I write this golf feature for women who love to golf. Women are falling for this game and I too have fallen truly, madly, deeply in love with golf. My summer afternoons are spent daydreaming about which course to play and plotting whether I can sneak away early enough from the office to play a full round.
I want to share my passion for the game. My features will discuss the journey, the accommodations, the game and experience, from a woman's perspective. Yes, I will describe the game from the forward tees.
My goal is simple: to share my "experiences" hoping that you, my dear readers, are encouraged to explore some of the wonderful golf resorts that North America, and the world, has to offer. Golf is a wonderful game and I hope to share my enthusiasm with you.
Girls just want to have fun, and in our case, fun means golf! I love to golf and in fact, the gals and I belong to a "ladies league" just so we can golf once a week. We do this for a couple of reasons - to improve our game and to escape from life's daily annoyances, if only for a few hours.
By January, I commence fantasizing about golf as I shovel mass amounts of snow. I stand in my driveway, shovel in hand, totally engrossed in my fantasy. I smell the freshly cut fairways and hear the chatter of the birds. It's hot and I wipe the sweat from my brow as I plan my next shot. I remove my driver from my golf bag, and then reach into my back pocket for my tee and ball. Instead, a cold, wet mitt presents itself. Reality strikes once again!
I call my girlfriend and shriek, "I need to golf, where are we going and when? It's time to plan our annual golf vacation! - Mexico, the Carolina's and California are discussed as possible destinations. In pursuit of our goal, I discovered a great website that offers vacation packages to all these locations.
After a lengthy discussion, we chose the interior of British Columbia for a few reasons. First, the flight is fairly short from Toronto, second, the climate is less forgiving out West, and, third, that naughty little phrase, "exchange rate" need not apply.
We chose to stay at Panorama Resort, and resort known to Canadian's for its skiing and golfing. The resort is approximately 20 minutes southwest of Radium, BC. It is rated as a four-star resort, complete with all the amenities: spa, restaurants, tennis courts, and shops that sell snacks, beer and a decent bottle of wine. The package also included three rounds of golf, at local courses. We were fortunate enough to choose the courses and book our tee-off times prior to our departure. Panorama is also home to Grey Wolf, classified as one of Canada's top 100 golf resorts.
We flew direct to Calgary, Alberta. Total flying time was 4 hours. We departed early in the morning to ensure that we arrived in Calgary with enough daylight to drive through the mountains. We packed our rental car (one large enough to fit our clubs and massive amount of luggage), found the map, and headed west. Much like our ancestors, I knew heading west would eventually lead me to my paradise where my fleeting dream would be fulfilled.
The drive from Calgary to the interior BC is approximately 2.5 hours. I love to drive, but my girlfriend was driving, and I was jealous! However, after some thought, I changed my mind and considered myself lucky, because while her eye was on the road, mine was on the approaching vistas. If you have the opportunity to take this trip, happily relinquish your driving rights because the sights are truly breathtaking.
Majestic mountains appeared on the horizon - the snow-capped Rockies, the symbols of Canada that they are, dominate the countryside creating a perfect picture postcard.
On your way, make sure you stop in Banff for a bite to eat; it's truly a town worth seeing. Sure, it's full of tourists and tourist shops that sell overpriced, tacky items, but it's a quaint village in its own right, so take my advice, make a stop.
After lunch, we continued the drive to British Columbia. Remember, we are driving from one province to another. (For those of you unfamiliar with traveling in Canada, there are NO border stops between provinces.) The trip from Banff, Alberta to Radium, British Columbia, is approximately one hour. That is if you don't stop. But you will stop, and have your camera ready because the views are breathtaking. Valley upon valley unfolds before your eyes. As the mountains reach for the sky, I spotted where the tree line ended and was replaced by stark protruding rock faces. I can't help but ask my girlfriend to stop the car, so I can take pictures. I feel compelled to photograph everything, as I didn't want this memory to fade.
When we arrived in Radium, I noticed the hot springs were open. Note to self about Radium. Natural hot springs are favorite tourist spot, so if you're into this type of scene enjoy, if not, wave to the "springers" and keep driving. Another note to self. Beware of mountain sheep on the side of the road and don't stop to close to take photographs, as they get frightened and begin to "joust" right in front of your car.
