Sandpiper And Rowena's: A Match Made In Golf Heaven

by Gayle Moss (

At this point in my life, I need very little.

For special occasions when one might anticipate receiving a gift, nothing makes me happier than unwrapping a present and finding a new experience awaiting me - a memory I can cherish until I'm under the fairway instead of walking on top.

So a few years ago when my 'golfguy' and I received a Stay and Play package at Sandpiper Golf Club & Rowena's Inn on the River from our friends as a wedding present, I was thrilled.

We ended up sharing the weekend with those same friends and it couldnít have been more fun. The golfing was fabulous and the accommodations, luxurious.

This year when summer finally arrived in Vancouver in August, we were itching to play hooky from work and pamper ourselves someplace not too far from home. Sandpiper and Rowena's immediately came to mind.

Less than 2 hours from Vancouver in the Fraser Valley, Sandpiper is a wonderful resort-style 18-hole golf course on the Harrison River that is considered one of B.C.'s best resort courses and voted the #1 golf course in the Fraser Valley.

The easily walkable par 72 course is 6,500 yards from the tips. Designed by Canadian Russ Olsen, Sandpiper offers vista views of the river and mountains throughout its 18 pristine holes.

Regardless of skill level, every golfer who tees it up on this work of art will be awed by its rugged beauty, while experiencing 4 hours of risk/reward shots that will make them want to return the next day to play it all over again.

Every time I play a new course, I always evaluate its fun factor for women based on criteria set by Golf for Women (GFW) magazine years ago; Sandpiper passed all 6 tests with flying colours.

But it was even better than that. Too often I have seen 'the letter of the GFW law' passed by clubs, but done in a patronizing way, with forward tees placed without consideration of risks and rewards, making the game frustratingly boring for golfgals.

But not at Sandpiper.

I played from the red tees (5,175 yards) and although this is about 500 yards shorter than my home course, I found it both challenging and entertaining.

The first hole really sets the stage for what you can expect over the next 17.

For longer hitters, being able to work the ball right to left is critical on this hole. Trouble looms for slicers, so if you're thinking of hitting the big stick on this par 5, and you tend to fade the ball, you might want to rethink that decision.

Speaking of thinking, you do need to pay close attention to the tips the course provides in its free yardage book.

Every hole is different and new players can get into trouble if they rely solely on their eyes during a round. Club selection must be considered carefully.

Take the 399-yard, par 4, 11th - it looks like a beautiful, straight down the middle, no-problem hole. But looks can be deceiving.

On this 4th hardest hole on the course, you'll need everything you've got from the tee. Your second shot is downhill with a tricky lie, and it's easy to over-club your second shot. Do that and you're looking at double bogey.

One of my favorite holes was the ìrelatively easy par 4, 14th. It's got water, sand and big trees, not just along the fairway, but smack dab in the middle of it.

From the tee, you need to keep it right, but not too right or you'll get wet; and then on your approach, you need to stay left, but not too left or you'll be enjoying the shade of a tree that I feel needs a visit from a lumberjack.

As you can probably tell, I have a love/hate relationship with this hole ;-) loved the look of it, but hated my score on it both days I played. Needless to say, I'll be seeking revenge on this one soon!

The 15th hole is documented as Sandpiper's Signature Hole.

It's a fun par 5, with a creek running through it, requiring thought put into each shot.

It also runs along the river and provides amazing views of the water and Rowena's Inn.

16, 17 and 18 offer players spectacular views of the river.

And if you're lucky you just might see a plane land on the airstrip that runs along 17.

Sandpiper is a golfer's paradise. No houses mar the landscape and no sounds disturb your pre-shot routine, other than those made my Mother Nature herself and the 140 varieties of birds and 2,000+ eagles that inhabit the forest.

Oh, and the BBQ'd hotdogs at the 11th hole are big, hot off the grill and delicious.

But there is so much more to this resort than great golf. Rowena's Inn on the River provides first rate accommodation for romantic getaways, golf vacations, weddings and corporate retreats.

When we checked in we discovered a very welcome cheese and fruit tray with a bottle of white wine in our elegantly designed room.

The house is full of wonderful historical gems like the bed, which was handmade for Dame Melba, one of the world's greatest opera singers.

The room opened up onto a large balcony that overlooked the massive swimming pool, 15th hole and Harrison River. It was the perfect setting to enjoy our wine and cheese after our round.

Every morning we woke to scrumptious breakfasts served in the bright and cheery solarium.

