Apr
01
2011

The Great Value Golf Guide

James McCarten shares some of the top golf spots in Canada, the US, Mexico and the Caribbean

Ah, spring­—that glorious time of year when the end of another interminable Canadian winter is finally upon us, and the country’s newly thawed golf courses begin to beckon once again.

Think back to that one week in January when it seemed colder, darker and bleaker than ever before, and you strained your shoulder shovelling snow, and the car wouldn’t start, and the furnace blew out again. You promised yourself you wouldn’t forget to plan a golf getaway this year, remember?

Well, consider this your reminder.

For the first time ever, up! magazine’s 2011 Spring Golf Preview includes an assortment of warm-weather WestJet destinations to go along with the usual array of prime Canadian courses.  After all, watching the pros on TV competing in Hawaii, Arizona and the Caribbean is all well and good, but wouldn’t you rather be on the course than hiding from the elements in your living room?

Highland Pacific Golf Club | Victoria, BC

Highland Pacific, which grew to 18 holes just last year, rests on a scant 190 acres and measures only 6,600 yards from the tips, but most of those yards are quite remarkable.

The course itself is carved out of a mountainous, rocky tract of thick BC wilderness, where just growing grass is a challenge. Yet it features lush, close-cropped fairways framed by dense forest, rough that can turn from wispy fescue to ball-gobbling wetlands in a heartbeat and vexing, glassy greens that rival anything on offer at pricey high-end resorts.

The innocent-looking 516-yard par-5 4th turns into a fearsome channel of doom for anyone foolish enough to go for the green in two, with a deep, reedy water hazard off the front edge of the green. The 407-yard, par-4 5th (328 yards from the white tees), offers plenty of bailout room right and lots of sidehill to kick a stray tee shot back into play—a perfect nerve tonic after the previous hole.

Green Fees From $64

Bargain: If a trip south just isn’t in the cards, consider the fact Victoria courses are often open year-round.



Off Course

Nothing goes with a round of golf like an afternoon on the water. Reel in a Chinook or Coho salmon with the folks at Island Outfitters Fishing Charters, or go whale watching with the Prince of Whales.

Coronado Municipal Golf Course | San Diego, CA

It’s not every day people will get on a plane to go play a local municipal golf course, but Coronado proves the exception to the rule. A straightforward, wide-open muni that measures 6,600 yards from the tips and costs a measly US$30 to play, Coronado is frequently lauded as the best golf bargain in California, if not the entire U.S. west coast. Golf Digest ranked it as one of its “Pearls of Value” last year.

The layout itself is fairly basic, but as municipal courses go, Coronado is in tip-top shape. It’s the scenery that makes it special—hard against the shores of San Diego Bay, the city’s skyline, Coronado Bay Bridge and Hotel Del Coronado all feature prominently.



Green Fees From US$30

Bargain: Don’t bother schlepping your sticks from home. Faring far better than what you’ll find at most munis, Coronado has TaylorMade gear rentals (US$50 for 18 holes).



Off Course

Check out Legoland and its new water park, as well as its latest attraction: Miniland USA, a small-scale, 20-million-brick recreation of famous American locales like Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Daytona International Speedway and New York City.

Predator Ridge Resort | Vernon, BC

I can hear you already. “Hey, wait a second—Predator Ridge is in the BC Interior; it’s not a mountain course!” Well, play a round at this stellar resort’s latest addition, the 7,190-yard Ridge course, and tell me you don’t feel like you’re in the Rockies.

Designed by celebrated Toronto architect Doug Carrick and named ScoreGolf magazine’s Best New Course of 2010, the roller-coaster Ridge winds its way through dense forest and dramatic rock outcroppings, with breathtaking glimpses of Lake Okanagan in the distance and diabolical, lightning-quick greens underfoot.

Green Fees From $160

Bargain: Locals rave about the Phoenix Steakhouse, where traditional pub fare meets fine dining. For something different, try the bison meatball linguini or the apple jack ribs.



Off Course

Predator Ridge’s sprawling 1,200-acre footprint means a vast network of hiking and biking trails are practically at your doorstep, to say nothing of a cutting-edge fitness centre, multiple swimming pools and the luxurious Aveda concept salon and spa. And, if your swing is out of synch, the massive practice facility—complete with the Golf Performance Centre—is one of the finest in the Interior.

The Lakes Golf Club at Ben Eoin | Ben Eoin, NS

One of the newest additions to Canada’s course lineup in 2011 is The Lakes Golf Club at Ben Eoin, a top-notch Graham Cooke layout,  by the Bras D’Or Lakes on beautiful Cape Breton Island.

