.pheasantglen.com
Morningstar International Parksville (800) 567-1320 www.morningstar.bc.ca
Crown Isle Resort & Golf Community Courtenay (888) 338-8439 www.crownisle.com
Mount Washington Alpine Resort Courtenay (250) 338-1386 www.mountwashington.ca
April Point Resort & Spa Quadra Island (250) 285-2222 www.aprilpoint.com
Quadra Island Golf Club Quathiaski Cove (250) 285-2811 www.quadragolf.com
Storey Creek Golf Club Campbell River (250) 923-3673 www.storeycreek.bc.ca
British Columbia Ferry Services Inc. (888) 223-3779) www.bcferries.com
Story By Terry Ross