There were so many choices of delectable delights that you think you wouldn't eat again until the next morning.

But that would be a mistake because the restaurant for lunch and supper serves up delicious dinners you won't want to miss.

I highly recommend the lobster, the halibut or the local lamb grilled to perfection.

You'll find the prices extremely reasonable and the $50 gift card you receive with your Play and Stay package pretty much pays for your food; all you need to add is some wine (which is priced for the locals - i.e. very affordable).

I had the pleasure of chatting with the owner of the resort, Betty-Anne Faulkner (nee Pretty). Betty-Anne is the only remaining child of four born to Charles Nelson Pretty and Rowena Elizabeth Pretty (nee Peters), who bought the 160 acre property after they were married in 1917.

Pioneers at heart, Charles and Rowena traveled by train from Vancouver to Harrison Mills and paddled a canoe to their home on the river, staying for a few days to renovate and add extensions.

B.C. Hydro was not available in those days, so Charles had a dam constructed to produce electricity for their home and adjacent buildings. It is still in existence today and used for the inn.

Charles Nelson passed away in 1992 at 102 years of age. Betty-Anne and her brother Ivan turned the home into an Inn and built Ivan's dream, the Sandpiper Golf Course.

When Ivan died a decade or so ago, Betty-Anne purchased his half of the property and is now the 100% owner living on the property with her husband, Doug Faulkner, an architect who has been instrumental in a number of upgrades and extensions to the property.

While Betty-Anne does all the interior design in Rowena's, at the Pro Shop and even in the River's Edge restaurant.

Everywhere you look, you are amazed by the immaculate condition of the property, from the gardens and extensive interlock walkways to the antiques that filled the huge home with treasures from the past.

The priceless Hepplewhite dining set originated in Scotland and was made for General McRae. And the two large candelabras came from a castle in England.

This Steinway Grand piano in the drawing room was once played by Jimmy Durante when he was visiting.

But not all of the artifacts in the house came from overseas; the copper railing at the entrance to the drawing room is from the original Hotel Vancouver.

The Chandelier In The Drawing Room Was Shipped From England In The 1920’s With Every Tiny Crystal Wrapped Separately

After touring the house, I caught up with Betty-Anne at the pool where she shared some great stories about the property and its guests.

I had heard that beyond the golf, fishing was a big draw. "Oh, yes. That's a wonderful thing," said Betty-Anne.

"I don't know how true it is, but I was told by someone that we have the largest run of sockeye in B.C. up the Harrison River."

And then she smiled as if reliving a memory, "But the big thing is catching a sturgeon. Although they vary in size, there have been some caught in the 700 lb. range.

Of course, it's catch and release for the sturgeon. I might try it myself one day. But I think I'll need a few men to help me," she said, laughing.

I asked her how often the airstrip is used. As it turns out, it's quite popular and many pilots will fly in for lunch or dinner on a pretty regular basis.

In fact, a few years ago, the Fraser Blues flying team came zooming in one behind the other over the airstrip in their Navions, causing a lot of excitement at the Inn.

Once they saw it was safe to land, they dropped down and stayed for lunch. Since then, they have become friends with Betty-Anne and pop down now and again for lunch or dinner.

Just a few weeks before our arrival, they were practicing for a show at Gibson's and decided to give Rowena's guests a real treat, putting on an air show complete with smoke screens and wing-to-wing tip formation flying. I wish I'd been there to see that.

I asked Betty-Anne if she'd ever been taken up in one of their WW II vintage planes. "One of them, yes," she said. "Gordon Ball, a retired AC captain took me up in his plane."

When she told me his name and that he had retired in the area, I suddenly realized he was the same golfer who joined us on the golf course the day before as a single. Small world!

At that point, we were joined by Betty Anne's nephew, Christopher Lepine. Chris is the general manager of the resort and has been active with the business since before the Inn opened in June of 1995. Betty-Anne told me that Chris is a big reason for the resort's success.

He goes above and beyond the call of duty to ensure every guest or golfer leaves with a 'come back tomorrow' experience.

Given my experience both times I've been at Sandpiper and Rowena's, I would say that Chris is doing a first rate job. I'm already planning our next visit.

Our friends who gave us our first weekend at Sandpiper are getting married soon. So, we're going to give them a Stay and Play package as a wedding gift.

I can't imagine a better way to start a marriage than a few blissful days playing golf at Sandpiper and being pampered at Rowena's Inn on the River.

They are truly a match made in golf heaven.