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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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.
The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.
McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.
McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.
''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''
Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.
''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''
McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.
''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.
''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''
The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.
Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel
If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.
Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:
When in the Middle East... pic.twitter.com/lNv1Lh79E0— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 16, 2018
If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:
Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."
Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."
I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H
And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.
Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational
Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.
The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.
Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.
“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”
Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews
Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.
Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.