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Course operators bullish on season

Pemberton's golf courses are open; Whistler's set to welcome guests soon

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As golf season gets set to return to Whistler, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler has a particularly exciting draw early in the season.

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the course will hold a locals' day on May 15—the exact date it opened in 1993—offering reduced green fees on that day, said director of golf Nick Droulis.

"We'll just be charging people $25 to play, so we're very excited to offer that to the public," Droulis said.

While the course is opening a little later than he had hoped, Droulis said it'll be worth the wait.

"It was a late spring for us on the side of Blackcomb. With a long ski season again, it's put the golf course behind a couple weeks, but the greenskeepers thought the course wintered well and it's going to be in great shape when we open on the 11th," he said.

In terms of the course itself, Droulis said players could expect to see some new bunkers while crews are also working on some irrigation enhancements.

"Improvements to the irrigation system will provide a more consistent product around the golf course," he said.

Droulis added pre-bookings are strong and he expects a solid summer at the club.

At Whistler Golf Club, general manager and director of golf Alan Kristmanson also expects to welcome golfers late next week.

"The course wintered very well, so we'll be in really good shape once we get open. We're just putting the final touches on and we're hoping (to be open) May 11," he said. "Everything has dried out really nicely, so it's looking really good."

Kristmanson said there are a few projects the crew is undertaking to get ready for the season, including fairway aeration work and installing new tee boxes to help speed up the pace of play.

"We're just shortening a couple holes up for beginner golfers, just adding a few new tee boxes for those who are new to the game," he said. "A couple holes play a little bit long from the tees that would be the most forward, for example, so we're adding a few forward tees that would make it a little bit more playable for all levels of golfers, so I think that will really help."

Kristmanson added there was a fair amount of tidy-up work for crews after a November storm with "wet, heavy snowfall," as well as high winds, brought down a number of branches onto the course.

"There was lots of clean-up to do but we're there now," he said. "Everything is cleaned up and we're cutting grass every day."

In addition to excitement on a local level for golf to return, Kristmanson said the sport's upper echelon has seen plenty of excitement early in the professional season with Tiger Woods' return and plenty of young up-and-comers proving their mettle at last month's Masters. A long, snowy winter on the East Coast will also escalate demand heading into 2018.

"There's a real buzz about golf," he said. "There's a little bit of pent-up demand with the winters everywhere across the country. I was just down in Phoenix on business and they're booming down there with everyone from the East Coast trying to get out of that lousy weather.

"We're pretty excited. We think it's going to be a really good year."

Over at Nicklaus North Golf Course, general manager Jason Lowe expects not only a strong opening, but the best debut in years after a perfect winter set-up and ideal warm weather conditions in recent weeks.

Lowe noted in an email that the course is also aerating its fairways.

As well, the club is offering new public men's nights, while also seeing increased response to women's lessons and programs compared to 2017.

The goal, he explained, is to focus on a "polished presentation" and creating the best all-around experience for visitors.

Like the other Whistler courses, Nick North is slated to open on May 11.

North of the resort, the two Pemberton courses gave golfers itching for some early-season action a satisfying scratch.

Kevin McLeod, the general manager at the Meadows at Pemberton, said the season has gone "very well" after opening on April 14.

"The course is in great shape ... the weather has helped, of course," he said.

McLeod hopes to get the mini-putt course, which debuted in 2017, open this weekend to help get the younger generation into the game.

Bookings were already pacing ahead of last year, and barring any acts of God, McLeod expects that to continue throughout the summer.

"(It'll be good) as long as we don't see any of the fires that we did last year, with the smoke and that," McLeod said. "We're looking forward to a good year, for sure. We're on the right track right now."

Big Sky Golf Club, meanwhile, opened on April 26, and general manager Woody Bishop said these are the best conditions he's seen in his dozen years on the job.

"When you put this good weather with good course conditions, it's been a fabulous start," he said. "My superintendent and I were speaking—he's been here 24 years and I've been here 12—and for both of us, it's the best we've seen it come through the winter."

Like others, Bishop said bookings are outpacing 2017 and he's hoping the extreme weather conditions stay far away from Spud Valley.

The course will also host its annual outdoor movie night this summer, though it is still firming up a date.

Big Sky is also slated to host a camp as part of Canucks Junior Golf Week on Friday, July 6 at 5 p.m. The program, now in its fifth year, welcomes golfers aged five to 18 years for 60 to 90 minutes of instruction from Professional Golf Association of BC pros, equipment rental if needed, green fees and goodies, including one Vancouver Canucks-branded item. The camp costs $20 plus tax. For more information, visit www.pgabc.org/golfweek.

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