|Long drive on a sunny summer day for a golfer at the Arbutus Ridge Golf club. / Credit: Landon Sveinson Photography / Tourism Vancouver Island|
It can be an interesting challenge to explain why Canadians hold such a great affinity for golf. Is it because our long winters of short days instill an irrepressible desire to get outside for leisurely walks along beautiful, pastoral green spaces as soon as spring arrives? Is it because the country's British heritage inculcates an inherent embrace of sports born in the United Kingdom? Is it because—especially here on Vancouver Island—so many of our early European pioneers were Scottish, and brought the game with them?
Regardless of the answer, the 21st century result is that our Island offers some of the best golf to be found anywhere in North America. We boast championship courses designed by links stars such as Jack Nicklaus; blissfully beautiful club courses designed by player-friendly stalwarts such as Geoff Cornish and Bill Robinson; novelty courses such as the sand-and-pine- country course near Tofino, a 9-hole layout often likened to the old-fashioned links courses of Scotland and Ireland.
And we offer both landscape and weather ideal for memorable outings throughout the Island. Head out in high summer, from Victoria Day to mid-August, and light rises early enough that top-of-the-morning golfers can get in an entire round with the course to themselves. The same is true for late afternoon golfers, who can finish with the light bearing west at 9 p.m. and no one behind pressing for hurried play.
The landscape's sheer magnificence adds to the experience. Sure, we have tall Douglas-firs and Western red-cedars climbing toward the sun along dozens of fairways. You might face south and admire the snowcapped Olympics; east is the conic summit of Mount Baker; Northeast are the formidable Coast Mountains of the B.C. mainland; and astride the Island itself lie the peaks of our Island Range. The sparkling waters of the Salish Sea or the Pacific Ocean reflect summer's light in an infinity of directions. Amber-bark arbutus trees lean into the sun on rocky outcrops; bigleaf maples and tall cottonwoods lend gold to the autumn scene.
Let's not leave out our wild creatures: How often will an eagle soar by? Raven calls echo through the woods beside the tee box? Will an oak-muscled buck deer strut across the fairway a hundred yards out, distracting your tee-shot swing? A bear dash out from the woods to grab your ball?
OK, the latter experience is rare... but not impossible. What is utterly common is the everyday experience of woods and water, sapphire sky and wild companions, fir-scented breeze and balmy comfort.
Over all, there are more than 40 courses on the Island. Some standouts:
• Bear Mountain: This pair of championship courses comprises the centre of a luxury development set astride a ridge northwest of Victoria. Designed by Jack Nicklaus and his son Steve, they offer both rugged challenge (no average golfer who reaches the 18th green on the Mountain course will ever forget the accomplishment) and sensational placement: The view of the city, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains from the 14th green is sometimes reckoned the best in the entire Capital region. The Mountain course is one of the most challenging in British Columbia; the Valley layout is a little more forgiving and 400 yards shorter.
• Crown Isle: The centrepiece of a Comox Valley development that offers excellent apartment-style accommodations to travelers, this course is distinguished by its open layout with tall firs that lend depth (but not obstacles) to its fairway edges. Much of the course offers great views east across the Strait of Georgia to the Coast Range. Designed by Graham Cooke, it's considered a "resort-style" course. That means it's more fun and a little less challenging-but with 11 lakes on the course, there are still plenty of dilemmas facing the average golfer.
• Olympic View: This Victoria course is known for its beauty and its challenge. Set on a plateau near Esquimalt, the fairly narrow fairways are lined with thick fir woods, requiring accurate drives and approach shots-"target" golf. The signature 17th hole is 450 yards for the tee, with a waterfall facing the golfer. The course name reflects the many memorable vistas across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains.
• Storey Creek: Designed by Canadian Les Furber, this course near Campbell River seems more like a large greenbelt than a golf course. Ponds, woods and undulating fairways create an aesthetic experience in which a round of golf is somewhat like a woodland stroll. The namesake creek winds through the course, providing a sensory accompaniment; its natural beauty is enhanced by the course's Audubon-certified environmentally friendly landscape management.
• Arbutus Ridge: The course's name reflects its landscape perfectly. Set at the edge of the Cowichan Valley, the course overlooks the Gulf Islands and Saanich Peninsula, with sparkling blue water in between. The famous final three holes include an island green 214 yards from the tee.
• Long Beach: This 9-hole course carries a "championship" tag, meaning its relatively short length (3,300 yards) does not preclude a hefty challenge for golfers of all skill levels. Often styled a "links" course, it relies on crafty design rather than sheer distance to heighten the difficulty. The West Coast rainforest surrounds it, with cedars and spruces scenting the ocean breeze.
Let's add one more Island experience available almost nowhere else, a ski-golf day. Energetic recreation-fanciers can, in late spring, spend a morning skiing at Mount Washington, near Comox (conditions permitting); then spend the afternoon at a Comox Valley course, such as Crown Isle. Really dedicated outdoors folks can try for a trifecta of skiing, golfing and sailing, all in one day; or a ski/golf/bike one-day extravaganza. This isn't just a one-upmanship exercise: It's an excellent, and memorable, way to take in all the facets of life on the Island that make this such a wonderful place.
