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On the Road in Canada: From Sea to Sky, Whistler Takes Your Breath Away

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,

WHISTLER, British Columbia - In the 1998 Shell's Wonderful World of Golf competition at Nicklaus North Golf Club, Fred Couples became a typical nature lover. While lining up a putt he sidled up to his opponent, Greg Norman, and exclaimed: "Whistler ... the greatest place I've been to play golf."

For sure, Couples is not the first to discover, embrace and enjoy the beauty that is Whistler.

From the first fishermen who camped out at nearby Alta Lake in the early 1900s to the first downhill skier who traversed Franz Wilhelmson's Whistler Creek ski run back in 1965, Whistler has grown into one of the world's greatest outdoor getaways.

With the rail journey realized in 1914 by Pacific Great Eastern Railway and the serpentine ribbon of pavement known as the Sea to Sky Highway, the Whistler recreational area was open for business with a number of lodges.

Whistler Mountain Resort really got the resort area going when it opened in 1966 and when Blackcomb Mountain was unveiled in 1980 it solidified this area as one of the premier ski destinations in the world.

Real estate hindsight? Just imagine your nest egg if you had gobbled up some choice lots back in the 1960s. Today, Whistler is the most expensive place in Canada to live, but still a bargain when you compare it to prices in Aspen.

Bargains are also found in golf, lodging and restaurants thanks to a favorable Canadian dollar to U.S. dollar ratio.

Whistler is also hoping for an infusion of cash with a 2010 Winter Olympics bid, which would land events in Vancouver and Whistler. A similar bid failed in 1968 and many think its a hard sell for 2010. The anxiously awaited announcement comes in July 2003.

In 2000 Golf Digest picked the Top 50 Golf Resorts in the World and Golf Whistler was listed at No. 19, making it the No. 1 golf resort in Canada. All four Whistler area golf courses - Nicklaus North, Big Sky, Chateau Whistler and Whistler Golf Club - are award-winners.

Andy Hedley of Nicklaus North Golf Club believes Whistler earns its reputation as one of North America's great golf destinations due to a number of things.

"Each course is different in design and topography which gives the golfer a uniquely different experience each day," Hedley said. "The courses are designed by great designers - Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Robert Cupp. The courses are all within a very short distance of each other which means very little travel time. What more could one want?"

Here's a capsule look at the courses of Whistler:

Whistler Golf Club

Crabapple Creek, Wedge Mountain vistas, risk-reward holes, pines and firs and bears in the fairways - that's Whistler Golf Club designed in 1982 by Arnold Palmer. Its gently sloping fairways and nine lakes, makes this 6,676-yard, par-72 track fun and invigorating.

Whistler Golf Club was the first golf course built at Whistler and the first Canadian design by Palmer. In 2000 the club was upgraded with a $1.8-million renovation.

There are two thought-provoking holes where the brain must be as smooth as the swing. One is the 457-yard, par-5 No. 16. You tee off from an elevated tee over a translucent lake to a fairway that doglegs left. Precision is a must. If you don't position yourself on the drive you are in big trouble. The green slopes and is guarded by yet another lake.

The other is the par-5 No. 11, where the creek snakes through the 515-yard long fairway creating three separate sections of turf that can be hit on the journey toward the green, which is guarded by four bunkers.

Nicklaus North Golf Course

Immaculate conditioning, contoured fairways, snow-capped vistas, placid Green Lake, forested valley - all these features make the newest golf course, Nicklaus North, a prize round.

This is a softer Nicklaus design, but the par-3s are perilous - four of the five require precise shots over water. No. 17 is the signature hole. It's hefty at 226 yards from the back and the green bends peninsula-like into the lake. Strike it on a direct line to the pin over water, or draw it from dry land toward the hole. If you make par here you earned it.

The finishing holes curve around glacial-fed Green Lake and No. 16 features an approach over a rapid Fitzsimmons Creek. When you arrive at No. 18 and the stunning clubhouse, you will enjoy mountain vistas and spy a seaplane that transports golfers here.

This 6,925-yard, par-71 layout, the only one to bear the Nicklaus name, just might be your favorite round at Whistler, which is a short trip from the cobblestone sidewalks, shops and cafes of the quaint ski village.

Chateau Whistler Golf Club

In 1993 the Canadian Pacific folks came to town with its Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort and Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Chateau Whistler Golf Club. These are the same people who brought you Banff Springs and Jasper Park Lodge, which includes those spectacular golf courses.