Located about 24 km from Sydney, The Lakes is the latest addition to a growing stable of must-play courses taking full advantage of the region’s rugged beauty and captivating local character, including Stanley Thompson’s celebrated Highlands Links, and Bell Bay Golf Club, a Tom McBroom triumph directly across the lakes near the town of Baddeck.

Green Fees From $79

Bargain: Take a sailing tour around the gorgeous Bras D’Or Lakes with Amoeba Sailing Tours—a two-hour tour is just $25 for adults, $10 for kids over five and free for kids under.



Off Course

Cape Breton’s raw, untamed beauty demands to be explored. Hiking trails are abundant, while the region’s local artisans operate quaint little shops that are well worth exploring.

Waskesiu Golf Course | Prince Albert National Park, SK

For every Highlands Links or Jasper Park Lodge masterpiece that Stanley Thompson designed, there’s a lesser-known journeyman gem hiding somewhere off the Canadian golfer’s beaten track. That’s the 6,300-yard Waskesiu, one of several cherished old-school Prairie gems in Saskatchewan that often doesn’t get much attention.

Waskesiu’s claim to fame—aside from the “tassel-top” lobstick pine that splits the first fairway—is its 600-yard, par-5 8th hole, dubbed “Mae West” for the pair of buxom hills that Thompson, a notoriously cheeky fellow, used to guard the smallish green.

The locals, apparently no slouches in the cheek department themselves, have christened the path to the green “Silicon Valley.” SCOREGolf magazine has in recent years lauded Waskesiu as one of Saskatchewan’s finest public courses, and the 8th as one of the best par-5 holes in Canada.



Green Fees From $52

Bargain: Feel like roughing it? The Beaver Glen and Red Deer campgrounds (pccamping.ca) are nice and close, offering the ultimate stay-and-play bargain (just be sure to hit a few extra balls at the range after sleeping on the ground the night before).



Off Course

Prince Albert National Park offers a variety of hiking trails, fishing spots and beaches on the shores of Waskesiu Lake, as well as bike rentals, lawn bowling and tennis courts. The third weekend in July features the three-day Ness Creek Music Festival (nesscreek.com), a showcase of Canadian and Saskatchewan musical talent in the heart of a boreal forest.

TPC Scottsdale | Scottsdale, AZ

Golf derives much of its satisfaction from the fact that even the most pitiless hacker occasionally manages to hit a shot that would make the greatest players cock their eyebrows.

And while most of the time you might not play as well as the pros, you can at least follow in their footsteps. TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course isn’t the most famous golf course in the U.S., but it might be the loudest.

Home to the yearly PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open (hey, they named it, I didn’t), the par-3 16th “Coliseum” hole is transformed each February into a drunken block party. Upwards of 20,000 riotous fans gather at the 16th each year, cheering heroic shots and cat-calling clankers.

Don’t worry—they’ll be long gone by the time you take to the tee. And while the 16th steals the spotlight most of the time, the rest of the course is no slouch, either, particularly the water-lined risk-reward par-4 18th. Just be sure to bring plenty of ammo—the grounds crew keeps this gem in PGA Tour-calibre condition all year round.



Green fees From US$275

Bargain: So you took a beating on the course? No problem—take it out at Glove Game Boxing, where you can spend 30 to 60 minutes learning to box with genuine pro fighters. Half an hour is just US$20, and valet parking is free. (480-970-9900; glovegameboxing.com)



Off Course

College football fans need to check out the Ziegler Fiesta Bowl Museum, where they can check out a wide array of memorabilia, helmets and trophies, including the Fiesta Bowl and the Heisman Trophy. Best part: it’s free. (480-350-0900; fiestabowl.org)

Belmont Hills Golf Club | Warwick, Bermuda

It’s hard to imagine there being much room for golf courses on the fishhook-shaped archipelago of Bermuda, but those that lack in yardage, make up for in challenge. Small greens, narrow fairways and fierce trade winds make Bermuda’s courses unlike anything you might face on the mainland. Belmont Hills Golf Club is just one of several Bermuda tracks that demand precision and strong putting.

Framed by countless palm trees, Belmont’s penultimate hole is the perfect match-closer, a dramatic downhill par-3 that tests your club-selection skills. And if the match isn’t over by then, No. 18 demands a long, precise drive to a cambered fairway before a tough uphill approach to a narrow, well-bunkered green.



Green Fees From US$110

Bargain Not many facilities offer full 18-hole playing lessons with the pros. But Belmont Hills does—US$200 for nine holes, US$350 for 18, with one of its top-notch local experts: Darron Swan, Dwayne Gibson or Darriek Douglas.



Off Course

Boredom doesn’t exist in Bermuda. Besides several other courses, including Riddell’s Bay and the tiny Mid-Ocean Club, there are beaches, glass-bottom boat tours (Bermuda is shipwreck central), remarkable underground lakes of the Crystal Caves and the excellent Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo. 

