Big Sky Golf Club – Pemberton, BC

Day 2 of our short getaway was a much anticipated one for me. Anytime I can return to a course that rates very high on my favorites list, especially now accompanied by Myra, is sure to be rewarding. Also, joining us is a new golfing friend, Matt King, whom I met at my home course of Morningstar a couple months ago. The recent fires in the western U.S. have greatly impacted the air quality and visibility in the entire southern part of British Columbia. This limited the  photographs that we were able to take on the day we played.

Myra, on her own, gets her putter tuned up with the clubhouse in the background.

A special feeling surrounds you from the moment you enter the grounds at Big Sky GC. As you come through the front gate, large metal figures beckon you in towards the clubhouse. An early arrival is suggested when playing Big Sky as the practice facility is as well thought out as world class golf architect Bob Cupps’ incredible course design.

Matt rips one through the haziness on the Par 4 1st hole.

The gold standard rankings by national and international golf magazines are justified for sure and this review by myself perhaps will offer a little more of a hands on perspective.

Of course, the majesty of Mount Currie is significant in the positioning of the course on the valley floor below. It is an awesome sight, but we are here to play golf and the peripheral scenery of a golf course, unless it is a coastal course, means very little to me. Of course that would change if  Brooke Henderson was going to hang glide from the top of the 8,500 foot mountain and land next to me on the fairway to autograph my golf hat.

Bent grass dominates the course, tees, fairways and obviously the greens. What does this mean you ask? Well anytime you can smash a 3 wood or loft a pitching wedge from what appears to be a putting green two thoughts go through your head. I can’t believe how perfect this lie looks or can you actually take a divot without feeling guilty.

With Matt and I already on the green at The Par 5, 4th “Purgatory” Myra pitches on too

We arrived a good hour and 15 minutes before our tee time and for the next 7 hours never met one staff member or golfer in a bad mood. Flo in the pro shop, in spite of being on crutches and in some discomfort, was very welcoming and talkative. GM Michael MacNeil came out to greet and welcome us and then like a ripped drive he was off. Each time we saw him he was busy. Busy greeting groups, busy giving a golf tip and busy arranging tables for the dinner crowd. It was a busy day to be sure, but looking back he wasn’t too busy to ask us how our game was going, how dinner and how’s everything really. I overheard him helping get the deck organized for a party of 14 diners and at one point he said to the servers Jordan and Emily, “There I’ve moved some chairs and tables. Now I’ll leave it to the experts to set it up the way it works best for you.”     

Myra and I both with senior management backgrounds agreed here was a hands on GM, but not one micro managing his capable team.  Big Sky GC is fortunate to have him at the helm.

The approach view to the Par 5 9th green, what a beauty.

Playing Big Sky is a must, you know like when you’re in Rome you must eat at Alfredo’s. When you’re at a Pink Floyd rock concert you must buy a T-shirt and when you’re at the book store you must buy a Hemingway classic.

Few golf courses make me giddy, Big Sky does. It’s one of the best I’ve ever played anywhere in 16 countries, over 300 courses and numerous that hosted The Open as well as PGA, European PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour events.

It’s completely walkable, marvelously laid out, beautifully maintained and flawlessly designed.  In short, this is a very playable course.  The greens are large and receptive after a rebuilding of them 5 years ago. The fairways are wide where they need to be and challenging enough to keep you on your toes. Pick any number from 1 to 18 and I’ll tell you about how great each hole is. The par 3’s, not a weak or boring one available. The second one you play, the 5th hole, Cupp’s Hollow is breathtaking. Enticing, it yielded two great pars to Matt and Myra.    

All the Par 5’s are flawless, none more so than the infamous Hole 4 called “Purgatory”, so challenging that there is a sign on the fairway suggesting how to complete the hole. It requires dividing the hole into 3 separate shots. I didn’t need the help of the sign though as Matt, whenever I asked, provided pro caddy like advice, which culminated in me 2 putting for par.

That leaves 10 par 4’s, all of them delicious like a platter of chicken wings every one of them tasty and satisfying.  All of them are great to play. Yet with the green and bunker configuration on the 14th so specially designed it leads the way as the best of the 10 par 4’s.

Myra had a day she won’t soon forget, hitting 3 of the 4 par 3’s on her first shot, making a sand save par from 30 yards out on the Par 4 8th hole and slam dunking her pitch shot from the fairway straight into the hole on the treacherous Par 4 12th called “Great Divide”.

The Par 3 11th is one of the 4 incredible Cupp designs.

Matt and I playing from the 6,500 yard blue tees had our own glory moments. I was quite happy with my 40-41 = 81 round. One of those rounds where if I blew on about 4 birdie putts it would have been a 77. It didn’t matter, it just didn’t matter. The day was easily one of the most enjoyable golf days in recent memory. The smoky skies might have blocked out the sun, but they didn’t block the good feelings that surrounded us.

Matt being the dad of 4 year old twin boys was on babysitting duty, so had to say farewell quickly after putting out on 18. Myra and I had some shopping and eating to do still.

The pro shop is so nice to be in, a warm woodsy feel to it and not overly cluttered with piles of garments. The Big Sky logo is as nice as it gets so I had to add a stylish golf shirt to my wardrobe and Myra in her kind and unselfish way was happy adding a new hat to her collection.

Liam, a native Nova Scotian, working the pro shop counter offered us a handsome discount by spinning the September discount wheel. I watched it go round and round and stop on 30% off.

A Par 5 great finishing hole with the deck at Fescues overlooking the green.

I was pumped. It was now time for dinner and as we knew it was fried chicken night we perched ourselves out on the deck of Fescues Restaurant and awaited our dinner. Jordan and Emily took great care of us and the kitchen staff prepared a delicious dinner for 2.

Throughout the day numerous staff members served us with care and professionalism topped off with a smile and a laugh. Rod in the cart barn meticulously sanitizing our cart and range ball basket, Sean, Liam and Flo, a great pro shop team, and Jordan and Emily in the restaurant.  All led by the talented Michael MacNeil now in his 2nd year as GM and 12th year at Big Sky.

The only person I didn’t get to meet and who might just deserve the most accolades is course superintendent Mark Drain. His work is to be commended and knowing “supers” like I do he would probably deflect the praise to his greens staff. All of them deserve at least a wave when you see them on the course at work. Having spent a year in the trenches back in the late 80’s this crew often gets overlooked but not by me. Even the wooden tee block markers had been completely repainted.

With a name like Big Sky it deserves a “big” thumbs up and a “big” thank you from two “big” fans.  We look forward to returning to this course where the hospitality is a big as the sky!

www.bigskygolf .ca 1 800 668 7900

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Bill Flower

Bill Flower is a passionate golfer and lover of the game who lives on Vancouver Island in Parksville, BC. He has played the game since the age of 10 and has spent many years in the golf business ranging from full time teaching pro to part time professional caddy, golf tour operator and golf writer. He loves to travel with his wife Myra throughout the US and Canada playing and reviewing golf courses of all styles. To date he has reviewed over 125 golf courses.

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