By Gayle Moss
Spring has sprung in the Pacific Northwest and that can only mean one thing – it’s time to plan a golf getaway that makes all previous buddy trips pale by comparison.
Now I bet you’re thinking, “This is going to cost me a fortune.” But you’d be wrong! The beauty of this golf mecca is that it’s right next door, boasts some of the best golf courses in North America, offers exciting and enchanting après golf excursions and is easy on the American pocket.
I’m talking about the incomparable Vancouver Island Golf Trail just off the coast of British Columbia, where the US greenback is worth $1.25 Canadian.
You could plan a 4-day golf trip for the price of 3, or buy a coffee at Starbucks with a U.S. $20 bill and walk out with $20 CDN in your pocket. Pretty sweet, eh?
And if the buying power you have in your wallet seems sweet, let me tell you what a long weekend in this wonder-island has to offer besides spectacular golf.
Vancouver Island has a unique way of upping the leisurely power of any trip – no matter how short your stay might be. The moment you land on the 12,000+ square miles of breathtaking beauty you’ll know you’ve escaped the hustle and bustle of city noise and traffic; and you’ll immediately understand why Vancouver Island is rated the #1 Island in Continental US and Canada in Travel + Leisure magazine’s World’s Best Awards.
The capital city of British Columbia, Victoria was recently voted the 3rd friendliest city on the planet and is the perfect gateway to the 150+ miles of Pacific Paradise AJA — the Vancouver Island Golf Trail.
As you wind your way from Victoria all the way up the east coast to Campbell River, you’ll have your pick of 11 outstanding golf destinations that are as unique and impressive as the island they call home.
Now, I know you’re itching to grip it and rip it down the Trail’s majestic fairways, but don’t scratch before you catch a bit of what Victoria has to tempt your palate and purse strings like Red Fish, Blue Fish – a delightfully-unique Ocean Wise seafood eatery in an up-cycled cargo container on a wooden pier in Victoria’s Inner Harbor. Imagine relaxing in gloriously sunny weather overlooking the harbor savoring the best fish and chips you’ve ever eaten, all wrapped up in traditional British-style newspapers.
Between kayaking, whale-watching and deep-sea fishing, all available from right where you’re sitting, you might even forget about golfing for a while.
Okay, maybe that’s pushing it. But it might make you book a later tee time so you can enjoy this most-walkable city’s shopping, arts and culture, ethnic culinary delights and one of the world’s premier floral show gardens.
Now back to golf…
Right in Victoria, there are five golf courses including the host of the 2010 Skins Game, Bear Mountain.
This 36-hole Jack Nicklaus masterpiece offers both a rugged, challenging mountain trek with stunning vistas of the Olympic Peninsula, and a more relaxed serene Valley Course that meanders along lakes and creeks through the forest with spectacular views of Vancouver Island’s beautiful landscape.
There are many accommodation options as well in the region, including Victoria’s Inner Harbor, or the Westin Bear Mountain just steps from the 18th green. Along with its heavenly pillows and beds, the Westin has five restaurant choices, the Mountainside Athletic Club, a divine outdoor pool and the award-winning Sante Spa – a blissful après-golf indulgent, and the perfect pastime for a partner who might prefer pampering over pitching and putting. For those of you who enjoy a more “home away from home” feel, the Westin offers the Fairways Building with condo-style accommodations.
I know it will be hard to leave all that world-class golf and luxury, but you really don’t want to miss these three award-winning courses close by:
- Arbutus Ridge — one of the Top 10 Golf Courses in Canada for Value in heart of the Cowichan wine region
- Highland Pacific, a jewel of a golf course with wide, sweeping fairways, dramatic elevation changes, challenging greens and breathtaking views of Victoria and the Strait of Juan de Fuca
- 4-star Golf Digest Best Places to Play, Olympic View, with its signature waterfalls, 12 lakes, abundant wildlife and majestic snow-peaked Olympic Mountains in the horizon
Heading north from Victoria is the Cowichan Valley – the perfect destination for golf and wine enthusiasts and those of us who enjoy occasional sweet and savory indulgents available in the local bakeries, cheese shops and eclectic little ice cream stores.
There is a fabulous boutique property right on the ocean called the Oceanfront Grand Resort in Cowichan Bay where you can slow down and sit back in an Adirondack chair and watch the whales breach off shore. Or meet up with a crab boat that has just pulled up to the dock with fresh crustaceans ready for the cooking and cracking. You’ll feel like you just stepped back in time.
When staying there, the best courses to play are Arbutus Ridge and the Cowichan Golf and Country Club. The host of a number of top national and provincial championships, Cowichan will have you wanting to book another round before the first is over. Although not the longest trek on the island, it is by no means a cake walk. The gentle sloping tree-lined fairways are tight and lead to fast undulating greens that will keep you on your toes, so don’t get distracted by the eye-catching scenery between shots.
