WHISTLER, British Columbia, Canada -- If you thought golfers in their colorful shorts and busy hats were easy to spot in a resort town, it turns out we're quite inconspicuous compared to mountain bikers.
You couldn't two-step with a mama black bear down Whistler's Village Stroll without bumping into one of these dirt-covered adrenaline junkies fresh off a morning tear down Blackcomb or some other area single track.
2010 Winter Olympics be darned, Whistler is a bon-a-fide summer hotspot. More visitors now come for the sun than for the snow, and you get the sense most staff members around town -- multinational, fit, jubilant -- are just itching for their next trek themselves. Not everyone is here to mountain bike. Road cycling, hiking, scenic Peak-to-Peak gondola rides and Sea Plane excursions -- plus events such as Ironman and Tough Mudder, and, of course, golf -- are just a handful of the many reasons Whistler is a summertime boomtown.
If there's any negative impact the exploding mountain bike scene has to the golf, it's the golf course staff's increased trips to the E.R.
"We've lost six grounds crew to accidents so far this year," lamented Nick Droulis, director of golf at Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club. "It's usually just one or two."
Everyone (or at least those not yet in a sling) is enjoying B.C.'s long 2015 summer to the max. An early spring yielded course openings earlier than ever. Ski seasons haven't been so fruitful lately, but the town is shaking it off. "We've gotten seven extra weeks of summer," one local cabbie recalled. "I'm not complaining."
And a bonus for Americans, the strong U.S. dollar (currently $1.24 to 1 CAD) hasn't been this favorable since 2008. Here's a rundown of the Whistler area's efficient golf foursome.
Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club
Of all the courses in the Whistler area, only Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club is a true mountain golf course full of big elevation changes and long views. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., the opening four uphill holes to reach the best vistas are infamous round-busters.
Survive the par-37 front nine, and its attack-mode coming home: a collection of elevated tees and short par 4s, plus a birdie-opp, par-5 finisher. Its setting along the mountainside makes the course prone to black bear encounters, (I had a surreal one during a round a few years back). You don't have to stay at the Fairmont or be a member to get the full-service treatment at the golf club. Cap your round off with lunch on the patio and a made-to-order Caesar (Canada's version of a Bloody Mary).
Green fees: $159
Nicklaus North Golf Course
Rivaling Chateau Whistler as the town's go-to round is Nicklaus North Golf Course, opened the same year, 1993. While playing flat on the valley floor, it's every bit of a destination golf experience.
This Jack Nicklaus design has some of the more generous fairways in town, and it's excellent conditions, service and walkability create a private club ambiance that makes anyone teeing it up here feel like a high-roller.
The finishing stretch alongside Green Lake is what ensures Nicklaus North is a memorable loop. All five par 3s are intimidating but none more than the 226-yard, par-3 17th that hugs the lake on the left and requires all carry to a small green. Sea planes taking off just a chip shot away add to the drama.
Green fees: $155
Big Sky Golf & Country Club
It's an exciting year at Big Sky Golf & Country Club, located just north of Whistler in Pemberton. New T1 bentgrass greens were installed this spring, and the surfaces are true and fast. The layout, which plays along a valley floor at the base of Mount Currie, is a stern one designed by Bob Cupp. A smattering of ponds and streams running along holes keep golfers at full attention, though don't be surprised if you're interrupted by an occasional rock slide rumbling above you.
This looming mountain certainly steals the show, and it's a fitting backdrop for both the course and the patio restaurant in the clubhouse. If you so choose, you can even hit golf balls off it. The club offers a helicopter 19th hole package that invites your foursome into a helicopter ride up to the top of the peak to bash biodegradable golf balls from the summit.
More reason to make it up to these parts is for Pemberton Distillery, which is making use of the area's fertile farmland to produce organic spirits. While they've been crafting everything from potato vodka to brandies to gin, they recently began selling their 2010 organic, single-malt, Scotch-inspired whisky.
Green fees: $149-69
Whistler Golf Club
It seems hard to believe there wasn't a championship golf course in Whistler until 1983, when Arnold Palmer's design firm was hired by Tourism Whistler to build an 18-hole course in hopes of attracting more summer visitors and conventions.
Perhaps the one thing Whistler Golf Club lacks compared to some other top Canadian golf destinations is a Golden Era Stanley Thompson design. Though, in many spots, Whistler feels more classically designed than its age. Narrow, tree-lined fairways, doglegs and gentle shaping and bunkers frame holes pleasantly. But there are teeth in this design. Greens have a lot of movement to them, and there are a handful of forced carries, including an island fairway on "Arnie's Eagle."
There is one elevated tee here, the par-4 16th: "The Gallery." With a wide fairway and onlookers passing by from the Village Trail, it's tough not to take a Herculean gash at the ball.
Green fees: $139
Stay and play in Whistler
For the best mix of value and comfort, start at the Crystal Lodge, located on the Village Stroll across the street from Whistler Golf Club. The property has stay-and-play packages that afford two rounds of golf and a night's stay starting at $199.
Guest rooms are well equipped with kitchenettes and spacious bathrooms. A sauna, hot tub and pool are satisfying spots after getting sore somewhere in the sunshine that morning.
If you're looking for a splurge, Whistler has you quite covered. Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a darling of its northern golf properties, located at the base of Blackcomb mountain and a brief shuttle ride to the golf club.
There is also a Four Seasons Resort in Whistler. Should you be staying elsewhere but crave a steak, be sure to make a reservation at Side Cut, which cooks its variety of cuts on an 1,800-degree infrared grill. Another favorite restaurant in town is Aroxi, which is in the heart of the walking-only Village Stroll and has a large outdoor patio as well as stylish interior, Prix Fix and a la carte menus to go with a first-class wine list. Be sure to clean yourself up after whatever activity you did that afternoon; this place, like many other Whistler restaurants, is stylish.
More golf and accommodation information at Tourism Whistler: Whistler.com.
Green fees are in Canadian dollars.