Category: Canada

July 28, 2013

Bears! Mountains! The metric system! A golf adventure in Whistler

Posted at 9:34 AM by Jeff Ritter

Fairmont-No-8In golf, and in life, it all comes down to decisions we make in tough situations. That's when we learn what we're made of. Those are the moments that change a round, and perhaps even a future.

I faced one such golf-and-life conundrum when I stood on a tee box framed by mountains and watched an adult black bear slowly emerge from a thicket of wild flowers and plop down in the grass about 40 yards in front of me.

It was a cloudy, cool Canadian summer afternoon, and there sat the bear, snacking on some daisies and other plants within paws-length, utterly oblivious to my foursome -- or so we hoped. The beast was directly between my tee box and the center of the fairway, and it was now my turn to hit a shot. I had a driver in my hand. Staring at the bear and the fairway beyond, I narrowed my next move to four options:

1) Aim my shot to the left of the large mammal and fade the ball into the fairway.

2) Pick a line to the right of the bear and draw it into the short grass.

3) Keep it simple and fly it straight over his furry head.

4) Scrap the whole thing, make a beeline for the clubhouse and grab some lunch before I become exactly that.

These are the kinds of decisions you may face when teeing up in Whistler, British Columbia. Choose wisely.


This adventure officially kicked off 48 hours earlier when my wife and I arrived in Vancouver for a weekend of relaxation and a little golf in Canada's great Northwest. We had one rule for the trip: Embrace All Things Canada, even the loathsome metric system. If you've ever tried to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit in your head, you know this wouldn't be easy.

Snacks-FinalTo prepare for the two-hour road trip from Vancouver to Whistler, we stopped at a convenience store and plunked down a few loonies (or were they toonies?) for some Canadian snacks -- easily identifiable thanks to their French product labels -- and then hit the main drag.

The road takes you across the magnificent Lions Gate suspension bridge, and over, around and through the pine-blanketed mountains. There are several stops along the highway to pull over and snap photos, and we hit several of them.

Just before wheeling into downtown Whistler, we passed a bright yellow street sign that asked-slash-warned: "PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE BEARS." Leave it to the famously nice Canadians to make the request so politely, I joked to Mrs. Ritter, who reminded me that we were Embracing All Things Canada. It was time to dial back the sarcasm for our next stop.

ScandinaveNestled in the trees just outside Whistler's town center is Scandinave Spa, a posh, eco-friendly three-acre relaxation center that overlooks the dazzling landscape. Scandinave has all the requisite trappings of a luxury spa, including saunas and message rooms, but its bread-and-butter are the outdoor Scandinavian baths (shown at right).

Here guests take a quick plunge in a cold tub, then climb out and pop into a steaming hot tub, muscles contracting and relaxing along the way. It might sound intense, but after a few hot-and-cold cycles in that fresh mountain air, my wife and I were loose and totally stress-free. (It helped that water temperatures were listed in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, so we knew what was coming.) It was a unique and enjoyable experience. In fact, if this were a Yelp review, here's what I'd write: "Scandinave is hands-down the perfect place to relax after completing a moderately long car ride and consuming half a bag of Canadian popcorn."

After rolling out of Scandinave, we checked into the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, located at the base of Blackcomb Mountain and a short walk from the gondola that takes visitors up the slopes. Most travelers already know that Fairmont is a first-rate hotel chain, but thanks to the surrounding mountains, towering pines and crisp air, the setting for this one is special. Fairmont also operates a golf course just a short shuttle ride away, the Chateau Whistler Golf Club, our next stop.

Bear-FlagThe possibility of spotting a black bear while playing golf at Chateau Whistler doesn't fully register until you take about two steps inside the course's pro shop -- that's when you'll see the screen above the main desk that plays a slide show on loop of black bears on the course. Some bears are big, some are small, and they are shown walking, sleeping and even frolicking around the fairways. There's one shot of a bear lying on the green with the flagstick bent over between his paws -- the cub vaguely resembles a human baby swatting a mobile in his crib [see right]. For a golfer about to head out and potentially grasp this same flagstick, the photo is simultaneously adorable and disturbing.