After your morning of driving, putting and chipping, why not enjoy some sipping at one of the 9 wineries in the area by booking a half-day winery tour. The scenery surrounding Vancouver Island’s vineyards is as delicious as its wide selection of premium white and red wines including Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Gewurztraminer, Mueller-Thurgau and Ortega.
Heading further north up the Trail is a little piece of island beach paradise, Parksville. Last spring I had the pleasure of spending a weekend golf getaway with 23 other fun-loving golfgals at its signature resort and spa Tigh-Na-Mara – an incredible oceanfront retreat on 22 acres of tranquil forest. From rustic cottages to oceanfront suites that offer sweeping panoramic views of the Strait of Georgia and coastal mountains, Tigh-Na-Mara is a memorable vacation experience not to be missed.
Its restaurant has a great kitchen with dishes inspired by the local produce and seafood. But what really makes the resort extraordinary is The Grotto Spa – named the #1 Spa in British Columbia by Spas of America. I could spend a whole afternoon just in the Grotto Mineral Pool alone with its invigorating cool-splash waterfall and whirlpool – true spa bliss!
If you’re looking for a different sort of foot scrub, a walk along Rathtrevor Beach provides that natural sand and exfoliation after your round of golf. That tidal shift is amazing to see; from high to low tide it moves a mile and a quarter in and out, making the water warm and inviting.
Not to be outdone by the accommodations, the golf in the area is first rate, starting with Les Furber’s Fairwinds. Named Best Golf Course on Vancouver Island in 2013, Fairwinds is nestled in a dense forest with water features and dramatic elevation changes that present serious players a true test of golf. And for those recreational golfers who are looking for fun over frustration there are numerous opportunities to commune with nature and the abundance of wildlife that awaits you around every turn. It’s a great golf experience at a great price.
Another real treat about this facility is the Fairwinds Marina where an hour of kayaking on the calm east coast ocean awaits you after your round. Just leave your golf shoes in the car and pick up a paddle!
Yet another delightful course in the region is Pheasant Glen with its very unique front and back nines. It’s a great little track, but with arguably three of the toughest finishing holes you’ll ever play. You will love them!
Hopping up a bit further north is Golf Course Ranking Magazine’s “Most Romantic Accommodations in Western Canada” at Crown Isle. Nestled under the shadows of the colossal Comox Glacier, this stay-and-play luxury resort showcases an impeccably maintained, championship golf course that is designed for players of all skill levels. It presents gorgeous views of the Beaufort Mountains and “Master”-fully displayed flowers planted in the tens of thousands every year.
The massive clubhouse is equally amazing and even includes a classic car museum, and a cigar and cognac room.
The adjacent villas, awarded 4½ stars by Tourism B.C., are some of the most luxurious on the Island.
Less than an hour away is another 4.5 star Golf Digest winner you must add to your bucket list. Rated the best public course on Vancouver Island and 3rd in the province, Storey Creek is nicknamed “A Course in Nature” for good reason.
This ~6,700 yard work of art is walkable if you’re looking to commune up close with the deer, eagles and black bears that call this cathedral home. One of the things I really love about this course is that every hole is isolated and unique from the next, making every tee shot a new challenge that requires focus. But that’s no problem in this secluded tree-lined landscape where the only sounds you’ll hear are the soothing songs of Mother Nature at her finest!
Don’t have time for 18, then try a 9-hole experience at Quadra Island Golf Club, a short water shuttle ride from Campbell River. At just over 3,200 yards from the tips, this professionally designed course provides an enjoyable challenge for beginners and seasoned players alike. The course may be short, but it has BIG ocean vistas of the Sutil Channel and BC’s mainland coastal mountain range. The contours of this secluded forest landscape with its standing stone formations creates a memorable 9-hole golfing experience you’ll want to repeat.
Quadra Island also boasts April Point Resort & Spa (and its sister resort, Painter’s Lodge) with its breathtaking scenery, vibrant marine life and laid-back island pace. The waters around April Point are an ocean playground where customized fins and skins packages will delight all you land and sea lovers.
You can fish in the morning, tee it up that afternoon and take home more than a few bragging rights with the 40 lb. salmon you caught that day – prepared any way you wish!
Vancouver Island is truly is a golfer’s paradise, but it is so much more. Spectacular scenery, wineries, whales, sport fishing, sailing, resorts, beaches, bike trails, the arts, the Island’s charismatic charm and half the annual rainfall of Seattle combine to create a vacation experience unlike any other in North America.
People travel to Vancouver Island from around the world to experience all it has to offer, but for us in the Pacific Northwest, it’s just a hop, skip and a puddle-jump from the west coast mainland with ferries and short flight options from Washington State.
So what are you waiting for? Come play on island time!