Kimberley, British Columbia
The Canadian Rockies are revered as one of North America's finest ski destinations. But when the snow melts this summer, visitors will be able to feast their eyes on a new course in this golf-happy region. After a soft opening last July, Bootleg Gap will celebrate its first full season this year. Designed by Alberta-based Les Furber, who got his start as a project director for Robert Trent Jones in the 1960s, Bootleg Gap consists of a full-size 18, plus a walkable par-34 nine-holer called The Gap. It's bigger than an executive course, but not quite a regulation nine. In other words, The Gap is perfect for beginners, juniors and seniors (three sets of tees stretching from 2,275 to 2,750 yards), as well as seasoned players seeking carefree recreation before or after a round on Bootleg's big course.
Set at an altitude of 3,500 feet at the south end of Kimberley (population 7,000, with one ski area, one traffic light and three golf courses), the 7,200-yard layout starts in an alpine meadow, then parades golfers past the hoodoos, a row of sandstone formations that resemble organ pipes. The beige-and-ivory hoodoos, their columns rising 75 feet, are spaced along the banks of the St. Mary River. The course then climbs to higher ground, with holes carved from a classic B.C. palette of towering ponderosa pine, spruce and fir. The views, like most of the panoramas on the western flank of the Continental Divide, are astounding: to the east, towering Fisher Peak and the Steeples; to the west, toothy spires pushing 9,000 feet in the Selkirk Mountains. These are among the most beautiful mountains on the continent. As a golf setting, their grandeur is unrivaled.
The back nine at Bootleg Gap returns players to the river by way of a signature hole, the par-three 12th, which drops nearly 75 feet to a green backdropped by Bootleg Mountain and the St. Mary River Gap. The large green, while well-defended by mounds and bunkers, looks easy enough to hit from the elevated tee, but swirling river winds can play tricks with your tee shot; club selection can range from a driver to a six-iron. The course then meanders through the river valley before asking players to make the climb home by way of the 18th, a short but stout uphill par five that better players can reach in two-if they're accurate.
According to Bootleg Gap's General Manager Darrell Burak, "We wanted a playable, maintainable golf course, a durable layout that could handle plenty of play." Flatter than the area's other courses, most of which are carved from mountain slopes and the tops of canyons, Bootleg Gap is no pushover, but it's a little gentler than most.
Burak adds that Furber, a Trent Jones disciple, tends to use bunkers to defend his greens left, right and sometimes center. "We requested open-entry greens, so that higher handicappers with lower ball flights can bump-and-run their shots onto the putting surface," Burak says.
Bootleg Gap, which enjoys a semi-arid, humidity-free climate in the summer, is kept firm and fast, facilitating the ground game. Concerned about the rising cost of green fees and the affordability of a four-and-a-half-hour experience, Burak nevertheless wanted a course that could compete with the higher-end resort courses in the Cranbrook-Kimberley area. They told Furber not to "put too much lipstick" on Bootleg Gap so that the green fee could be marketed at $45 Canadian ($30 U.S.)-a tremendous bargain, given the superb conditioning and high quality of the design.
After the round, golfers can stroll through Kimberley, which was patterned after Europe's pedestrian ski towns. Serious enthusiasts, however, will head for The Gap to settle all wagers-and take in a sunset.
GREEN FEE Approximately $30 (U.S.) for Bootleg Gap. The Gap (nine holes) is $10 for adults, $7 for juniors.
THE DEAL The "Golf Kimberley 3 & 3," which features three nights at the Trickle Creek Marriott and three rounds of golf with cart at Bootleg Gap, Trickle Creek and Kimberley Golf Club, starts at $250 per person, quad occupancy. 877-282-1200; golfkimberleybc.com.
CONTACT Bootleg Gap Golf; 250-427-7077; bootleggapgolf.com.