In September we had the opportunity to visit Whistler Mountain in British Columbia, Canada about an hour and one-half northeast of Vancouver. Having never been to this area and remembering the beautiful scenes from the 2010 Winter Olympics, we were definitely looking forward to it.
It didn’t hurt that we would be staying at the Fairmont hotel that sits at the base of the mountain. We have written about the Fairmont near San Diego, the one at Richelieu in Quebec and last December at the Fairmont at Southampton in Bermuda. The hotels are always spectacular with no amenities left out.
Getting to Whistler from southern New England is quite a journey. We flew to Seattle and then took the Cascades Amtrak train to Vancouver because Brown University golf coach, Mike Hughes, said that it was the prettiest train ride that he’s ever been on. He was right! The train travels along Puget Sound through pretty town and gorgeous views.
We met the other golf writers at the Vancouver Airport and were bussed to Whistler. Waterfalls, tree-lined islands, ferry boats and snowcapped mountains made the bus ride an adventure in itself.
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler (pictured on the next page) is beautiful. It has over 500 rooms with every amenity that you could ask for. My wife was more excited about the hotel that the prospect of playing three excellent golf courses.
There are three golf courses right in the little town, and each one is quite different. The first course that we played was Whistler Golf Club. Designed by Arnold Palmer and the oldest course in the town, it used to be a nine-holer, but the Palmer group extended it to 18 holes in 1983.
The course is built on a small footprint, but you never had the feeling of hitting into other groups. There are quite a few doglegs; and tall pines, red cedar and some hardwoods line most every hole. The greens are undulating, but fun to putt.
The eighth hole is a par 3 over a pond that plays longer than it looks. The ninth is a par 5 that requires you to play over the same creek twice as it meanders back and forth. The toughest (and prettiest) hole is 16—a long par 4 for the men and par 5 for the women. You hit from an elevated tee over a pond and then a creek. There is a little bit of a bailout between the pond and creek, but not much.
The staff was wonderful at the course (as they were at both other courses as well). Most of the young staffers are skiers waiting for the snow to arrive. We saw fresh snow on top of Whistler Mt. while we played in 60-degree weather in the valley.
Our second round was still in the valley, but at a completely different type of layout. Nicklaus North-Whistler was a huge course with wide-open fairways and very large greens. In the typical Nicklaus fashion, most of the holes were well bunkered and there were many fairway bunkers.
The par 3’s made the course very memorable and the scenery was spectacular. It is a beautiful setting as you see the mountain vistas from every hole and two of the holes play along Green Lake that is used for seaplanes to bring in visitors. This is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course for good reason, as it has many unforgettable holes.
It was at this course that I had my only bear experience. “Be careful,” said my cart mate as I was looking back at the tee. I turned and there was a 300-pound black bear ambling across the fairway towards the woods. He didn’t seem interested in me, but I was certainly concerned about him. “The bears are quite used to golfers and we never have trouble with them,” said a worker who watched the whole thing up at the green. They were there long before us, right? Black bears have a much better disposition than grizzlies!
Our last round was at the Chateau Whistler course that is less than a five-minute walk from the Fairmont. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., it is one of the most memorable and beautiful courses that I have ever played. The scenery as you can see from the picture is spectacular. Some of the holes reminded me of Sunday River GC in Maine that Jones designed. But these mountains were higher.
“Our first four holes are the most difficult,” said the affable starter. He wasn’t kidding. I swear we climbed the whole mountain as we played the par 5 first, the short par 4 second, the long dogleg third and the uphill fourth. Thank goodness for the golf carts as this would have been a tough forced march on foot.
The second is short (under 300 from all tees except the back), but it plays over a chasm to a green that slopes severely from back to front. It was the 15-handicap hole but no one parred it.
The course is spacious and many of the lies are side hill. It is difficult, but if you play the correct tees it will be fair. What will stay with you after the round is the amazing views that you have everywhere on the course. Take the time to look back as you trudge up the mountain. Enjoy the beautiful vistas as well as the large greens. You will hit some of your longest drives playing down the mountain. Remember them on your way back to New England.
We were a little concerned heading up to Canada in September. Would it be warm enough? All three courses are open May to the middle of October. While we were there the nights were cold, but it warmed up nicely during the daytime.
All three golf courses had excellent restaurants in their clubhouses. We rented clubs each day and had beautiful Titleist and TaylorMade clubs. The excellent courses, beautiful views, energetic and helpful staffs made this a golf trip that we will always remember.
You can get more information about Fairmont Chateau Whistler at www.Fairmont.com/Whistler or calling 800-606-8244.
Bruce Vittner is a member of the Golf Writers Assn. of America, the Golf Travel Writers of America and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.