VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — When the PGA Tour Champions’ Pacific Links Championship moved from Hawaii to Canada last year, players and television viewers were no doubt braced for the worst.
Canada in September? Images of parka-clad golfers, leafless trees, dormant fairways sprang to mind.
Imagine their surprise when they discovered the new venue, Bear Mountain, is not only a 36-hole full-service Westin resort and spa, but that it offers golf 12 months a year. Bear Mountain is located just outside Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, on verdant Vancouver Island. The southern part of the island boasts one of the most moderate climates anywhere.
“When people saw us on the Golf Channel broadcast [of the Pacific Links Championship], it not only raised awareness of Bear Mountain, but of the city of Victoria and Vancouver Island,” says Doug Hastie, golf operations manager. “People in the States, around the world for that matter, didn’t realize what we have here.”
The result raised awareness, all right, and that translated into more Americans, especially from the southern states, making the trip here to escape their stiflingly hot summers at home.
What they see is impressive.
The approach into the Mountain Course's 15th green. (Photo: Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa)
This week’s Pacific Links Bear Mountain Championship will be played on the Mountain Course, the first of two layouts designed by Jack Nicklaus and son Steve. The 6,900-yard, par-70 course takes full advantage of its setting on an 1,100-foot peak.
“I’ve played golf around the world,” says Hastie, “but that view when you come around the corner after the par-5 13th is one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
On a clear day, Hastie says, there is a rooftop view of the Olympic Mountains, along with Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainer, both active volcanoes in neighboring Washington state. Rainier is about 130 miles away as the crow flies.
In contrast to the Mountain Course, which is testing from tee to green but has subtle putting surfaces, the Valley Course is more welcoming off the tee, but has some potentially frustrating greens. It is preferred by many members because it is surrounded by nature, with no real estate development to distract from the experience.
The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa is relatively small at 160 rooms, but perennially is ranked among the company’s top destinations for service and amenities, which include the only clay tennis courts in Western Canada. Cycling and hiking trails along with zip lining are on site, and some of the best salmon fishing in the world is close by. Also, Bear Mountain is part of the 150-mile Vancouver Island Golf Trail (vancouverislandgolftrail.com) with more than a dozen top-notch destination golf courses and resorts. .
It’s a good thing so many viewers got a glimpse of last year's Champions Tour event because Golf Channel will not be broadcasting this week's tournament.
So, a trip to Bear Mountain is necessary to understand its beauty. Even in September — or any of the other 11 months, too.
John Gordon, who has covered golf for more than 30 years for Canadian newspapers, magazines and a TV network, has authored eight books on the game. He lives in Midland, Ontario.