The Vancouver Island Golf Trail is not the first golf “trail” to be created. That honour goes to the tremendously successful Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama. Since 1990, when the RTJ Trail was born, many other “trails” have been charted and mapped. There are golf trails in many different states, many countries, including such unlikely locales as North Dakota and Arkansas. This much is true: there are many golf-rich destinations, many “trails,” that adventure-seeking golfers can dream about and explore.
So what makes the Vancouver Island Golf Trail extra special? When it’s all said and done, what makes this 13-course, 155 mile (250-kilometre) trail one of the greatest? Well, for starters, it’s on Vancouver Island on the west coast of beautiful British Columbia. And that kind of head start is almost unfair.
Voted by Condé Nast readers as the top island destination in North America for numerous years, Vancouver Island is a 342 mile (550-kilometre) long playground of the utmost beauty. Amidst the giant cedar and fir trees, the charming seaside towns, the harbours, the gardens, there is a lifetime’s worth of attractions and activities. Whale watching, salmon fishing, hiking, sailing, ocean kayaking, mountaineering, antiquing – and, of course, golfing – have all made this island what it is: simply one of the finest vacation destinations in the world.
Mile 0 of the Vancouver Island Golf Trail is anchored in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. Consider the temperate climate, the hundreds of species of fauna and flora and you’ve got yourself a botanical utopia throughout the entire city as well as the infamous and regal Butchart Gardens, located just a short ride from Victoria’s famed inner harbour. Victoria, a city teeming with old-world charm, and new world vibe, has more restaurants per capita than most, a craft beer scene worth your venture, amazing boutique shopping, and truly much to explore.
But now it’s time to dream a little golf – the real reason why a visit to the island has been drifting through your mind. There is no better initiation to this journey than the amazing Bear Mountain Resort in Victoria. Bear Mountain boasts Canada’s only 36 hole Nicklaus Design golf facility, complemented with the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa Victoria, miles of hiking and biking trails and new, as of 2018 eight red-clay tennis courts. The signature Mountain Course tumbles through a rugged mountainous setting. Shooting up the slopes of Mount Finlayson, with glorious views of Victoria and across the Salish Sea to the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, the layout at Bear Mountain is an exhilarating ride that will be seared in your memory for years. “There are 18 signature holes,” says Jack. Sounds like a cliché – that is, until you play it.
Following his win at the PGA TOUR Champions Pacific Links Championship in 2016, Colin Montgomerie commented “I speak on behalf of all the players in saying that we were all enamoured with the place. We talk about that billion-dollar view from the 14th hole there, overlooking Canada, America and the city of Victoria — it was a marvellous place.”
After exploring Victoria’s inner harbour, a place renowned for its charming restaurants, grand hotels, museums, boutiques, craft beer and street entertainment, you’ll want to test your game at a couple of other great courses in the area – Olympic View Golf Club, Highland Pacific, and Arbutus Ridge.
Speaking of dream-like swings, when he was an amateur, Tiger Woods made a trip to Victoria and played Olympic View. Impressed with the layout, but none too intimidated by it, Tiger blasted a tee shot of ridiculous length on the closing hole, easily knocked his ball onto the par-5 green in two, and made a ho-hum eagle. Besides the waterfalls, rock bluffs, and the spirited route, it’s worth experiencing this course just to try and pull off some Tiger-like magic of your own!
From Victoria, the trail heads north, along the scenic Island Highway and over the Malahat. A round at Arbutus Ridge – which is on the way to The Warm Land (Cowichan) – is a reminder that you are, indeed, on a trail of supreme beauty. By now, you’re getting accustomed to the dazzling shorelines that are christened with water-smoothed rock. You’ve seen moss-coated trees hanging above the foamy sea. You’ve witnessed a fiery sunset over a harbour swarming with sails. You’re beginning to see that you chose the right trail.
About 37 miles – 60 kilometres north of Victoria, tucked in a gorgeous valley known as The Warm Land – from the First Nations Coast Salish, who named the area Quw’utsun’ or Cowichan, meaning “land warmed by the sun” – begins with a round at the Cowichan Golf Club. The pastoral golf experience speaks volumes about the easy-paced lifestyle that’s ingrained on the island.
A warm and friendly place with outstanding playing conditions and just the right amount of challenge on this distinctly classic course with tree-lined holes and smallish greens. (Tip: Before playing in The Warm Land, head to the Cherry Point Vineyards and grab a shot – or two – of their award-winning Blackberry Port, then watch yourself play the golf of your dreams.)
After a gorgeous 1-hour drive, you’ll come to the Parksville and Qualicum Beach area. Here you can sample a fantastic trio of courses – and explore one of the finest marine environments on the island.
Fairwinds Golf & Country Club, Pheasant Glen & Eaglecrest, are all ripe with character and provide for excellent golf experiences. Designed by architect Les Furber, Fairwinds is a tucked-away haven that caters to boating enthusiasts and golf-lovers alike. The 18-hole layout at Fairwinds is easily one of the most scenic courses on the island. Perhaps overlooked because it plays just under 6,200 yards, Fairwinds is the type of golf course that rewards smart shotmaking, not brute strength.
Before you depart your beachfront accommodation, like that found at Tigh-na-mara Seaside Spa Resort, be sure to sample more of the bounty of the Island with a tasting tour of locally crafted creations at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. You will be glad you did.
At mile 139 (kilometre 224) from Victoria, you’ll have reached the North Central Island and Courtenay BC. Crown Isle Resort, which quite possibly features the grandest clubhouse in Canada, can certainly be a highlight on the trail. Here architect Graham Cooke sculpted a superb track that flows through spindly pines and gently rolling terrain. Beautifully shaped with plenty of variety, Crown Isle is, according to SCOREGolf Magazine, one of the top-100 courses in the Nation. Staying course-side in a luxury villa is definitely the way to go!
Further north still in beautiful Campbell River, golfers will find Storey Creek Golf Club – one of Les Furber’s finest, the recently renovated Campbell River Golf & Country Club and a short ferry ride or water taxi away – Quadra Island Golf Club. Storey Creek offers one of those rare experiences where every hole is totally isolated is truly a course in nature Those looking to play a course that fully engages modern technology and state of the art facilities, look no further than Campbell River Golf & Country Club. Their motto of Golf #FOREveryone is truly the way the future of golf is heading.
The Vancouver Island Golf Trail is all about great golf on one of the world’s most sought after islands. With all that this Pacific paradise has to offer, the Vancouver Island Golf Trail will surely be considered one of the best golf adventures to be found. Anywhere. And, regardless of the courses you play, the stops you make, you’ll be able to lie down at the end of a memorable day, pull the covers over your eyes, and, very happily, dream a little dream.
For more information on the Vancouver Island Golf Trail, visit https://golfvancouverisland.ca