Golfing Whistler B.C is a Fabulous Experience
by Scott A.Sumner
In recent years I have had the good fortune of playing golf in some great locations in Canada and the US. I know its a tough job but somebody has to do it, right! This past September long weekend my destination was Whistler, BC and it certainly proved to be a golf paradise. There is something about this resort location with the spectacular mountain scenery and fun atmosphere that make it a very special place to be. If you love golfing you must play the Whistler courses.
Our first course was the course owned by the Chateau Whistler, the Chateau Whistler Golf Course. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club opened in 1993 as the second major golf course in Whistler. It was Robert Trent Jones Jrs first Canadian design. Rod Cochrane is the Director of Golf at the Chateau Whistler Golf Course. Rod is from Prince George, BC where he did a golf apprenticeship at his home club before working 5 years at Gallagers Canyon in the Okanagan and then at Nicklaus North as general manager before moving to Chateau Whistler. "For me we are in the service industry and it is all about people. You have to gear for that. I like the reaction of our guests after they play," notes Rod Cochrane. "Our course is very unique with some amazing views and wildlife and terrain that is spectacular. We have had several publications that have ranked our hotel as the number one golf resort in Canada."
The Fairmont company has a classic hotel attached to the golf course in Whistler and has pioneered the golf industry in Canada. "We gain an advantage with our guests as we can anticipate their needs a little better as they are right at the hotel. We do special privileges such as the day of play they can play as much golf as they would like and also make use of the practice facilities for the duration of their stay so long as golf is in their itinerary. At our busiest time we make sure our guests can get on to play at all times." notes Cochrane.
This year being a Skins Game year at Whistler has created a great year and the Fairmont Chateau has been a beneficiary. Major corporations hold their meetings here. The Chateau Whistler Golf Club will do 20,000 rounds. Golf Whistler is an association with 5 partners including the 4 golf courses (Chateau Whistler Golf Club, Big Sky, Whistler Golf Club and Nicklaus North) who are combining their marketing funds as a complete golf resort. "You give up a little when you do that but we know the long haul golfer traveler will not stay for very long with just one golf course." states Rod Cochrane.
Our next golf course was Big Sky. Dean Larsen is the Director of Sales of Big Sky Golf And Country Club. He is originally from Calgary, went to school in Southern California and has lived in the Whistler area for 8 1/2 years. "I was the recipient of the Charles C. Reid scholarship from the Alberta Golf Association so got some scholarship money. I took golf management and the business administration program and was hired on at Big Sky," notes Dean Larsen. "I think the natural splendor of the setting at Big Sky is our best asset. We are situated about 600 feet above sea level and sit at the base of majestic Mt Currie some 8300 feet, with Green River moving along the east corner of the golf course. The fairways are all bent grass with great conditioning. It's just the setting with no houses around and views for 360 degrees."
The architect of Big Sky was Robert Cupp who also did Pumpkin Ridge in Portland Oregon which recently held the US Ladies Open. Crupp previously worked with Jack Nicklaus a lot on the west coast. Construction started on Big Sky in 1992 and the doors opened in 1994 to the public. The club house is about 7500 square feet. They have about 36 greens staff on the course which is all bent grass, naturally occurring fescue and water comes into play on 14 of 18 holes. Big Sky will do 18 to 21,000 rounds in a normal year and up to 25,000 in great weather conditions."
Dean Larsen has been the chairman for Golf Whistler the last two years and it is a very important association for Big Sky. "We work very well together as a golf course consortium marketing this area to the destination traveller. 8 to 10 per cent of our golfers are the traveller and in 2000 40% were from the US. Nicklaus North and Big Sky are the two semi private courses. and we have 120 to130 members as well as local and regional golfers." says Larsen.
The setting, the conditioning and playability are what Dean Larsen likes about Big Sky. "It is a great test for golfers of all abilities from a real beginner to an expert with 7000 yards of course. Big Sky has been rated 4 1/2 stars out of 5 by Golf Digest and in the top 20 in Canada according to Golf Digest," smiles Larsen. "The future is exciting. The resort as a whole is very focussed on presenting Whistler to the world as a value family oriented resort. As we get closer to the Olympics there will be increased attention on this area which will help golf. We all feel very, very, strongly about the golf quality here and there are some exciting times ahead."
