THE LAYOUT: For decades, skiers came to Whistler for the world-class slopes on Whistler Mountain and Blackomb Peak, where the alpine events were contested during the 2010 Winter Olympics, hosted by Vancouver. Now, there also is world-class golf in the area, and the best golfer in the history of the game came to Canada to create a masterpiece that opened for play in 1996 below the glacial peaks. Jack Nicklaus has put his stamp on nearly 300 courses around the world, but about all you really have to know about Nicklaus North is that it was the first, and still one of only two, that he put his name on. To help get the word out, he brought the Telus Skins Game to the course in 1997, when Greg Norman took the bulk of the money from Nicklaus, Fred Couples and Nick Faldo. The event returned in 2005, with Canadian Stephen Ames beating Nicklaus, John Daly and Vijay Singh. In 1998, Nicklaus North was host to an episode of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, in which Couples shot a brilliant 5-under-par 66 to defeat Ernie Els. The course, which has a maximum rating of 72.2 and slope of 133, winds 6,961 yards from the championship tees through a gentle valley floor along the shores of Green Lake, with five sets of tees offering golfers of all abilities a challenge that suits their game. And it does not take as long to reach Whistler these days because of a construction project that widened the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway to handle the traffic from Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. Workers blasted enough granite out of the mountains to fill 60,000-seat B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were held, and all of the rock was recycled into fortifying the old two-lane Highway 99. Canadians were disappointed their country did not claim a single skiing medal at Whistler during the 2010 Games, but they still celebrate the gold that Nancy Greene of British Columbia claimed in the giant slalom at Grenoble, France, in 1968. Greene was instrumental in the development of Whistler and the locals did not forget, naming a street located on the way from the Fairmont Chateau Whistler to Nicklaus North Golf Course as Nancy Greene Drive. DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Andrew Smart. LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Unlike some of Nicklaus' early designs, Nicklaus North is very playable, with wide driving areas in the fairways and large, receptive green complexes. The project was environmentally sensitive from the beginning in keeping with the spectacular natural habitat, and the course is impeccably manicured. Five spectacular par-3 holes provide the strength of the course, and it starts early with the 219-yard second, which requires a tee shot over a large pond to a green guarded by five bunkers. The most challenging of the par-3s probably is No. 12, which is rated by several sources as one of the most memorable holes in Canada. It plays 225 yards from the back tees across another pond to a two-tiered green that is protected by bunkers on all four sides, with a steep slope in front sending many shots that are barely short back into the water. Among the best of the rest is the ninth hole, a dogleg left, par-4 that measures only 376 yards from the tips, but there is trouble all the way to the green. It starts with water down the left side, and the farther back you are on the tee, the more there is to carry. Long hitters who can avoid the water and steer clear the deep bunker 245 yards off the tee will have a short iron on the approach, but playing it more conservatively still might present the chance for a birdie or par. Most challenging of the par-5s probably is No. 11, 555 yards from the tips with a prevailing headwind making it unlikely to get home in two, even for big hitters. Bunkers and a conservation area border the fairway on both sides off the tee, and water comes into play on the left when laying up. Bunkers right, left and rear protect the green. Nicklaus provided a spectacular finish on the last four holes, wrapping around Green Lake, which has a greenish hue because of the mineral deposits caused by the melting glacier that drains into the lake. The tee shot on the par-4, 437-yard 15th, again over water for longer hitters and often affected by a crosswind, must be threaded between two fairway bunkers to provide for a reasonable approach to a large and undulating green. The driving area on the par-4, 425-yard 16th is generous, but the approach to a firm green must carry wide Fitzsimmons Creek, which can be reached from the tee by long bombers. Check out the float planes that dock near the clubhouse before hitting your drive. No. 17 is the last of those par-3s, and although the 226-yard tee shot is not over water, Green Lake awaits tee shots that wander left. A bunker that wraps around the green saves many a ball from a watery grave. And the finishing hole, another strong par-4 that measures 438 yards, might be the most difficult on the course. Even after a tee shot that avoids the trees on the left and a bunker on the right, a solid approach over water is demanded to reach a relatively small