Ironically enough, the course itself features an abundance of risk-reward holes. From the opening tee shot on No. 1 -- a straightaway par-5 with a waste area cutting across the center of the fairway, you'll have to decide how much club to hit without reaching the hazard. I selected a hybrid and my tee shot settled about 30 yards short of the shmutz. No. 2 is a short dogleg left par-4 over another ravine for your approach. A round here is filled with strategy and shotmaking, and it's a fun test.

Along the way, the course winds up, down and through Blackcomb Mountain. It's easy to envision architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. having a blast while creatively using the contours of this piece of land. The course isn't expansive and forgiving -- the fairways are relatively narrow, you rarely have a flat lie, and the greens are tricky. But it's beautifully landscaped and unique.

And what you'll remember most is the gorgeous scenery. Massive Douglas firs ring the course and the Canadian Coastal Mountains are above and around you at every turn. Each of Chateau Whistler's four par 3s feature a downhill tee shot framed by mountains. The only areas in the peaks that aren't covered by pines are the spots that have been cleared for ski runs. It really is something to see.

You need to play well, but making a good score here is possible. Dave Day, a chipper Torontonian and bogey golfer who played in my foursome, shot his first career 79 that afternoon. I did not break 80 but still enjoyed the experience, including Chateau's signature par-3 eighth hole (also pictured above), where I filmed this video. As an added bonus, you'll see my most atrocious golf shot of the day. Enjoy.

This is probably going to come as a shock, but I was unable to get up-and-down from underneath the pine tree at the top of that cliff to save par. It happens.

We were a couple holes into the back nine when a course ranger named Scott buzzed over in a cart with some exciting news for our group.

"You guys just missed the bear," Ranger Scott said sadly. "He's next to the fairway on seven, just eating away."

"Who is he eating?" I said quickly. Ranger Scott assured us that the bears at Chateau Whistler are omnivores. Flowers and other plant life are the diet plan. There's really nothing to fear, he said.

It wouldn't be long before we'd find out.

I was stepping onto the tee box at the par-4 14th when that scene I mentioned earlier played out: an adult black bear emerged from a patch of tall grass, about 40 yards in front of me. My wife, always cool under pressure, filmed this iPhone video:

You remember the decision I was facing: drive the ball over or around the bear, or flee the scene. After mulling it over, I decided that because the bear seemed disinterested in ingesting an American tourist, and because I rarely hit it exactly where I'm aiming, and because I was Embracing All Things Canada, I would hit a shot.

I took a line over the bear's head, prayed that I didn't top it, and took a swing. The shot was a high slice that easily cleared the bear, carved through the air and settled deep in the pine forest right of the fairway, about 240 yards away. We hopped in our carts and took a nice, wide arc around the animal as we drove by.

A few minutes later, I emerged from the woods without my ball and had to make yet another golf-meets-life decision: Do I return to the tee, as the rules of golf dictate when a ball is lost? I glanced back up the fairway, saw that the bear was now in motion and wandering toward the tee box, and immediately ruled out that option. Instead, I dropped a ball between my shoes and played on. Some things in life are more important than the rules of golf -- like life, for example.

After the round, my wife and I returned to the Fairmont for a dinner at the Grill Room, a swanky spot right off the lobby that turned out to be one of our all-time best meals. We ordered dry-aged rib eyes and brownie-ice cream sundaes topped with a fruit-and-chocolate topping that's caramelized right there at your table. Luxurious? Check. Canadian? Check. It was the perfect way to end the trip, and it left no doubt that spending a summer weekend in Whistler was a great choice.

In fact, that was the best decision of all.

