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Four Days of Golf In B.C.’s Okanagan Region

This was scheded to appear in T&L Golf before it folded and ended up in another magazine instead that most probably didn’t see. Anyway, for those interested in the interior of BC, here’s an overview:

In the middle of the 19th century, the Okanagan region of British Columbia was the site of an influx of prospectors of such number that the area became known as the gold colony. That gold rush is now part of history books, but in the past few years this mountainous region of the interior of this Canadian province has seen another sort of explosion “ a golf rush.

With its temperate, dry climate that allows golf to be played from March through October, and the prevalence of vineyards throughout the region attracting wine and golf lovers alike, the Thompson/Okanagan region has seen more than 10 courses open in the past few years, with several more preparing to open in the next few years.

The areas lure is easy to understand. Essentially a valley with remarkably varied land (rugged mountains to wooded regions) that stretches more than 200 miles from Kamloops in the north to Osoyoos on the Washington border, the Okanagan region is a four-season playground, with skiing in the winter months giving way to boating on the warm water lakes and golf on tumbling fairways as the weather heats up.

In many ways this dramatic region of Canada is like a nascent version of Napa Valley, punctuated by upstart boutique wineries run by those fleeing their jobs and anxious to retreat to the idyllic valley surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Not that it is all a rural retreat. Several of the best new courses have sprung up as the centerpieces of ambitious residential undertakings on the outskirts of the areas largest cities. And though areas like Kamloops are growing quickly, the courses in the region often take visitors on breathtaking drives out of urban areas and through rolling wilderness before golf appears. Not everyone is aware of the explosion of golf in the region, but given the accolades several courses have recently received, that is sure to soon change.

 

Drama and challenge at Tobiano outside Kamloops

Drama and challenge at Tobiano outside Kamloops

Day One: Kamloops/Kamloops Airport has regular flights from major Canadian hubs like Vancouver and Calgary, making it easy to fly into the center of the Okanagan valley. The airport is small, so youll have no trouble finding your clubs and rental car and driving an hour to the west on the highway before heading off on a road that plunges through Ponderosa pines.

Thats where youll find Tobiano Golf Club perched on the edge of the majestic Lake Kamloops. Created by designer Thomas McBroom as part of a massive resort and residential development, Tobiano, with its unusual mix of desert and mountain golf, is among the most visually stunning courses in all of Canada. Though it only fully opened to the public in late summer of 2007, Tobiano has been a magnet for attention since opening. The course utilizes a series of hills and valleys to great effect, and its expansive nature and the resulting long views are matched by the scale of the architecture. Forced carries abound, as does the occasional blind shot.

Just dont get too involved in shooting photos of holes like the 15th, with its long views of the lake resting behind the green. Thats because Tobianos beauty belies its bite, which makes the course challenging and difficult in places.

If youre searching for an upscale dinner after your round, head to Brownstone Restaurant in downtown Kamloops for an eclectic mix of dishes with a local flair. If something a bit more earthy catches your interest, try Rics Grill, a steakhouse that utilizes top-grade Canadian beef. 

When youre finished, continue outside of town a little further east to the South Thompson Inn & Guest Ranch. The ranch part is clear from the drive up the laneway to this charming small hotel (only 57 rooms) with its Kentucky look. A separate guest house can be rented for larger golfing parties, and Rivershore Golf Links, designed by Robert Trent Jones, is a nine iron shot away from the inn.

 

Talking Rock's Sixth Hole.

Talking Rock's Sixth Hole.

Day Two: Driving in the scenic interior of British Columbia is a pastime on its own in a region where many come to hike and commune with their surroundings. Heading east along a winding highway that is mirrored to the north by meandering rivers and lakes, youll head 75 minutes to the Quaaout Lodge perched on the shores of Little Shuswap Lake.

Controlled by the Little Shuswap Indian Band, significant effort has been undertaken by the First Nations band to incorporate its heritage into all elements of the resort, including the spellbinding entrance to the resort created in to look like a traditional kekuli (winter house). That theme continues with Talking Rock, the resorts golf course which opened two years ago.

