On Tour: Kootenay Rockies boast newest places to play and stay
From thestar.com, July 22, 2011.
CRANBROOK, B.C.– Every once in a while you get a call from the past that makes you think about your future. Mine came about a month ago when Max Sherwood, the head golf professional at the St. Eugene resort in Cranbrook, B.C., gave me a ring. I hadn’t spoken to Max in more than 30 years, since high school and had completely lost track of him. I had a hazy recollection of Max as a ski nut with a halo of bushy hair and an easy grin. Turns out that in 1979 he left Toronto and headed to the big-time mountains in the British Columbia Rockies to coach skiing and take classes at Simon Fraser University in the off-season. After graduation, he tried a “grown up” job in Calgary for a couple of years but the pull of mountain life was too strong. A natural athlete, Max also picked up golf and became a club pro.
At dinner, I asked Max a silly question — why he loved it so much out here? With a half smile of serenity, he simply pointed toward St. Eugene’s golf course, which is wrapped in the roar of the St. Mary River and shadowed by the zig-zag peaks of the Kootenay Rockies. He didn’t have to add anything else.
The Okanagan and Whistler grab most of the headlines but from Cranbrook north to the famous hot springs in Radium, a drive of less than two hours, this stretch of the Kootenay Rockies has it all — hiking, biking, rafting, fly fishing, beaches, hot springs, arts festivals, rivers, lakes, mountains and lots of good golf.
In fact, the newest course in Canada is Wildstone, which opened in June in Cranbrook. It is the only course in Canada designed by Gary Player’s company, Black Knight. It’s a fun layout — wide enough off the tee to take a big whack but with enough trouble to keep you committed. As importantly, it is walkable and in great shape. And almost every hole is punctuated by Mount Fisher, which at nearly 10,000 feet, is the tallest mountain in the Kootenays. (According to my playing partners, the mountain is climbable without any special equipment and takes about eight hours roundtrip. But there are quicker ways. They told me that local boy Scott Niedermayer transported the Stanley Cup to the summit by helicopter after one of his Stanley Cup wins with the Devils.)
Another newish course around Cranbrook is Shadow Mountain which opened in the summer of 2009. It is a smart course with a lot going on including some big whoops in elevation — the 17th drops 125 feet from tee to green — and fast, true greens. Shadow Mountain is surrounded by some stunning views but you can’t get wide-eyed here, you need to stay focused.
After Cranbrook, I headed north to the Columbia Valley. For families especially, I recommend a stay at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. It boasts three courses, one especially good for kids and beginners but keep an eye out for its other amenities including natural hot spring pools, horse-back riding and kayaking.
Also make time for Greywolf Golf Course at Panorama. The Doug Carrick-designed layout is one of the top mountain courses in the world. It’s sixth hole, Cliffhanger, is a 200-yard carry over a rocky abyss. There is no forgiveness here.
The latest accommodation in the Kootenays is the Copper Point Resort, which opened its doors just a few weeks ago. There is a lot to like. It’s a handsome, low-slung design that is tucked next to the high ground, two golf courses and is around the corner from the village of Invermere and only a 20-minute drive to the ski runs at Panorama. The resort has a high-end look — dark leather couches, slate floors and stainless steel appliances in the suites — but that aesthetic is tempered with a laid-back vibe. Flip-flops and shorts are just as acceptable in the lobby as silk dresses and stilettos. If you are short on time, play The Ridge course at the adjoining Copper Point Golf Club. It is a par-62 course but gives you all the golf you can handle.
Ian Cruickshank is a Toronto-based freelance writer. His trip was subsidized by Kootenay Rockies Tourism. His column tour usually appears on the fourth Saturday of each month.
Just the facts
STAYING: The best place to stay in the Cranbrook area is the St. Eugene resort, a historic spot that has been transformed into a CAA triple diamond resort with a very good golf course and casino. Stay and play packages start at $119 per person. www.steugene.ca For more on things to do in the Kootenays, see www.hellobc.com.