(Photos: Jeff Ritter, Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Scandinave Spa)

June 25, 2013

The Deal of the Month: The Fairmont Banff Springs

Posted at 11:40 AM by Joe Passov

If birdies and eagles aren't enough for a complete golf experience, might I suggest moose, bears, elk and wolves?

Welcome to The Fairmont Banff Springs. This storied, 125-year-old property high in the Canadian Rockies beckons with a castle-like hotel, nine full-service restaurants, and overpowering mountain scenery — not to mention the wildlife mentioned above.

Banff also boasts 27 holes: the nine-hole Tunnel Mountain and the classic Stanley Thompson—designed Championship 18, chock full of some of the game's greatest mountain holes.

The pond-guarded, drop-shot par-3 fourth — appropriately called "Devil's Cauldron" — is frightening and fun. Equally memorable is the elevated tee of the 475-yard, par-4 15th, where I once took a dozen waggles trying to figure out how to avoid the rutting elk in the middle of the fairway.

To experience the best of Banff, book the Golf for Free Package, which includes lodging, one round of golf and cart (after 11 a.m.) per room on the Thompson course, range balls and club storage. July rates start at $599 per night, based on double occupancy.


(Photo: Evan Schiller)

June 29, 2012

Tweets from the media opening of Cabot Links in Nova Scotia, Canada

Posted at 3:13 PM by

There has been a lot of buzz about Canada's newest golf course, Cabot Links in Nova Scotia, which is being touted as the only true Canadian links and the "Canadian Bandon." Several lucky media members played the course Friday before the official opening in July.

Golf Magazine editor Eamon Lynch was one of the lucky few who got a tee time at Cabot Links. Check out his tweets and photos from his round.

PHOTOS: Cabot Links in Nova Scotia

























June 30, 2011

Ask Travelin' Joe: Toronto, Portland and Atlantic City

Posted at 3:19 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Atlantic Dear Joe,
I’m going to be at Niagara Falls in the middle of July. We will be traveling to Toronto in that same trip. I’ll have time for one or two rounds and would like to keep it under $150 a round. What courses are worth playing in those areas? It is my first trip to Canada so something memorable would be great.
Todd Scorza
Via email

Start by treating yourself to Glen Abbey Golf Club ($120-$235; 905-844-1800,, 35 minutes west of downtown Toronto. Jack Nicklaus’ first solo design, circa 1976, bristles with beauty, variety and challenge, notably on the famous Valley holes on the back nine. It’s played host to multiple Canadian Opens since its debut, with winners that include Lee Trevino, Greg Norman and Vijay Singh. If $235 is out of your price range, wait until after 1 p.m. on weekends and holidays, when the price drops to $160. I would tell you to wait until 4 p.m. daily for the twilight rate of $120, but then it might get dark before you get to the 18th. That’s the short gambler’s par-5 where in 2000, a fellow named Tiger Woods hit one of the greatest shots of his career, a title-clinching 6-iron from a fairway bunker, over a lake to 12 feet.

Another option is Lionhead ($127.5-$137.50; 905-455-8400,, a 36-hole spread that features the Legends and Masters courses. Both are superbly conditioned, rugged tests slashed by the Credit River, though if you’re looking for a supreme test, do the Legends, which is the pricier, by $10, but also the most memorable, its beautiful, brutal holes set in a well-treed valley.

Also check out Angus Glen ($125-$180; 905-887-5157,, another 36-hole affair, with each of its layouts having hosted a Canadian Open, the South in 2002, when John Rollins won, and the North, where Jim Furyk defended in 2007, with a one-shot win over Vijay Singh. The best value is Saturdays or Sundays, when it’s $125 to tee it up.

Niagara Falls actually boasts a fistful of terrific tracks as well, including Royal Niagara, Hunters Pointe and Legends of Niagara, but if you’re in the market for a thrill ride akin to a barrel over the falls, do the Thundering Waters ($70-$100; 877-833-3259,, a hazard-laced John Daly design that blasts you with a 149 slope from the tips.

