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Tricky treats make Furry Creek golf course a British Columbia must-play

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,

FURRY CREEK, British Columbia - Ever teed off on a par 5 with a six iron? Ever laid up on a 97-yard hole? Ever consulted a course mirror to check to see if it's safe to hit?

Well, there's a first time for everything and Furry Creek Golf and Country Club delivers a fistful of firsts in your golf life. Furry Creek is so unique, it deserves its own completely separate course category. The best amusement park golf ride, perhaps. There are so many trick shots, unique challenges and unexpected strategy decisions at Furry Creek that you half expect Ashton Kutcher to come rushing out of the bushes, screaming, "You've just been Punk'd."

It's that dizzying, sometimes that confounding to a traditional golfer.

"You hit shots at Furry Creek you'll never ever use again," visiting Tucson golfer Joe Grimm said. "I'm not a big fan of that type of golf."

Imagine stepping onto a basketball court and finding the rims are 12 feet high or getting to a baseball diamond and discovering five bases. That's Furry Creek. Calling it unconventional would be like terming Howard Hughes a little eccentric. Sometimes mere adjectives do not reach far enough.

"It's hard to compare it to any other course because it's not like any other course," Andy Anderson of Whistler said.

It is like some golf aliens dropped this course into the middle of the wilderness right off Highway 99, 40 minutes north of Vancouver and an hour and a half south of Whistler for their personal amusement. Watch those Canadians, Americans and Japanese try to figure out No. 11! Ha, ha, ha. Now let's switch over to seeing what Putin's doing for us in Russia.

Still, as alien as the shots get, as tricked up as the course sometimes seems, Furry Creek works. It grabs you from the first hole -- a 165-foot drop from the elevated tees to the narrow water and tree-lined fairway below -- and takes you on a wild ride through the Canadian countryside with stunning views. Sure, the ride is more than a little contrived, and it'll probably leave you scratching your head more than a few times, but it's unforgettable.

"Some people around here make fun of it," said James Cronk, the general manager at Vancouver's Westwood Plateau Golf & Country Club. "But if you're from Texas and you play Furry Creek ... whoa. That's something you're never going to have seen before.

"I've had people tell me that the 14th at Furry Creek is the prettiest hole they've ever seen in golf."

Furry Creek is the British Columbia course every golfer has to play once. You may find that once is enough for you, especially if you're one of those golfers who love to whip out the driver on every hole, but it will have been a can't-miss experience nonetheless. Furry Creek is something to talk about, an instant reference point for British Columbia golf, even if it's just to shake your head in common commiseration.

And if you like something different, relish the chance to try out your complete set of clubs, Furry Creek could just turn out to be your favorite course ever. Few beat it on an entertainment level and isn't that what golf's supposed to be all about?

"It's a course where you have to do what you can do, not what you think you can do," said Furry Creek repeater Jesse Bajwa.

This becomes immediately apparent from No. 1. This par 4 is only 326 yards from the white tees, where most golfers play Furry from. That tempts with thoughts of a driver/pitching wedge approach with a serious chance for birdie. Only pulling out a driver here is akin to trying to hit a mosquito with a machine gun. The fairway below the high tees is just too narrow a landing strip for all but the most controlled drivers to have but a puncher's chance of finding fairway. (Hint: If you're not a 4 handicap or lower, you're not controlled enough.)

Still, a guy with Furry Creek experience in my foursome bombed driver and ended up with his $18 golf ball out of play deep into the tall trees along the right side.

That's the thing about Furry Creek. Even if you know better, you sometimes cannot help but give in to your natural instincts.

This is one course that penalizes the long-distance obsessed, brings their big clubs back to earth again and again. It's sort of refreshing, really.

Of course, once you put away your driver on No. 1 and try for the softest of 129-yard shots on the par-3 No. 2, Furry Creek hits you with a monster. While the par-5 third only measures in at 459 yards from the whites, it can seem like 659 with its subtle series of uphill climbs. This fairway looks like a ski mogul course with its string of up and down hills. Only it's green.

When you're out there on the hole dubbed Green Mile, every climb and dip can seem like its own mile. Or at least kilometer. Especially if you land outside the easily-strayed-from fairway and have to hill navigate on an angle.

If No. 3 does not mess up your score card, No. 4 -- a 575-yard dogleg-left par 5 -- probably will.

Then, suddenly you're standing on the fifth tee box, staring down arguably the shortest tee shot you'll ever find in golf. This is a 97-yard par 3 from the whites.

Ninety-seven measly yards. The pin looks close enough to reach out and touch.

Of course as GolfBC Sales Manager Paul Niijer says, "Going long is death."