Twenty-five minutes later, the car stops. I am at Panorama Resort! www.panoramaresort.com Greeted by friendly staff, I was handed a map and promised the weather would cooperate. I was somewhat dubious about the weather comment and I became fixated on the weather channel.
We arrive at our condominium and as we pull up, I squeal, "this is too good to be true!" Picture this: four chateau-style condominiums, perched high on a hill. Behind them loom snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see. Traces of the snow remain on a few of the ski runs, making me consider that I might have to return for a ski trip. The car stops and I get out. Silence. I inhale deeply and my lungs welcome the fresh air. I feel like I've been beamed from a busy, stark city into an enchanting countryside that offers nothing but splendor and peace of mind. Blue sky, tall pines and silence are the elements the make-up the landscape.
It's one of those moments one experiences when s/he realizes there is much more too life than daily rituals - it is a moment where values are questioned. I hadn't even golfed yet and I was ready to move here!
Our suite is on the fourth floor. It is a corner suite that overlooks the pool area as well as provides us with a panoramic view of the mountains (I'm guessing that's how the resort acquired its name.) It's been a long day, it is time to get some supplies, soak in the hot tub, and eat.
Panorama's atmosphere is very much like that of a small village. The resort is interspersed with townhouses (I believe they are timeshares) and low-rise condominiums. In addition, there are four restaurants in the village, offering everything from pizza to gourmet meals. The heart of the resort is the town-square, which is obviously the hub! I could order a beer, buy a ski jacket, rent a bike or sip a cappuccino. Just perfect!
The hot tubs are adjacent to the pool area, located in the center of the village. There are three hot tubs to choose from, each varying in temperature. Like Goldilocks, I try all three; one was too hot, one was too cold, and the other was just right. I sink into "just right" and put my head back. I stare at the mountains and try to absorb everything because I know I'm in my paradise for just a few days.
We arrive at Grey Wolf an hour before our tee off. It is a crisp 5C at this time of the morning. The Marshall notifies us that there is an hour delay due to frost. Taking advantage of this delay, we take a walk to view some of the several vacation homes that border the course. These homes are impressive, each distinctive, with the exception that they are all built from the fir trees that are indigenous to British Columbia.
Grey Wolf is a championship course that plays 5400 yards from the forward tees. (7140 yards from the back tees.) Fairways are tight and undulated, providing little relief to the golfer from the rough. Playing this course, I discovered I was either driving up or down the mountain - regardless if it was the ball or the cart! At this time of the year, it was cart paths only, but on this course, this was an advantage as it allowed us to take-in the many scenic vistas that Grey Wolf offers.
The short frost delay is over and we can commence our game. Grey Wolf managed the delay expertly; ensuring each four-some was accommodated with little disruption. We are instructed that we will start from the back nine and are introduced to our partners. Now, some women may be intimidated knowing that they are about to play 18-holes with men. But don't let this deter your game; as I have discovered that men make the same mistakes as women, just longer, wider and deeper.
The 10th hole, "Tranquility", is the longest hole on the course. It's a par 5 and plays 480 yards from the forward tees. A creek runs along the left side of the entire hole, adding a challenge for those of you who favor the left side of the fairway! Standing on the tee box, I take a deep breath and attempt to calm myself by appreciating my surroundings. Mountains are everywhere - it is a truly beautiful course. I realize that now is the time to enjoy the experience, and not worry whether every shot will be remarkable.
My drive is successful! It lands just to the right of the fairway. I finish the first hole by taking a quadruple bogie. I'm rather unimpressed with my score, but decide to enjoy my round, so off we go to tackle the next hole. The cart path leads us over a crest, and the 11th hole unfolds before us.
The 11th hole is a 327-yard par 4 and slopes downwards. Being an Ontario golfer, I normally play courses that are fairly forgiving, offering few hills. There are a few, but they are not comparable to what Grey Wolf presents. Personally, I find hilly courses more challenging, as the holes appear to be longer or shorter than they actually are.
