dogs and golf

Vancouver – Golf with Dogs on Bowen Island

Vancouver – Golf with Dogs on Bowen Island

I am sailing to a golf course, unaware that I’ll play golf with dogs. Meanwhile, the mountain views widen as the Queen of Capilano ferry is on the twenty-minute crossing from Horseshoe Bay to Snug Cove, a village of heritage cottages.

Something About Bowen Island

Past the only thoroughfare with cafes, restaurants, and trendy boutiques, we head to the nine-hole golf course at Cowan Point, facing Vancouver. Family homes, small businesses, farmland, and outcrops suggest that the project of a golf course and a housing development spreading in the rainforest had likely not thrilled everyone. Yet the island had its tumultuous days.

This brings me to acknowledge that “the land on which we are gathered today is the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the unceded homelands of the Squamish (sko-ho-mish) and Tsleil-Waututh (sail-wha-tooth) Nations.

The natives spent their summers here, deer hunting and salmon fishing until the island, in brief, took the name of a British Admiral. Fishing, logging, and even ammunition manufacturing settled here until the island became known as the Happy Isle: moonlight cruising, dancing in BC’s largest pavilion, lawn bowling, horseback riding, canoeing, and more. Playing golf with dogs wasn’t in the future yet.

Today, Bowen Island is the well-kept secret of the 3,400 permanent residents who like it that way. An example is Cape Roger Curtis—on the south end of the six-kilometre-long and twelve-kilometre-wide island—where the luxury housing development was limited so that “interconnected parks, trails, and beaches protect marine and terrestrial ecosystems, conserve biodiversity, and inspire stewardship.”

A Golf Course with Nature Conservation in Mind

Canadian Russ Olson designed the 3,003-yard and 35-par layout. Whether you walk or buggy ride, this nine-hole course reveals well-maintained fairways in an otherwise natural setting, a combination that golfers never take for granted.

Here, bald eagles perch on towering cedars. Perennial plants brighten tee-boxes as if they had befriended the otherwise oblivious deer. As for the bears, they can’t swim that far from the mainland.

The waterfront doesn’t come into play although the first and ninth holes have views of the sailboats and ferries on the Strait of Georgia.

From Tee to Tee On the Play-with-Dogs Golf Course

Hole #1 is where I discover Pear, a black Labrador and service dog in training, and Crouton, a Jack Terrier. As their owners get ready to precede us on the tee box, I learn that Pear is a trainee from the Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS). He is here to master skills such as holding the command “sit!” without moving or barking while Jennifer, his volunteer trainer, walks away. As for me, this par-4 hole is the introduction to the terrain with the first uphill walk.

Hole #2 is a par 5 with red stakes fronting the left bounds: it’s best to aim right-of-center. Never mind, my ball flies left yet stops short of the sand trap. My luck seems to end as my ball reaches the green and disappears. Yet I find it tucked behind a mound for a ten-foot putt.

Hole #3 is wide but gnarled tree stumps stand less as unique sculptures and more as golf hazards. My ball reaches the green, sails across, and plunges into the underbrush below. Meanwhile, the dogs ahead of us patiently wait for their owners’ shots, never barking nor pulling on the compulsory leash.

Hole #4 is the first par-3. A slice might end up in Lucas Lake, the irrigation reservoir and a playground for ducks. Even with a straight flight, the ball might tumble to the left, or land into the guarding sand trap. Never mind, I find it on the cart path and chip on. Then take four putts.

Hole #5 appears after a wooden bridge leads to a Renoir-esque pond with water lilies. The once-resident turtle isn’t here as a lucky charm on this men’s number one handicap hole.

Hole #6 is the shortest, and so was my drive that topped the ball off the tee. The elevation of the green would have required an extra club and to let it do the work.

Hole #7 signals that after going up, the fairways must eventually go down. I am watching balls tumble to the right of the steep terrain. After aiming left and my ball lands right, I consider the ditch that separates me from the elevated green. It’d be best to lay up on this women’s number one handicap hole but I go for it instead. My ball takes flight and veers to the right as it crosses the ditch, never to be seen again. Still, the adrenaline rush was worth my frustration.

Hole #8 finally reveals the dark secret of the inviting par-3 holes: don’t bet on any of them!

Hole #9 is the signature hole, and the ocean view is the prize. Slope and hazards await my ball’s flight down to the green guarded by a creek, a sand trap, a pond, and the cart path. I barely stay calm to carry on and hole it.

On that beautiful September day, the round defied the visiting players. To play golf with dogs on Bowen Island proved to be an acceptable although nascent trend. What’s more, I got to the “10th hole” in one shot: the Cup Cutter Restaurant at the clubhouse. 

Bowen Island Golf Course in Vancouver, BC (MCArnott)
A service dog shows that the play-golf-with-dogs concept can be part of its training.
Play golf with dogs: The Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) breeds, raises, and trains life-changing assistance dogs via volunteer programs. (MCArnott)
Hole 7 at Bowen Island Golf Course in Vancouver (MCArnott)
A service dog trains as a pup in a play-golf-with-dog setting.
Play golf with dogs: PADS’ Pear first rode along as a pup on Bowen Island Golf Course to get used to wheels (courtesy Jennifer Harris)
Hoping for a good landing during the dry 2022 summer on Bowen Island Golf Course, BC (JRArnott)

Further golf reading: teeing off in Bali

Posted by Marie-Claude Arnott in Travel