Spectacular views part of the golf experience at Golden Golf & Country Club

By Andrew Penner, Contributor

GOLDEN, British Columbia - Clinging to a rocky throne at 7,705 feet, the highest restaurant in Canada is, rather fittingly, called The Eagle's Eye.

Not surprisingly, the 360-degree views from the restaurant, which is located on the peak of the new Kicking Horse Resort in Golden, are spectacular.

Looking south down the Columbia Valley (on clear days you can see towns over 50 kilometers away) the jagged peaks of the Purcell Range leap into the sky. To the north and east the snow-topped Rockies rise from the valley floor and pierce the clouds. And down below, pinched between the Columbia and the Kicking Horse Rivers, the town of Golden rests in the shadows. But perhaps the most intriguing site is the view of the Golden Golf and Country Club on the ride up.

From 5,000 feet straight above the course, the fairways appear to be mini question marks, green apostrophes curling in the trees, the golfers tiny specks that can only be seen with binoculars. And, unquestionably, those tiny specks are thoroughly enjoying one of British Columbia's best layouts.

The mountain-surrounded town of Golden has seen plenty of change over the years. Like so many towns in the Kootenay region of British Columbia - a mountainous area in the southeast corner of the province - livelihoods in forestry, mining, and the railway have been staples. But these industries are unstable and the work itself can be brutal.

Not surprisingly, in an area as scenic as this, tourism is coming on strong. And, if you swing the clubs, you'll want to know that golf is playing a key role.

In Golden's case, the most recent tourism binge has been the development of a massive new ski resort called The Kicking Horse Resort. As the only major ski resort to have been developed in North America in the last 25 years, Golden's Kicking Horse Resort is leading the way for the surging tourism industry.

"The KHR is playing a key role in attracting people to Golden," says head professional Rick Crowson. "It's really giving us a boost."

While the Kicking Horse Resort is a monster of a mountain boasting an impressive 4,133 foot vertical drop (second highest in Canada) and over 2,750 acres of terrain (and don't forget about the award-winning Eagle's Eye Restaurant), the Golden Golf Club has a number of "runs" worth shooting down as well. Eighteen of them, in fact.

Started in 1986 as a nine-hole community course then expanded to 18 holes in 1993, Golden was, for a number of years, the epitome of a "hidden gem."

"It took a while for people to discover this place," said Crowson. "Until the mid 90s, the local residents pretty much had this place to themselves. That's all changed now. People know about Golden. The golf course has an outstanding reputation."

But, clearly, Golden hasn't lost all of its small-town charm. The clubhouse, for example, is still a relatively small cedar "house" that's dwarfed by the mountains and towering spruce trees that hang over the structure.

But, according to Crowson, many of the members and regular visitors love the building just as it is.

"For years people have been telling us not to change the clubhouse," says Crowson. "It's a testament to what people value here. They want to come to a place that isn't big and stuffy. They want a place where they can feel at home."

Many of the members here left no stone unturned (no pun intended) when the course was constructed. Local residents came out daily to clear fairways and remove rocks. The area loggers came out, skidders and dozers a blazing, to rip out stumps and fall trees. It was a major undertaking, a tremendous effort, all spearheaded by local businessman Roger Ross.

While Ross was largely the man responsible for bringing golf to Golden, he had plenty of professional help, too. The two course architects - Bill Newis (front nine) and Les Furber (back nine) - took a rugged, rock-strewn piece of property along the Columbia River and fashioned an outstanding route.

"The styles are quite similar," says Crowson. "On the back nine, Furber's greens are more tiered and the bunkering is a bit tougher. But, overall, the nines blend together exceptionally well. A first-time visitor would likely never guess that it was two different architects."

Both accomplished architects with plenty of courses to their credit in Canada, Newis and Furber each created a handful of unique and memorable holes.

The second, a 440-yard par-4 that shoots down the hill, is a stiff challenge early in the round. A creek plummets down a sheer rock face near the tee and continues its downward tumble along the right side of the hole. A miss to the left, however, is equally devastating as your ball can end up in the messy scrub along an old logging road that's cut through the woods. A five, even for strong players, is never a bad score.

After a smooth stretch of holes along the Columbia River the front nine closes with a medium-length par-4 that swings around the corner and features one of the toughest greens on the course.

"The wild contours on the greens can get you out here," says Crowson. "Having three or four more putts per round than your average is pretty common."

On the back nine, for example, the 10th and the 11th greens feature huge humps - buried Volkswagons, some members say - that have to be negotiated nearly every time around.

Playing Golden's back nine is a literal rush. Holt Creek, an energetic mountain stream, dominates a number of holes as it charges down the mountain. In spring, when the runoff is at its peak, boulders, powered by the rushing water, roll downstream and emit a thunderous sound. Holes 11, 12, 13 and 16 all play alongside the impressive feature.

Ultimately, it is the rushing streams, the fantastic views, the stirring power of nature that makes Golden such a treat to play. There are no condo-lined holes, no honking cars to fend off. The obstacles, the challenges, are all natural. And high above, the eagles, some sitting as high as 7,705 feet, watch with great curiosity.

Golden is located three hours west of Calgary on The Trans Canada Highway. Calgary's International Airport, one of Canada's largest, services most major carriers. Rent a car at the airport and head west. The drive west of Calgary takes you through Banff National Park, Lake Louise, and other world-famous stops. Allow plenty of time.

Golden's golf season runs from April to October. A great time to visit Golden is in June when the weather is nice and the rivers and streams are alive with spring runoff.

The verdict

Golden is an incredibly scenic course that's a joy to play. The greens are exceptional and the course is always in nice shape. It's also one of the better values in Canada. Greens fees are under $60.

The facilities in Golden, while very acceptable, are not what many golfers have come to expect at upscale public-access courses. Things like locker rooms, fine dining, and a halfway house, are not available at the club.

Additionally, while Furber and Newis did combine to route a great course, the layout does lack a few of the strategic elements that some of the best mountain courses in the world enjoy.

Places to stay

Golden has many types of accommodation to choose from. Those wishing an authentic alpine lodge environment can stay up at The Kicking Horse Resort at The Vagabond Lodge (vagabondlodge.ca ) or explore a number of options available through Canadian Mountain Property (canadianmountainproperty.com).

The base of the resort is a 10-minute drive from the golf course. In Golden, stay at the Prestige Inn (prestigeinn.com) or the Ramada Golden (ramadagolden.com). For more information on where to stay in Golden (including B&Bs, Inns, and other hotels), check out goldenchamber.bc.ca.

Places to eat

Mulligan Mike's at the golf course serves up excellent Greek, Italian, and North American meals. The large outdoor patio is
the perfect place to unwind and fuel up after a round.

In Golden, try Apostoles, which specializes in creative pasta dishes and steak. They also feature one of the best wine selections in town.

Of course, a trip to the top of the Kicking Horse Resort (to the Eagle's Eye Restaurant) via the Golden Eagle Express Gondola is unforgettable. The Eagle's Eye Restaurant, a fine dining experience, features entrées such as BC Salmon, Lamb, Caribou, and Rocky Mountain Bison. Reservations are recommended. Hours of operation, which vary depending on the season, are posted at kickinghorseresort.com.

Andrew PennerAndrew Penner, Contributor

Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout North America and Europe. You can see more of his work at www.andrewpenner.com.

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