Chateau Whistler Golf Club is true mountain golf laid out at the base of Blackcomb Mountain with big-time elevation changes, granite rock outcroppings, 100-year-old stands of Douglas-firs and rumbling rocky streams littered with fallen limbs and tree trunks. And most likely you will see a bear or two lumbering along looking for something to snack on.

The course may seem short at 6,635 yards, but this par-72 has a slope of 142 and some uphill, downhill and other funky lies make it plenty challenging. The course climbs 400 feet from the clubhouse.

Judging the right distance on holes like the par-4 No. 3, an uphill 399-yarder, will test you. The green is tucked into a canyon surrounded by the Horstman River. Another beautiful hole is the par-3 eighth, which funnels down 212 yards to a green with a granite wall on the right and a lake on the left. This is your photo op.

Construction is underway for a new double-ended 350-yard driving range, complete with covered stalls, five practice greens and three practice bunkers. The Chateau Whistler Golf Club Practice & Learning Center will cost $2 million and is set to open in the spring of 2003.

Big Sky Golf & Country Club

Just a 25-minute drive north of Whistler is Big Sky Golf & Country Club with a spectacular setting below towering Mount Currie. This is the Pemberton Valley, where you might be surprised at how warm it is in summer. Natives call it a mini-banana belt because you can play from mid-April through mid-October.

Designed by Cupp with an assist from John Fought, Big Sky opened in 1994 and the layout follows seven lakes joined by a twisting creek at 600 feet above sea level, just about 1,600 feet lower than the courses of Whistler.

Don't strain your neck looking at the Coastal Mountains on this flat valley course where potatoes once grew. Do pay attention. The longer holes play into the wind and shorter ones benefit from the breeze. Some movement to the land was added in construction, and you must be precise on some greens or your approach will feed off the putting surface into grassy hollows.

The 434-yard 12th has a fairway split by a creek and in all 12 holes must negotiate water. If you get wet too often, you might enroll in the Big Sky Golf Academy and take advantage of its 350-yard double-ended driving range, two practice bunkers and three practice putting greens.

After you enjoy the golf courses of Whistler you might just remember that quote from Fred Couples. It's a special place with special golf.

Where to Play

Nicklaus North Golf Course
8080 Nicklaus North Blvd.
Whistler, B.C.
Telephone: (604) 938-9898 or (800) 386-9898
Green Fees: $125 to $210, Canadian, includes cart
Website: www.nicklausnorth.com

Chateau Whistler Golf Club
4612 Blackcomb Way
Whistler, B.C.
Telephone: (800) 684-6344
Green Fees: $100 to $205, Canadian
Website: www.chateauwhister.com

Whistler Golf Club
4001 Whistler Way
Whistler, B.C.
Green Fees: $79 to $159, Canadian
Telephone: (604) 932-3280 or (800) 376-1777
Website: www.whistlergolf.com

Big Sky Golf and Country Club
1690 Airport Road
Pemberton B.C.
Telephone: (604) 894-6106 or (800) 668-7900
Green Fees: $70 to $154
Website: www.bigskygolf.com

Where to Stay

Ski-in, ski-out or walk to golf at the green-gabled Fairmont Chateau Whistler, located at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. It's only minutes from the heart of Whistler Village and the gondola of Whistler Mountain.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler
4599 Chateau Blvd.
Whistler, BC
Telephone: (604) 983-8000 or 800-Whistler
Website: www.fairmont.com

Where to Dine

Trattoria di Umberto
4417 Sundial Place
Whistler, BC
Telephone: (604) 932-5858
Website: www.umberto.com

Chateau Whistler Restaurants: Wildflower Restaurant features a private wine room and the best Sunday brunch in town. Also check out the Mallard Lounge and Portobello Restaurant.

Summer Recreation

There's so much to do - whitewater kayaking, world-class mountain biking, canoeing and rafting. Ride the enclosed gondola 6,000 feet up to the top of Whistler Mountain with 360-degree breathtaking views during the ride up. Snowflakes might be present, even in July. Log on to www.whistlerblackcomb.com for summer activities. Also try Backroads Whistler for biking and canoeing at www.whistlermountainbiking.com. Whitewater rafting fun? Log on to www.whistlerriver.com.

Other Helpful Web Sites

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How to Get Here

Air Canada, what else? Air Canada has hundreds of non-stop flights between the US and Canada every day - more than any other airline. Canada is served by daily Air Canada direct flights from all major cities in the US, Europe and Asia. Visit www.aircanada.ca for more information. Reservations: 888-247-2262.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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