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WHEN Canadian ice hockey star Len Barrie cut down some trees he thought were on his property in order to improve the view, it sparked litigation with the neighbouring golf club, to which he and his family belonged.

The damages awarded against him in court for his error and his loss of club membership were hard enough to swallow, but when the club also withdrew his son's membership Barrie's irritation turned to ire. At a friend's prompting he decided to build his own club and thousands of golfers worldwide are subsequently heavily in debt to Royal Colwood GC for their heavyhanded treatment of the Barrie clan.

For the ultimate happenstance of Barrie's expulsion is Bear Mountain Golf Resort near Victoria, capital of Vancouver Island. Many a resort around the world will lay claim to being a golfing paradise: Bear Mountain backs up such a boast with breathtaking incontrovertibility. Barrie's original intention was to create a course with a clubhouse and a few homes around it; with investment from, among others, fellow former National Hockey League stars and the involvement of the world's greatest player and course designer Jack Nicklaus, a residential and holiday resort has burgeoned which it is envisioned will have a future total value of $4bn.

"Had I known what would lie ahead, I may not have tackled the project,"admits Barrie, who as well as being President and CEO of Bear Mountain lives with his family on the resort in a house where he has no need to fell any forestry to enjoy captivating views of Victoria, nearby Washington State's Olympic Mountain Range, and the Strait of Georgia.

Chez Barrie abuts the 14th hole on the Mountain Course, the resort's original $17m layout designed by Jack Nicklaus and his son Steve, which this year has been complemented by the $20m Valley Course conceived by Nicklaus Snr.

A total of 350,000 cubic metres of rock were blasted to bring Jack's vision to fruition with huge remnants being strategically placed on some of the holes to add to both the golfing challenge and the aesthetic pleasure of playing the course.

You would need extreme tunnel vision to tackle the courses and not find yourself seduced by the sights and sounds of their flora and fauna. Of course, as with any Nicklaus track, the golfer's talents are stretched, a variety of tees ensuring that players of all abilities can enjoy the challenge. But it is the environment which helps elevate Bear Mountain to a plateau inhabited by only the world's truly spectacular resorts.

Each hole is an optical delight, offering views of snowcapped mountain peaks, lush forestry, rivers and creeks, and verdant valleys. Deer wander across many of the fairways, a good sign as it means the golfer is unlikely to encounter cougars, one of many animals which inhabit the dense adjoining forests. Bald eagles, cormorants and heron can be spotted gliding across the skies while two specially installed fish ladders ensure the Matson and Osborne Lakes on the Valley course are well stocked with trout.

No other sport I can think of gives its participants such an arena in which to compete. Of all the countless resorts he has been involved with, it is easy to imagine Jack's chest swelling with particular pride at the results of his labours at Bear Mountain.

Off course the sense of wellbeing is continued and enhanced by a variety of dining options as well as activities in and around the village which has been built to provide resident and visitor alike with all essential commodities. Breakfasting pre-round on the terrace overlooking the putting green, and the opening holes of the Valley Course and the concluding holes of the Mountain layout, is an uplifting experience in itself.

So, too, is a post-round visit to Jack's Place where tales of great shots and holed putts are swapped against the backdrop of a plethora of HDTV screens showing a bewildering array of basketball, baseball and, of course, golf. The food and drink here are excellent; so, too, next door in the Kuma Sushi restaurant while the resort's Westin Bear Mountain clubhouse offers three restaurants: the Copper Rock Grill, Master's Lounge and Panache.

With a wealth of dining options offering fine and varied gourmet cuisine so accessible, the juxtaposition of the Mountainside Athletic Club can be no accident. This health and fitness centre, just a short walk, from the clubhouse offers the chance to both burn off the calories and tune the body for golf.

Should you prefer to pamper rather than punish your body, the Sante Spa offers an extensive range of treatments with an enticing feature being the Amyris Duet Suite which allows side-by-side treatments for couples as well as providing a private fireplace and soaker tub.

Sixty-five rooms are available in the Fairways building and a further 91 rooms in the Clubhouse building. There are guestrooms with kitchenettes and suites with full kitchen, dining room and separate living area.

Victoria is just a 20-minute drive away where hiking, biking, sailing, fishing and whale-watching are just a few of the activities available in this absorbing seaside harbour.

But the odds are if you visit Bear Mountain as a golfer you are unlikely to stray far from its environs: after all, why would you want to leave paradise?

Bear Mountain,
Vancouver Island

Published: December 14, 2009

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