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Westwood Plateau: A rich man's playground the common man can afford in Vancouver

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
Contributor

COQUITLAM, British Columbia (May 25, 2005) - The helipad looks like something that belongs in a James Bondvillain's lair. Instead, it is right near the practicerange, the huge capital H cut in the grass seeminglystriking a pose.

This course helipad is just one of the ways Westwood Plateau Golf & Country Club boldly declares it's just not another ordinary golf course. Your own helipad denotes a certain level of elusive sophistication. It's a little different stage than offering a few selections of wines by the glass in the lounge.

A golf course with its own landing pad conjures up images of the Donald Trumps of the universe swooping down to take a few swings between real-estate deals. Westwood Plateau adds to that sense with its Canadian 90210 location. Driving to this course about 40 minutes outside of downtown Vancouver, you approach on (drum roll, please) The Street Of Dreams.

That is what the main residential street in thisplanned community was dubbed when it first opened and, formany, the moniker's stuck. The Street Of Dreams is flankedby million-dollar homes that seem almost quaint from anAmerican excess perspective, but still cause Canadiantongues to wag.

Once you're through The Street of Dreams, you arrive at a hulking clubhouse that was moved 20 feet just so it could be perfectly aligned for views of Mt. Baker. Then the door to your vehicle's opened and it seems like 15 cheerful young men and women greet you, each asking if there's anything they can do for you.

If the last three Star Wars had this kind of production value, George Lucas would have more Oscars than Clint Eastwood.

By now, you're bracing for the greens fee stickershock. After all this is Westwood Plateau, the most prestigious course open for public play in greater Vancouver as you've been told time and time again by breathless locals.

Only it never comes. The shock that is. WestwoodPlateau's average greens fee is $159, the highest inVancouver, but a mere drop in the bucket compared to many of the American resort course golf playgrounds. That's$159 Canadian.

It seems almost comical when you consider how Westwood Plateau is mythologized as a price monster by Canadian golfers. Three different dedicated Vancouver duffers regarded me like Robin Leach when I mentioned I was playing Westwood Plateau, each mouthing a variation of "Ooh, that's out of my wallet size."

$159! You could pay more for a number of courses inMyrtleBeach, the land of strip-mall golf. And forget about what $159 will get in ScottsdaleorLas Vegas.

This isn't time to debate the American vs. Canadian views on paying for golf, however. It's time to get to Westwood Plateau to play it before any of that good old U.S. golf pricing seeps across the border.

For Westwood Plateau would be a good deal at $159 whether you paid it in loonies, dollars or euros. Course designer Michael Hurdzan's crafted a distinctive track that makes the usual housing-development-driven courses look sickly by comparison. Westwood Plateau runs up and down along the slopes of Eagle Mountain, but the elevation changes are not showy. They play into the round, creating memorable obstacles rather than simple scenic postcards.

"I like it because there's so many different ways you can play it,'' local golfer Burt Wong said. "Almostevery hole offers some type of risk-reward."

Playing it safe or going for it is a choice a golfer faces throughout a Westwood Plateau day.

Hurdzan never forgets that his core customer is the golfer here, that it does not matter how pretty everything is if does not play well. Westwood Plateau is picturesque,no doubt about that. With its towering Douglas firs,mountain treks and views straight into the United States(Washington state) on a clear day, it holds its own in the scenery department.

Still, there a number of places you can go to around Vancouver that offer breathtaking scenery without the artificial environment of a golf course mucking things up. This is an area with countless real wilderness opportunities.

Playing golf in Vancouver is about the golf, and Westwood Plateau delivers. No. 12, a 162-yard par 3,features a long carry over a gaping ravine right off the tee where treetops stick out and intimidate even more.Then, the green is crammed up against a rock wall. It's one of the more arresting visuals on the course, but it's not just there to wow.

The way the green's carved out of the rock wall makes the tee shot much more than a matter of just clearing the gaping ravine. You need to land in the right area of the green to have a real shot at par.

