As my wife Sally and I decided to take a Canadian golf holiday, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators selected British Columbia as its North American Golf Destination of the Year.
Based on our experience, they chose well.
Last winter we skied at the Revelstoke Mountain Resort, 300 miles north of our Kootenai County home. The hill boasts the longest run in North America, 9.5 miles. Our guide/ski instructor was Lisa Longinotto, also an avid golfer, who invited us to see Revelstoke’s summer charms, including its golf course.
We accepted, and decided to visit nearby courses as well.
Our first stop was Castlegar. We arrived in early afternoon, too late to get in 18 holes, but early enough to sightsee. We got a morning tee time at the Castlegar Golf Club, described by a golfing buddy as “rather challenging.”
Depending on the tees, the par 72 course – slope 128 – plays from 5,500 to 6,700 yards.
Club general manager Brian Miller said the first nine holes were constructed in 1963 and the back nine five years later. Operating on the old golfer’s ancient premise, “We don’t need no stinkin’ designer,” members did the layout themselves, with a little guidance from the pros.
The result is a lot of sidehill and up-and-down hiking (it’s walkable, but carts are available) with undulating fairways and challenging greens.
The score card rates the holes differently, but we found number 9 tough. It’s a uphill 337 yards from the white tees to green, so you’d better play a couple of lofty clubs.
Castlegar is a championship course, having hosted the BC seniors’ competition in 2007. Next year members will play host to 156 BC amateur championship players, the fourth time here.
The Castlegar GC doesn’t have a formal pro, so 56-year-old Miller, who maintains a handicap of 15, fills that role too. He’s been in charge for eight years, following stints at the Cranmore Golf Club where he served for a year and a decade at the Rossland-Trail Country Club.
A graduate of Selkirk College’s parks and recreation program, Miller is an avid outdoorsman. He cross-country skis, mountain bikes, hikes, camps and gardens. In his youth he was a smokejumper in the Yukon.
The Castlegar Golf Club is semi-private, owned by 410 members but open to the public, and has amenities like a driving range, putting and chipping greens, practice bunker, rental clubs, a pro shop, café and bar. Miller says it’s played 35,000 times each year, and boasts a brand-new 20-site RV park, with plans for another 20 spaces.
Standard green fees are $58 Canadian for 18 holes and $34 for nine, but call for specials (like their Happy Hour Mondays: 9 holes after 5 p.m. for $20).
The target day for first play is April 1 and, depending on weather, the last round is about Oct. 31.
Contact numbers are 800-666-0324 or 250-365-5006; e-mail email@example.com, or www.golfcastlegar.com.
Resuming our Canadian journey, we continued north 159 more miles to Revelstoke. The two-lane highway follows the Columbia River between the Monashee and Selkirk mountains, passing through a dozen hamlets. Thirty miles south of Revelstoke we drove onto a ferry for a 30-minute cruise across Upper Arrow Lake.
Revelstoke abuts Canada 1, the principal east-west highway. The town is in a beautiful valley just below the highway, so the 24-hour traffic doesn’t disturb its 8,500 residents.
From the Coast Hillcrest Resort Hotel, we called Lisa, only to learn that while walking her dogs the night before, they routed a chipmunk, jerking her to the ground. She suffered a series of abrasions and bruised her right shoulder and couldn’t lift her arm above her head, or a club. So, no golf guide.
We secured an 11 a.m. tee time at the Revelstoke Golf Club, met Lisa for a condolence drink at the Regent Inn, toured attractions, including a free concert at outdoor entertainment pavilion, then returned to the Hillcrest for supper and bed.
After a leisurely breakfast at Main Street Café, we hit the links.
The Revelstoke Club is a tree-lined beauty on the Columbia River. On the front nine, strike straight or you might lose a ball to the river. It’s a classic park-style course, reasonably flat with undulating fairways, and is walkable.
Another classic feature is the clubhouse. In the early 20th century, the golf course was a race track and, when the first nine holes were constructed in 1924, the horse barn became the clubhouse. The back nine holes were constructed in the 1970s.
Club pro John Franks, 48, is busy — he’s general manager and head bookkeeper too. A native of Victoria, B.C., he started playing golf in his mid-20s and said he learned fundamentals from a David Ledbetter video. (His handicap is 3.)
John’s been managing Revelstoke for seven years after stints at the Fairview Mountain, Cherry Grove and Inkameep Canyon courses in Oliver, B.C.
He and his wife Pamela and son Shayne spend winters in sunnier Phoenix, but he enjoys outdoors in the Kootenays too, including downhill skiing and fishing.
Men’s par is 72; women’s is 74. It’s 5,874 yards long from the back tees and slope rating is 127. The most difficult hole is number 5, a par 4 with a left dogleg, a hump in the middle, a pond on the right and a narrow green protected by trees.
The public course is owned by the city and leased to 260 members. The course gets s20,000 plays each year, John says, and 60 percent are by its members.
He’s excited by the prospect of a championship course designed by Nick Faldo at the nearby Revelstoke Mountain Resort; two courses will bring even more golfers here.
The Revelstoke Golf Club has all the amenities, including a driving range, putting and chipping greens, a practice bunker, gas carts, a café and bar, beverage cart service, and the pro shop.
Green fees are $34 Canadian for 9 holes and $59 for 18. Twilight rates begin at 2 p.m., when 18 holes cost $47. Contact information: 250-837-4276 or www.revelstokegolfclub.com.
On average, Franks says, the course opens in mid-April and shuts down in mid-October.
On our way home, we decided to play at least one more course and, based on its Web page, we chose Slocan Lake, just north of New Denver.
It’s a pretty place, on a bench above the lake, and a pretty typical small-town 9-hole walk-on and back-and-forth experience. It’s flat, and for nine holes and a par 35 you’ll walk 2,682 yards.
It’s 76 years old, has a nice clubhouse with a restaurant, tiny pro shop, rental carts and clubs, and a good view of the lake and course.
The club’s Web site (www.newdenver.ca/attractions/nearby) promised good course maintenance – which was true – and modest green fees. The latter claim was also true, but those fees weren’t quite as modest as advertised online. We told the gruff cashier that the advertised fee was $15 for 9 holes. She replied, “That’s the old fee. It’s $21 now.”
Our return route took us through Castlegar again, and thought we might play another public course, Little Bear. But it was pouring, and more rain was predicted the following day, so we called it quits and came home.
Overall, it was a great golf vacation. With the exception of the gruff Slocan Lake hostess, everyone we encountered was friendly, our lodging reasonably priced and clean, the food good, the scenery magnificent, and our off-course touring fun.