Golfing on Vancouver Island
The old canard about playing golf—“a good walk spoiled”—is quite thoroughly turned upside down on Vancouver Island. Here a round of golf is a dandy exercise of all the game’s virtues, and more: Not only is this a very good walk indeed, it’s golf at its best.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that, on an Island whose early European settlers featured quite a few Scots such as Robert Dunsmuir, golf has taken a strong hold. In fact, Dunsmuir’s son, James, who was both a coal and railroad baron and BC premier, retired from the hurly burly of public life to run his country estate (Hatley Park) and play golf. Many Island residents greet the change to daylight savings time by hanging up their skis in the garage and taking out the golf clubs for the next seven months.
Our courses range from lovely, traditional, lush links that wend their way across gentle hills, to high-octane championship tracks that climb the foothills to afford generous views and memorable difficulties. More than a dozen major golf resorts welcome members of the public; 40 other assorted 9- and 18-hole courses are open across the Island and in the Gulf Islands adjoining the main Island.
All take advantage of the Island’s intrinsic virtues—great scenery, a climate conducive to course creation and maintenance, interesting but not difficult landscapes along which designers can lay “tracks,” as golf fans call them, that range from classic open links-style courses, to tree-bordered layouts that demand accuracy and discipline.
Further, the weather is generally so amiable that a game is possible almost any time of year, especially in the Victoria area and along the inland coast north to Campbell River. And summer’s high season brings delightful conditions that lend themselves to both leisurely rounds or total-immersion experiences. With first light at 5 a.m., and sunset well past 9 p.m., energetic golfers can easily master 36 holes in a day. Or more relaxed duffers can have a leisurely breakfast, wait for the sun to clear the firs along the fairways and burn off the overnight dew, take their time along the course and reach the clubhouse after 18 holes just as the afternoon temperature hits 28 degrees. When autumn arrives, the backdrop of golden cottonwood and maple leaves burnishes the scene.
Either party, hard-core all-day golfers or laissez-faire recreational players, is likely to watch eagles fly overhead, listen to songbirds in the woods and hummingbirds buzzing by, savor the scent of sun-warmed conifer needles in a light breeze.
Among the notable courses on the Island:
- Bear Mountain is a resort development climbing the foothills northwest of Victoria, centred on two 18-hole courses designed by Jack Nicklaus. The Mountain Course is a famously challenging track whose signature hole, #14, is a 509-yard par-5 that climbs to a saddle green with views of Mount Baker, the Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the city of Victoria. The final hole, #18, features a narrow target green guarded by six bunkers, two ponds and a rock gully. The newer 18 at Bear Mountain, the Valley Course, is more user-friendly than the first. The whole property is so appealing that Nicklaus added a “bonus” 19th hole on the Mountain course, a hillside par-3 that can be played just for fun or used for settling bets.
- Olympic View is a classic target golf layout most of whose holes are closely bounded by woods, requiring accurate shots and creating a visually rich backdrop in autumn. The views across to the Olympic Mountains are spectacular, and the setting southeast of Victoria is quiet and easy to reach. The course is a participant in the Audubon Society’s environmental management program, minimizing resource use.
- Arbutus Ridge, laid out along Cobble Hill heights overlooking the Cowichan Valley, offers an open layout with views over the Strait of Georgia. The course’s signature red-trunked arbutus trees lend scenic value, but rarely come into play. An island green on the 17th hole provides the psychological challenge so quintessential to golf, though it’s actually fairly easy to reach the green. Nearby wineries supply solace or celebration after the round; the warm, rain-shadow location offers nearly year-round golf.
- Pheasant Glen, in Qualicum Beach, is an 18-hole championship course with a split personality—the first nine is an open layout with broad fairways, bunkers and lakes. The back nine winds through woods to offer a different experience, with a finishing three holes at 520 yards, 420 yards and 582 yards involving water hazards and both-side bunkers that create a rigorous challenge.
- Crown Isle is the centrepiece of a resort community in the Comox Valley that makes admirable use of the rolling, lightly timbered landscape here. While it’s a true championship course, the shorter tees offer recreational golfers a forgiving experience with broad landing areas and user-friendly greens. The course is also the second facet of a unique Comox experience available in late March and early April: Spend the morning skiing at nearby Mount Washington Alpine Resort, then hustle back down for an afternoon round at Crown Isle.
- Storey Creek is the northernmost major golf resort on the Island, just south of Campbell River. Tucked into the area’s native woods, most of the holes feature fir-lined fairways and a natural setting that includes frequent wildlife sightings—bears, beavers, eagles and the occasional cougar.
Other Island golf courses include the championship 9 near Tofino, Long Beach Golf Course, first built for service members stationed here during World War II, whose pines and sandy soil make it a true links-style course. Salt Spring Island has two nine-hole courses, both set on plateaus in the island’s peaceful countryside. Two executive (mostly par-3) courses in the Alberni Valley take advantage of the area’s surprisingly fine climate, and an 18-hole course offers a full day’s play. And Victoria has a half-dozen courses in or near the city, some private, some semi-private, several open to the public and offering old-line club layouts with forgiving fairways and garden-like settings.
