BRITISH COLUMBIA - The town of Radium Hot Springs, perched on a bluff overlooking the incredible Columbia Valley Wetlands and surrounded by snow-ringed peaks, is one of British Columbia's quietest - and certainly prettiest - little tourist towns. A host of tiny motels, gift shops, and restaurants are sprinkled throughout town. In November, when the snow starts to layer, things get even quieter. Almost everything shuts down and many of the locals flee the inevitable cold for the sun-soaked south. Besides the sawmill, one of the biggest employers in town is the Radium Hot Springs Resort. And in summer, this terrific resort makes plenty of noise.
Boasting two impressive courses, one that has been around since the 1950s and one contemporary course ranked in Canada's top 25, the town of Radium Hot Springs has been a popular little getaway for quite some time. In fact, it's been a popular little vacation spot for hundreds of years. Long before Sir George Simpson, governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, made the first recorded visit to the natural hot pools located at the base of Redstreak Mountain in 1841, local Indians used the medicinal waters to soothe their aches and pains. By 1914, however, there was a concrete bathing pool and people came from all over to soak in these warm, mineral-laced waters. Today these natural hot springs pools are the largest in Canada.
Realizing the potential of the area, settlers and proprietors began to settle in this glorious valley once the railway came through and a road was literally blasted through Kootenay National Park to reach this "sunny-side of the Rockies" - which is no understatement. While Calgary-area residents are still digging out of snow, Radium Hot Springs is often fifteen degrees warmer, green, and open for business. The golf courses at the Radium Resort open in late March, three weeks before the golf balls fly in Calgary.
The two courses - The Springs Course and The Resort Course - offer unparalleled scenery on two very different types of courses. The older resort course is a short, hilly, tree-lined test that plays to a par of 69. While the course does feature a few quirky holes that are squeezed into tight spots, there are a couple of holes that will take your breath away. The two best examples - the par-4 third and the par-3 12th - feature tremendous drops in elevation and offer spine-tingling views from the tee.
The third, which measures just 275 yards and drops approximately 100 feet, affords even the medium-length player a chance to putt for an eagle. Often long hitters can pop it onto the green with a long iron here. But this is just one of a number of great birdie holes on this picturesque little resort course. With reachable par-5s, numerous drive-and-a-pitch par-4s, The Resort course is the epitome of resort golf. In other words, it won't leave you feeling beat up and kicked around.
After a birdie barrage (hopefully) on The Resort Course, "the appetizer," if you will, things get considerably tougher on the resort's championship test, The Springs Course. Designed by Les Furber in 1989, The Springs Course hugs the cliffs and sun-baked hoodoos that fall to the vast, unspoiled beauty of the Columbia Valley Wetlands. This wetland area, one of the largest in the world, is a precious ecosystem and one that golfers can admire from a number of lookout spots and teeing areas on the course. Holes one, two and three follow the ridgeline and the course makes a dramatic return "to the edge" on the do-or-die 17th, a par-3 over a gorge. From the 17th green, one of Furber's best ever, 20 steps takes you to the 18th tee, which hangs precariously into the canyon but is fortified by railway ties. The view is out of this world.
Unquestionably, one of the strong suits of The Springs is the daring collection of par-3s. In order to negotiate them well, you'll need nerves of steel. One bad swing on any of them and you'll probably be needing both your hands to count your score. The 189-yard 14th, for example, plays across a ravine to a nasty green that's set into a natural amphitheater. The 192-yard 6th, perhaps the toughest of the lot, rises to a green that's guarded by a mean collection of bunkers. Many a round has been derailed here.
Of course, if you do find yourself using too many fingers to add up your score, take comfort. The Radium Resort features one of the best golf academies and practice facilities in the entire province of British Columbia. The academy offers numerous programs and packages that might just help you turn your puffy slice into a powerful, wind-cheating draw.
After all the hard work at the academy, you'll need a little rest and recuperation time. After all, this is a golf vacation. The perfect place to do this is at the government-owed hot pools up the road.
To get to the pools from the town of Radium Hot Springs you need to head into the park on Highway 93. While it's only a couple of miles to the pools, it's a memorable little drive. The highway zigzags up a steep hill and squeezes its way through a massive canyon. If you're making your way to the pools on foot, you can take a trail that traverses through the canyon and rises to a majestic lookout point. From there, all you can hear is water thundering between the rock walls far below. And maybe, just maybe, you'll hear some shouts of joy from tickled-pink golfers down at the Radium Resort.
P.O. Box 310
Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia, Canada
Radium Hot Springs is located approximately 250 kilometers west of Calgary, Alberta in the Rocky Mountains. Calgary's International Airport is growing steadily and is serviced by many major carriers. Call your travel agent for details. Rent a car at the airport and enjoy a fabulous three-hour drive to Radium Hot Springs via the Trans Canada Highway and Highway 93, which takes you through Kootenay National Park (often considered the most beautiful park in Canada). Along the way, you may wish to stop in Banff, Lake Louise, and other scenic attractions along the way.
The drive to Radium Hot Springs will take you past a number of Canada's top courses. Banff Springs, Kananaskis, and the three courses in Canmore - Silvertip, Stewart Creek, and the Canmore Golf Club - are all outstanding plays. Within short drives from Radium Hot Springs are courses such as Golden, Fairmont, Greywolf, and Eagle Ranch - all excellent championship golf courses located in the same valley.
June 28, 2003
Andrew Penner is a longtime member of the Canadian PGA. Author of "One Flew Over the Caddyshack," he also writes for a number of magazines throughout Canada and the U.S.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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