"Hurdzan uses this hole when he's demonstrating his philosophy on building courses," Westwood Plateau general manager James Cronk said.

Westwood Plateau as a whole could serve as a lecture piece on purposeful thrills and chills . The most spectacular scenes stand as some of the toughest challenges. There are a number of forced carries on the course, carries over huge drops in the earth that make some of the clears on British Columbia's more-hypedtrick-carry creator FurryCreek seem like training wheels material.

Take No. 15. This 456-yard par 4 starts with a shot down into the fairway below (150 feet below from the backtees). After that, you have to clear a stream that bisects the fairway and shoot up to the green on higher ground. Down, across, up -- all in one well-thought-out,easily-vexing hole.

Westwood Plateau does not require you to hit shotsyou don't have in your bag. Instead, it makes you hit the more creatively. Wong, an experienced Westwood player,stepped up to one tee requiring a lofted, precise plop shot and predicted, "You'll be able to cook an omelet under this one." Then, Wong put the air needed under the shot needed to navigate Hurdzan's set up.

And so it goes at Westwood Plateau. This course grabs first-timers with a three-through-seventh-holestretch that Cronk calls "The Gauntlet" and offers only afew chances to catch your breath (and hopefully restoreyour swing confidence) after. It is the type of track that makes you want a second chance at it after you've at least had an opportunity to digest some of the secrets to its setup.

At least you know you could always helicopter in.

The Verdict

Westwood Plateau is the rich man's playground a common man can afford. You'll definitely be made to feel important by the staff at this sprawling complex that includes a nine-hole executive course also designed by Hurdzan and a full-service golf academy. The Westwood workers are so obsessed with the value of your time thatyou start to think they know about pressing appointments you don't.

It is hard to imagine another course taking pace of play as seriously as Westwood. There are clocks every few holes, all touting the 4:35 expected pace. And the commitment to maintaining that pace comes from the top. Cronk, the GM, barked at his brother and brother-in-law repeatedly to hurry up this day, screaming out that he'd buy them golf balls at one point when they dawdled on a search in the woods.

Luckily, there are also a host of eagle-eyed volunteer marshals around the course, helping locate wayward Pro V1s. A marshal named Norm went so far out of his way on one pursuit this day, running up a steep hilland into the woods, that it left even experienced Westwood players shaking their heads in wonder.

They know how to make a golfer feel special here,no matter the size of his bank account.

About the only thing that brings you back into reality at Westwood Plateau is the fact it's in the middle of a housing development. Hurdzan's design hides this well for the most part, but there are unmistakable civilization intrusions. For one thing, many people in the neighborhood seem to think the course is a great place to go for a stroll.

On a damp day, we came across two different groupsof walkers, including one woman with a baby in a backpack.Talk about your serious "Fore!"

Houses also run along the left side of No. 18,close enough that Wong almost crashed a backyard weddingwith his golf ball.

It's a minor reality check though that doesn't really take away from the round. If all golf courses only had problems like this.

Places to stay

The Fairmount Waterfront (604-691-1991) offersviews of the heliplanes landing in the bay from the highrooms, plus it is a convenient walk to the shops of RobsonStreet and a quick drive to most other areas in the city.The staff is friendly and you might just bump into acelebrity or two. During this stay, Lenny Kravitz strolledthrough the lobby, casual as could be.

There is another Fairmont in an old building in the heart of the Robson Street area and just about every other major hotel chain you can name as well.

Places to eat

The restaurant choices are endless, but two of thebest 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 toexplode under the never-ending parade of food. Seriously,they can turn a tasting menu into more of an endurancetest than a pleasure. In contrast, the revamped West getsall the portions right and mostly hits with its newCanadian menu.

For a more casual, authentic experience just head down to the Robson Street area and pick up something from one of the little food stands. The pitas at the Middle Eastern shop are particularly tasty.

Fast Fact

If you really want the helipad experience, you can book flights taking off from downtown Vancouver to the course.

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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