Welcome to Greens Fees, a new travel series from GOLF aimed at helping you understand the dollars (and sense) of your next golf trip.
Whistler, British Columbia, is a ski town. Not even the area’s most hardened golfer will argue otherwise. I know this because I asked him to.
Alex Hay is Whistler’s resident golf course architect. He has lived in the area for some time now, and like many other people living in one of the world’s most sought-after destinations, he loves it here. The mountains are gorgeous, the people are happy, and the world around him is lively.
We’re sharing a pint at Beacon Pub, a tiny watering hole tucked into the center of town, when I wonder if people will believe me when I say Whistler is a golf destination worth visiting. He laughs.
“Good luck with that. This place will always be a ski town. That’s how the world views us,” he says, before sharing the area’s worst-kept secret. “But not many people realize the middle of the summer is our busiest time of year.”
In the winter, many experts consider Whistler to be the powder capital of the world — a combination of impeccable snow, beautiful vistas, and some of the world’s best apres ski. But in the summertime, the locals know a different side of Whistler. The kind when the days stretch on forever, the black bears roam without care, and travelers come from all over the world to spend a few blissful days of mountain warmth, many of them at the golf course.
It was late September by the time I arrived, and I was pressing my luck. It was the last gasp of the golfing year in Whistler. The weather was highly unpredictable (the year’s first snowstorms were already forecast for the following week), and the playing conditions were uncertain. But I’d traveled all the way across the continent for a quick Pacific Northwest golf jaunt, and I hoped the weather would reward my efforts — to say nothing of the not-insignificant hit to my bank account.
Speaking of my bank account, my credit card bills are coming due in the next few days from those glorious few days in the Pacific Northwest. As such, it’s time to file an expense report — a public one — on the trip that was.
Table of Contents
What it costs to spend 4 days in Whistler
A piece of advice as valuable for life as it is for travel: if at first you don’t succeed … try a new airport! I flew west the old-fashioned way, from New York to Vancouver (the nearest airport to Whistler, a 90-minute drive away) with a connection in Minneapolis. My return flight, however, was something the experts might call a “flight hack” — a redeye direct from Seattle to New York. I’d have to find a way to Seattle and something to do while I was there (more on that in a moment), but I’d also save a bundle on the flight, which ran me $402.
Due to the timing of my trip, I decided also to book a rental car. I settled on a cheap option from an agency where I have preferred customer status, betting I would land myself a free upgrade. I did. The rental cost me a little over $300. (For those hoping to save a few dollars in transit, many of Whistler’s resorts run shuttles from the airport to the mountain and back. Most are much cheaper than the cost of a rental.)
With a one-day gap in my schedule between the end of my stay in Whistler and my flight home from Seattle, I decided to book an Amtrak down the coastline. That ticket cost $45.
Car Rental: $320
Trip Total: $767
A look at the forecast told me there was rain coming, and a lot of it. Thanks to a friend at Adidas Golf, I was able to get my hands on an advance version of the new Rain.RDY waterproof jacket, which ran me an additional $200. It was a luxury addition, or it felt like it at the time, but not after I put it to use. It helped, of course, to know that the jacket was made specifically to reduce friction and noise throughout the golf swing. (An aside: uncertainty is the only certainty with weather in the mountains, particularly at the end of the season; make sure to pack layers.)
Adidas Rain.RDY Full-Zip: $280
Trip Total: $1,047
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My flight landed in Vancouver shortly after noon PST, and by the time I’d cleared customs, it was officially lunchtime. I drove into the city and stopped at Cafe Medina, a lovely Middle Eastern-inspired brunch spot in the heart of town. I ordered a coffee, an egg-white frittata, and a waffle. The meal ran me $36.50 CAD, or around $27 U.S.
After lunch, I drove up to do some sightseeing in Vancouver’s famed Stanley Park. The flower-and-redwood-lined sanctuary, which is 20 percent larger than New York’s Central Park, was in full bloom when I arrived. I spent two hours and $8 on parking there before beginning the trek up to Whistler.
A short drive later, I arrived at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, where I would be spending three nights at a daily rate of $260, plus $25 a day for parking. The hotel was ritzier than my typical stop-off, but came with access to the Gold Lounge, which provided free breakfast and hors d’oeuvres, which helped to take some of the sting out of the final cost.
From there, it was off to dinner at Portobello, a barbecue joint attached to the hotel. I ordered a brisket dinner and a local pilsener, and a short while later, a mountain of food appeared in front of me. I left $33 lighter … and a couple pounds heavier.
Trip Total: $1,400
After an early breakfast, I zipped over to the first of two golf courses I’d play in Whistler — Nicklaus North — for my 10 a.m. tee time. We’d just crossed past “peak season” rates, meaning my tee time was discounted down to $130.
