VICTORIA, BC, CANADA - While most Canadians grudgingly start their winter days by reaching for snow shovels and toques, residents of Vancouver Island usually reach for shovels that have headcovers. With a climate that's moderated by the roll and thunder of the mighty Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island is, without a doubt, one of the best places for Canadians to peg it up within the confines of their beloved "Great White North."
Well, OK, it's often the only place.
Vancouver Island - a lush fortress of Douglas Fir, rolling parkland, and super-rugged coastline - is often regarded as one of Canada's prettiest regions. It was also voted as the No. 1 island destination in North America by Travel & Leisure Magazine.
The western sections of the island are dominated by wind and water-battered fjords that rip into a rocky interior composed mostly of lush valleys and rainforests. The eastern portions of the island, due to inland mountains blocking the wet pacific air, are much drier and warmer. Not surprisingly, it's on this half of the island where most of the people, including the golfers, like to hang out.
A two-hour ferry ride from Vancouver gets you to the island. From there, the capital city of British Columbia, and one of Canada's most charming ports, Victoria, is a short 25 minutes from where you'll hit dry land in Schwartz Bay. But, if you have a sense of adventure, and have your golf clubs tagging along, you'll want to explore more than just Victoria.
With a total population of 750,000 in an area the size of Maryland, which has a population of 6 million, it would be tough to call Vancouver Island overcrowded. Thankfully, the island's 50 golf courses aren't either.
The diversity of golf on the island is also notable. There are posh, new resorts, quaint nine-holers tucked in valleys, and 100-year old private clubs that hug the water-smoothed rocks of Victoria's ancient shores. Thankfully, with the warmest year-round climate in Canada, all of them can be played in every month of the calendar too.
Here The Victoria Golf Club, established in 1893 and the oldest golf club in Canada still on its original site, is the epitome of a classic course. Its location on a gorgeous spit of land that juts into the Juan de Fuca Straight, and on the most southerly point of Vancouver Island, is, perhaps, Canada's closest match to Pebble Beach's famed seaside perch. Unfortunately, this gem is open only to its members and guests from other private clubs and green fees are a tidy $160.00 CDN for guests.
Another vintage test in Victoria can be found at the Royal Colwood Golf Club, also one of Canada's older clubs. Designed in 1913 by the masterful touch of A.V. Macan, one of golfdom's unsung heroes, Royal Colwood is revered by the locals and praised by out-of-towners who appreciate a strategically planned wooded stroll through some pristine parkland. Royal Colwood is a terrific play during the winter months, and drainage is outstanding.
"Colwood might be the best place to play golf in BC during the winter," says Kris Johansson, the President of the British Columbia Golf Association. "She holds up exceedingly well during inclement weather."
The course is semi-private and, at $125 per round, the greens fee is a bit on the pricey side.
Another Victoria-area course that holds up well during the winter months is Cordova Bay. Newer, more accessible, and less expensive than its "older" counterparts, Cordova Bay is still a rock-solid design that features a tough stretch of holes threaded through huge cedar trees. Designed by well-respected architect Bill Robinson, Cordova Bay also boasts an engaging par-3 course called "The Ridge Course."
"We've got the type of facility that has something for everyone," says Jay Basi, the club's general manager. "The Ridge Course is perfect for younger golfers and people just starting out."
Fees on the championship course are $43 on weekends and $38 during the week.
Farther north on the island (Victoria is on the southern-most point of Vancouver Island) you'll find some other worthwhile stops.
One of the island's most acclaimed resort communities is Crown Isle in the Comox Valley. Approximately two and a half hours from Victoria and an hour's drive from Nanaimo, Crown Isle features an ambitious test designed by Graham Cooke & Associates. Cooke, one of Canada's top amateur players, was in top form routing a diversified course through spindly trees, marshland, and rolling hills. Another benefit here is that the 10-year old fairways drain well when the winter rains come. But, as head professional John Robertson explains, the rains often stay away.
"We're located a little higher up from town, on the other side of the valley. Often the clouds have dumped their moisture in town, closer to the mountains, and we stay dry."
The course, which is ranked among Canada's top 50, is accompanied by a massive clubhouse, golf villas, and great practice facilities. Fees are a modest $40 in winter.
One last tranquil stop on this lush island of plenty could be at the Storey Creek Golf Club in Campbell River. The golf is serene, challenging, and unpretentious. The layout, which can get soggy if winter unleashes steady rains, is one of the island's most northerly layouts, and, without a doubt, one of the true jewels of Vancouver Island. Here wildlife abounds, and the sounds of civilization might start and end with a guy pounding nails for a log cabin.
Unfortunately, Bermuda shorts are not a required garment when golfing on Vancouver Island in any month. The truth is, the winter rains inevitably do come, and you do want to be prepared for some inclement weather. Of course, sometimes they pass by and sunshine prevails.
Some of the nicest things about golfing on Vancouver Island in the off-season are the low rates, the empty courses, and the realization that the rest of Canada is probably digging out of snow.
For more information check out the following sites:
www.vancouverisland.com www.golfvancouverisland.com www.bcgolfguide.com
Arbutus Ridge - Shorter, rolling course set atop a plateau. Great views and a laid-back atmosphere make this Bill Robinson course a good option when in the Victoria area.
Olympic View - A hilly test with waterfalls and lush fairways. Another Bill Robinson course in Victoria with great scenery and strategic requirements.
Fairwinds - Located up island near Nanaimo, Fairwinds is a sporty resort course designed by Les Furber. Course meanders through huge Douglas firs.
Morningstar - Long, championship test that has played host to Canadian Tour qualifying. Centrally located on the island.
Nanaimo - Beautiful mid-island municipal course that has hosted provincial and national championships. Designed in the 1930s by the legendary A.V. Macan.
Victoria is a gorgeous colonial city. Popular activities in and around Victoria include whale watching, kayaking, and the world-famous Butchart Gardens. The coastal waters of Vancouver Island are also famous for their salmon fishing. The Victoria Marine Adventure Center is a great place to start.
December 4, 2002
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.
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