Golfing with bears in Whistler

A par three at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s course challenges with a rock face ready to throw a ball into the sand trap or water hazard. (Allan Lynch Photo)

While Whistler has a reputation as a top ski destination isn’t all downhill. In spite of co-host the Winter Olympics, residents laughingly tell you there’s more to do here in summer than winter. One of the delicious surprises for someone like me, who doesn’t ski or snowboard, is that Whistler is among the world’s top golf destinations. Every major golf magazine from Golf Digest to Score to Travel + Leisure raves about the play here.

Well they should. Whistler has three courses in the village, plus others nearby. And

Some holes on the Arnold Palmer designed Whistler Course offer a forest solitude. (Allan Lynch Photo)

they are all by name designers. Arnold Palmer designed The Whistler Golf Course. Jack Nicklaus personally designed the Nichlaus North Golf Course, and Robert Trent Jones Jr. created the Chateau Whistler Golf Club. A half hour drive away is the Big Sky Golf and Country Club designed by Robert Cupp.

It’s amazing how golf-centric this place is. I have heard of players flying up from Vancouver on a float plane, landing on Green Lake, which borders the Nicklaus North Course, and immediately getting into waiting golf carts to play 18 holes before checking in to their hotel. For an ultimate experience is heli-golf which airlifts you to the top of Mount Currie to practice your drive belting bio-degradable balls into the Pemberton Valley below.

At sunset, this Whistler mountain top turns pink. (Allan Lynch Photo)

That extravagance becomes a little more affordable since Whistler without snow is a much cheaper place to visit. On my trips to Whistler, I haven’t had a car, and relied on the shuttle service which operates between the Vancouver International Airport and the village, so I didn’t get a chance to try the highly rated Big Sky Course about 30 minutes north of Whistler and the Furry Creek Golf and Country Club, on the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Squamish. You may not know the course, but you probably recognize their signature number 14th hole that juts into Howe Sound.

The flowers offer visual appeal to players and a sometime snack for brown bears. (Allan Lynch Photo)

The first course I golfed in Whistler is the Arnold Palmer-designed Whistler Golf Course. It’s the preferred course of residents and I really like that you can walk to it from your hotel.

On my initial round my foursome was comprised of a Scot, a Newfoundlander and a Torontian. At the second hole, a short 306-yard par 4, we found a brown bear by the tee. I turned to the others and asked, “Shall we skip to the next hole?”

Oh no, they were keen to play every hole. Taking the cover off my driver I tried to remember what you do in the event of a bear attack. Do you fight back, play dead or try to get away in a speeding golf cart? The Scot said, “Ack, don’t worry, bears are vegetarian.” Just then the bear raised its head to look at us. He had a mouth full of wildflowers hanging from his jaws. He looked ridiculous. So I agreed to play the hole. As I was in my backswing I suddenly thought why am I listening to a Scotsman about a Canadian bear? And if bears are vegetarians, why do I always see pictures of them fishing? Inspired by fear, I managed to deliver one of my best drives ever, dropping the ball just in front of the green.

Having managed a good drive, I took comfort in that old adage about not having to be faster than the bear, just faster than someone else in your group. I figured I could easily outrun the woman from Toronto.

The rest of the round was less eventful. The score was respectable and the scenery

The sign doesn’t lie. Crows swooped in to our cart and ate our lunch. (Allan Lynch Photo)

of snow-capped mountains, cedar forest, lakes and flower gardens made for a perfect day.

Across the village is the Chateau Whistler Golf Club. There, a local player told me, “They say if you can get over the first four holes (which are uphill) you’re okay, but I’ve never managed it.”

Nor did I. I was 28 after four holes! Par, for those who must know, on those same holes is 17. It was a grim beginning. But again, you have great scenery. This time it was the Blackcomb Mountains, forests of Douglas Fir and crystal-clear, glacier-fed lakes and creeks. The water is so clear we had a good view of our balls being flushed away in the fast-moving current. Ironically, two of our foursome were a Korean couple anxious to see a bear. I told them they were on the wrong course.

The finish to our golf triumvirate was the Nicklaus North Course. I had to laugh at the tee markers, they were small bears. We seemed to have had a theme.

Like the other courses here, Nicklaus North has a lot of water. There are nine lakes. Most aren’t in play, unless you have a really bad shot. However, there is that dangerously seductive risk and reward aspect. Number two has worrisome water for those with a slice.

The 12th hole is totally unforgiving. It’s a par three with water. I sunk two drives into the water to end up with an eight. And the finish on the par four, number 18 is just cruel for aqua-phobes. You have to hit over a brook 88 feet from the hole. I took a nine on it. Needless to say, I didn’t cross the water. Well, I did, my ball didn’t. That’s the thing about golf, it brings out the optimist in us. I guess it’s the mixture of sunshine and scenery that makes me think I can still hit a three iron or cross a water hazard. One day.

In the meantime, Whistler is worth adding to your play list. Apres golf Whistler has all the chic, fun Alpine amenities of a great year-round resort.

Whistler offers a variety of top golf amid stunning scenery. (Allan Lynch Photo)

If you play:

You best bargain are the various golf packages offered for Whistler and area through The Sea-to-Sky Golf Trail www.seatoskygolftrail.com and Golf Whistler (www.golfwhistler.com).