Golf: Mountain-High Hat Trick

  • George Fuller

The ice skates, sticks, jerseys, and trophies on display in the pro shop at the Bear Mountain Golf and Country Club in Victoria, B.C., serve as reminders that hockey is king in Canada. But with several new courses in the country, and the recent success of native son Mike Weir on the PGA Tour (including a victory at the 2003 Masters), golf is gaining on the national pastime. Hockey players themselves have contributed greatly to golf’s rising popularity, and nowhere is the connection more clear than at Bear Mountain, a new Jack Nicklaus design set on a high pass overlooking Victoria.

The hockey memorabilia in the Bear Mountain pro shop was worn, used, and won by the golf course’s primary investors, a group of current and former NHL stars headed by Len Barrie and Mike Vernon. Other partners include Ray Whitney, Rob Niedermayer, Ryan Smyth, and Trevor Kidd, all household names in the Great White North. Their involvement, along with a superior Nicklaus course in a stunning setting, has made real estate at Bear Mountain the fastest-selling product in Canada since prescription drugs.
 
Opened in August 2003, the Bear Mountain course runs through more than 7,200 yards of tumbling terrain. Nicklaus carved the fairways from heavily wooded mountainsides, and massive rock walls frame many of his bunkers and greens, one of which sits on an island in the middle of a lake. The design offers surprises around every dogleg, including one that was an afterthought. “The course was almost complete,” says Barrie, who is president and CEO of Bear Mountain Master Partnership. “Jack and his son Jackie were here on a site visit, and when we got to the top of the course—looking at the green of number 14—Jackie said, ‘Dad, take a look over here. Wouldn’t this be a perfect spot for a little gambling hole?’ ” The idea was irresistible. “Jack turned to us,” Barrie recalls, “and asked, ‘Is this in the budget?’ We laughed and said, ‘Let’s go!’ ”

Listed as No. 19 on the scorecard, Bear Mountain’s bonus hole looks like one of those fantasy golf-calendar images, where the green rests alone atop Yosemite’s Half Dome or on the side of a smoldering volcano. The hole is located on the edge of a cliff between the 14th green and 15th tee, and although it is a short par 3 (141 yards from the back tees), it delivers views that seem to extend forever—to Victoria and its suburbs, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the mountains of Washington.
 
The vista is the same one afforded by some of the real estate sites at Bear Mountain, in particular those along “Hockey Row,” where several of the NHL players have built their homes. Last December, Bear Mountain opened a 65-room hotel along the fairways, so nonresidents now can stay and play at the course.
 
Bear Mountain plans to break ground on a second course, also designed by Nicklaus, in the next few months. In the meantime, Barrie and his partners have scored a hat trick with the homesites, the hotel, and one of the best new golf courses in Canada.

Bear Mountain Golf and Country Club, 888.533.2327

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