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A new diamond in the rough

The newest addition in the Sea to Sky golf collection is short in stature but packs quite a punch.

The newest addition in the Sea to Sky golf collection is short in stature but packs quite a punch.

The Garibaldi Springs Golf Resort, open for play to the public since July 29, has been getting rave reviews from golfers who have teed it up on the new 'Masters' golf course, designed by well-known Western Canadian golf course architect Les Furber.

"Most of them are quite surprised," said marketing coordinator Suzanna de Souza. "We say that the course is a complete test of golf - and that's exactly what it is. The golfers are being challenged out there."

The 'Masters' reference to the golf course is somewhat of a new category in golf course jargon. It's not a full-length championship style course, and it's not an executive course. It falls right in the middle.

Maintaining a par of 64, the course measures a short but stout 4,742 yards - about 1,500 to 2,000 yards shorter than an average par 71/72 track, but longer than a par-three executive course.

Water comes into play on 14 of the 18 holes, with streams and ponds hosting spawning salmon in the fall.

For a new golf course, the greens are in spectacular shape, with dense and lush bent and poa annua grass putting surfaces that aren't too firm.

Perhaps the best term to describe the entire layout is character. What it lacks in length, it definitely makes up for in character. Furber, as is his trademark, takes advantage of the many unique features of the 90-acre golf course property, and incorporates them into each hole.

Huge tree stumps, rock outcroppings, marsh areas, natural ponds, streams and the surrounding forest have all been utilized to make the golf course play much harder than it actually looks. Tee shots, although most of them irons, demand accuracy, and there are plenty of bunkers that quickly grab any wayward approach shots. Furber has also tried to use the lay of the land to the best of his ability, offering golfers a chance to be taken away by the beautiful Squamish mountain scenery. Many of the holes have been carved from the mountainside and feature elevated tees.

"We've had a lot of comments from players saying that the scenery alone is worth the price," said de Souza. "They feel like they're getting a great value to play at one of the most beautiful places in the corridor."

However, as with any new golf course, there are plenty of rough edges to be smoothed out. The maintenance crew is working from dusk till dawn to fine-tune the layout. The large cement blocks are a bit of an eyesore and take away from the beauty of the ninth and 18th holes, which may be addressed once the new Garibaldi Springs Resort Hotel (slated to open in 2005) is built.

Although some purists will snub the 'Masters' classification, de Souza and the rest of the staff at Garibaldi Springs have experienced nothing but a positive buzz from players who have strolled around the nine holes that are currently open for play. (The back nine is scheduled to open in mid to late September.)

"A lot of players are feeling that after they've finished playing nine, they want to head right back out again," de Souza said. "They all want to go out and have another crack at it."

Here's a brief look into the first nine holes:

Number One - Par 4 - 331 yards

A tight tee shot to start of with, with trees lining both sides of the fairway. A huge stump behind the green gives the player something to aim at. The putting surface is phenomenal for such young grass.

Number Two - Par 3 - 134 yards

A picturesque par three with an collection of white bedrock (that almost look like they've been power-washed), that provide a nice backdrop for the tee shot into a green surrounded by three bunkers.

Number Three - Par 4 - 365 yards

Possibly the toughest hole on the front nine. A well-struck tee shot is a must to carry the large, natural marsh area in front of the fairway. Although it looks pretty tight, you can hit more club than you think you need here.

Number Four - Par 3 - 138 yards

Water surrounds three quarters of this hole, which is similar to #17 at the TPC at Sawgrass. You'll need to get it up in the air here, and stay away from the large bunker guarding the front right portion of the green. A beautiful golf hole.

Number Five - Par 4 - 377 yards

This hole has got a little bite to it as well. To avoid the trees on both sides of the fairway, the tee shot must be hit placed somewhere in the narrow fairway. The second shot is also challenging, as another carry is needed to get over the tall grass in front of the green.

Number Six - Par 3 - 146 yards

One of the most beautiful par threes anywhere, and perhaps the signature hole at Garibaldi Springs. An elevated tee shot lets the golfer get a good view of the well-guarded green down below. If you miss it anywhere right, you'll either be in the drink or in the large bunker. Another exquisite putting surface here.

Number Seven - Par 3 - 150 yards

A relatively simple par three but watch your club selection. A long green will add or subtract distance from the scorecard. The green features many mounds, bumps and hills.

Number Eight - Par 4 - 306 yards

Here golfers come out of the forest and into the open. There is a wide landing area for the tee shot but you'll need to carry the second shot over a water hazard to a green that slopes back to front.

Number Nine - Par 4 -424 yards

The longest hole on the front nine, and also one of the hardest. Panoramic views are provided from the elevated tee. Water hazards on either side of the fairway force the golfer to hit a good tee shot. There is also water in front of the green, which you'll need to be careful with because you can't see the hazard from the fairway.