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British Columbia's Chateau Whistler a beautiful bear of a golf club

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
Chateau Whistler Golf Club - Mountains
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Chateau Whistler Golf Club takes you up and down the British Columbia mountains. (Chris Baldwin/GolfPublisher.com)

Carved into the forest around British Columbia's Mount Blackcomb, Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Chateau Whistler Golf Club confronts golfers with tight fairways, natural hazards, black bears and one of the most spectacular settings in Canada golf.

WHISTLER, B.C. - When you're told there's a bear-testing station in the brush right behind the tee, your thoughts tend to stray from your swing.

Chateau Whistler Golf Club Director of Golf Rob Cochrane took on a reassuring tone. "The bears are more afraid of you than you are of them."

He paused.

"OK, that's completely not true," he laughed. "The bears have actually gotten pretty used to people around here. They're not scared of golfers at all."

Hey, you wanted to golf in nature. In Whistler, the hip outdoor playground 80 miles north of Vancouver, that means bears with your birdies.

And you're more likely to encounter the bears at this Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, a 6,635-yard British Columbia golf course that plays tougher than many of today's 7,500-yarders.

Particularly if you're a slow starter or a late partier. The first four holes are Whistler's hardest, climbing 400 feet up Mount Blackcomb. Many a golfer's left a trail of curses and lost balls.

"It's all downhill from here," Cochrane said enthusiastically after putting out on No. 4.

That doesn't necessarily mean your scorecard will get prettier. Chateau Whistler is not a golf course with some tidy nature around it. It's a thick forest that happens to have some fairways and greens tucked between the 1,300-year-old Douglas first.

The fairways are tighter than the Kansas City Royals' budget. The doglegs are as plentiful as gray ponytails at a Dylan show. There are so many little rushing creeks you'll think God is scavenging for golf balls.

And there's a reason Cochrane guaranteed a bear sighting as we teed off.

Black bears romp through this forest, mere minutes from Whistler's bustling resort village. The testing station is right near the 10th tee; strands of barb wire snag fur samples, and disguised weights measure bears' size when they step on to grab food left by the testers.

"They're the friendly bears, though," Cochrane said of the blacks.

Maybe, but they have ways of letting golfers know whose forest this is. Mounds of droppings can be seen near a number of Chateau Whistler tees.

"You want to mess with something that leaves that?" visiting golfer Joe Grimm laughed.

Just tussling with Jones' design is messy enough. Nature's not just pretty at Chateau Whistler, it's hazardous. It took plenty of cash to work fairways into this rocky old mountain forest. Originally budgeted at $5 million, the club ended up costing more than twice that and took two years to build.

Not that you're going to be thinking much about such logistics or complaining about the obstacles. Not with another pretty creek rushing by.

"It's easy to lose yourself - and golf balls - here," Grimm said.

No word on whether black bears collect Pro V1s too.

Chateau Whistler Golf Club: The Verdict

With greens fees usually running near $150 Canadian, Chateau Whistler is one of the more expensive courses in British Columbia, but it justifies the cost in uniqueness alone.

There are some extras. Under-18s get to golf free with a paying adult - no small perk in a golf world that often seems more inclined to shun kids than bring them into the game.

Chateau Whistler doesn't skimp on service either. You'll often be greeted by name as the door to the van from the affiliated Fairmont Chateau Whistler resort swings open. The bag attendants spring up to clean your clubs so fast, you'll swear they had Spidey training.

In the end, though, it's about the course. If settings rule, it's hard to imagine many more satisfying than Chateau Whistler. There isn't a house in sight, and a few holes in you're looking down on the entire town.

"I've been all over," vacationer Eric Graham said, "and this is one of those courses that makes you realize why people started playing golf in the first place."

Fast Fact

Chateau Whistler sports a 145 slope rating from the back tees.

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Chateau Whistler Golf Club - Creeks CarryBlack Bears - Chateau Whistler Golf Club

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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