The penthouse balcony of the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort and Spa just outside Victoria is perfectly situated to watch the action taking place on the golf course below. And certainly there is a lot going on today, as volunteers and workers set up spectator stands and patch holes along the green. There is a palpable buzz in the air, and really, no wonder: it’s exactly one week before the golf world descends on Bear Mountain’s two Jack and Steve Nicklaus-designed courses with the PGA 2016 Pacific Links Championship.
Most golf courses have two years to plan for this sort of thing. But this event was originally supposed to take place in Tianjin, China, and as such, Bear Mountain has had a mere four months to prepare. There is no panic afoot, though—or if there is, the smiling staff hide it well. The onsite Westin is indeed completely booked for the length of the tournament, and questions about how exactly this sleepy resort town will accommodate thousands of golf fans do arise. It’s not lost on anyone that this tournament will broadcast to millions of people in over 80 countries, and the pressure is on. But if you know the history of Bear Mountain, you know that these folk are a resilient breed.
Straddling the Vancouver Island municipalities of Langford and Highlands, Bear Mountain—a golf resort and residential community—was originally the vision of former NHL player Len Barrie. Built in the early 2000s, the ambitious project hit financial hard times during the 2008 crisis, owing secured creditors a reported $300 million. The 836-acre property was eventually transferred to its biggest creditor, HSBC, until a long-term buyer came knocking. That turned out to be Vancouver Island-based Ecoasis, which also operates luxury developments in Whistler and Hawaii, in October 2013.
Now, months and months of planning and discussions later, the company finally feels ready to share its vision for the future of this once-rocky land. “We wanted to take the time to engage the current community and find out what they’re looking for,” says Ecoasis president and CEO Dan Matthews, speaking to a small group inside the Westin. Bear Mountain has approximately 3,000 residents currently living in its condominiums, townhouses, and single-family homes; Ecoasis’s long-term goal is to grow that number to 10,000. “This is a big project,” Matthews admits, but he is level-headed, excited, and passionate—perhaps partly because he grew up in Victoria and knows its potential, but also because he seems to genuinely love creating thriving communities where people can not only sleep, but also exercise, congregate, and grow roots. It’s building neighbourhoods, literally from the ground up.
Bear Mountain has the geographic size of downtown Vancouver and the projected population build-out of Whistler. “We’re making decisions today for generations to come,” Matthews declares. When Ecoasis took over the site, it kept most of the current Bear Mountain team in tact, and spent ample time meeting with current community members to ensure everyone was on the same page moving forward. Long-term, that means plans for a members’ tennis centre, commercial space for shops or tech offices, and of course new residential developments.
From the Westin’s Sante Spa outdoor mineral pool, relaxers get a great view of the future Elevate condo building—which will feature its own clubhouse with pool and patio space, conference room, gym, dog wash, and strata-owned electric bikes to take around the resort. Those who buy at Bear Mountain will also, indubitably, have the option of purchasing a golf membership, as well as gain free access to the countless trails that are home to Canada’s national mountain biking team. The whole point is to create a hub, both for people who live on property and for other Island inhabitants who fancy a day trip.
Truly only time will tell what transpires at Bear Mountain. But the people who already live here are happy to stay, and are excited for the future. “I have the unfortunate job of looking at that every morning,” jokes Bob Flitton as he drives a golf cart around the edge of the pristine green. He points out his home a few moments later, and it sits elegantly overlooking the rolling hills of the course. Flitton has been here since the beginning, and his pride is perhaps only matched by his dry humour. Over in the Cypress development, KC Custom Designs owner Cindy Scott (another long-time Bear Mountain resident and investor) is prepping supper for one of her daughters. Soon her family will move to another house within Bear Mountain—even those who need a change seem to stay within the resort.
So while there is an especially electric vigour coursing through Bear Mountain today as its inhabitants and employees prepare the setting for the eyes of millions, it’s not hard to imagine that once the PGA golfers have gone back home and the bleachers have been torn down, the pulsing energy will long remain.
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