Golf courses set to welcome the world 

Major tournaments coming to the Sea to Sky this year

click to flip through (2) PHOTO SUBMITTED - NEW GM Big Sky Golf Club general manager Mike MacNeil has taken over the role from longtime GM Woody Bishop.
  • Photo submitted
  • NEW GM Big Sky Golf Club general manager Mike MacNeil has taken over the role from longtime GM Woody Bishop.
 

When Big Sky Golf Club welcomed its first players of the season on April 26, it was the first opening day as general manager for Mike MacNeil.

MacNeil takes over for long-time GM Woody Bishop, who is now managing Glasgow Hills Resort and Golf Club on Prince Edward Island, and hopes to stay on the path Bishop started. In recent years, Big Sky has hosted non-golf events ranging from movie nights to painting classes to draw in as many people from the community as possible.

"That's a priority that will continue. If the kids are coming out and golfing, that's great, but just getting them out to the facility, whether they hit some balls, play in the kids' play area, or just come in for lunch ... that's what it's here for," he said. "We're not going to try to reinvent the wheel. We've got a good business plan put in place so there's definitely going to be some tweaks that we'll make. We'll try to improve on everything we've been doing and keep the momentum going in the right direction."

Another movie night is on track, while the club is also hosting larger live music nights, including The Hairfarmers on June 13.

On the course, MacNeil said the conditions have been prime early in the season.

"The weather has been fantastic and dry, which has been a bit of a different start for us in Pemberton, where we usually have such high water levels," he said. "It's been a very good opening first week and a half, so we're really excited."

That bodes well for later in the summer, as the club is set to host the 117th BC Amateur Championship, BC Golf's biggest event of the season, from July 9 to 12.

"That's a very exciting event for us to be hosting. We'll have the top 150 golfers in the province," he said. "It'll be a great field and a great way to showcase both Pemberton and (the) beautiful Big Sky Golf Course."

Next door at The Meadows at Pemberton, general manager Kevin McLeod has been bullish on the 2019 summer season, especially given the course's April 13 opening date, as there has been nearly a month of play from which to judge. Like MacNeil, McLeod has been happy with the weather.

"We haven't had a whole lot of rain as of late. It's starting to warm up overnight, so the morning rush is getting busy as well," he said.

The Meadows also has a major provincial event this summer, hosting the BC Juvenile Championships for more than 100 golfers aged 16 and under from Aug. 12 to 15. BC Golf brass were at Big Sky last year and popped by the neighbouring Meadow, where they were so impressed they wanted to bring the juvenile event there for 2019, McLeod said.

"It'll bring a lot of people to Pemberton that probably haven't been here before," he said. "It'll bring more exposure for the course."

The Meadows is also serving as the home base for the 2019 Paragliding Nationals from July 20 to 28, which won't affect play at the course, but might enhance the experience.

"If people are out golfing, they'll look up in the sky and see 60, 80, 100, 120 paragliders flying above," he said.

As for your average golfer, McLeod is pushing nine-hole play this year, as some people want to get out and hit a few balls, but don't have time for a full 18 holes.

Here in Whistler, meanwhile, courses are set to open this weekend.

Whistler Golf Club is set to host its first rounds on May 10, and if the activity at the driving range is any indication, interest should start out hot, according to general manager Alan Kristmanson.

Tiger Woods' recent re-ascension is a boost not only for the club, he said, but the sport as a whole.

"It's huge. Everybody's talking golf and everybody was pretty riveted by that," he said. "The Masters gets everyone excited about golf and hopefully for us, it ties in with some good weather and getting the range open, which it did."

Like its Pemberton counterparts, the club is excited to bring in a set of talented golfers with the PGA of BC Championship on August 19 and 20.

"It gets the staff really excited to get the course in tournament condition," he said. "This golf course really holds up well to good players. Nobody ever goes really low here. The greens get up to speed really good here and they've got lots of slope."

It should provide a boost to the club, he said, as having pros from all over the province is "the best marketing we can get."

"We'll be working towards fine tuning the golf course to get those speeds up nice and quick for those guys," he said.

Lastly, at Nicklaus North Golf Course, general manager Jason Lowe said golfers will notice some minor improvements when the course reopens on May 16, including repaved cart paths.

"You've got cart paths that get in bad repair from tree roots or poor draining, so on Hole No. 1, there are a lot of cottonwood trees that have been causing problems for the cart paths. We've slowly been picking away at removing those," he said, adding that holes No. 5 and 14 will also see cart-path improvements.

Hole No. 5 will also see two of its tee boxes repaired.

While 2019 should be a fine summer, the course is looking ahead to 2020, with a planned full-scale renovation for Table Nineteen Lakeside Eatery beginning in the fall.

Lowe also noted that the Golf Whistler group, which involves all local courses except the Meadows at Pemberton, has enjoyed a strong start to 2019 with round sales through the portal up 158 per cent and accommodations up 200 per cent thanks to improved marketing and sales approaches.

"A big part of it is internal, what the Golf Whistler group has been doing in general to do a better job of marketing Whistler as a world-class golf destination. Those efforts, and the effectiveness of those efforts, have really increased in the last few years," he said.

Lowe added that the Golf Channel is coming this July to film content that will air next winter.

"That's going to be a real marquee happening for us. It's going to take golf and put it on the next level for awareness for Whistler being a regarded, world-class golf destination," he said, noting several parts of the U.S. still don't have Whistler on the radar.

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Course, meanwhile, will open on May 11.

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