Preview: Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club

Sagebrush last May: Zokol's vision has breathtaking views.

Sagebrush last May: Zokol's vision has breathtaking views.

Course Preview: Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club

Im in Vancouver today (interviewing Michael Buble, who is part-owner in a golf course and says his short game is sharp), before heading to Merritt tomorrow to see if one mans dream became a success.
It was five years ago that I started to hear about Richard Zokols concept for a Western Canadian version of Redtail, the exclusive Ontario club near St. Thomas. Zokol wanted to build his version in the interior of B.C. with a breaktaking course that had great views and great golf, as well as fly fishing. He envisioned it as a sporting concept with a small membership populated by B.C. and Alberta bigwigs who loved golf and wanted to be part of a small club. He coined it Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club.
He tried hard at selling it, interesting some, including CN chair David McLean, and some financial backers in the wireless tower business, bought in. Over the following two years Zokol, designer Rod Whitman and Armen Suny (an agronomist associate of Zokol) crafted a bold, intriguing course on a hillside overlooking a majestic landscape of hills and lake.
It wasnt an easy site “ hard on the side of a hill “ but Zokol has taken with the concept of creating a minimalist golf course, moving little earth and having the result play firm and fast. Fairways were wide, and greens, which were initially expected to be smallish, were made massive to fit the scale of the site. For the bunkers Zokol and Whitman lifted a page from the Whitmans sometime employer Bill Coore, meaning they look torn from the ground.
I toured the site with Zokol last year before it was complete. The site surely appeared to be a challenge to walk, given the nature of the hillside upon which it is built, but the course had all the makings of an interesting experience. Hillsides were used as kicker slopes, greens were massive and the views were long. Zokol was clearly passionate about the course and spoke of it with all the enthusiasm of a kid at Christmas. The course was finished by the middle of last summer and Zokol and friends played a handful of holes.
By that time the world had changed. The recession killed Zokols idea of selling a few choice lots to cover most of the costs, and the idea of a member willing to pay $200K to join a course, which was the initial conception, disappeared as quickly as Adam Scotts golf game. That left Zokol to reinvent Sagebrush and keep it afloat long enough to find a new model. He also wanted to show people the course and hoped that its success would promote interest.
As I say, I havent been back since last May, but Im flying into Kamloops today and will make the drive to see Sagebrush tomorrow. Zokol is meeting me there. Reports on the course have been extremely positive and it was recently awarded ScoreGolfs Best New Course award over the likes of the new Bear Mountain track.
Im more than a little bit curious about the result. Heres hoping it matches the ambitious visions of its founders “ it would be nice to add another great course to Canada.

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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.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert,

    Let me take the opportunity to introduce myself to my Canadian friends. It has been a pleasure and an honor to spend a good portion of the last 3 years at Sagebrush.

    The question from Philip is an interesting one, about agronomists receiving design credits. Interestingly enough many of the classic golf courses were designed and built by greenkeepers or the agronomists of the day. Notably, Old Tom Morris and William Flynn and in modern times Bill Coore and for that matter Rod Whitman started as Golf Course Superintendents. Both the past and present would suggest that men of the earth, Greenkeepers, Superintendents, and Agronomists were always Designers, perhaps the first Designers.

    I grew up working at White Manor and Aronimink and after Penn State, on to Merion, Rolling Green, Cherry Hills, Castle Pines, and Shadow Creek. My roles grew from Asst. Supt to Supt to PGA Tour Tournament Director to General Manager, Developer, Consultant, and Superintendent Search Consultant and now thanks to Zokol and Whitman, Designer.

    Being lucky and growing up near great golf courses and ultimately working on them since 1972 has allowed me to spend more hours on great golf courses under all kinds of light and weather conditions than anybody I can think of in the design business.

    As a point of interest, the finish technique used on the bunkers at Sagebrush came from Merion Golf Club and had been used there since 1911.

    Having been involved in design work at many of the great courses that I’ve worked at without ever considering credit. It is an honor and a privilege to be a member of the Design Team at Sagebrush.

    My hope is that you will all be able to experience Sagebrush in the future.

    Armen Suny

  • Hope it all works for Zokal. I was there two years ago and watched Jeff Mingay “tearing a few bunkers” out of the side of the mountain. I do recall it looked like they had to move a lot of rock to make it look like none had been moved. Glad its open and from whatI read on its a success.

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