One of the most glorious surprises in this travel life came wrapped in a Whistler golf trip to British Columbia. The pictures here merely hint at the mood and beauty of this coastal mountain region, a destination that will evoke vivid memories for rest of my life.
A FEW YEARS AGO, Fairmont created the “Invitational,” an opportunity for golf media to experience one of its properties for only a nominal fee. We have no obligation to write about the destination or property; Fairmont is betting, wisely, that we will want to share our experiences.
I’m going to confess here that Whistler was never on my wishlist. But Fairmont’s invitation to this destination captured the fancy of my husband, Keith DuBay, a writer who makes valuable contributions to GottaGoGolf. So, in 2017, arriving on the cusp of autumn along with the first snowfall to dust the mountaintops, our group of golf media members with guests experienced the hospitality of Fairmont Chateau Whistler and friends.
With daily Fairmont Gold breakfast buffets and golf followed by adventures and exploration, topped off by scrumptious dinners and nightly in-room surprises, we learned how Fairmont Chateau Whistler has perfected group golf tours and corporate meeting getaways. It is hard to imagine a more ideal corporate reward or group golf vacation splurge than one assembled by Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s expert team.
But that’s another story. Here, I’m going to tell you why women will love a Whistler golf vacation, especially if it includes a stay at Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Gone are the days when it was a drag to cross the border. YVR will expedite your travel experience so that you have more time left for your vacation experience. The big, bright international terminal has automated most of the customs procedure so that it’s actually fun posing for your picture.
And, there’s a Fairmont in the airport. So guests at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler have access to many services, including ground and baggage transfer.
THE RIDE FROM THE AIRPORT TO WHISTLER
It takes two to three hours, depending on traffic, to make the drive to Whistler Village. Sounds long. But, you get to see the city of Vancouver and then enjoy the glories of the winding coastal drive north.
I recommend not doing the driving yourself; opt for bus, car service or shuttle if you can manage to trust the wheel to a stranger enough to enjoy the views. And it’s not necessary to have a car in Whistler Village, even if you brought your clubs; there are shuttles and taxis to take you wherever you want to go.
I live at a mile high with views of “14ers” (the Colorado shorthand for peaks of 14,000 feet). The base altitude at Whistler is only around 2,500 feet, and the peaks of Blackcomb and Whistler mountains do not reach even 8,000 feet. Yet, the scenery seemed more dramatic than in Colorado.
That may be because the mountains ascend more quickly and have more rock on their faces. Having a view of adjacent mountains from the bed in our Fairmont suite made for amazing mornings. We could lay in bed and watch the mountains and see the weather sweep in. We couldn’t wait to wake up and watch the light change.
And on the final day, Big Sky stole the show.
WOMEN-WELCOME GOLF COURSES
We played four golf courses, each one more wonderful than the one before it.
First, on a morning that started out cold and wet, we teed off at charming Whistler Golf Club, a narrow, tree-lined Arnold Palmer design that would be a nice, flat walk on the valley floor. This might have been my favorite of the three village courses, even though I made the mistake of starting out from the most forward tees. An afterthought installed at 4,432 yards, these changed the character of several of the holes, eliminating doglegs, for example. I enjoyed the layout more when I moved up to 5,309 (127 slope), even though it wasn’t a long-distance day.
Next, we visited Nicklaus North, a lively facility in a community of gorgeous homes. I saw lots of women practicing, shopping and enjoying the grill. Another flat, walker-friendly course, Nicklaus North deserves raves for giving the typical woman golfer three options of tees: reds at 4,764 yards, greens at 5,489 yards and red/green at 5,128. I recommend the combo tees (119 slope) because you get to play the awesome par-3 17th alongside aptly named Green Lake at 135 yards instead of 163. If the wind is blowing into the tee you’ll be hard-pressed to get there at any distance.
The last of the three Village courses is the most spectacular, because it is on Blackcomb Mountain. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Chateau Whistler Golf Course also is the least Women-Welcome layout at Whistler (5,157 yards but a 126 slope)). The typical woman golfer will have to plan out her shots carefully and execute them as the first six holes climb the mountain and cross ravines. Views, conditions and amenities are unrivaled, however, and Chateau Whistler is a must-play at this destination. Bring golf balls and watch for bears.
We boarded a swanky party bus to our last destination about 45 minutes north in Pemberton. It was an overcast morning, which might have made the scenery all the more stunning, and our bus grew quiet with awe as we pulled into the parking lot of Big Sky Golf Club. The course itself looked flat, like nothing special, we were thinking. But the sheer face of Mount Currie climbing almost 8,000 feet from the fairways to an elevation of 8,500 feet, created drama from the first tee onward, especially alongside lakes that reflected the mountain. Big Sky is really fun for women, with red tees at 5,208 yards (118 slope) and another set at just over 5,600 for the longer hitter. It’s also a great challenge for men, with the so-called “Big Tees” at 7,001 yards. The altitude at Big Sky is not even 700 feet, so that’s a lonnnnng haul. With all of that, a spacious pro shop full of women’s golf clothes and a 19th hole menu long on variety, Big Sky ranks high on our list of Women-Welcome golf destinations.