Dear Joe,
We will be visiting my wife’s aunt in the Portland area and the girls are wanting to go see all the Twilight movie sites. Save me! Can you suggest a good course or two less than $100 within reasonable driving distance from Tigard (the area of Portland we are staying)?
Paul Stanton
Tulsa, Okla.

Let me throw you a life preserver—in the form of terrific, affordable golf well within an hour of where you’re at in the Portland area. Be careful at rush hour, though—which may explain why Portland’s public transportation is so stellar.

Pumpkin Ridge’s Ghost Creek course ($90-$150; 503-647-4747, in North Plains is best of the Portland-area publics. Ranked in the Top 50 of our 2010-11 Top 100 Courses You Can Play in the U.S., the public half of Pumpkin Ridge is a superb 1992 Bob Cupp design that twice hosted the Nike (now Nationwide) Tour Championship. David Duval captured the event in 1993 here. It serves up the perfect blend of woods, water and strategic bunkering, as well as a peak price that bites like a vampire, $150, but after 3:00 p.m., you can play it for $90. Better yet, check out the website, which dishes out daily specials that often range from $89-$109.

One of the region’s best values is the Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club ($45-$85; 503-649-8191, in Aloha, with two outstanding layouts, the North and the South. Home from 2003-2006 to a major championship on the Champions Tour, the JELD-WEN Tradition, the John Fought-designed South course sports a nifty set of risk/reward par-5s and 114 bunkers. Bob Cupp created the shorter North course, which runs a close second here—but both are terrific bargains, $79 during the week, and a twilight rate (after 3 pm) during the week of $49.

A final choice is the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Great Blue course at Heron Lakes ($27-$42; 503-289-1818,, a Portland city course that features muni-style prices with private club challenge. You can walk it for $27 on Mondays and Tuesdays, $42 on the weekend. Its smaller, slightly cheaper brother, the Greenback, is every bit as interesting, though nowhere near the test that Great Blue serves up.

Hey Joe,
Heading to Atlantic City for a bachelor party and are going to play 18 holes one afternoon. If you could only play ONE course in AC (or somewhat close by), what would it be? We’ve got 12 guys, and people shoot anywhere from the mid 70s to over 100. Price is mildly important, but we’re willing to pay top dollar if the course is worth it. Would love to hear any recommendations you have.
Keith Bush
Via email

If price is only slightly an object, I’ll unhesitatingly recommend Atlantic City Country Club ($99-$225; 609-236-4401, for your boys day out. As hall passes go, this is a beauty, with first-class service, a classic clubhouse, outstanding restaurant and top-notch locker room. This terrific old layout dates back 110 years, but was recently renovated by architect Tom Doak, with the result being one of those rare, scenic, tournament-worthy tracks that’s equally enjoyable for those 70-shooters and the 100-plus folks. True, the hefty green fee ($225 on a summer weekend) is a punch in the gut to some, but it also means there’s little riff-raff clogging up the course, so you’ll be able to buzz right through and get back to the less family-friendly aspects of a bachelor party weekend. Prior to 8 a.m. and from 1-3 p.m., it’s $175 per player Friday through Sunday.

For a better bargain, check out the Seaview Golf Club’s Bay course ($80-110; 609-748-7680, in Galloway Township. Current home to the LPGA ShopRite Classic, Seaview’s Bay is a Donald Ross design, parts of which played host to the 1942 PGA Championship, won by Sam Snead. Recently refurbished by new hotel manager Dolce and golf operations manager Troon Golf, the Bay and its sister course, the Pines, are both solid, historic layouts at a very fair price. Call ahead, as they can cater to bachelor party groups of 12 or more.

(Photo: Larry Lambrecht)

June 24, 2011

Deal of the Month: Fairmont Chateau Whistler

Posted at 4:43 PM by Joe Passov

Fairmont July means family vacation time, and there are few better spots I know for that than the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in British Columbia.

