Golfing and Fishing in BC's Fraser Valley
Image by Andrew Penner
Sandpiper Golf Course is set along the blue-green waters of the Harrison River
World-class golf in the morning and fishing for white sturgeon in afternoon make for a perfect Fraser Valley getaway
After 15 minutes of battling the prehistoric monster, I came to a number of conclusions:
Number one: Fishing for white sturgeon – the largest freshwater fish on the planet – isn’t for the faint of heart. The “thing” I had on the end of my line was bigger than my caddy . . . and far less forgiving.
Number two: Core muscle strength is somewhat important when trying to land a six-foot “river donkey.”
Number three: When you actually get that slimy “mud marlin” onto the boat and catch your breath, holding it up for the obligatory pictures is a challenge in its own right.
A few weeks prior to my golf-and-fishing junket to the Fraser Valley, I bragged to my buddies – as all good fishermen (and golfers) do – about the adventures I was anticipating. Clearly, experiencing world-class golf and reeling in gargantuan fish can elevate one’s position in one’s chosen social circle.
Of course, I wasn’t in it for the glory. Not really, anyway. This was work. This was an “official” assignment. Somebody had to try the Ultimate Boys Weekend Package. And, after seeing the pictures on the BC Sport Fishing website of grotesquely large white sturgeon (they can weigh up to 800 kilograms and reach over six metres in length) being cradled by rows of wide-eyed fishermen, completely spent after hauling the beasts to the beach, well, I was keen to try my own hand at it.
Throw in the fact that the trip required playing golf on a couple of the finest courses in Metro Vancouver and, yes, I would have given my left arm to accept the job.
As it turned out, I nearly did.
Homebase: The Sandpiper Golf Course
Sandpiper Golf Course was voted "Best Course in the Fraser Valley" five years in a row (image courtesy of the Sandpiper Golf Course)
There aren’t a lot of places in Western Canada where you can tee it up for a sweet 18 in the morning, recharge with a sandwich and pop on a sun-soaked deck at noon, and jump onto a boat just a lob wedge from the 18th green for a world-class fishing adventure in the afternoon. But at the Sandpiper Golf Course near Harrison Hot Springs you can. And, as sure as the average-sized sturgeon will give you the ride of your life, you should.
Opened in 1998, the syrupy-smooth 6,500-yard layout at the Sandpiper Golf Course is a true charmer. Unlike the concrete-headed, whisker-faced, bottom-feeding behemoths that lurk in the depths of the Harrison River beside the serene sweep of riverside holes, this course is awfully pretty. And, more importantly, it plays pretty as well.
A favourite with the locals – readers of The Province voted it the “Best Course in the Fraser Valley” for five consecutive years – Sandpiper is a complete test. It parades through towering cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir and feels like a classic, 100-year-old relic that’s never been tampered with.
However, the course is a mere 15 years old.
“The setting at Sandpiper is what makes it really special,” says director of golf operations Ted Swaine, who joined professional guide Chad McAdie and I on the boat for the epic sturgeon fishing adventure. “We are just 90 minutes outside of Vancouver and yet it’s so peaceful and secluded. The beautiful riverside location, the wildlife, the towering trees – it’s a real treat to play golf here. And, of course, the golf holes themselves are outstanding.”
Tranquil Accomodations at Rowena's Inn
Cabin in the woods at Rowena's Inn (image by Andrew Penner)
Another tremendous benefit of the resort is the luxurious Rowena’s Inn on the River and the cosy River’s Edge Restaurant. The inn – consisting of four rustic, fire-warmed cabins andanopulent, English-style manor house – is a quaint and quiet respite for spent fishermen and blistered golfers (or couples who love romantic getaways).
Together with the inviting restaurant, which features delicious West Coast fare, I found my après golf and fishing downtime exceptionally relaxing. In short, this is a true escape.
A Golfer's Delight
While the 18 holes at Sandpiper are certainly all you need for a three-day visit, especially when you sign up for the Ultimate Boys Weekend Package including a fishing trip. But those who want to experience an additional course or two can do so relatively easily.
For example, on your way in and out of the Abbotsford International Airport, which just might be the easiest airport in the country to fly into, a round of golf at The Falls in Chilliwack or Ledgeview in Abbotsford is easily incorporated (WestJet offers regular service into Abbotsford from Calgary and Edmonton).
Or, if you’re driving from Vancouver, there are plenty of great courses en route. Northview in Surrey, for example, which features two Arnold Palmer courses, makes for a dandy little pit stop.
Fighting with the “River Donkey”
Struggling to hold up the massive sturgeon for a photo (image by Andrew Penner)
For me, however, the memorable golf at Sandpiper and the exhilarating sturgeon fishing experience topped up my thrill tank quite nicely. Our fishing guide Chad, a former Canadian Tour player, had plenty of good golf yarns to keep us entertained when there was no action on the rods. During the first couple of hours, with a cool wind blowing off the river and not much nibbling going on, I actually began to wonder if these infamous “river donkeys” (a humorous nickname conjured by a local guide) were willing to go for a ride.
Finally, however, we hit pay dirt. At about half past two the rod twitched noticeably and I knew the brute was nibbling down below. I lunged at the rod, hammering up on it with everything I had (as per Chad’s instruction) to sink the hook. The weight was intense and for a few seconds I thought I had snagged an abandoned wrecking ball or a rusty truck sitting at the bottom of the river. But then “it” started diving and darting and I knew I had the mother lode.
I swore and snorted and even smirked like an unruly kid in a candy store. But after 10 minutes I was exhausted. My left arm ached and went numb. My wrists and fingers were screaming at me. I had the handle of the rod wedged into my side and my spleen, or something, was starting a revolt. To make matters worse, it seemed like I was losing the battle with the beast. For every few feet of line I struggled to reel in, the monster made a run for it and I lost double the ground I had gained.
Just when I thought I might keel over and fall into the river, we saw the beast and I manoeuvred him (or “her,” or “it”) close to the boat. Chad, with Ted bracing him, grabbed that creature of the deep and hoisted it onto the boat. There, he documented its size, including weight (approximately 55 kilograms), length (about two metres) and girth (think adult human).
After the obligatory pictures (I almost fell off the boat trying to hold up my end of the fish), we needed to carefully release the animal back into the wild. Although they are somewhat plentiful – a recent estimate was 60,000 in the Harrison and Fraser rivers – this is a catch-and-release species only. And I was glad for that. I didn’t really have enough room for him in my carry-on.