The weather had turned for the better the night before, and I teed off to 70-degree temperatures and clear skies — surely a last for the playing season. We heeded bear warnings at the clubhouse and again at the halfway house, but the only disturbances to play were the occasional seaplane descending into the course’s adjacent glacial lake.
Nicklaus North is a valley course, flat and largely wide-open. Its holes are separated by towering pines and small lakes, and as a whole, the course is surprisingly playable for the typically narrow-and-stingy Nicklaus. It was a treat for such a perfect day, particularly so on the closing stretch, where a dramatic series of holes hug the glacial lake. I left around noon, spent the afternoon on the hiking trail, and returned back to the hotel, where I ate dinner in the gold lounge for free.
Trip total: $1,815
Another early morning, another delicious hotel breakfast, and another morning tee time, this one at the Fairmont resort course, which was also running at past-peak rates and cost $135.
It was cold and wet when we made it to the first tee at the Fairmont course, the sort of nasty fall morning when just feeling the cold air is enough to make your joints creak. I bundled up and headed out to the first tee, where a sprinkling of rain bounced off my jacket. It’d been only a few hours since yesterday’s sun-baked romp at Nicklaus North, but the weather had shifted considerably — fitting, considering the challenge I was in for today was unlike anything I’d seen already.
The two primary golf courses in Whistler — Nicklaus North and the Fairmont course — are separated by a mile and what feels like a couple of lightyears. Nicklaus North is friendly, forgiving, and flat. There might not be more than 50 feet of elevation on the whole golf course. The Fairmont course, however, feels a bit like scaling the face of Mt. Everest. The first eight holes are played at a 45-degree angle, while the final eight are played at a similar decline. The Robert Trent Jones-designed Fairmont course is a strange sensory experience, a “mountain course” in the truest sense of the word (and with a considerable amount more altitude than its Nicklaus sibling).
I returned to the hotel after my round ready for dinner, a meal I’d been savoring for quite some time.
Sushi Village is a place you can only find by looking for it. Tucked away on the second floor of a nondescript strip mall in the center of town, you could walk right by the front door without realizing it.
“The place is a bit of a hole in the wall, but trust me, it’s worth it,” a ski-bum friend told me weeks before leaving for Whistler, unaware of my own proclivity for dives.
If you’re a sane, rational person, “mountain sushi” likely lands similarly to “day-old cheese” or “moldy bread.” Is it probably okay? Yes. Does it expose you to a greater likelihood of foodborne illness? Also yes!
I can confirm, however, that Sushi Village is no mountain sushi. This tiny restaurant dishes out some of the freshest fish I’ve ever tasted, with ruby-red slabs of tuna and salmon pinker than a Barbie-issued Corvette. I left an hour later wishing only that I had a larger stomach, so as to try more fish. I might well return to the area for it alone. At $50 (including tip), I felt compelled to report myself for stealing.
After dinner, I slipped out to the Beacon Pub for a quick nightcap with my new friends (course architect Alex Hay and Pat, Mike and Alex Forbes of The Preferred Lie). The beer ran me $7, which was well worth the company.
Food and drink: $57.54
Trip Total: $2,292.54
With my tab for the week stretching dangerously close to my preferred price limit of $2,500, I rose early and drove down to Vancouver, where I was scheduled to meet my train bound for Seattle. Soon, I learned I’d booked my train from Vancouver, Wash. (and not Vancouver, B.C.) and was forced to rebook myself on a bus, a slip-up that cost me an additional $30.
After a $9 cappuccino-and-muffin breakfast at the bus station, I arrived in Seattle, where I met my colleague and friend Dylan Dethier for the afternoon. We zipped in his car down to Chambers Bay for my third and final round of golf on the trip.
I’ve already written extensively about my experience at Chambers but suffice it to say, it was freaking incredible. I would return to Seattle just to play the golf course. In fact, I would go as far as to say that round alone was worth the entire journey out west (and not only because Dylan — ever the generous host — paid for my tee time).
I got him back by purchasing our dinner; a rare second straight day of sushi at Tsukushinbo, yet another hole-in-the-wall Pacific Northwest gem. The meal ran me $125.08, which was a steal considering my subsequent taxi to SEATAC airport cost nearly half as much.
By the time I realized I’d snuck my trip in a mere $22 over-budget, I was nestled comfortably into the window seat of my redeye flight home. Regrettably, the satisfaction didn’t bring sleep with it.
Transportation (bus and taxi): $94
Trip total: $2,522.62
How I could have saved
It would have helped to travel with a friend (or friends) who might have cut the cost of my hotel. Also, in such a walkable, accessible town, a rental car was altogether unnecessary — I could have survived just as easily by paying half as much in one of the hotel shuttles.
Some other cost-cutting options: “twilight” times on both golf courses could have saved another $100 or so on greens fees, while a basic understanding of Pacific Northwest geography would have netted me an additional $30 in train/bus fares.