Take the resort's "Golf For Free" package. It comes with lodging in a great-looking hotel at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, one round on a Robert Trent Jones Jr. stunner plus cart daily, unlimited additional play based on availability, and complimentary transportation between the hotel and the course.

Best of all, children 10 to 16 play free with a paying adult. Toss in many on-property activities, like kids-only fitness programs and a Children's Afternoon Tea (and the Vida Spa for mom), the attractions at nearby pedestrian-only Whistler Village, magnificent mountain panoramas and reliable summer sunshine, and you have all the right ingredients for a memorable family trip.

Package rates start at $125 CAD ($130 US) per person, per night, with a two-night minimum. 800-606-8244,

For more exclusive travel deals and packages, go to iTunes and download Golf Magazine's Front 9 app, available for use on the iPad and iPhone.

(Photo: John and Jeannine Henebry)


May 14, 2011

Premier Resort Close-Up: Fairmont Banff Springs

Posted at 3:16 PM by Joe Passov

Banff Golf Magazine's highest-ranked Canadian golf resort is the Fairmont Banff Springs, which captured Gold Medal status in 2010. This year the property celebrates 100 years of organized golf with a variety of special events and packages.

Neither the William Thompson original nine nor the Donald Ross redo remain, but what's left are 27 memorable holes set inside the Rocky Mountain scenery of Banff National Park. Combine that with a castle-like edifice and its 11 dining and drinking establishments, horseback riding and the Willow Stream Spa, and it's easy to see why our readers draped a gold medal around its neck.

When most folks speak of golf at Banff, they're referring to the Stanley Thompson-designed 18 that debuted in 1928. Artfully crafted mounds and bunkers mimic mountain shapes in the distance, resulting in classics such as the 4th and the 14th.

Mountain scenery practically overpowers you at the 192-yard, par-3 4th, called "Devil's Cauldron," with a downhill plunge over a glacial lake, while the 475-yard, par-4 15th starts with an elevated tee shot over the confluence of the Bow and Spray Rivers. Tackle Banff in September and you'll dodge elk in the fairways.

Stay and Play packages start at $299 CDN per night ($312 USD).

September 09, 2009

Vancouver Island Golf Trail Guide

Posted at 4:56 PM by Ryan Reiterman

Europeans were first drawn to Vancouver Island for fur trading in the late 1700's, but today Canada's second most populous island boasts many more attractions.

Whether it's watching a pod of killer whales in the wild, sipping pinot noir from a local winery or reeling in a salmon, you won't spend too much time in your hotel room once you're on the island.

And the golf isn't bad, either.

From Victoria in the south to Campbell River in the north, the Vancouver Island Golf Trail stretches 155 miles along the east coast. In between are 11 courses that offer a great mix of challenging golf and spectacular scenery. Here are five of the courses to check out along the trail. 

Continue reading "Vancouver Island Golf Trail Guide" »

June 11, 2009

Ask Travelin Joe: The Ozarks, Los Angeles and Montreal

Posted at 11:58 AM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
I am taking a trip to the Southern Missouri/Northwest Arkansas Ozarks and would like to play a few rounds of golf. I am open to all types of courses and price ranges, but usually like to get the best bang for the buck. I will be traveling with my wife, 9-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, so resorts with amenities other than golf would be great, too. Recommendations?

Loyce Smith
Junction City, Kan.

To compensate for those guilt pangs of being without the family for 6 hours, I'm sending you straight to the best course in the area, the Tom Fazio-designed Branson Creek Golf Club ($90-$99; 417-339-4653,, a rolling track with lakes, hills and mountain vistas. Fortunately, Branson's myriad attractions will allow your family to forget all about you-for 6 hours, anyway.

For lodging, check out the Westgate Branson Woods Resort and Cabins (888-808-7410,, an affiliated partner of Branson Creek, which offers indoor and outdoor pools, a lighted playground, bike rentals and plenty more.