Created by Wayne Carleton, Talking Rock has the classic feel of a Donald Ross course, with broad, sweeping fairways that wind through a pine forest. The back nine climbs up the side of a small mountain, before wandering down towards the resort starting at the 15th, a picture-postcard par-3 with the lake as a dramatic backdrop.

The final hole of the course runs parallel to the shoreline of Little Shuswap Lake, ending with a fantastic green set beneath the resort. From there it is a short walk back to your room for a quick change of clothes before it is off to the lodges dining room. Once again, native elements have been highlighted in Jack Sams Restaurant, with its focus on local produce and meats. Try the native dishes specific to the resort, like the Cedar Board Salmon Steak, buffalo ragout or the traditional chicken or salmon in clay. Consider finishing the day with a visit to a native sweat lodge, one of several native-themed events that run regularly at the resort.

 

The new nine at Predator Ridge is designed by Doug Carrick and opens in 2010.

The new nine at Predator Ridge is designed by Doug Carrick and opens in 2010.

Day Three:

Drive about 90 minutes to Vernon, stopping at Davisons Orchards. Though the Okanagan region is becoming renowned for its wines, the other lure of the temperate climate is its terrific orchards. Davisons Orchards in one of the regions most historic, and its apple pies are worth the pilgrimage. Tide yourself over with a treat before heading 15 minutes outside of Vernon to Predator Ridge Golf Resort. Check in at one of the resorts ultra-comfortable cottages or ask for a room in the lodge, a recent addition to the resort.

It was Predator Ridge, set on a rolling expanse of property which raised the profile of the interior of B.C. when it came to golf, with 27 holes, including a course designed by Les Furber on a stunning group of low-rise hills. Its tight fairways and plunging greens are surely to give you a workout, and theres more golf forthcoming. Toronto designer Doug Carrick is adding nine holes and renovating the other nine into a cohesive layout that will offer tee shots that plunge from tees set on the top of rocky crests. A third course, designed by former Masters champion Mike Weir, is said to also be on the books.

Have a late lunch in Predators stately clubhouse that overlooks the golf course. Its 5-star menu and wine selection have been augmented by a $1-million upgrade to the clubhouse over the last year.

Drop your clubs back at your cottage and head out for one of the key lures of the Okanagan region “ wine. Many consider the region akin to Napa or Sonoma three decades ago. Take a short, picturesque drive along Kalamalka Lake  towards Kelowna where youll find the Gray Monk Estate Winery. Visiting might be the only way youll get to try Gray Monk wines; the winery doesnt export outside of B.C. and has a hard time keeping its product on shelves in the province.

Finish your day with dinner at Gray Monks Grapevine restaurant with its mix of European fare highlighting local ingredients.

Thomas McBroom's Tower Ranch outside Kelowna

Thomas McBroom's Tower Ranch outside Kelowna

Day Four:

As the morning sun rises over the mountains, take a quick hour drive to the other side of Kelowna and stop by Quails Gate Estate Winery. With a wine tour that has won accolades and is considered one of the most interesting and educational in the region, the showcase at Quails Gate kicks off every morning at 11 a.m. through the summer season. That gives golfers enough time to take the tour and stop by the winerys Old Vines restaurant, which overlooks Lake Okanagan, for lunch.

Then take a short drive across town to the stunning Tower Ranch Golf Course, another new course in the region by McBroom (he was two more in the region in construction, including a collaboration with Annika Sorenstam.

Tower Ranch is also a fitting end to a tour of Okanagan golf, as it brings together many of the regions key elements. Its front nine plunges down a steep hillside, running adjacent to an orchard. When it rises on the back nine, particularly the green of the outstanding par-5 17th, the course offers outstanding long views of not only the city of Kelowna, but the surrounding mountains and lakes.

Finish your day and tour of the Okanagan by checking into the Hotel Eldorado, a classy boutique hotel right on the shores of Lake Okanagan, that has been around for more than 80 years. Relax, head down the patio overlooking the lake and breathe in the experience because with numerous new courses in the offing, and the areas vineyards gaining more attention, theres more than enough to draw you back again.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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