Casa de Campo Resort | La Romana, Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is home to some of the finest coastal golf real estate in the world—full stop.

Much of it is at Casa de Campo and the Teeth of the Dog, long-billed as one of the finest golf experiences in the world, thanks to spectacular oceanside vistas and fearsome Dye-style bunkers.

Not far away, sister course Dye Fore dances along the cliff edge some 300 feet above the spectacular Chavon River valley—the backdrop for those spectacular river scenes in the Francis Ford Coppola epic Apocalypse Now.



Green Fees From US$125

Bargain: The Pete Dye Hall of Fame special allows guests at Casa de Campo to play Teeth of the Dog or Dye Fore for just $110 between April 25 and Oct. 31, with a free replay round, subject to availability, or $155 between Nov. 1 and Dec. 20, with a replay for just $29.

Off Course

Located 10 minutes from the resort, Altos de Chavon village is a cultural centre of cobblestone streets and Spanish architecture, complete with art galleries, restaurants, museums and a cavernous Greek amphitheatre.

El Cid Granada Country Club | Mazatlan, Mexico

With the notable exception of Lee Trevino (born in Texas to Mexican parents) Mexico had never really produced a top-notch pro golfer until Guadalajara-born Lorena Ochoa stormed the scene in 2003, taking just seven short years to earn the number one rank in 2010.

Until Ochoa, golf and Mexico were rarely uttered in the same breath. All that has changed in recent years, however, and it’s hard to find a credible resort destination that doesn’t have a golf course attached.

Enter El Cid Golf & Country Club, featuring 27 holes, nine of which were designed by Trevino himself. The course is no slouch, either: the last several years it’s been home to the Canadian Tour’s Corona Mazatlan Mexican PGA Championship each April.



Green Fees From US$80

Bargain: El Cid guests can enjoy a round of golf for two, including cart and caddie, for just US$130, while a 50-minute lesson with the resident pro is just US$40.



Off Course

Old Mazatlan is a great way to spend an inexpensive afternoon. Visit shops packed cheek-to-jowl with unique local artifacts, plus museums and art galleries, and drink in the surroundings from one of the area’s many sidewalk cafes.

PGA West at La Quinta Resort & Club | La Quinta, CA

Every late January, some of the world’s legendary golfers get together with Hollywood’s greatest talents for a star-studded, five-day pro-am in the California desert, just up the road from Palm Springs. Fans know the Bob Hope Classic for its glitzy, tongue-in-cheek vibe and low scores (it’s where David Duval shot a rare 59 in 1999), but with all that star power, the golf courses often take a back seat.

La Quinta Country Club, SilverRock Resort and PGA West, which is home to no fewer than six 18-hole layouts, offer some of the finest golf in the U.S. PGA West also offers the services of the Jim McLean Golf School, oneof the most highly regarded teaching institutions in the U.S.

The Hope Classic often plays second fiddle to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, up the California coast on the Monterey Peninsula. But for a snowbound Canadian golfer, few things are better than tuning in the Hope on a snowy January weekend—except, perhaps, walking the fairways of the Coachella Valley in person.



Green fees Call for details.

Bargain: Just a short drive away is Joshua Tree National Park. The 800,000 acres of desert landscape is perfect for hiking, mountain biking or even just driving along the main roads to take in the stunning scenery, including the namesake Joshua Tree. Entry to the park is US$15 for a vehicle and US$5 for those on foot, bike or horse. (nps.gov/jotr)



Off Course

Tennis, anyone? Golf’s not the only game that gets the five-star treatment at PGA West. Hard court, clay and grass courts are available, allowing players a rare chance to experience the game on the three surfaces of the Grand Slam of Tennis. And if your game’s rusty, there’s an array of lesson options available.

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Contributors

James McCarten

James McCarten is a Toronto-based journalist with the Canadian Press and is up! magazine's golf writer.

Comments

Anonymous

James - you pretty well covered the map in North America. Have played Predator Ridge in Vernon - lovely, challenging course. Also PGA West in La Quinta, CA is a course you must at least play once, just to say you have. Have been for lunch at TPC Scottsdale - very pretty setting. Next trip I will make an effort to play the course.

Anonymous

I played The Lakes at Ben Eoin last summer and thoroughly enjoyed this course...although the course is new conditions were excellent and as it ages they will only improve. The scenery is absolutely breath-taking. This is a great addition to the stellar courses found on Cape Breton Island (Bell Bay, Highland Links, Le Portage, Dundee and Cabot Links)making a trip to this area a wonderful golf destination.
Thanks for this great article which only whets my apetite for more golf at more courses where WestJet flies!

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