If you'd prefer the prices and tranquility of Arkansas, don't miss Stonebridge Meadows ($30-$54; 479-571-3673, in Fayetteville, a testing Randy Heckenkemper creation near the University of Arkansas that might be the region's top value.

Continue reading "Ask Travelin Joe: The Ozarks, Los Angeles and Montreal" »

May 28, 2009

Ask Travelin Joe: Wisconsin, Illinois, Scottsdale and British Columbia

Posted at 12:38 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Dear Joe,
I will be spending 3-4 weeks in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northeastern Illinois in late May and June. The past few years I have enjoyed playing Thunderhawk in Beach Park, IL. Are there any courses you would recommend at a similar price point in the region?

Nick J.
Gilbert, Arizona

The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Thunderhawk ($52-$85; 847-968-4295, is pretty strong, but if you're craving variety in an area roughly one hour north of Chicago, start with Stonewall Orchard Golf Club ($70-$95; 847-740-4890, in Grayslake. This 7,074-yard, par-72 Arthur Hills creation, situated almost due west of Waukegan, between Libertyville and McHenry, boasts a formidable 140 slope, owing to water, wetlands and a superb set of par-3s.

Next, check out Shepherd's Crook ($42-$55; 847-872-2080, in Zion, an open, prairie-style Keith Foster product that sports wild, wavy greens and a wildly low price tag.

Continue reading "Ask Travelin Joe: Wisconsin, Illinois, Scottsdale and British Columbia" »

May 01, 2009

Ask Travelin Joe: Flagstaff, Arkansas and Toronto

Posted at 2:08 PM by Joe Passov

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at

Hello, Joe,
I'm going to Flagstaff, Arizona this week. Can you give me any recommended courses? I don't have any club affiliations.

John G.
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Not many folks beyond the state lines realize that in a little more than two hours up Interstate 17, you can leave the triple digit temperatures of Phoenix behind for the 75-degree days, 80-foot-tall Ponderosa pines and 7,000-foot elevation of Flagstaff. Unfortunately, the great golf in the area is confined to private clubs, notably at 36-hole Forest Highlands, whose Canyon course is often ranked as Arizona's best and at Pine Canyon, one of my favorite golf communities in the nation.

Basically, you've got three choices for public access golf. First -- and closest -- is Continental Country Club (928-527-7999,; $43-$69). Formerly known as Elden Hills, it's reverted back to an earlier name and at 15 minutes from virtually anywhere in Flagstaff, it's all about convenience and value. Expect play to be slow, with lots of once-every-six-months kinds of players swinging away on vacation, but the waiting isn't all bad. Roughly half the holes are of your basic meadow/pasture variety, with ill-defined landing areas and water hazards, but the other half are pure pleasure, with a handful framed perfectly by pines and backdropped by the San Francisco Peaks.

Another option is to drive 45 scenic minutes south and tee it up at Sedona Golf Resort in Sedona (877-733-6630,; $69-$105). It's lower in elevation, 10-20 degrees warmer and features sagebrush edging the holes, rather than pines, but the stupendous red rock scenery, memorably at the 210-yard, par-3 10th, makes it worth the journey. Gary Panks, who authored Twin Warriors near Albuquerque, did Sedona as well.

Finally, you might try a cool time warp 30 miles due west of Flagstaff at Elephant Rocks in Williams (928-635-4935,; $29-$54). Panks created nine new, tough, meadowy holes here in 1999, but the old stone clubhouse and the lay-of-the-land, pine-lined holes (1-5 and 15-18) date to the 1920s.

Continue reading "Ask Travelin Joe: Flagstaff, Arkansas and Toronto" »

Ask Travelin' Joe

Our traveling correspondent has been where you're going. Heading out of town on vacation? Business trip? Travelin' Joe can suggest the best places for you to tee it up. If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at


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