OK, so your round at Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club might not include a lunch buffet full of golfy-named dishes at the 5th hole, or a dessert buffet at the 14th including an option of Baileys-and-coffee (or Baileys without coffee). Ours did! And that’s the sort of amenity Fairmont Chateau Whistler can offer to groups who want to do it up. Just talk to my new friend Nick Droulis, director of golf at Chateau Whistler.
FOOD, FOOD EVERYWHERE
With so many world-class resorts in such a small area, chefs can’t help but try to outdo each other. Our special meals included dinner at Hy’s Steakhouse, where the renowned cheese toast threatens to fill you up even before your perfect slab of meat arrives, and a closing dinner at Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Grill Room.
The meat-forward Grill Room, situated behind the more casual Wildflower and its inviting garden patio, is the pride of executive chef Vincent Stuffano. His creative menu, which generally includes a Hunters Bounty wild game special, vies for the stage with the creations of resort dessert guru Anup Chaubal. Chaubal went to France to create his own Whistler-inspired signature chocolates, now trademarked as Black Bear and Brown Bear.
But I was also impressed with the quality of food at the Whistler 19th-hole spots.
OF COURSE THERE’S SHOPPING
The weather was a little colder than I’d expected, but, no problem — just around the corner from the hotel was a row of shops and restaurants that led to another row of shops and restaurants that led to a path that led to Whistler Village, nonstop shops and restaurants.
I easily found a bright pink wool hat for the next day’s round.
FIND YOUR OWN SPECIAL COMFORT ZONE
I liked the lounging spaces at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler — the Mallard Lounge, with its cozy couches and nightly live music, and even the daily happy hour for guests staying on the floors served by the Gold Lounge. I imagine in summer there are wonderful terraces and patios all over Whistler ideal for groups to hang out and enjoy a cocktail.
THE TEMPTATION TO STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
The Insiders’ Guide to Whistler lists 99 things to do, including events, activities and services. Water sports, ziptreking, mountain biking and bob sleighing (even in summer) all warrant consideration. Even a spa visit can become an adventure if you take on the hot-soak, cold-plunge ritual at busy Scandinave Spa Whistler, where the no-talking rule proved a challenge for our gregarious group. Hard to shut up media types!
I’m not an adventurer, and would have been content with choosing among the hot tubs at the Fairmont’s top-notch spa. So I rather gingerly accepted an invitation to Canadian Wilderness Adventures’ ATV ride 5,000 feet or so up Blackcomb Mountain. It helped that there would be dinner waiting for us atop the mountain, and that the hubby would go only if he could drive. I didn’t have to tell him I would go only if he drove and I didn’t have to.
I believe I mentioned it had snowed atop the mountains the night before. Though we were bundled well in CWA’s gear, our hands grew frigid on the winding, muddy, bracing ride up the mountain.
And then we reached the Crystal Hut and saw that we were above the clouds, , with that famous, panoramic view of Whistler-Blackcomb ski areas and a glimpse of the lower valleys to the west and the ocean. The sun was shining and salmon awaited. It was an exhilarating adventure with a happy ending — and a shuttle ride back down the mountain.
Uh, speaking of stepping out of my comfort zone… The idea of taking a small seaplane back to Vancouver did not delight me. But Jennifer Brophy, Fairmont’s regional sales manager who did most of the planning for our Whistler golf group, urged me to give in.
We checked in for our flight right at the tiny Harbour Air terminal on Green Lake, next to Nicklaus North, and went over to the golf course grill for a trip-bracing cocktail. Then we crammed into our seats — and I mean crammed, with barely more than our phones in hand — for the ride on a floatplane.
I was nervous for maybe five minutes. For the rest of the 45-minute sunset flight, I was spellbound at all that we could see. It wasn’t only because of the loud engine roar that we did not speak. The beauty of this earth moved me almost to tears.
And then we landed in the water alongside one of the world’s great cities.
Vancouver reminds me of my beloved San Francisco Bay Area: It sparkles. It’s a walker-friendly city with history, arts, shopping and great restaurants. We enjoyed exploring the market at Granville Island, boarding the water taxi and hiking along the waterfront up to Stanley Park.
There was not enough time or energy left for the Monet exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. If we had it to do over again, I would have allotted two days to explore, not just one.
MEN, TOO, WILL LOVE A WHISTLER GOLF GETAWAY
His view of the golf: “The golf was tremendous and every course well-conditioned. All the courses were great, but Chateau Whistler was so beautiful and hung together without that disjointed feeling you can get on true mountain courses. The fairways were reasonable, giving you a fair landing area from the tee. They avoided a large number of blind shots, as well, always a good thing. The staff members at all courses were down-to-earth, friendly, helpful and not overly fawning. Not too much niceness, not too little. Just right.”
Fairmont’s special invitation made this trip a possibility, but I must thank my husband for making a case for this Whistler golf getaway. Without his urging, I doubt I ever would have experienced this stunning corner of the world.
Likewise, the man whose woman persuades him to journey to Whistler will appreciate her all the more.
To learn more about this destination, visit the official tourism site at Whistler.com.