By Tim Nolan
The advice was caddie-esque, with a bit of a twist: Ten feet, slightly uphill. Greens as fast as glass. Choose your weapon. There were three. After a bit of hefting, I decided on a rather bulky, ominous-looking affair. Then, as instructed, I ran it up the fat of the Champagne bottle to the neck, where it blew away the cork, the cage and the first inch or so of glass. Thus my initiation into the black art of sabreing, a specialty of Andre St. Jacques, owner of a restaurant called the Bearfoot Bistro.
And a fine introduction as well to Whistler, an offbeat, Christmas village-pretty hamlet tucked into British Columbias Coast Range, 80 miles north of Vancouver. Its all quite well organized: four golf courses (thats the new news) within minutes of the village, lifts to the top of cheek-by-jowl Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, your skiing destination (if you wish) following the morning round, as well as the town itself.
Its an interesting village, built largely en toto in the 70s and architecturally knit around a log cabin look. Its also automobile-free, I suppose to slow you down and more effectively prey on your wallet as you stroll along the unending array of stores youve heard of, and shops you havent.
The Bearfoot Bistro, with 15,000 bottles of wine in its cellar (well, one fewer now) is at the top of the eatery list, along with Araxi and the Rimrock Caf. Whistler cuisines include Japanese, Chinese, Mediterranean, French, Italian, Pacific Rim, German, Indian, Greek and yes, Mongolian. Pub fare, built around burgers, wide
selections of beer and television sets aflicker with sports from around the world, is easily found.
Whistlers charms, as well as its cold, snowy winters and Alpine possibilities, combined nicely with Vancouvers cosmopolitan feel to convince the International Olympic Committee into awarding the pair the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
The infrastructure goodies that come along with winning Olympic bids are beginning to crop up. The athletes quarters will be converted into affordable housing, and improvements along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the main artery connecting Vancouver to Whistler, are under way. Distance between the two is only 80 miles, but at two lanes with plenty of grades, its a ponderous trip nonetheless. Ultimately, the highway upgrade will include new passing lanes and more four-lane stretches. The improvements will cut driving time between Whistler and Vancouver by about 10 to 15 minutes (from just under two hours), and it will be a safer, easier trip come the Olympics.
Whereas public transportation ranging from straightforward jitneys to lavish coaches is available, the best alternative is a hop up and back along the Coast Range via seaplane, which offers stunning views and no traffic.
Once at Whistler, the choices of lodging are far-ranging, from full-service resorts like the Four Seasons and Fairmont, to any number of boutique hotels, to less formal accommodations around town. Whistler is an easygoing, hey-dude kind of place, where ski bums coexist with visitors looking for a more lavish vacation.
Whistler may be first and foremost a ski mecca, but the summer brings its share of visitors, especially for the golf. There are three courses, all relatively new, within minutes of the village and most of its lodgings. A fourth course, in Pemberton, an easy 20 minutes north of Whistler completes the consortium called Golf Whistler.
Whistlers three courses'Nicklaus North, Whistler Golf Club, Fairmont Chateau Whistler'are kind designs. At 6,908 yards from the tips, Nicklaus North is a comfortable loop. As with many Nicklaus designs, the axis of greens often runs at a sharp angle to the fairway, creating a better half of fairway for approaches. Much of Nicklaus Norths interest comes from its par 3s, which provide hazard-free landing areas just off the greens for up-and-down shots at par, as well as birdie opportunities by challenging hazards like fronting bunkers or water. Flout them at your pleasure; its absorbing and fun.
Whistler, designed by Arnold Palmer, is beautiful to look at, thanks to an abundance of streams and lakes. Like its neighbor Nicklaus North, Palmers course asks players to frankly assess their own capabilities, perhaps look to make bogeys and up-and-down pars, and walk off the 18th thirsty and content. While not long at 6,722 yards, Whistler has water hazards that define margins of fairways, and flirting with them often results in shorter, easier approach shots.
Robert Trent Jones Jr.s Fairmont Chateau Whistler has a different feel, primarily because it is set not in the valley, but along the flank of the mountains. Elevation ups and downs sometimes render scorecard distances irrelevant. The 3rd, for example, a par-4 dogleg protected in front by a stream hustling glacier melt down into the valley, is listed at 399 yards, but it drops 160 feet along the way.
The 8th hole captures the essence of the course. Its a par 3 listed at 212 yards, falling downhill all the way. Greenside left a pond pushes in. A miss to the right and a chip back toward the water is the play. Rock blown away in construction has been left exposed, pinching the safe landing area. The front left bunker amounts to the only real bailout. All of which mingles with the rather baffling job of club selection. Its the toughest of threes.
At 6,635 yards, Fairmont Chateau seems rather short for a mountain course. Thats because at 2,200 feet, Whistler isnt all that elevated. And the areas fourth course, Big Sky Golf and Country Club in nearby Pemberton, is even lower, with an elevation of 670 feet.
Set against Mount Currie, 8,300 feet of nearly vertical rock, ribbed with ice, waterfalls and clutches of Douglas fir, Big Sky is impossible to forget. It is a backdrop that would overwhelm any golf course bold enough to challenge its primacy.
Bob Cupps solution was to succumb to Mt. Curries loft with a course that makes you think not up, but down: at your feet. He used easy swells and dips to create that most subtle of challenges: the awkward stance. Fluky puffs of breeze bouncing off the mountain further confuse matters.
Around many of the greens, shots near the edges will slide off and down into tightly cut swales, from where pitches, chips, putts, hybrid or fairway wood chips'whatever works'require perfect execution. Pretty good is not good enough.
My favorite is the 4th, a par 5 of 520 yards that offers many tactical choices. Organized around a stream that weaves its way across the fairway three times, it asks for a well-executed plan that makes the crossings comfortable. All in all, Big Skys subtly demanding design and spectacular scenery make the trip from the village worthwhile'and demands a return visit, a sentiment that easily could apply to Whistler itself.
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Feature Whistler stop
Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME
NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.
A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.
In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.
“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”
Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.
“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.
Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.
“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”
How does she feel?
“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”
Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.
New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title
NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.
Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.
She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.
“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”
Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.
Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.
Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.
Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.
“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.
Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.
“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”
You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios
NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.
Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:
Race to the CME Globe
Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.
Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.
The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.
Ariya Jutanugarn is also one shot off the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.
Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.
So Yeon Ryu and Shanshan Feng are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.
Rolex Player of the Year
The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.
Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.
Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.
Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.
It’s simple math.
The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.
1st - 30 points
2nd – 12 points
3rd – 9 points
4th – 7 points
5th – 6 points
6th – 5 points
7rd – 4 points
8th – 3 points
9th – 2 points
10th – 1 point
Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.
Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.
Rolex world No. 1 ranking
World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.
Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.
At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.
Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.
Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.
''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''
Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.
''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''
Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.
''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''
J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.
''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''
Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.
''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''
He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.
''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''
Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.
''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''