|Morningstar Championship Golf has the only palm tree you'll see on Vancouver Island. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)|
PARKSVILLE, B.C. - Two eagles circle overhead as you set up for an approach shot. This in itself isn't all that remarkable on Vancouver Island, a nature wonderland where bald eagles sometimes seem as common as robins, deer appear to fear no golfer and your definition of being "out there" just might change forever.
At Morningstar Championship Golf, it could be no mere coincidence the eagles are checking out how you're playing No. 7, though. While there's a big eagle's nest up in a tree on the par-3 eighth, complete with its own sign and everything, No. 7's a much more entertaining hole to see regular vacationing golfers on.
It's a 464-yard par 4 with trees and bunkers that seem as eager as a teacher's pet to inject themselves into the discussion. It curves (as most of this golf course's holes do), and the green's tucked back on a ridge with water running behind it.
"There's not too many par 4s this tough on the island," said Brian Johnson, Morningstar's sales and marketing manager - and a former longtime head professional.
Johnson's not kidding. In fact, one of the only other par 4s that can match Morningstar's No. 7 in difficulty would be Morningstar's 474-yard, monster par 4 18th closer.
Detect a pattern?
Morningstar plays up its connection to events like the Canadian Tour Qualifying School (which it hosted from 1992-97). A big sign near the clubhouse reads, "Where the pros play," and how many courses do you know with the nerve to put championship in its name?
When you first look at the scorecard and see the now modern-day, customary 7,018 yards, you'll probably shrug. The reaction holds up on the first few holes as you're eased into the round.
Tough? Who said you're so tough?
Then the doglegs, the subtle twists and the creeping tall trees start coming at you, and before long, some ugly looking pencil marks follow.
"It sneaks up on you and gives you a nice little boot in the fanny," vacationing golfer Joe Randall said.
And that's why the pros really do play it. On this visit, our group ran into a foursome of visiting pros, preparing for a tournament elsewhere on the island with a Morningstar round.
Sometimes the ad guys aren't feeding you bull.
Still, you'll likely play Morningstar for different reasons than the folks who teach the game. By the time you get to the fifth hole, it feels like you're really out in nature. There are no planes overhead, no cars rushing by ... just birds chirping.
If you're used to golf in more congested hot spots like Scottsdale and the heart of Myrtle Beach, it can be a jarring change. Even Vancouver seems like it's another cosmopolitan crowded world away.
How unique is Morningstar? It has the only palm tree on Vancouver Island near one of its tees. Transported in, the tree's stayed alive in its very unnatural climate.
Morningstar sits at right about sea level. It's located just a few turns from Parksville's very natural beaches, which makes it a great spot to stop about halfway through the length of the Vancouver Island Golf Trail.
Walk into the clubhouse on a weekday morning, and you'll likely find it a buzz of activity. Locals love Morningstar, and they'll be trying to negotiate their greens fee down a little, while searching out good tee times. For a Friday on this shoulder season visit, guys were being told they had to play at 3:40 p.m. to find an open foursome slot.
It's sort of comforting to see a course this beloved. Eighteen years after this Les Furber design opened, golfers are still excited to be playing Morningstar - which says something in a Vancouver Island region that's seeing a run of new high-end course openings, including a Jack Nicklaus and a Greg Norman.
Morningstar's popularity has little do with the fact that Steve Stricker played here on the Canadian Tour (though it's nice to get to No. 5 knowing that Stricker eagled it). It has everything to do with the fact you can try and cut the corner of trees on dogleg turns like No. 9. With the green behind a lake ahead, just past that go-for-it turn, this is one of the cooler shots on the island.
Though not as cool as Morningstar's 12th. This par 4 takes a sharper turn than a PTA mom hopped up on three Starbucks' triple lattes. Until you get to the blind turn, you will not see the marsh area guarding a green with a huge sandpit down below it in front - a sandpit that has a wood wall behind it (please don't ricochet back into the water).
Turns out the eagles may want to find a new watching perch.
Part of the thrill in Morningstar Championship Golfcomes in seeing how the pins are set up that day. This is a course that can be made truly wicked - or it can just be made merely interesting. Either way, you'll likely leave with stories about approach shots that bounced away and putts that ran wild.
Morningstar is a golf course where precision matters.
You'll see plenty of nature, find that its 7,000 yards plays even longer than that at sea level and discover what shape your game is in.
The Quality Bayside Resort is a hotel that's bound to surprise you. Many high-end golf travelers will see Quality Inn chain and immediately eliminate it as an option. Think again, though. Parksville's Quality Resort is anything but a typical budget hotel.
It's right on the beach with incredible sunset and sunrise views. Its restaurant is much more ambitious than typical hotel restaurants with a regular-changing menu, including specials like braised short ribs. Plus, if you get the one suite in the place, your golf group will have more than enough room for a late-night card game.
Morningstar carries a 138 slope rating from its back gold tees.
June 18, 2008
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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