green guarded by traps left and right. Don't be surprised to see bear, moose, coyote, deer and other critters wander out from the tall fir trees during your round, but what makes this course special is that it has the Golden Bear's paw prints all over it. OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Less than a five-minute drive from Nicklaus North is Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club. The course, which plays to a par of 72, climbs 400 feet from the clubhouse up the slopes of Blackcomb Peak and features tight fairways, doglegs, severe drops and rises from tee to green, plus uphill, downhill and sidehill lies. Don't be fooled by the 6,635 yards shown on the scorecard; look instead at the 145 slope from the back tees. Whistler Golf Club, located barely inside the town limits, was the first course in the area and the initial Arnold Palmer-designed layout in Canada. It opened in 1982 and underwent a $1.8 million renovation in 2000. Big Sky Golf and Country Club, located about 25 minutes north of Whistler, is a spectacular course designed by Robert Cupp and John Fought at the foot of Mount Currie in the Pemberton Valley. It opened in 1994 in a valley where potatoes once grew and features seven lakes plus several streams that bisect the course. If you have a chance on the way up from Vancouver, stop and play Mayfair Lakes Golf and Country Club below the towering Coast Mountains in Richmond, or picturesque Furry Creek Golf and Country Club, about 30 minutes south of Whistler on the Sea-to-Ski Highway. WHERE TO STAY: Fairmont Chateau Whistler, part of the worldwide chain that has its flagship in San Francisco, is one of several spectacular golf properties owned by the corporation in Canada. Also included are Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club and Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course in Alberta, Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello Golf Club and Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club in Quebec, and Algonquin Golf Course and Academy in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick. Golf can be arranged by the concierge at outstanding local courses for guests of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, the Fairmont Tremblant in Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary, the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton and other Fairmont properties that do not have their own courses. Conde Naste Traveler magazine has selected the Fairmont Chateau Whistler as the No. 1 ski resort and No. 1 golf resort in Canada. Whistler receives 46 feet of snow a year, and the Wizard chairlift right outside the back door of the resort whisks skiers up the slopes of Blackcomb Mountain to 8,100 acres of skiing terrain. After returning from the slopes and/or the links, have yourself pampered in the Vida Wellness Spa. Then enjoy exceptional cuisine in the Wildflower Restaurant, the Wine Room or the Portobello Market and Fresh Bakery, and have a drink in the Mallard Lounge. For even more exceptional service, stay on Fairmont's exclusive Gold Level. Other winter activities include cross-country skiing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, snow-shoeing, dog-sledding, ice skating, four-wheel driving, indoor rock climbing and snowmobile riding. During the spring and summer, guests also enjoy kayaking, wakeboarding, windsurfing, jet boating, whitewater rafting, swimming, fishing, roller-blading, mountain-biking, hiking, rock climbing and canoeing. Other top hotels in Whistler include the Four Seasons Whistler Resort, the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler, the Alpine Chalet Whistler, the Delta Whistler Village Suites, the Crystal Lodge Hotel, the Pan Pacific Whistler Mountainside and the Chalet Louise B&B Inn. ON THE WEB: http://www.golfbc.com/courses/nicklaus_north; www.fairmont.com/whistler. THE LAST RESORT: Foxhills Hotel and Resort in Ottershaw, Surrey, England. THE LAYOUT: They aren't going to start running up the Stars and Stripes alongside the Union Jack anytime soon, but Foxhills Golf Club might be more like an American club than any other in the United Kingdom. It's not only that the three courses at Foxhills look and play very much like courses in the United States, it's the membership. Roughly 20 percent of the members are Americans, executives who work for large firms in and around London. Many of them bring their families because they often stay for several years, and there are several top-rate American schools in the area. Foxhills Golf Club has two championship courses: the 6,892-yard Bernard Hunt Course and the 6,743-yard Longcross Course and also the Manor Course, a par-3, nine-hole layout where the Wee Wonders program was founded. Bernard Hunt, honored as a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth, was the first head professional at Foxhills when the club opened in 1975, and he served for 25 years. Hunt also played on Senior European PGA Tour. Hunt, who won 30 times on the European PGA Tour and led the tour's Order of Merit in 1961 and 1963, played a key role in one of England's greatest golf victories in