Birdies and Beer on Vancouver Island
Image by Pheasant Glen Golf Resort
Pheasant Glen Golf Resort takes golfers from low-lying marshland to tree-covered hilltops. After your round enjoy a steak at the Beach Club’s Pacific Prime Steak & Chop Restaurant.
Golf writer Andrew Penner takes a tour of Vancouver Island's golf courses and brew pubs and finds the West Coast lifestyle much to his liking.
Golf and beer go together like pancakes and syrup. Cake and ice cream. French fries and ketchup. You get it. We all get it. The folks on Vancouver Island especially get it. So, I’ll cut to the chase: when I landed a gig to go to ‘The Island’ to write about golf and beer – more specifically, the outstanding micro-brewery scene in Victoria and beyond – there wasn’t a whole lot of hesitation involved. I got it. It made sense to me. Somebody had to do it. And, for the love of all things fermented, I was certainly up for the task.
But here’s the thing, drinking a lot of beer and playing a lot of golf for a number of days straight is quite difficult. There’s the pure, physical exhaustion of the odyssey – the strained eyes, weary arms and the bouts of lightheadedness. And then, like the blisters along my ring finger, there’s the bodily damage that comes of actually playing all that golf!
But if golf and beer are on your mind from time to time (I’m being serious now), then a foray to Vancouver Island should be on your radar. And, allow me this, when I say golf and beer I’m not talking about pounding a dozen Bud and playing 18-holes on a goat-ranch course. I’m talking about some of the finest golf in Western Canada – think Bear Mountain, Crown Isle, and Morningstar – and some of the tastiest, most respected craft beers on the planet. Yes, there’s a time and place for redneck golf getaways, but that’s not where we’re going with this.
The micro-brewery industry on Vancouver Island took flight shortly after the large Labatt brewery in Victoria shut its doors in 1982. A couple of years later a few islanders, mourning the fact that there was no fresh, locally-made beer available, started the Vancouver Island Brewing Company. “It was a coming home, of sorts, for the beer industry,” says Rob Ringma, the Sales & Marketing Manager for the popular Victoria-based brewery.
Since that time, a number of micro-breweries have joined the ‘brewtherhood.’ “Craft beers are coming on strong,” continues Ringma. “It speaks to the going-local trend that’s rampant in many industries.” It also speaks to the fact that people are tired of the same old beer choices and mediocre, made-for-
As far as the golf on Vancouver Island goes, I’ve yet to tire of any of the terrific tracks on the Vancouver Island Golf Trail. Now 12 courses strong – the Valley Course at Bear Mountain and Highland Pacific were added last year – the Vancouver Island Golf Trail is, unquestionably, one of the best golf trails in North America. The courses are spread out appropriately so it’s a true trail. And there’s a ton to see and do besides the golf. (Think salmon fishing, whale-watching, sea kayaking, shopping alongside Victoria’s Inner Harbour and, yes, visiting world-class micro-breweries).
So, that said, I’m a fan and always will be a fan of the Vancouver Island golf scene. This time round (I’ve now played every course on the trail) I flew into Comox and high-tailed it to Pheasant Glen Golf Resort. With two distinct nines – the front through low-lying marshland and the back through rolling, tree-covered hills – Pheasant Glen is an underrated experience that will exceed the expectations of players of every calibre. Throw in the away-from-it-all ambiance, the spacious patio, and Brent Morrison’s outstanding golf academy, and you’ve got a must-stop on the trail.
After Pheasant Glen I darted into Parksville for a relaxing stay at The Beach Club. Easily one of the finest hotels on the Island, The Beach Club is a contemporary, ocean-side enclave with all the bells and whistles. After dinner at the sumptuous Pacific Prime Steak & Chop Restaurant (try the rib eye with truffle sauce), a highlight of the day was a short stroll along the beachside boardwalk as a stunning amber sunset burned over the bay.
Speaking of amber, my favourite beers over the years have always been the amber and brown ales. I’ve always been a little squeamish about the fruity beers, the syrupy lagers, or anything, really, devoid of much depth, flavour, or character. That said, I considered it my duty during this assignment to pay full and proper homage to whatever was poured and put in front of me. I know, such a hardship.
Because it happened to be sluicing buckets at Fairwinds the next day, Ward Stouffer, the former Canadian Tour Player and Fairwind’s Head Golf Pro, recommended I quit early and dart into Nanaimo to have a little chat with a fellow named Harley. (Harley Smith happens to be the brewmaster at Nanaimo’s award-winning Longwood Brew Pub.) After playing a few laugh-filled but kinda wet holes at Fairwinds – a tight and sporty Les Furber design that now has a nice mature feel to it – I happily took his advice. It was a good call. Longwood is one of the finest brewpubs in Canada.
In between pool shots, Harley gave me an entertaining overview of Longwood’s brewing philosophy – clean, nutritional ales and lagers that adhere to traditional recipes and styles – and poured me a table-full of samples. No surprise, my favourite was his Dunkelweizenbrau, a dark German wheat ale with killer flavour.
Next up was a whirlwind brew tour in Victoria proper. Of course, no trip to the provincial capital is complete without a round, or two, of golf. I believe the addition of Highland Pacific (a stunner located just down the road from Bear Mountain) and the new Valley Course at Bear Mountain will help significantly in the long-term success of this trail. Both courses epitomize how beautiful and dramatic golf in these parts can be. Rugged rock outcroppings, huge elevation changes, high playability factors, and gorgeous vistas characterize these fine courses.
After golf and an unforgettable lunch at Bear Mountain – restaurant Manager Adam Walker and Benjamin Schottle with Phillips Brewing Company teamed up to provide a five-course, beer-paired lunch that blew my socks off – I raced down the hill and found my way to another Island favourite, the Lighthouse Brewing Company. I must admit, when I pulled up to this craft brewery I wasn’t overly impressed. It’s in a fairly industrial area and, well, it’s anything but flashy. But, man, by the time I left I wanted to hug everyone working there, especially owner, Paul Hoyne.
An unpretentious, soft-spoken man who clearly loves his trade, Paul single-handedly made me a life-long convert to the craft beer camp. Although I was exceptionally impressed with their Race Rocks Amber Ale and the popular Beacon IPA (although, like most of the new and somewhat trendy India Pale Ales, I found it a little too ‘hoppy’), the one that really blew me away was the Keepers Stout. It’s one of the smoothest, most drinkable Irish-style stouts you’ll ever try. Thanks to its complex flavours of espresso and chocolate and its gorgeous finish, it may have been my favourite of the whole trip.
The next day my grand finale took me to three of Victoria’s famous brewpubs. Quick stops at Spinnakers, Swans, and the Canoe Club all hit the spot. With a little live bluegrass going down at Swans, I settled in nicely to the down-home surroundings. I was on the laid back ‘Left’ Coast. The beer was going down good. And, yes, my blisters were healing nicely.