Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
From its Pacific coastline to the Canadian Rockies, British Columbia is definitely God’s Country. When we were invited to design a golf course just outside of Vancouver, above the town of Coquitlam, on an area known as Westwood Plateau, we were thrilled. The site was about 1,700 acres of steep granite mountainside, with several broad plateaus, salmon spawning streams, massive trees and teeming wildlife. The first time I walked the site, I felt like I was in the scene from the movie Return of the Jedi, where the speeder bike race weaves through the forest. It was more than a little spooky, especially after I saw my first bear.
A portion of the site had been used as a road racing track, and since I still do a fair amount of road racing, I was especially intrigued. I was told stories about a hump in the track, just before a 180° turn, where faster cars and bikes went airborne. That very spot is now the 18th green, a tribute to the old track, its racers and the hairpin turn.
This was a huge project on a huge site, and thank goodness we were able to work with an extremely experienced team of engineers and planners, or we would have struggled. The original assignment was an 18-hole golf course and range, but on the other side of a small mountain was perhaps 100 acres considered unusable, given the dozens of huge electric towers across it and its steep, rocky terrain. Our firm has always endorsed golf learning centers, so as part of our planning process we drafted a complete golf academy for this valueless area, one that included a large, multi-story covered range tee, a short game center, putting greens, three practice holes and a nine hole executive course, with a separate clubhouse and amenities.
Our main boss was an Iranian fellow who left his country when the Shah did, and took with him almost as much money. He didn’t play golf. So when we explained our plans, we first presented the routing for the main championship course, and then as a sidelight we mentioned the learning center. He listened intently, then said he wanted the learning center built first, which surprised us. Normally, the main course gets built first to establish an identity. But our boss insisted he could sell more houses because of the learning center than the full-size course, and he proved to be right. The Westwood Plateau Golf Academy opened in 1994, over a year before its big brother, and quickly became wildly profitable. Within months, there were over 600 juniors in the lesson program, the place was packed from daylight to dusk with all manner of golfers and the restaurant was always crowded. This experience reaffirmed our conviction that golf learning centers are great for business and should be part of every golf complex.
The main Westwood Plateau course took over two years to construct. Every day seemed to expose more major challenges. Fortunately we had the foresight to have an onsite design representative there on a daily basis. We'd hired a bright young man named Warren Henderson, who previously worked for some guy named Nicklaus. Warren is brilliant and hard working. He later worked for Rick Smith and now works for Gary Player Designs. Warren and Dana were a dynamic duo and seemingly did the impossible, but not without a number of heated discussions with contractors, other consultants and even our boss.
The golf holes at Westwood Plateau are epic in their size and scope. The par-3 third hole plays over a 100-foot-deep chasm, the 12th hole was blasted out of the side of a mountain and the 15th drops 160 feet downhill, about as quickly as a ski slope. The 17th hole plays directly at snow covered Mt. Baker, and as I said, the 18th green is on the raceway hump.
The bunkers are a tribute to the splashy, flashy style of Stanley Thompson, Canada's greatest golf course architect.
I no longer find Westwood Plateau to be spooky, although there's still a sense of immersion into the wilderness when playing a round on the course. The tall, majestic Douglas firs, huge glacial boulders, deep ravines, and meandering streams provide isolation and serenity. The adjacent upscale housing is dwarfed by the panoramic views of snow-capped mountains to the north and the broad river valley to the south. Its total golf experience has earned Westwood Plateau a very high ranking in Canada's SCORE magazine as one of the "Best in the West."