Ro Davies is the Sales Manager of the Whistler Golf Club. This course was built in 1983 and designed by Arnold Palmer, his first Canadian course. It is owned and operated by Tourism Whistler and there is a management contract with Intrawest Golf based out of Phoenix. It is a not for profit organization that operates the golf course, the conference centre and every company in town has membership dues it pays in to a marketing budget and promotes. Whistler as a town to the world and ultimately everyone should benefit from that.
"We started as a natural evolution as a group of four. It's been excellent as a group. We go to trade shows in California, Seattle Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto," says Ro Davies. We created 2, 3,and 4 course packages. People come to play all four course. "The courses are all different designers and you can stay in the village. Its fantastic. We all work with the hotels for 5, 6 or 7 days stays. You get a good deal with the play stay packages at www.golfwhistler.com"
"If you came off the street your green fee would be $159 and $20 for a cart in high season. You can play for between $99 to $159 throughout the season. We will do 30,000 rounds between May and October. 5000 to 9000 rounds are based on our resident programs with local unlimited play and some golfers with 100 rounds," notes Davies. "Basically every hole on every course is different with elevation changes at the Chateau, water at Nicklaus and ourselves and Links style at Big Sky."
"We spent $2.2 million taking the undulation out of the fairways recently. We have a huge international guest and want to make it fun, a party where they have a great time. It is a fantastic life style and with the Olympics coming, a whole new vibe. We are going to showcase Whistler to the world."
Jeff Ciecko is the General Manager of the Nicklaus North Golf Course. "I am originally a prairie boy from Winnipeg and spent some time in the interior of BC as a head professional and general manager and the last nine months as general manager," says Jeff Ciecko. "It was an auspisous start with the Telus Skins game dropping in my lap in January. We spent six months planning and organizing that event which was very successful selling out with 5000 spectators. It was a great opportunity to see Jack Nicklaus play likely his last Canadian event prior to going over to St Andrews where he played his last British Open. He created quite a stir when he won the first skin of the event winning $60,000 on the 4th hole and it was nice to have Canadian Stephen Ames be the champion of this years tournament."
"Nicklaus North this year is celebrating its 10 anniversary. It was built in 1995 and the officially opening was in 1996 with Jack coming and playing an even par round of 71 that year. We had the Export Skins game in 1997 which featured Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus. We also hosted the 1998 Shells Wonderful World of Golf Match with Fred Couples shooting 66 and defeating Ernie Els." notes Ciecko. The architect of Nicklaus North of course was Jack Nicklaus and he had built some 200 golf courses now around the worlds. Nicklaus North is the only golf course in the worlds that has his name. Others have Bear but it was the only course with his last name.
"We are very fortunate to have four different styles of homes around Nicklaus North. Our clubhouse houses two floors of strata condominiums. Around the 16th and 18th holes we have a very large townhome development called Goldenwood as well as another townhome development in the middle of the course called Englewood Greens and all the individual homes a round the 1, 2, 15 and 16 holes," states Ciecko. Whistler has a little bit shorter season than most parts of Canada. "We open the first week of May and close around the 10 of 11th of October. We are a value resort. In the high season our rate goes up but early in the season you can play for as little as $69 and it includes a power cart and use of the practice facilities before you round of golf. We go up but have some great Golf BC programs during high season that can get your rate as low as $139."
Golf Whistler is the four course consortium which includes Chateau, Big Sky, Whister Golf Club. They have been named North Americas Number one Golf destination and have four distinctly different products which makes it unique.
Nicklaus North was named the best new Canadian course by Golf Digest. They do 22,000 rounds between May and October.
"I think Jack was very distinctive through all of his courses with bunkering which play a pivotal role in scoring well here. The other thing about Nicklaus North is a par 71 just under 7000 yards. We have 5 par threes all of which are are very challenging including the signature 17 which Green Lake does come into play on one side, a bunker wrapping around the green and playing over 210 yards, so it a great way to finish your round," smiles Ciecko. "We also have the island par three 12th and from the golden bear tees is over 225 yards."
"I was duly impressed with the opportunity to meet Jack and shake his hand. I must say it was pretty special feeling and one of those things I though I would never get to do." smiles Ciecko.
Golf BC is the second largest operator of golf courses in Canada and owns Nicklaus North, Furry Creek, Mayfair Lakes, Gallagers Canyon, Okanagans the Bear and Quail, Arbutus Ridge and Olympic View and five Hawaii Properties.
If you can, be sure to experience golf at Whistler, BC. This is a spectular place and one that offers an exceptional golf experience.