My drive is decent; my ball lies on the right side of the fairway in the rough. The surrounding foothills challenge my perception, judging yardage is proving to be a challenge in itself. I successfully make it to the green in four strokes, but the greens present another challenge altogether. Undulating themselves, take the time to read your putt carefully, as you might find yourself retrieving your wedge if you misread the putting line.
The round moves quickly and considering there was a frost delay, I recall the wait between holes was brief. Meanwhile, we compliment each other on our good shots, and chide each other on the bad. The licensed beverage cart appears on a regular basis, offering healthy snacks and beverages to the patrons.
Each hole offers its own unique, breathtaking view (and challenge). We are curious if we'll see some of the wild life that reside in these mountains; cougar, black bear and mountain goat. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we did not, but identified several species of birds.
Another unique amenity Grey Wolf offers are "Player's Assistants". These young men and women come from all regions of Canada, and are there for the sole purpose of assisting you - the player. Player's Assistants regularly check-in with each four-some and their job is simple; make sure each foursome keeps the pace of the course. Our foursome did get behind on the 17th hole and the assistants executed their job in a professional and friendly manner. I began to consider them my "personal caddy" and rather enjoyed having them go fetch the appropriate club from my bag instead of expending my precious energy. They were very pleasant and knowledgeable; and with their aid, we easily made up the time.
The front nine introduces our foursome with a new challenge - an ascent up the mountain. Holes 1 through 3 present a gradual incline, providing the challenge of continually driving "up" the fairway! Fir trees border the holes and bunkers offer an additional challenge because they are strategically placed in the fairway. After playing two par fours and a par five, respectively, we are at a plateau that provides a remarkable view of the course.
The 4th hole, appropriately entitled "Descent", claims it fame by bringing the golfer to the "highest elevation" on the course. Definitely bring your camera and use it on this hole, the view is stunning! In addition to the view, it offers an interesting drive, as the hole descends 200 feet from tee to green! Beware of the trees on the left, my ball found just happen to find them, and well, let's just say I did not par this hole!
We arrive at the 6th hole. It is Grey Wolf's "signature" hole. "Cliffhanger" is all the name suggests. A tricky par 3 (142 yards from the forward tees) offers the golfer a unique experience. Between the tee boxes and the green, is a canyon. Appropriately named "Hopeful Canyon", be hopeful that your drive is not consumed in the deep crevice that lies between the tee box and the green. I'm sure if you had the time and patience to explore Hopeful Canyon's bottom, you would find every type of golf ball manufactured. Although the yardage suggests the hole plays short, it is rather daunting.
The rule for this hole is fairly simple. If your first two drives land in the canyon, you must use the drop area situated beside the green. Only one of our foursome made the green, leaving the remainder of us to drive (via the cart path) to the green. It was an enjoyable hole even leveraging the drop area.
Cliffhanger's green offers one of the better vantage points on the course. Again, grab your camera from your golf bag and go crazy.
A slight drizzle starts but does not damper my spirit. I can't believe the round is almost finished. We are enjoying the experience so much that we don't want it to end. The remaining three holes are Par 4, Par 4 and a Par 3, which brings us to the clubhouse.
The Player's Assistants are waiting for us, anxious to hear about the remainder of our round. They are genuinely engrossed in our tale as we excitedly share our experience. They specifically inquire about Cliffhanger, and I roll my eyes, which, answer's their question. With great sorrow, we say our goodbyes and thank them for their hospitality and promise to return.
Tired after the round, we return to our suite at Panorama for a relaxing hot tub. As we soak in the tub, my girlfriend and I discuss the round. We explore the highlights, the low points, our favorite holes, the service, and the experience. We both conclude that course is truly unforgettable, and anticipate our return.
I loved playing Grey Wolf, and yes, I will return. The course was in excellent condition, the service/hospitality first-rate and the views unforgettable. Take these elements and combine with some altitude and the outcome is simple - an unforgettable day!
And to quote Martha Stewart, "that's a good thing". And so is golfing at Grey Wolf.
Feature and most photos by Lise Lacasse, Toronto Golf Correspondent.