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Golf SUV part of campaign to help make Vancouver more accessible

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,

VANCOUVER - Eric Suzuki rolls through the streets of downtown, his garishly decorated SUV drawing stares from the early shoppers on Robson Street and the cruise ship passengers milling around the dock at Canada Place alike. Suzuki is not some would-be amateur MTV "Pimp My Ride" follower.

He's just trying to bring the people to golf. Specifically the business executives and vacationers who frequently find themselves in downtown Vancouver without a rental car.

This is where Suzuki, or one of the guys driving for him, come in with the golf mobile. It's a white SUV with plush seats and a huge "PlayGolf Vancouver" three clubs and a ball logo on it. Hence, the stares.

"Yeah, you do get some funny looks," Suzuki said, laughing. "Sometimes people stop and ask me if I'm recruiting golfers.

No, just trying to help the ones who visit this unique, water-and-mountain city actually get to play. The SUV with the club drawings is essentially golf's version of the drunk bus. You don't necessarily take it when you're tipsy (but after a 19th hole at an excellent golf scene bar like the one at WestwoodPlateau, that's a potential bonus as well). But it does bring you toplaces you might not otherwise get.

That's the thing about Vancouver golf: It's spread out and not instantly known. That's a difficult combination for any golf destination.

"With all the other things going on in and around Vancouver, especially all the other outdoor activities, golf is probably not one of the first things people think of when they think of us," Suzuki said.

To help change that, several of the area's courses came together under The 19^th Hole Personal Golf Concierge Service. It's run out of a little corner office in the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, right across the street from those bustling cruise ship docks and on one of the highest pedestrian-frequented paths in the entire city. This is where Suzuki, whose full-time job is as Westwood Plateau's sales manager, can often befound, greeting walk-ins.

There's a putting green crammed into one corner, where you can work off some of that meeting-room rust and a TV fixed on golf. But the golf mobile is the newest and most important innovation in this promotion approach.

Westwood Plateau itself is a good 45-minute drive from the dock downtown area. Mayfair Lakes, which has hosted the Canadian Tour's Greater Vancouver Classic, is 40 minutes away. FurryCreek, the love-it-or-hate-it, trick shot marvel on the sea, comes in at about a 50-minute drive. Even UniversityGolf Club, the city course, is 20 minutes over a bridge from those downtown hotels.

"The idea is to make it easier to play golf," said Westwood Plateau General Manager James Cronk, who was recently selected by the National Allied Golf Association to help form a business plan to grow golf in all of Canada. "There are plenty of reasons out there that someone can find to not play golf on a trip.

"We want to try and remove the transportation issue from that in Vancouver. Maybe, some other destinations will try and follow our lead. I just know that as an industry we have to do everything we can to make getting out there to play an easier, more enjoyable experience."

Hackers on wheels? It's not about saving the world. But that funky golf logo SUV just might keep a golf destination humming.

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.

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