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.