By Andrew Penner
Those of us with golf in our veins have many things in common. We love the outdoors. We love the camaraderie that the game makes possible. And, perhaps more than anything, we love to dream. We dream about that syrupy-smooth technique that has long evaded us. We dream about a 350-yard drive (I’d say 300, but those days are over). And, perhaps our favorite, we dream about the ultimate golf adventure. In fact, this quest for adventure, a new and better golf experience, is a passion, a duty, that we take quite seriously. Those who declare a love for the game, for golfing adventure, should fix their eyes — and their golfing dreams — on the Vancouver Island Golf Trail.
The Vancouver Island Golf Trail was not the first golf “trail” to be created. That honor goes to the tremendously successful Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama. Since 1990, when the RTJ Trail was born, many other “trails” have been charted and mapped. There are golf trails in many different states, many countries, including such unlikely locales as North Dakota and Arkansas. Even the Scots have jumped on board with a recent entry. This much is true: there are now many golf-rich destinations, many “trails,” that adventure-seeking golfers can dream about and explore.
Amidst the giant cedar and fir trees, the charming seaside towns, the harbors, the gardens, there is a lifetime’s worth of attractions and activities. Whale watching, salmon fishing, hiking, sailing, ocean kayaking, mountaineering, antiquing – and, of course, golfing – have all made this island what it is: simply one of the finest vacation destinations in the world.
Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, is often called “The City of Gardens.” Consider the temperate climate, the hundreds of species of fauna and flora – blooming in every month of the year – and you’ve got yourself a botanical utopia. “There are places to enjoy nature, and then there’s Vancouver Island,” said Jesse Ferguson, a travel specialist working in the area. The regal Butchart Gardens, located just a short ride from Victoria’s famed inner harbor, recently celebrated their 100-year anniversary and have long been regarded as one of the finest gardens in the world. Victoria, a city teeming with old-world charm, truly has much to explore.
After exploring Victoria’s inner harbor, a place renowned for its charming restaurants, grand hotels, museums, boutiques, and street performers, you’ll want to test your game at a couple of other great courses in the area – Olympic View and Arbutus Ridge.
Speaking of dream-like swings, when he was an amateur, Tiger Woods made a trip to Victoria and played Olympic View. Impressed with the layout, but none too intimidated by it, Tiger blasted a tee shot of ridiculous length on the closing hole, easily knocked his ball onto the par-5 green in two, and made a ho-hum eagle.
From Victoria, the trail heads north, along the scenic Island Highway and over Malahat Mountain. A round at Arbutus Ridge — which is on the way to The Cowichan Warm Land, your next overnight stop on the trail — is a reminder that you are, indeed, on a trail of supreme beauty. By now, you’re getting accustomed to the dazzling shorelines that are christened with water-smoothed rock.
About 40 miles north of Victoria, tucked in a gorgeous valley, are two more courses worthy of being on this trail. The adventure of what is known as The Warm Land (named because of its award-winning vineyards and fertile farmland) begins with the Cowichan and Duncan Meadows Golf Clubs. Both courses here offer pastoral golf experiences that speak volumes about the easy-paced lifestyle that’s ingrained on the island. They are warm and friendly places with outstanding playing conditions and just the right amount of challenge. But both have their own distinct character. Cowichan Golf and Country Club is an older, classic course with tree-lined holes and smallish greens. Duncan Meadows is a more contemporary layout.
After a gorgeous two-hour drive, you’ll come to the Parksville and Qualicum Beach area. Here you can sample a trio of courses.
Fairwinds Golf & Country Club,
Morningstar International and Pheasant Glen (formerly Glengarry Golf Links), are all ripe with character and provide for excellent experiences. Designed by architect Les Furber, Fairwinds is a tucked-away haven that caters to boating enthusiasts and golf-lovers alike. The 18-hole layout at Fairwinds is easily one of the most scenic courses on the island. Perhaps overlooked because it plays just under 6,200 yards, Fairwinds is the type of golf course that rewards smart shotmaking, not brute strength. (Another tip: After your round at Fairwinds, explore the marina, take a hike along the coast, watch the sea lions, or rent a boat and do some fishing. This is the Pacific paradise of your dreams.)
Morningstar, also a Les Furber design, is the feisty 7,000-yarder that can challenge the best. Its gently rolling configuration winds through thick forests and incorporates many water features. Morningstar has hosted numerous tournaments, including the Canadian Tour, and might be the toughest track on the island. Bring a sweet swing!
After a pleasant round at the newly renovated Pheasant Glen course (home to an excellent golf academy if your swing is not too dreamy), the Island Highway will beckon once again. At kilometer 219 (from Victoria) you’ll have reached the North Central Island – home to two of the top-ranked courses on the island.
The Crown Isle Resort, which quite possibly features the grandest clubhouse in Canada, can certainly be a highlight on the trail. Here architect Graham Cooke sculpted a superb track that flows through spindly pines and gently rolling terrain. Beautifully shaped with plenty of variety, Crown Isle is, according to SCOREGolf magazine, one of the top-100 courses in the nation. Staying course-side in a luxury villa is definitely the way to go.
The most northerly course on the trail is a favorite for many. The Storey Creek Golf Club is one of Les Furber’s finest. Located just south of Campbell River, Storey Creek offers one of those rare experiences where every hole is totally isolated. The course, which plays to a par of 72 and tips out at 6,700 yards, crosses creeks and meanders through a magnificent mixed forest. “People leave here pleasantly surprised at the quality of the course,” said Head Professional Paul Dashkewytch. “It’s an extraordinary golf experience.”