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|Storey Creek Golf Club doesn't do houses or fancy - just Canadian nature. (Courtesy of Golf Vancouver Island)|
CAMPBELL RIVER, British Columbia - Storey Creek Golf Club is an easy place to fall in love with. Just ask Butch Kelly. He showed up at this quaint, no-fuss golf course in the middle of Vancouver Island 19 years ago and essentially never left.
"I never wanted to see the world," Kelly said, shrugging as rain pelted the roof of Storey Creek's modest clubhouse. "I never thought I'd be a touring pro. I became a club pro. Nothing fancy."
Storey Creek is a club pro's version of heaven on earth. It's all about good golf at a good price in an incredibly natural setting. There's no tennis court to worry about, no ultra arrogant, self important members to deal with. It's hard to get all haughty and superior when your regular guy neighbors are the ones who helped build the course by hand, donating equipment to move earth and often just picking up rocks in their bare hands.
That is Storey Creek's history. You don't have to be a club pro or have lived it for the last 19 years like Kelly to appreciate it either. All you have to do is play it, get out among the deer, hawks and eagles where no one tries to make the fairways look artificial green carpet green.
Storey Creek's been surprising folks who've visited Vancouver Island for almost 20 years now. But the people who have been here from the beginning will tell you that the golf course has never been as good as it is now.
"The course has really done a 180 under [superintendent] Rob Watson in his second year," Kelly said. "He does a fantastic job. He's brought the golf course to another level."
It's all part of making sure more golfers find their way out to this course in the woods that's a very convenient play for those staying at Crown Isle Resort or getting in salmon fishing at well-known fisherman's retreat Painter's Lodge.
Besides the new superintendent Watson - who previously made sure everything looked great at Westwood Plateau Golf & Country Club, a high end Vancouver golf course with its own helipad - Storey Creek also brought in a new general manager, Andrew Gilchrist, who is also used to life in high profile gigs.
Gilchrist used to work at Royal Mayfair, the private, exclusive Edmonton golf course that hosted the Canadian Women's Open in August 2007. A photography nut, Gilchrist always yearned for something closer to nature, though, and he certainly found it in Storey Creek.
Now, Gilchrist is doing unconventional things at Storey Creek, like running a golf course photography contest open to anyone. His goal is to raise Storey Creek's service level while maintaining its down home Canadian charm.
"There are so many things you'd never want to change about this place," Gilchrist said. "You don't find many golf courses like this anywhere."
That's because any sight or thought of houses is left behind by the time you pull into the parking lot. Storey Creek was started by a bunch of diehards who only cared about producing a course to remember - not one to sell in real estate brochures.
The result is a golf course that seems to fit into the woods rather than ruin the natural scene. Salmon still spawn in the river that the par-4 14th doglegs left around. Lose a ball and you could be interrupting some tender salmon moments.
Forget "Fore!" How about "My bad, fish man!"
The Storey Creek Golf Society - the original group of locals who decided the area needed the golf course - hired the design firm of Les Furber (whose motto should be, "I've designed two out of every three courses in Canada!"). And then the rocks (some of them Indian Jones-boulder sized) and trees started getting moved.
"It would probably cost $20 million to build something like this today," Kelly said. "Back [in the late '80s], we built it for something under $2 million. You just couldn't have a course like this today."
At least not one with this humble of an approach. Kelly's $20 million estimate might not be far off either. The new Valley Course at Bear Mountain Golf Resort that recently opened up nine of its 18 holes already has a price tag of $18 million in construction. This in a Vancouver Island area where there was already an existing 18-hole Jack Nicklaus course on site, meaning many of the foundations were in place.
Because Storey Creek didn't cost $20 million, its green fees max out at $69 walking, which is how you want to play it.
At this price, it's more than worthwhile to find your way up to Storey Creek on a Vancouver Island golf trip. Its 6,699 yards of natural golf, no tricks or fancy snacks at the turn needed. Storey Creek's a place where you get a hamburger and like it, a place where you'll find the toughest stretch last and remember it.
No. 16 is a long par 4 with a marshy pond, bush area running right in front of the green. No. 17 is a par 3 that has you shooting over water (again) and a small rock wall. Then on 18, there's a stream running right across the fairway and another big pond guarding the bunker surrounded green.
Escape this finishing trio with a few pars and you're definitely ahead of the game.
"You don't have to be a long ball hitter as long as you're a straight hitter," Kelly said.
Not that the deer who saunter across the fairways care either way.
October 24, 2008
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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