Eagles, Birdies and Bears on Vancouver Island
Miles away from Vancouver Island, you hear little about the quality of the golf in this region. But as you travel here time and again, as I have, it’s easy to fall hard for “Van Island,” which is what the locals call it. Whether your passion is mountains or sea, you’re likely to find a golf course here that appeals to you.
Name your pleasure. Van Island can probably deliver it.
Razorback ridges and switchback fairways? Bear Mountain Resort has a pair of golf courses that will stun you. Jack Nicklaus and his son Steve sculpted narrow chutes, wide landing areas, and big sweeping greens on the crumpled sides of a granite mountain. Tall stands of Douglas firs and red-barked Arbutus trees punctuate the hills. On one side stands the Cascade Mountains; on the other, far below the amber fountain grasses and purple wildflowers, sits stately Victoria and the Pacific Ocean. Look across the strait on any cloudless day and you’ll spy Washington State, just 15 miles offshore. Backed by hockey legend Len Barrie and a few of his NHL friends, Bear Mountain is both a resort and a residential community. Its two courses are popular for corporate outings, and there’s an excellent Westin Hotel on the property.
Prefer to get away from the city and escape the resort scene? Courses like Arbutus Ridge in the seaside community of Cobble Hill are easy to find. A round at Arbutus Ridge is like playing through a petting zoo; the deer are numerous and, having no natural predator, the fawns are fearless. Arbutus Ridge is Audubon-certified and attempting to be carbon-neutral. The course lies in a valley surrounded by more than a dozen wineries and near Merridale Ciderworks, where owners Rick Pipes and Janet Docherty escaped from city life to run a humble farm that they transformed into a cider apple orchard, cidery, and restaurant an hour north of Victoria.
Not far away, on Cowichon Bay, you can stroll a quiet marina, pick up some local cheeses at Hilary’s Fine Cheeses, and indulge in super-rich ice cream at Udder Guys Ice Cream Parlor. Then drive up the narrow road lined with farms and lavender fields and head to Fairwinds Golf Club. Fairwinds is tucked inside a secluded marina community. There you might find yourself paired with the golf pro or a former tugboat pilot who now runs the marina, then kicking back after the round and sipping Kokanee beers on the shady clubhouse deck. Creeks and brooks and little crags where deer spend lazy afternoons are the rule. A bald eagle nests in the top branches of a Douglas fir on the 15th green. What’s not to like about that?
If you’re looking for snowcapped mountains and maybe a poker night with the men’s golf club, you can find it at Crowne Isle, an 831-acre golf community with villas, a classic car museum, and a course that slides alongside 11 lakes. In the near distance stands Comox Glacier and the Mount Washington ski area, which the locals think looks like George Washington lying down. To me, it looks more like rumpled, fir-covered hills.
Prefer to play a muni whose fairways are cut through a timber forest with tree trunks so thick you can’t get your arms around them? Story Creek is just such a golf course. Short and tight, Story Creek is a player’s course whose narrow fairways are boxed in by enormous hardwood trees. If you were to walk barely a mile straight through those tall trees, you’d walk directly into the ocean, passing dozens of people harvesting oysters if the tide is out.
Want incredible food? No one should miss the Old Country Market, in the little town of Coombs, where a low-slung shop called Goats on the Roof sells farm-fresh produce and nearly everyone pops into the A-frame shed next door for half-pound scoops of homemade ice cream as big as softballs. (Yes, there are goats munching grass planted on the roof.)