By Mario Annicchiarico
Courtesy of the Edmonton Journal
As if golfing on Vancouver Island wasn’t already intriguing.
The new Valley Course at Bear Mountain just raised the level of interest quicker than Phil Mickelson can get his patented flop shot in the air.
And like Mickelson’s effort, this one is right on the mark.
The resort course, situated just outside Victoria in the municipality of Langford, now boasts the only 36-holes of Nicklaus Design golf in the entire country (the Mountain Course is a Jack Nicklaus and Steve Nicklaus co-design while the Valley Course is a Nicklaus Design). The Golden Bear’s influence should guarantee you’ll enjoy some of the most exquisite vistas on the entire island, if not all of North America, suggests its principal owner, Len Barrie.
“These 36 holes, combined with its incredible land and seascapes, is irresistible, and I expect Bear Mountain to become one of the most sought-after golf destinations on the continent,” said Barrie, president and CEO of the resort.
“A world-class golfing experience for all to enjoy has always been at the centre of my vision for Bear Mountain from the outset, and has been a decade in the making.”
The Valley Course–which measures in anywhere from 4,674 to 6,807 yards, depending on which of the five tees you play — is, in a word, perfection. Want two? Simply majestic.
Barrie, a former Edmonton Oilers draft pick who went on to play for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Florida Panthers, has current and former NHLers (such as Ryan Smyth, Ray Whitney and Mike Vernon, to name a few) on board as partners. Barrie, an owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, spared no expense in making every Bear Mountain visitor more than just comfortable.
Open fairways make the Valley Course a little more inviting and a lot less intimidating than the Mountain Course, which triggers in anywhere between 5,014 and 7,212 yards.
While the 19th hole–an extra par 3 at the very top of the Mountain Course — is the original 18’s signature hole, Barrie has plenty of choices on the Valley side.
The 341-yard, par-4 third (which plays 403 yards from the tips) invites long hitters to take a rip at the green, situated well below a spectacular elevated tee area, and is a definite signature possibility. But so, too, are the 471-yard, par-4 13th; the 588-yard, par-5 15th; and the 459-yard, par-4 17th.
“I don’t know, there are so many choices,” said Bear Mountain assistant pro Aaron Grice, after experiencing the first official round ever played on the new course along with yours truly and Victoria Times-Colonist sports editor Brian Drewry.
While the length and openness of the fairways make the Valley side an easier play, the rolling, undulating putting surfaces are what make it an excellent test.
“The greens are its defence,” admitted Grice. “Lots of slopes.
“The Mountain course looks more intimidating off the tee. You’ll find out it’s not, but only after you’ve played it a few times. It just looks scary if you miss the fairways.”
The Mountain course is a par-72 challenge, while the new Valley track is a par-71 layout.
“If you hit your irons well, you’ll have lots of short-distance birdie putts,” Grice said of the new Jack and Steve Nicklaus-design, which officially went into play the last weekend of May. “But, as you saw, the greens are testy.”
And then some. Land on the wrong side and you’re faced with plenty of twists and turns.
“I’ve golfed at stunning locations around the world and I can honestly say that with the opening of this second course, Bear Mountain rivals the best golfing experiences for golfers of all abilities anywhere,” said Barrie, a passionate man and proud developer who has managed to stir the pot with his creation.
Environmentalists have taken more swipes at Barrie than you’ll have numbered strokes around the two courses. The bottom line for golfers, though, is that this is a wonderful piece of property.
“We are proud to call Vancouver Island home and we look forward to Bear Mountain becoming one of the most renowned golf destinations anywhere,” said Barrie.
Of course it does come at a cost. A weekday (Monday through Thursday) round goes for $129 and weekend is $149, which includes a GPS-equipped cart, range facilities, club valet and cleaning services. But sunrise tee times (between 7-7:30 a. m.) are just $79 and $99 respectively on weekdays and weekends, with a$10 food credit. Twilight (five to six hours before dark) is also $79 and$99 respectively, and sunset golf (4-5 hours before dark) is $59 and $79 respectively. A nine-and-dine program (after 5 p. m.) is set at $59 and includes a$15 food credit.
Vancouver Island residents get the best break at $79 (24-hour notice) and$99(seven-day notice) for weekdays and $99 (24-hour notice) and $119 (seven-day notice) on weekends respectively.
All tee times can be booked 60 days in advance.
THE BEAR FACTS – The Mountain course cost $17 million to construct, while the Valley course came in at $20 million due to blasting and environmental commitments. – The resort is a member of the Audubon society and is in the process of becoming certified. Staff use environmentally friendly practices, such as organic fertilizers, and an environmental monitor has been hired to test the water four times a year on both courses. – The course features a variety of wildlife, including deer, cormorants, blue heron, osprey, bald eagles, ducks and river otter, and also stocks the 13th-hole pond on the Mountain course with fish, which has increased wildlife activity. – The Mountain course features 23 miles of irrigation pipe and 1,200 irrigation heads, while the Valley layout features 27 miles of irrigation pipe and 1,400 irrigation heads.