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Destination Whistler

The par-3 12th hole is the most dramatic at Nicklaus North.
 (Photo courtesy of Nicklaus North Golf Course / The Spokesman-Review)
The par-3 12th hole is the most dramatic at Nicklaus North. (Photo courtesy of Nicklaus North Golf Course / The Spokesman-Review)

WHISTLER, British Columbia – Since the early 1990’s, when this world-renown ski area decided to beef up its reputation as a summer vacation destination, golfers have emerged as the biggest winners.

Since then, four wonderfully challenging and visually spectacular courses, all situated within a 25-minute drive of each other, have opened for play, turning the area into a golf mecca.

The list of course designers involved in bringing world-class golf to the Blackcomb Mountains is incredible.

Whistler Golf Club, for example, was the first Canadian course designed by Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus North Golf Club came out so well that designer Jack Nicklaus was inspired to add his name to the course.

The Chateau Whistler Golf Club was designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Jr., and offers a diverse layout that will test the abilities and imagination of golfers are all levels. And the Robert Cupp-designed Big Sky Golf and Country Club in nearby Pemberton has drawn world-wide praise for the condition of its bentgrass greens, fairways and tee boxes.

All four courses unwind in a scenic valley surrounded by massive, snow-covered mountains that feed many of the rivers and streams that come into play. And all four are currently ranked among the top 100 in Canada, making Whistler one of the “Top 50 Golf Destinations in the World,” according to Golf Digest.

The accolades bestowed upon the region by various golf publications have become too numerous to mention. Yet, with the arrival of each new season, the powers that be seem to find a way to improve on what has long been a near-perfect golf experience.

I made my way back to the resort last fall as part of a Writers’ Cup competition pitting golf writers from the United States against golf writers from British Columbia. And I came away, once again, immensely impressed by the beauty, playability and conditioning of all four courses – not to mention the continued hospitality of the staff at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler hotel, which hosted the two-day event.

Adding to the experience this time around was a morning tour of the new 330-yard, double-ended Practice & Learning Centre at Chateau Whistler Golf Club.

The marvelous facility, which covers nearly seven acres, includes its own clubhouse, two practice greens, two chipping greens, seven target greens and both natural grass and artificial turf teeing areas.

It also serves as the home of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy – the first such branch to be established in Canada and the only in North America outside of the state of Florida.

Leadbetter is considered one of the world’s foremost golf instructors and operates 27 full-time academies located in 13 different countries, including Austria, China, Portugal and Switzerland.

His newest academy has served as the perfect compliment to the Chateau Whistler Golf Club’s scenic range and practice area.

“Partnering with the world’s foremost golf instructor has allowed us to combine David Leadbetters’s unique teaching methods with our new state-of-the-art practice and learning facility,” said Murray Blair, Corporate Director of Golf Operations for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. “This union enhances Fairmont’s golf offering, which results in an unforgettable golf experience.”

“It has been a great addition to our course,” added Rod Cochrane, Chateau Whistler’s Director of Golf. “It has helped us gain even more national attention.”

The new Leadbetter Academy offers a variety of instructional packages, ranging from a four-day golf school to private instruction, and features computer analysis of your swing, provided on your own personal take-hope video tape of DVD. Some package deals include daily lunches with your instructor and a chance to pick up some additional tips or further discuss your morning lesson.

More information about the David Leadbetter Golf Academy can be obtained by calling (800) 424-DLGA or visiting the on the internet.

And more information on greens fees and golf packages available at the four courses in the area can be obtained by calling (866) 338-4026, or by visiting on the internet.

Following is a brief description of the four Whistler-area golf courses:

Nicklaus North Golf Course

8080 Nicklaus N. Blvd.

Whistler, British Columbia

Phone: (800) 386-9898 or (604) 938-9898

Par: 71


Gold: 6,908 yards; rating 72.2; slope 133

Blue: 6,413 yards; rating 69.7; slope 124

White: 6,004 yards; rating 67.8, 73.5 (W); slope 118, 128 (W)

Green: 5,489 yards; rating 70.5 (W) slope 122 (W)

Red: 4,732 yards; rating 66.3 (W) slope 113 (W)

Comments: Designed by Jack Nicklaus, this demanding layout scenically unfolds along the normally tranquil shores of Green Lake and offers a sensational variety of mountain vistas.

The course features five sets of tees, which makes it playable for golfers of almost every skill level, and – like most Nicklaus designs – places great importance on approach shots.

The most dramatic hole is the par-3 12th, which plays 225 yards from the back tees to a peninsula green that is deviously crowned. Club selection off the tee can range from a fairway metal to a 7-iron, depending on the direction and velocity of the wind.

