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Big, burly bag thieves at Fairmont Chateau Whistler

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WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- We weren't heading north on Highway 99 between Vancouver and Whistler longer than 30 miles before our first bear sighting: a black bear with two cubs, grazing on the hillsides beside the road. 

That wouldn't be the last, or the most close-up bear encounter of the trip. From what I can gather, western Canada is chock full of bears. Two summers ago in Alberta's Canadian Rockies, I had a remarkable Grizzly Bear and cub encounter at Kananaskis Golf Course. 

Prior to our round at Fairmont Chateau Whistler, we were told it was pretty likely we'd encounter bears at some point during our 36-hole day. 

Sure enough, by the time we got to our 7th hole of the day, we spotted a lone black bear grazing in high grass left of the fairway. As we were on the green, he strolled leisurely across the fairway - the group behind us now had all the more reason to layup on this par 5.  

On the next hole, a long, penal par 3 played to a green beside water, the group ahead waved their hands, code apparently for more bear activity. Moments later, a cinnamon bear appeared right in front of us, grazing on the tall grass just off the tee. If that couldn't get much better, seconds later a little cub popped its head up right beside her. 

Along with us was Gregg Lown, director of golf. He assured us the bears were used to humans so long as we kept our distance (he said so holding an iron alertly as I snapped pictures...). 

We drove off reluctantly to the green, leaving the group behind us to consider perhaps playing from a box further back on the 8th. 

A few holes later, we learned one of the bears had soon after gotten into mischief. 

Before the 15th hole, we were in line at the halfway behind another foursome. While three of them ordered stiff mixed drinks, the fourth informed us of their bear encounter: the black bear had made its way to their golf cart and wrapped its paws around their golf bag before rangers were able to shoo it away. The guys then slammed four shots of Jagermeister and headed on their way.

I wasn't sure what surprised me more: a halfway house that serves Jager for breakfast, or that a bear decided it wanted to caddie. 

This particular bear had two blue tags on its ears. This signified he had 'two strikes' with golfers. And now, his boldness on this morning meant a third, and he was out! The penalty? A date with a tranquilizer gun and a ride to a new home on a different mountainside. 

Contrarily, the mother cinnamon bear we'd seen on the 8th tee had just one yellow tag, meaning she hadn't gotten into any trouble in about three years. She should still be bumming around, with a cub that's just a little bigger, should you tee it up in the coming years at Chateau Whistler.