the 1957 Ryder Cup at Lindrick Golf Club in Yorkshire, ending a 24-year hold on the Cup by the U.S. One of eight pros to hold lifetime membership in the British PGA and former captain of the organization, Hunt participated in eight Ryder Cups, including twice as captain. For tourists, Foxhills is not far from Windsor Castle, Hampton Court (favorite home of Henry VIII), Royal Ascot Racecourse, the original Legoland and Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill. HEAD PROFESSIONAL: Richard Summerscales. LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Both 18-hole layouts at Foxhills, which were designed by F.W. Hawtree and opened six months apart in 1975, are what the English call parkland, or heathland, courses. The par-72, 6,883-yard Bernard Hunt championship course is longer but more wide open and forgiving. The par-71 Longcross Course is shorter but narrower, weaving 6,743 yards through gently undulating and picturesque wooded terrain with trees bordering every fairway. The signature hole of the Bernard Hunt course is the 10th hole, a daunting 445-yard par-4 that plays downhill to a valley and then uphill to a green protected by two bunkers in front and overhanging trees on the right. On a clear day, you can see Canary Wharf in London from the elevated tee, from which the best drive is down the left side to provide the best angle into a green that slopes dramatically from back right to front left. That follows the best par-5 on the course, the 560-yard ninth, which also can be a heart-tugger. It plays slightly downhill off the tee, with a pond in the fairway waiting to swallow any second shots that are mis-hit. The opening to the green is narrow because of trees on the left and a bunker on the right. Another real test can be found on the dogleg left, par-4 446-yard 18th, which is considered one of the most difficult finishing holes in English golf. The tee shot must carry more than 200 yards to reach the narrow sloping fairway, and the approach is partially blind up the hill to a spacious double green that it shares with No. 18 on the Longcross Course. The uphill, par-4 430-yard ninth is the most difficult hole on the Longcross Course, requiring a tee shot of more than 200 yards to clear a bunker on the left side and creating the best chance to hit the green in two. The Longcross, which winds through scots pine, beech and sliver birch trees, finishes with an uphill par-5, 531 yards, with a large tree on the left narrowing the fairway for the second shot. Again, the approach shot is partially blind to the large, double green. The course even lives up to its name. Foxes are often spotted by golfers along with deer, rabbits and other wildlife. The junior program at Foxhills produced Paul Casey, who won three Pacific 10 Conference Championships at Arizona State and broke records set there by Phil Mickelson before joining the PGA Tour, and Anthony Wall, who plays the European Tour. OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Stoke Park Club in Stoke Poges, where the golf scenes and a few others were filmed for the James Bond classic "Goldfinger," is located outside London on the outskirts of Windsor and Eaton about seven miles from Heathrow Airport. Also nearby are some other shrines of British golf, including the Wentworth Club and its famed West Course in Virginia Water; Sunningdale Golf Club in Sunningdale; the Belfry Golf Club in Sutton Coldfield, Europe's most prominent Ryder Cup venue; and Royal Birkdale Golf Club near Southport, which has been host to the Open Championship nine times, the last when Padraig Harrington won in 2008. Also in the area are Lambourne Club in Burnham, the Marriott Forest of Arden Hotel and Country Club in Warwickshire and Woburn Golf Club in Milton Keynes. WHERE TO STAY: Located 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport, the 400-acre Foxhills estate offers a 40-suite, four-star hotel in the 19th-century manor house and its Foxhills Mews, a development of 12 apartments situated next to the 14th tee on the Bernard Hunt Course. Fine dining is available at the two-rosette Manor Restaurant, the Orangery and a brasserie. Stop by the Fox Bar for a drink after holing out on 18. The five-star Stoke Park Hotel, which in 1999 became a charter member of Leading Small Hotels of the World, offers 20 bedrooms filled with priceless antiques and original paintings and prints on grounds once trod by William Penn and Queen Elizabeth I. Not far is the luxurious Cliveden Hotel, the former Astor estate, in Taplow, a prominent site in the Profumo Scandal, which brought down the Conservative government in 1964. Also close are the Bull Hotel, a 17th-century coach stop in Gerrards Cross; Burnham Beeches Hotel, a magnificent structure of Georgian architecture on 10 landscaped acres in Burnam; Grovefield House Hotel, a charming Edwardian country house in Windsor; the Christopher Hotel, the only hotel in Eton; the Castle Hotel in Windsor, a two-minute walk from the front gate at Windsor Castle; and Sir Christopher Wren's House Hotel, on the banks of the Thames River in Windsor. ON THE WEB: www.foxhills.co.uk/golf/golf-at-foxhills.aspx.
- Jack Nicklaus