Sail this green and your ball will go right on sailing down a little hill into the deep woods. There's nothing more humiliating in golf than laying up on a 97-yard hole. Except perhaps hitting it clear over the green and carding an easy 6 on the 18th-rated handicap hole.

Decisions, decisions.

Furry Creek leaves you with a ton of them. That might be more perplexing if the scenery just wasn't so relaxing. You look out onto the bay and mountains on many of the holes, wind through the forest on others and hear a waterfall rushing in the distance on some.

"It's such a pretty course," said Will Williams, a retired Air Force lifer from Desert Palms taking his first swings at Furry Creek. "It's tough for a beginner like myself, but you just keep telling yourself you're here to enjoy the day.

"Then the challenge doesn't seem so bad."

Standing on the 14th green certainly helps keeps things in perspective. This is the rare dogleg left par 3. The green stretches out in a peninsula into the bay with the bunker to its back, a little tree to its right and rocks on its sides.

Here, it only seems like you have all of British Columbia laid out for your viewing pleasure: the blue seawater, the towering mountains, the gentle breezes.

"No. 14 is the best hole in Canada," Anderson said.

This is Furry Creek. It invites conversation and comparison, until you finally realize you're never going to find anything like it, quirks and all.

The Verdict

Furry Creek loves to advertise itself as British Columbia's most scenic course, but that seriously undersells its unique character. There are a number of beautiful courses in the region. There is none that forces you to make as many out-there shots as Furry Creek.

Golfers are much more likely to remember the shots than the scenery. Holes like No. 7, a par 3 that requires a 146-yard clear from the whites over a 180-yard-wide and a 160-yard-deep gaping ravine, are the true showstoppers.

This drop filled with treetops from your vantage point is even more intimidating than it sounds.

"Some 18-to-20 handicappers cannot get over that with any consistency," Niijer said. "We had to put in a local drop rule."

If you think the clear on No. 7 is hard, wait until No. 12. On this 326-yard par 4, you're shooting over a 150-yard-wide wooded ravine clear to an uphill green you cannot even see. Then on No. 13 you're completely blind off the tee.

Welcome to Furry's madcap.

This is a place where the course experience reigns above all else. You're not going to be blown away by the service at Furry Creek. This isn't Chateau Whistler Golf Club, where the staff-to-golfer ratio sometimes appears to be about 10-to-1. On Furry Creek, you have one kid sprinting from cart to cart, almost running over or knocking into golfers in his zeal to get everyone going on time.

The effort was admirable, the support nonexistent. You worry the kid in black with his David Spade headpiece might have a heart attack by age 25.

Furry Creek's hype brings plenty of crowds for the harried staff to deal with. But once you get out on the course, none of that matters. You're in the midst of a real once-in-a-Canadian-lifetime golf experience.

Just try to find another course like Furry Creek. It dares ya.

Places to stay

If you're playing Furry, you're likely to be staying in either Vancouver or Whistler.

If it's Whistler, the Four Seasons (604-935-3400) is the place to be if you can at all afford it. And if you can completely not afford it, work to find a deal before settling elsewhere. The level of service at this Four Seasons is that high, that memorable and that trip-making.

Everyone will know you by name by the time you pull up to the front door, if not before. The preparation level and synchronization that goes into this kind of greeting (the valet informs the bellboy, who informs the front desk, etc.) is astounding.

And it's hardly the only reason to love the place. The rooms are so comfortable you may be willing to trade in your house for a two-room Four Seasons executive suite by night two. You will never find a more spotless hotel carpet.

In Vancouver, the Fairmount Waterfront (604-691-1991) offers views of the heliplanes landing in the bay from the high rooms, plus it is a convenient walk to the shops of Robson Street and a quick drive to most other areas in the city. The staff is friendly and you might just bump into a celebrity or two. During this stay, rocker Lenny Kravitz strolled through the lobby, casual as could be.

Places to eat

In Whistler, the Bear Foot Bistro ((604) 932-3433) offers great food and a huge book-bound wine list in a casual ski town environment. Here, you're liable to see a guy in jeans and a sweat shirt munching away a table over from a guy in Armani. And everyone's happy.

In Vancouver, the restaurant choices are endless, but two of the best are C ((604) 681-1164) and West ((604) 738 8938). C serves great fresh seafood, just don't order the tasting menu unless you want to explode under the never-ending parade of food. Seriously, they can turn a tasting menu into more of an endurance test than a pleasure. In contrast, the revamped West gets all the portions right and mostly hits with its new Canadian menu.

Fast Fact

After No. 14, unconventional Furry Creek offers a traditional course finish.

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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