Playing Golf on Bowen Island in Vancouver, Canada

Entering Snug Cove Harbour on Bowen Island (Photo: MCArnott)

Approaching Snug Cove Harbour on Bowen Island (Photo: MCArnott)

The car is on the Queen of Capilano ferry. Forget about island hopping, fairways are on my mind!

The view of the North Shore Mountains widens as we head out of the Horseshoe Bay Harbor to the calm waters of Howe Sound. From the mountains to the ocean, outdoors activities contribute to Vancouver’s ranking as one of the best cities to live in, and to visit. And since Vancouverites are “weatherproof” people, golf is popular rain or shine.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • When did you last sail to a golf course?
  • It’s not an easy course, but if you play casual golf, it’s like an enjoyable walk in the park.
  • For golfers who want to enjoy more than the game.

 A Quiet Island with a Lively Past

Bowen Island was once entirely logged. Today, trees along the fairways are protected. (Photo: MCArnott)

Bowen Island was once entirely logged. Today, the trees along the fairways are protected. (Photo: MCArnott)

Before Bowen Island was colonized, the Squamish First Nations spent summers there deer hunting and salmon fishing. In 1860, the island took the name of a British Admiral, and by 1890, it was known as the Happy Isle: a bustling holiday destination.

Today, Snug Cove is a quaint village of cottages. Artists, writers, retirees and families live here for the secluded lifestyle of the mostly undeveloped island. Many of them commute daily to work or to school.

Driving through the rainforest, we pass a few homes, small businesses, farmland, a nursery, and rocky outcrops. I can see why the project of a golf course hadn’t thrilled everyone: It could have brought major changes to the tranquil rural environment, and a bit of the past too: There used to be fishing and logging industries here, and even an ammunition manufacture (relocated to Victoria during WWI).

Later, the Union Steamship Company, a hotel, cottages and tents attracted 5,000 visitors during the summer weekends alone. Imagine the 1920s with moonlight cruising, dancing in the largest pavilion in B.C., lawn bowling, horseback riding, and canoeing!

Nowadays, Bowen Island is a well-kept secret where nature is left alone because the 3400 permanent residents like it that way.

Yet, there are some controversies. On the south end of the six-kilometer-long and twelve kilometer-wide-island, at Cape Roger Curtis, the island only luxury housing development has caused uproar from the vigilant islanders: Currently at stake is the protection of the public access to the beach.

As for the golf course, it’s been a matter of developers versus environmentalists, tourists versus residents. Then nine fairways unfolded from the southern tip of the island: a 3,003-yard and 35-par layout designed by Canadian Russ Olson.

A Golf Course with Nature in Mind

Environmental management is a principle of golf courses to protect natural habitats. (Photo: MCArnott)

Environmental management is a principle of golf courses to protect natural habitats. (Photo: MCArnott)

The course design prioritized environmental disturbance. The grounds highlight natural habitats and woodlands. Whether you walk or buggy-ride (beware of distance and elevation if you walk), the course lets you enjoy the island’s landscape, something golfers never take for granted. Although fairways are not laid out close to the waterfront, holes #1 and #9 open to the view of sailboats and ferries on the Straight of Georgia.

At Lucas Lake at Hole #4, a reservoir provides year-around irrigation for the entire course as well as a playground for ducks and other fowl. (The rocky island causes the abundant rainfall to run off and the ground to dry fast).

Here, you can see bald eagles perched on old-growth cedars. Where nature fell trees, their gnarled stumps now stand as unique sculptures, landmarks, or golf hazards. Perennial plants brighten tee-boxes as if they had befriended the usually undiscerning deer. As for bears, they can’t swim that far from the mainland.

Back to Golf with Nature as an Onlooker

Resident turtle on Bowen Island golf course (Photo: MCArnott)

Resident turtle on Bowen Island golf course (Photo: MCArnott)

If you walk, Hole #1 will get you puffing. The uphill par-4 is a tough start, but it will warm you up and get you acquainted with the terrain. On the way to the next hole glance at the intriguing undergrowth of the rainforest!

At Hole #2, the longest one, the challenge is an out-of-bounds, no-entry environmentally protected zone. Lay-up or add 100 yards: your choice.

By the time you get to the wooden bridge of Hole #5, you may find the idea of a break at the romantic pond appealing, with its Monet-esque scenery, complete with blooming water lilies. Try to spot the resident turtle on the grassy edges… for a lucky drive!

At Hole #6, the deceiving elevation of the green requires an extra club. Since everything that goes up must come down, so will you from Tee #7. If you drive last, learn from the other players’ balls as they tumble down to the right of the fairway: Aim left!

After holing #8 most players get it: Don’t bet on any of the inviting par-3 holes!

At Hole #9–the signature hole—take the ocean view as the prize because you are going to need both skills and luck. Slope and hazards will tease your ball all the way down to the green guarded by a creek, a sand trap, a pond, and the cart path.

It’s now time for the only forgiving hole: the “10th hole” at the Cup Cutter Restaurant of the clubhouse.

 

Golf course layout (Courtesy Bowen Island Golf Club)

Golf course layout (Courtesy Bowen Island Golf Club)

Practicalities

  • Ferries from Horseshoe Bay on the North Shore – Ferries from downtown Vancouver.
  • Bowen Island Golf Club. Dress code: collared shirts for men and collared or sleeved tops for women. Equipment rental available. Electric carts available.
  • On your way to the golf club, a suggestion is to have coffee and treats at the Artisan Square off Government Street. Consider having lunch in Snug Cove on your way back, or browse the shops filled with local products, antiques, and more. (the golf club restaurant is closed during the off season).
  • For an overnight stay, check out the heritage B&Bs.

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