IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Nicklaus North Golf Course in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
THE LAYOUT: For decades, skiers came to Whistler for the world-class slopes on Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb 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 of 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 the 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.
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 the 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 the Fairmont 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 Mont 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, snowshoeing, 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, rollerblading, 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 Luise Bed & Breakfast Inn.
ON THE WEB: www.golfbc.com/courses/nicklaus_north; www.fairmont.com/whistler
THE LAST RESORT: Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello in Montebello, Quebec, Canada.
THE LAYOUT: The Montebello Golf Club has been renowned in its nearly 80 years for two mounds in the first fairway that are a reminder of golf in the Scottish Highlands.
Stanley Thompson, the patriarch of Canadian golf course architecture, left the moguls exactly as they were when he first saw them. No surprise, since Thompson emigrated from Scotland, where for centuries, golf course architects have taken what nature gave them and worked with it.
Several years ago, an architect was brought in to do some renovation on the course and suggested blowing up the right mogul. That was the last piece of advice he was allowed to give.
Thompson came to North America about the same time as legends Donald Ross and Alister MacKenzie, under contact to Canadian Pacific Hotels, ancestor of Fairmont Resort Hotels.
First Thompson created classic courses in the Canadian Rockies at Jasper Park Lodge in 1925 and the Banff Springs Hotel in 1927. Then he came east and sculpted two more beauties, Montebello in 1931 and Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia in 1935.
At Montebello, Thompson crafted a sporty 6,304-yard layout that has stood the test of time, being ranked as the second-best public course in Quebec in 1998 by one publication and counted among the four best golf resorts in Canada by Travel and Leisure Golf in 2003.
Thompson carved into the granite landscape a course on which every hole is unique, with no parallel fairways, leaving the golfer with the feeling at every turn that his or her group is the only one on the course.
Despite the mounds on the first hole, this is not a links course. Montebello meanders through a dense forest, with spectacular river and mountain vistas.
The golf season at Montebello opens on the last week of April and runs through October, weather permitting.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Sylvain Courcelles.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: The mounds in the first fairway, which block the view of the green on the uphill hole, were meant to be a target. Hit your tee shot over them and the 320-yard hole is yours for the taking, but stay out of the trees to the right.
Most golf courses did not have driving ranges in the early days of the century, so designers such as Thompson, Ross and MacKenzie purposely made their courses easier at the beginning to allow the golfer to get warmed up before ramping up the degree of difficulty.
The highlight of the front nine is the fourth hole, a dogleg left, 522-yard par 5 from an elevated tee that gives the golfer a spectacular view of the Ottawa River Valley and the surrounding Outaouais region. With help from the elevated tee, big hitters can reach the green in two, but don't be short on the approach or your ball will wind up in the creek that guards the front.
The tee shot on the par-3, 175-yard ninth hole is the most difficult on the course -- straight uphill to a dramatically sloping green perched on top of a hill, with a crevice swallowing any ball that is short or runs off the false front.
Chi Chi Rodriguez came to Montebello in 1993 and set the course record of 6-under-par 64, but he got lucky on No. 9 when his tee shot flew the green and stayed in the long grass behind rather than running into the canyon. He chipped all the way across the green for an improbable birdie, but complained all day that he could not make a putt.
The signature hole -- and most difficult -- is No. 14, a gorgeous 415-yard par 4 that plays downhill across two lakes fed by a tributary of the Ottawa River guarding the green. The mounds near the women's tee remain from the days when this was the bobsled practice run for the Canadian Olympic Team. Hit 3-wood off the tee and you will have about 150 yards left to the green, but try to hit the middle of the fairway because if you are on the right side you have the ball above your feet and if you go left you might be stymied by a large oak tree. Club selection on the approach is critical to be on the correct level of the treacherous, two-tiered green.
The final hole always has been another of those strong par-4s for which Scottish architects are known, but time and technology caught up with it until it was lengthened several years ago by 35 yards to 420. Instead of 220 yards to carry the bunker on the left and shorten the hole, it is now nearly 250, and the fairway is only 40 yards wide. Another bunker awaits to guard the green of a terrific finishing hole.
When you are finished, enjoy a cool one on what Montebello historians claim was one of the first terrace bars overlooking the final green. Nowadays, almost every golf resort has one.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Located about 10 miles away in Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix is L'Heritage Golf Course, a parkland course that measures 6,712 yards from the back tees.
Le Chateau Montebello is part of the Quebec Fairmont Golf Trail, which also includes Le Manoir Richelieu in La Malbaie -- which was inaugurated in 1925 by President William H. Taft -- the numerous world-class courses near the Fairmont Tremblant in Mont-Tremblant, and several spectacular courses in the Montreal area not far from the majestic Fairmont Queen Elizabeth.
In addition to resorts at Banff Springs and Jasper Park, Fairmont's other golf properties in Canada include the Chateau Whistler Golf Club in British Columbia and the Algonquin Golf Club in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick.
And golf can be arranged at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary, the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, the Fairmont Newfoundland in St. John's, the Fairmont Winnipeg, three Fairmont properties in Vancouver and the stately Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, overlooking the St. Lawrence River in Quebec City.
WHERE TO STAY: Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello, a few minutes from the course, is a relic from the past -- a lodge built in 1930 with 10,000 giant red-cedar logs, all cut and set by hand, over a stone foundation.
An amazing construction feat, Le Chateau Montebello was the dream of Swiss-American Harold Saddlemire. It was inspired by chateaus in the Swiss Alps and dubbed "Lucerne-in-Quebec."
For its first 40 years, the chateau was the private retreat of the Seigniory Club, whose membership included former Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson and Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.
In 1970, Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello opened its doors to the public and achieved worldwide fame when it hosted the 1981 G7 Economic Summit that included President Ronald Reagan, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of England, President Francois Mitterrand of France and hosting Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of Canada.
More recently, Montebello hosted the 2007 North American Leaders Summit, welcoming President George W. Bush, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada.
In addition to golf, this world-class resort, located on the Ottawa River at the foot of Westcott Mountain in the Laurentian chain, offers guests an array of activities that include an all-terrain vehicle course, tennis, basketball, badminton, horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, swimming, volleyball and fishing and hunting at nearby Fairmont Kenauk.
In the winter, there are cross-country skiing, broomball, skating, sleigh rides, dogsledding, snowmobiling, tobogganing, ice fishing and more. Or simply enjoy a hot toddy around the six-sided fireplace in the largest log cabin in the world.
ON THE WEB: www.fairmont.com/montebello