So, take a walk along some of our finest outdoor paths—and bring along the clubs for enhanced enjoyment.
For more on Golfing in the Vancouver Island Region, check out the video at the bottom of the newsletter!
Discovering Gabriola Island
|Malaspina Galleries on Gabriola Island|
Its many ardent fans consider Gabriola the choicest undiscovered island in the Strait of Georgia. Tucked into the northernmost end of the southern Gulf Islands chain, this 57-square-kilometer gem has sparkling sapphire waters lapping onto beautiful sand beaches; cozily elegant bed-and-breakfast accommodations set amid tree-ringed meadows; beautiful small harbours occupying protected coves. Oak and arbutus trees mark sunny pastures and small but splendid parks invite hiking, swimming, beachcombing and bike riding.
The island has about 4,000 residents, many of whom commute by ferry to work in Nanaimo, whose downtown is just a 15-minute ferry ride from the north end of Gabriola. That 15-minute ride, though, is a doorway into a decidedly different world—the biggest “place” on the island is a small collection of cafes, stores and services about five minutes up the road from the ferry dock. It’s the sort of place where almost everyone gives a nod to passing drivers as they circle the island on its 30-kilometer loop road.
Near the ferry landing, Descanso Bay is a regional park with excellent camping facilities just above its namesake cove. Nearby, the island’s most famous feature, the Malaspina Galleries, is a shelf of sandstone carved into a fanciful waterline “verandah” by wind and waves over the centuries. Five minutes past Malaspina is Gabriola Sands Provincial Park, a pleasant preserve on a tiny peninsula with sandy beaches on both sides and broad lawn between. In July and August, the sun warms the eastern beach in the morning, the western beach in the afternoon; yes, the water does warm up enough for swimming in the two shallow bays.
At the opposite, southeast end of the island, Drumbeg Provincial Park provides a vantage on a beautiful tidal channel from atop a small headland that holds an oak prairie, a rare and vanishing Strait of Georgia ecosystem.
There’s nary a hotel on the island, nor even a motel or inn bigger than a few rooms. Lodging is provided in farmhouses or artistic B&Bs set in the countryside; a large part of the central island has recently been preserved in a vast park with hiking and biking trails. That’s just how fans of Gabriola like it: Visitors here get to know their hosts, take the time to explore the island slowly, and expect to find only peace, nature, beauty and quiet. All of those are present in ample portions on this little-known retreat.
For more information on Gabriola Island, please visit www.tourismnanaimo.com
Festivals in the Vancouver Island Region
|One of the amazing creations from the 2011 Quality Foods Sandsculpting Competition|
It may seem hard to take seriously a community festival that features bathtubs zooming across the harbour of a very serious maritime city. That’s what happens in Nanaimo every July during the World Championship Race, which is itself part of the Harbour City’s annual Maritime Festival, a larger event that includes a street fair, parade of sailboats, and a huge fireworks display. This year the fun takes place July 19-22; the bathtub race is July 22.
That’s just one of the many festivals that spice up life on Vancouver Island each year. Most take place May through October, but not all. All, however, focus on having fun with the intrinsic Island attributes and cultural heritage that make life here so wonderful. Here are just a few:
- Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival: Devoted to the pioneer practice of making syrup from our own native maple trees; February, at Duncan’s Forest Discovery Centre.
- Vancouver Island MusicFest: Top stars such as Emmylou Harris headline three days of music in the Comox Valley; early July.
- Cowichan Summer Festival: This year the annual festival has been expanded to more than a month in order to celebrate Duncan’s centennial; July into September, Duncan.
- Sand Sculpting Competition: Artists create fanciful sand sculptures as part of the Parksville Beach Festival, mid-July. Sculptures remain standing for public viewing until late August.
- International Buskers Festival: Street performers from around the world visit Canada; Victoria, late July.
- Hornby Island Festival: Nine days of music, theatre and arts on this quiet island that takes two ferry rides to reach; early August.
- Campbell River Salmon Festival: The city celebrates both fishing and logging, the area’s two mainstay industries; mid-August.
- Victoria Dragon Boat Festival: Four days of admiring and celebrating these colorful Chinese icons; late August.
- Port Alberni Salmon Festival: A fishing derby and celebration of salmon; Port Alberni, early September.
- Salt Spring Island Apple Festival: A day devoted to tasting and appreciating the many varieties of apple grown on the island; late September.
- Ucluelet Aquarium Release Day: Each fall the aquarium returns to the sea the marine denizens that have spent the summer on display; mid-October.
- Clayoquot Oyster Festival: A celebration of the savory bivalve so central to Island cuisine; Tofino, November.
- Ladysmith Festival of Lights: This mid-island town lights up every year for the holidays; late November through New Year.
Lots of other colorful events take place throughout the Vancouver Island region year-round; for more information visit www.vancouverisland.travel.
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