"No other game combines the wonder of nature with the discipline of sport in such carefully planned ways," says champion golfer Tom Watson of his profession. On Vancouver Island, the careful planning is a prism in which our marvelous place is almost fully revealed.
|Hikers stroll along the easy boardwalk of the Big Tree trail on Meares Island /
Credit: Boomer Jerritt / Tourism Vancouver Island
Almost any outdoor activity on Vancouver Island is a "nature tour"—even just paddling a kayak through Victoria's Inner Harbour, riding a bike along a back road in the Campbell River Valley, or taking a walk in the woods near Tofino.
But availing yourself of a formal, professional nature tour is a highly effective way to boost your enjoyment of our outdoors. Your guides will transport you to trails, lakes, inlets, beaches, mountains, rivers, forests and/or all the other wonderful landscapes we have here. They'll explain the flowers, birds, insects, trees, fish, mammals and climate. They'll help you walk, ride, paddle or ski the terrain. They'll tell tales and point things out and illustrate why the word 'guide' is the root of 'guidance.'
Anyone can hire a water taxi to reach Meares Island, near Tofino—but an expert guide will help you understand the complex function of nurse logs, the reason that old-growth cedars have 'candelabra' tops, ways that First Nations people use the woods but preserve them at the same time. They might even help you learn about the tangy taste of spruce tips, now so popular in teas.
Anyone can walk the shore at Botanical Beach, outside Port Renfrew. But a guide will offer the names of nudibranchs, decorator crabs, anemones, seastars and other creatures that make the tidepools here so colorful. They might even introduce you to the seaweed here so common now in gourmet soups and salads.
Anyone can watch the salmon return in summer and fall in our rivers. But a guide can explain the differences between the five major kinds of anadromous fish, even the differences between the individual races in particular rivers. Perhaps they'll tell the story of Roderick Haig-Brown, the Campbell River conservationist, avid fisherman and famous author who helped the world better appreciate the wonders of salmon rivers.
Nature tour guides can guide you safely out into Johnstone Strait to show you where orcas scrape their hides on shoreline rock ledges—and why they do that. Nature tours can help you find West Coast orcas, gray whales and other marvelous sights on your way to one of the few oceanfront hot springs in the world. And, a guided kayak nature tour along the Gorge Waterway in Victoria will show you that even here, amid British Columbia's capital bustle, birds, marine mammals, tidal creatures and our original oak savannah ecosystem all thrive in the city.
For information on tour guides throughout the Island, consult the websites for each destination, or visit vancouverisland.travel
|A Steller sea lion on Hornby Island / Credit: Boomer Jerritt / Tourism Vancouver Island|
Denman and Hornby Islands are neighbors alongside Vancouver Island, midway up our eastern coast. Both islands are pastoral beauties with woods-lined meadows and farms, quiet coves and shores, and serene small towns where a general store is the center of life. And both islands feature unique enterprises that reflect the lifestyle and ethos here in such profound bastions of nature. Denman Island Chocolate Co., and the Hornby Island Recycling Depot, are signature institutions here along the Strait of Georgia; both are highly worthwhile if unusual visitor attractions. And both add a great deal to life here.
The two islands lie beside each other opposite Fanny Bay, with a 15-minute ferry ride taking travelers to the first (Denman), then Hornby. Denman is a long, narrow rise of forest and farm oriented north-south along the Vancouver Island shore. Farther east, Hornby is a circular mass with 720-meter Mount Geoffrey rising on the south side, its precipitous slopes facing Denman.
Though chocolate and recycling may seem completely disparate, the two enterprises bear a few similarities. Denman Island Chocolate is highly dedicated to sustainability, focusing on organic ingredients for its dark chocolate and renewable resources in its factory. Visitors are welcome on Saturday; best to call ahead.
On Hornby, the Recycling Depot is where island residents reduce their waste stream 70 percent—thus considerably enhancing the quality of life here and helping preserve the great natural beauty that is so appealing to visitors. Aside from all the bins in which the usual cans, bottles, paper and such are gathered, the centrepiece of the depot is a "store" in which unwanted items such as clothing, shoes, housewares, books, tools and such may be left by one party and picked up by the next. It's one of the most efficient such facilities in the world.
Each island also holds two excellent provincial parks. On Denman, Fillongley is a former estate with an excellent small campground overlooking the water and old-growth cedar forest to stroll through. Boyle Point, which encompasses the entire south end of the island, is a great place to watch for seals, sea lions, eagles and other maritime animals.
Out on Hornby, Tribune Bay Provincial Park is famed for its broad, white curve of sand and shallow waters facing south. Here, summer's high sun warms the beach and water so much that it seems almost semi-tropical. And the southeast corner of the island, Helliwell Provincial Park, holds a marvelous grove of old-growth dryland Douglas fir, interspersed with grassy prairie, that represents one of our region's rarest ecosystems.
Two islands, four parks, two unique enterprises: Denman and Hornby are among our most appealing destinations. Call them fraternal twins in the Salish Sea--and go have a look.
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