Sometimes the trickiest thing of any golf trip isn’t finding the bottom of the cup, but getting to the course. I arrived in Kelowna on Tuesday morning, excited about the possibility of a return to Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club, Richard Zokol’s fascinating course outside Merrit, a couple of hours from the airport. Though everything looked smooth, dealing with my rental car was anything but. Avis, it seems, was keen on having me drive a monster SUV, the type limited to hip-hop videos. Seeing as I was driving it to Calgary – about eight hours away – I protested. Who needs an eight-seat SUV when you’re on your own? For an instant I considered starting a van service and charge hitchhikers for a spot, but then thought better of the notion. The owner of Avis wasn’t concerned about my protests, and I reluctantly agreed to take the monstrosity while hoping the fine folks at BC Tourism might be able to help sort out another much smaller car. Of course when I got out to the black tour bus, the air conditioning didn’t work and I had to be given another smaller car, which is exactly what I asked for in the first place. In the meantime almost two hours went by before I was on the road.
There’s lots to love about Kelowna, but traffic on the main drag through town isn’t one of them. Three word solution – town bypass road.
Anyway, it was almost 3 p.m. by the time I drove my cart up the hill to Sagebrush and was greeted by Zokol. Zoke was in jean shorts and a Sagebrush shirt. I immediately joked about the shorts, but he said they were aok at Sagebrush. Of course I don’t own any jean shorts (and I think wearing jeans on the course is a crime against humanity), so it won’t make a difference for the next visit…
Though my swing was rusty from the time spent on planes and in cars, it is always thrilling to watch and listen to Zokol talk his way through Sagebrush. Fresh off shooting 66 a week or so earlier, Zokol looks primed for the Champions Tour. The only thing is he has no interest. Sagebrush takes most of his time these days, and his mind is always dreaming up new concepts to consider or pursue. Golf, it seems, at least of the professional nature, is now in the past.
That’s a shame because Zokol’s little draw with his 2-iron (yes he still carries one of those) is delightful to watch and he takes real joy in demonstrating the way to play Sagebrush.
And I found Sagebrush to be fascinating on my third visit and my second time playing it. It is the kind of course you want to spend a few days exploring. I still think it opens in a relatively unappealing way with an uphill par-5, but after that the course soars. The second hole is terrific and plays – like much of Sagebrush – shorter than it appears given the firm and fast conditions of the fairways. Nowhere is this more evident than on the sixth hole – which we played downwind at 270 yards. Oh, and it is a par-3 and I managed to put my shot pin-high with a 3-iron, while Zokol’s 2-iron came to rest in the middle of the green, bounding along 40 or so yards before it came to rest. The 16th is equally intriguing, with a blind tee shot over a hillside, and an approach that plummets down a steep slope, making an almost 600-yard hole reachable with a fairway wood and a long iron.
My only issue with my second tour at Sagebrush is that it didn’t get completed. A pop-up thunderstorm cut into the round and by the time we were back out on the course there was only time to finish a handful of holes. To my disappointment they didn’t include two of my favourites from my first round – the beastly 11th, a long par-4 with a great tee shot, and the 12th, a short, Pine Valley-esque par-3. I guess it will give me a reason to return. Sagebrush is a course that demands exploration, and given the options on each hole, every round is unique.
For those interested, Sagebrush is accessible for those that contact Zokol directly and request a round. It is affordable given the quality and dinner at the Hideout – the halfway house that is more akin to a warm, small clubhouse/dining room – is part of the experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Tomorrow: Day two at Tower Ranch and Black Mountain