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It rained for all 18 holes of our round at Nicklaus North, yet as usual the trip to Whistler was impossible to spoil. As soon to be host to many of the alpine events of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the small village 2 hours north of Vancouver known for its world class skiing has four unique golf courses only minutes from the gondolas.
To really appreciate Whistler you have to see it for yourself, superlatives simply don’t do it justice. While most people likely conjure images of the area as a winter wonderland, and rightly so, the opportunities to actively experience the outdoors are year-round. With that in mind, it was mid-September when two friends and myself arrived in one of the most incredible settings any recreationalist could imagine, ready to play the course that Jack himself deemed worthy of his name.
The morning was quiet. I had woken early, something I find far more difficult to do for skiing, or going to work, or pretty much anything except golf. For those who don’t play golf, or who don’t play it seriously, it’s not a game known for its adrenaline. But for myself the awaiting challenge inevitably proves too exciting to stay in bed.
A short cab ride from where we had been staying at my friend’s chalet brought us to a welcoming reception at the clubhouse’s front entrance. After a quick bite to eat, three buckets of balls, and a couple of poorly hit wedge shots we stepped up to the first tee.
With the angle of the green favoring a tee shot down the right side, the first hole is an inviting par-four that introduces a typical Nicklaus bunkering style early on. Flanking the right side of the fairway and protecting the left portion of the green the curvilinear, white sand traps are well placed, a trend that continues throughout the course.
The following hole is the first of five par-threes which, as strong visually as demanding, are some of the most memorable holes on the course. From the back set of five tee decks, no. 2 is a pleasing 197-yard shot that flirts with water and offers players a taste of what’s to come.
As the rest of outward nine unfolds across the valley floor, peaks of the Pacific Coast Mountains rise on every side. From no. 12 onward the course works its way north to no. 17, travelling between the River of Golden Dreams to the southern edge of Green Lake. It was somewhere between those two points that my wishes of a sunny fall day, or at least a break in the weather, were lost in muted-grey skies of relentless rain.
As an established course in a market that continues to see new courses opening each year, keeping competitive is essential. As Andrew Smart, Director of Golf at the course, said “more courses do not necessarily mean more golfers”. With that in mind, Nicklaus North continues to thrive by providing friendly, courteous service and a well-groomed layout. Just two of the reasons the course continually places comfortably in Canada’s Top 100 Golf Courses.
Also on the list of awards and accolades, the course received Canada’s Best New Course in 1996, from Golf Digest. Since then it has hosted various high profile events including the World Skins game twice, once in 1997 and then again in 2005, with Jack Nicklaus appropriately competing both times.
However, beyond the awards, the signature architect, and the surreal setting is something more impressive, and to be honest something a bit unexpected. Authenticity. There is a sense of commitment to golf and a genuine care that is taken for the individuals who come to play, even though it might knowingly be only once in their lifetime. It’s an attribute surely to be admired, one that is worth coming back for, and one that unfortunately many resorts seem to lack.
The finishing holes of this 6908-yard, par 71, layout are a pleasure to play, especially no. 17. The 226-yard par-three signature hole is more than just photogenic. Favouring a right to left shot, with Whistler’s biggest lake wrapping around half the green as a hazard, finding the green is no small achievement. After missing par, it was then on to no. 18, a hole with a fairway bunker left and a forced carry on the approach to a green with a multitude of options.
While the mountain peaks a few thousand feet above us were getting an early start to the winter season with six inches of fresh snow, down in the valley the rain had stopped for our final putts. My ambitions of the morning’s challenge might have been lost somewhere on the front nine, but now in the warmth and dryness of the clubhouse, with a beer, two buddies, and a lot of bogies later, Whistler once again proved to be more than worth the trip.
The Green at No.12 - Par 3
The Green at No.2 - Par 3
First Picture the approach at No. 16 – Par 4