I drive a half hour the next morning to tee it up at the Jack Nicklaus–designed Mountain Course at Bear Mountain Golf and Country Club. In ways that most mountain layouts go wrong, this one succeeds: It uses its steep slopes wisely, so you’ll never feel like a goat kicking a stone off a cliff. Nicklaus incorporated the property’s one massive elevation change brilliantly, perching the green at the uphill par-five fourteenth on a lofty saddle from which you can see the city, the strait and the Olympics. A companion course, the Valley, is slated to open its first nine holes in August, with the second nine to follow next spring.
If, like me, you manage to tear yourself away from golf for an afternoon, visit the Butchart Gardens, a fifty-five-acre National Historic Site. Especially beautiful are the sunken garden, built into a former limestone quarry, and the Japanese garden, which overlooks reflective Brentwood Bay.
For dinner that evening, it’s Cafe Brio, Victoria’s finest restaurant. Chef Laurie Munn takes great care in following his food from source to plate, using only local ingredients, such as wild rockfish and halibut and organic Alberta beef. The one-pound rib eye is as tender as a filet.
I begin to head back north the next day, stopping one hour up the coast at an idyllic inlet called Maple Bay. Etched into the hillside is the footprint of an ambitious new resort community, the Cliffs over Maple Bay, which as its centerpiece will have a Greg Norman course (it’s scheduled to open in the fall of 2009). The holes are routed along switchbacks that descend from the top of the hill to the bottom, followed by a strong two-hole finish that recaptures all of that lost elevation in one scorecard-bruising climb. No matter how good the course turns out to be, what will be most striking about the Cliffs over Maple Bay is the view, a panorama of the distant skyline of Vancouver, the massive coastal mountains on the mainland and the smooth volcanic cone of Mount Baker looming over my last destination: Salt Spring Island.
The island is reached via a short ferry ride from Crofton, twenty minutes north of Maple Bay. Salt Spring is the largest and most famous of the Gulf Islands, thanks to its lamb and oysters and the independent way of life that its residents maintain. In addition to the hundreds of artists who make their home on the island (visit the Blue Horse Folk Art Gallery, among others), there are two wineries, two cheese makers, several organic farms and an environmentally friendly nine-hole course, Blackburn Meadows Golf Club. It seems safe to say that if the rest of the world sank into the sea tomorrow, the folks on Salt Spring Island would be just fine. I, for one, am looking for an excuse to stay forever at the Hastings House, an English-style country inn and gourmet restaurant that sits on twenty-two acres overlooking the sailboat-dotted Ganges Harbour.
But, alas, for the rest of us life goes on, and the ferry back to Vancouver arrives promptly at Long Harbour. The cars file solemnly aboard, and, with a mournful blast of the ship’s horn, we set sail for the mainland.