The course features four other par-3s that range in length from 179 to 226 yards and offer a terrific array of challenges. The first hole, a 390-yard, dogleg-left par-4 with water down the right side of the fairway, stands as a perfect introduction to Nicklaus’ grand creation.

Nicklaus North played host to the 1997 Canadian Skins Game, featuring Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Fred Couples and Nick Faldo, and will serve as the venue for this year’s TELUS Skins Game, which has Nicklaus, John Daly, Vijay Singh and Stephen Ames in the field.

Whistler Golf Club

4010 Whistler Way

Whistler, British Columbia

Phone: (800) 376-1777 or (604) 932-3280

Par: 72


Blue: 6,676 yards; rating 71.3; slope 131

White: 6,168 yards; rating 69.3, 74.3 (W); slope 121, 134 (W)

Green: 5,348 yards; rating 66.3, 69.7 (W); slope 104, 127 (W)

Comments: Arnold Palmer, opting to design his first Canadian course against a backdrop of majestic mountains and towering stands of ancient cedars, created a masterpiece meant to stick in the minds of those fortunate enough to play it forever.

Breath-taking views of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains abound, and a series of lakes fed by a pair of creeks that wind through the property, enhance both the playability and beauty of the layout.

Golfers should be warned that the wide, inviting landing areas off the tee can be deceptive. Accuracy with the driver is still a must on many holes, particularly the 471-yard par-4 second, which is named “Double Trouble” and features gaping, deviously placed bunkers on each side of the fairway.

Another great hole is the 384-yard par-4 7th. A creek crosses the fairway about 239 yards out and takes driver out of the equation for long hitters. And a massive bunker that guards the right front of the putting surface makes for a dicey approach.

The course also features a 4,800 square-foot clubhouse and 1,300 square-foot pro shop to accommodate corporate and group outings of nearly any size.

Chateau Whistler Golf Club

4612 Blackcomb Way

Whistler, British Columbia

Phone: (877) 938-2092 or (604) 938-0368

Par: 72


Gold: 6,635 yards; rating 71.5; slope 145

Blue: 6,243 yards; rating 69.6; slope 131

White: 5,692 yards; rating 67.7, 72.7 (W); slope 115, 133 (W)

Red: 5,157 yards; rating 65.6, 69.7 (W); slope 106, 126 (W)

Comments: The shortest of the four courses in the area, this Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation fits naturally into its eclectic surroundings and offers some of the best views available of the glacier-capped Coast Mountains.

The beauty of the course is further enhanced by massive granite outcroppings, dramatic elevation changes and glacier-fed creeks that meander along stands of old Douglas Firs. Because of the rugged terrain and large number sharp doglegs, sand traps and water hazards, golf carts are equipped with a computerized satellite-linked system that relays yardages to pin and hazards via a digital display screen.

To Jones’ credit, the course remains eminently playable and affords inviting targets off the tee, despite the severity of the elevation changes.

Four sets of tee boxes keep the challenges equal for golfers of all skill levels – provided they don’t bite off more golf course than they can chew. And those that do can find at least a smidgen of post-round solace back at the nearby Fairmount Chateau Whistler hotel, which features vintage wines, a large selection of local beers and an assortment of fine Cuban cigars.

Big Sky Golf & Country Club

1690 Airport Road

Pemberton, British Columbia

Phone: (800) 668-7900 or (604) 894-6106

Par: 72


Black: 7,001 yards; rating 73.0; slope 130

Blue: 6,496 yards; rating 70.5; slope 122

White: 6,037 yards; rating 68.7; slope 111

Green: 5,208 yards; rating 64.8; slope 103

Comments: Pemberton is a short and scenic 25-minute drive north of Whistler and features the best conditioned course in the area. Big Sky Golf & Country Club unfolds at the base of Mount Currie, an 8,540-foot snow-capped peak that combines jaw-dropping beauty with the eerie echoes of rock slides that seems to occur on regular basis.

Designed by Robert Cupp, the relatively flat layout features bent grass greens, fairways and tee boxes that sit on 190 pristine acres of land, dotted by small ponds, creeks and natural contours. The wide, receptive fairways are lined by a gnarly rough of bluegrass and rye and are defined by mounds, tall fescue and bunkers.

Among the best holes is the 600-yard, par-5 fifth, which is known as “Purgatory.” The hole doglegs slightly to the left and is protected by a creek that crosses the fairway at two different locations, putting club selection at a premium.

The course also boasts a 350-yard practice facility that serves as home to the Big Sky Golf Academy, along with the Academy Course, a 1,200-yard, nine-hole layout that plays to a par of 27 and serves as a perfect venue for beginners and low-handicappers wanting to tune up their short games.

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