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Golf on Vancouver Island

December 5, 2012

I once did a phone-in radio show in UK which included a call from a woman who said she had enjoyed her Alaska cruise out of Vancouver, but it was a long way to go for a week.

Indeed. Most people who make this trip say the cruise was just half of it, and that they can’t wait to go back to Vancouver, a cosmopolitan gem also gateway to beaches, valleys blooming with vineyards, glacier skiing, and spa resorts nestled in quiet bays.

Fairwinds, a lovely course

Fairwinds, a lovely course

Then there are the islands, just made for idyllic holidays in log cabins, perfect for sheltered boating, and there’s one big island that has just about everything you’d want – Vancouver Island. We went for the golf, and fell in love with the whole experience.

They make it easy for you with the Vancouver Island Golf Trail, a one-stop shop that books six-night holidays or two-night getaways. There are a dozen golf courses to choose from as well as hotels, some with spas, waterfront locations and restaurants that will surprise.

For example, we thought our first day had gone pretty well, starting at Horseshoe Bay, a pretty cove near Vancouver, from where BC Ferries runs a superb sked to Nanaimo. After an easy drive north to Courtney, Crown Isle’s woodsy course gave us a delightful golfing experience, and the spa baths in the rooms were the perfect antidote to tired limbs..

After all that the Silverado restaurant just had to do a burger to complete our day. Instead we had superb Alberta beef and a bottle of wine that I swore had to come from one of France’s best cellars. But no, we were drinking Burrowing Owl from a little winery in the BC interior town of Oliver.

After two tastes of the cabernet sauvignon I fumbled for something to write on and passed that day’s  score card across the table. “You want me to sign this?” asked Crown Isle’s Brad Knight. I said, “No – just give me directions to Oliver.”

This would come later. We soon discovered that Vancouver Island has loads of wineries, thank you very much, with nine of them clustered around the golf course at Arbutus Ridge alone. The north end, where we started, is famous for its salmon fishing, particularly resorts like Painter’s Lodge at Campbell River, which was a favorite of Bob Hope’s. Painter’s is still the place to go, with epic waterfront accommodation, and we landed two fine 11-pounders in a four-hour session.

Then back to the business of golf with a visit to Storey Creek, another of the jewels in Campbell River’s crown (a third is the Mt Washington ski area 40 minutes away). The course is beautifully treed, has deer everywhere, and the friendliest pro shop we encountered.

Tigh-Na-Mara might be a Gaelic name for “house by the sea” but nothing could be more Canadian than this waterfront resort mainly constructed from logs. I hasten to add that many are vertical, mighty cedars and handsome arbutus trees that are a joy to behold. Staying here is like being in an enchanted forest, and no wonder children (of all ages) love it.

Tigh-Na-Mara hangs over a wonderful beach where families played by day and sat around campfires at night. And the spa! Canadians clearly love them.

Here we played Morningstar and Fairwinds, two demanding yet very enjoyable golf courses. The former has a tree with a nest of eagles next to one green, and when we were there the chicks were being given flying lessons. Fairwinds I could get passionate about; just don’t miss it.

Driving down the island on the old coastal highway was motoring as it used to be – a quiet road through lush countryside with little farms and cottages. Hardly a billboard was seen; rather a few signs for fresh eggs and newly picked cherries. Was England once like this?

Then Victoria, a genteel little city that retains some of the best of England and where can be found good pubs serving real ale – there’s even an Ale Trail. But we were not to be distracted, for Bear Mountain lay ahead, and what a cracking resort this is. Run by Westin, Bear Mountain’s sleek, stone buildings have an uncanny resemblance to BC’s other classy resort, Whistler, with rooms made to put a smile on a new bride’s face. We were taken just with the bar, where the food was outstanding. And if you’re a beer lover…

This is another place to linger, not a problem as there are two golf courses. We only had time for one, but what a day we had. We were on the Mountain course, where a buggy is essential. They come with a superb GPS system. It can be tight in places, so bring plenty of balls, but this is fun, holiday golf, which can become tough, even brutal golf if you venture to the back tees.

Finally, Highland Pacific, a new course quite close to the center of Victoria. We enjoyed this one very much. It is a challenging yet fair layout with fairways designed to catch your ball. It too was beautifully treed, and we packed up our clubs agreeing that the foremost charm of Vancouver Island golf courses is how the designers have done such clever work in carving these courses out of forests while retaining their natural charm.

Our last night was at the Victoria Regent, whose harborfront location makes it a fun place to stay. We sat on the balcony, hanging over the water, watching little seaplanes come and go, and ferries too from nearby Seattle.

Our way back to Vancouver was from Swartz Bay, and it’s worth leaving time to linger at the smart little town of Sidney on the way. In no time we were aboard BC Ferries’ Spirit of Vancouver, a fine vessel with good food and wifi.

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