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

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,

Westwood PlateauCOQUITLAM, 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 mostprestigious course open for public play in greaterVancouver as you've been told time and time again bybreathless 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 manyof 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 aboutwhat $159 will get in ScottsdaleorLas Vegas.

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

Westwood PlateauFor 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 waysyou 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 agolfer faces throughout a Westwood Plateau day.

Hurdzan never forgets that his core customer is thegolfer here, that it does not matter how pretty everythingis 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 thescenery department.

Still, there a number of places you can go toaround Vancouver that offer breathtaking scenery withoutthe artificial environment of a golf course mucking thingsup. This is an area with countless real wildernessopportunities.

Playing golf in Vancouver is about the golf, andWestwood Plateau delivers. No. 12, a 162-yard par 3,features a long carry over a gaping ravine right off thetee where treetops stick out and intimidate even more.Then, the green is crammed up against a rock wall. It'sone of the more arresting visuals on the course, but it'snot just there to wow.

The way the green's carved out of the rock wallmakes the tee shot much more than a matter of justclearing the gaping ravine. You need to land in the rightarea of the green to have a real shot at par.

"Hurdzan uses this hole when he's demonstrating hisphilosophy on building courses,'' Westwood Plateau generalmanager James Cronk said.

Westwood Plateau as a whole could serve as alecture piece on purposeful thrills and chills . The mostspectacular scenes stand as some of the toughestchallenges. There are a number of forced carries on thecourse, carries over huge drops in the earth that makesome 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 shotdown into the fairway below (150 feet below from the backtees). After that, you have to clear a stream thatbisects the fairway and shoot up to the green on higherground. 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 themmore creatively. Wong, an experienced Westwood player,stepped up to one tee requiring a lofted, precise plopshot and predicted, "You'll be able to cook an omeletunder this one." Then, Wong put the air needed under theshot needed to navigate Hurdzan's set up.

And so it goes at Westwood Plateau. This coursegrabs 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 thatmakes you want a second chance at it after you've at leasthad an opportunity to digest some of the secrets to itssetup.

At least you know you could always helicopter in.

The Verdict

Westwood Plateau is the rich man's playground acommon man can afford. You'll definitely be made to feelimportant by the staff at this sprawling complex thatincludes a nine-hole executive course also designed byHurdzan and a full-service golf academy. The Westwoodworkers are so obsessed with the value of your time thatyou start to think they know about pressing appointmentsyou don't.

It is hard to imagine another course taking pace ofplay as seriously as Westwood. There are clocks every fewholes, all touting the 4:35 expected pace. And thecommitment to maintaining that pace comes from the top.Cronk, the GM, barked at his brother and brother-in-lawrepeatedly to hurry up this day, screaming out that he'dbuy them golf balls at one point when they dawdled on asearch in the woods.

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

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

Westwood PlateauAbout 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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