Day two started much more smoothly than day one. Apparently if one is out before the early-bird special, traffic isn’t an issue in Kelowna, though the Tim Hortons may have had the busiest drive-thru in the country.
Anyway, we arrived at Tower Ranch for our 8 am tee time to find the parking lot relatively deserted. A quick jaunt into the shop to say hello to Neil Schmidt, the club’s head professional, and we were set. For a club with such a significant new course, the practice facilities are virtually non-existent. And the hitting nets could use an upgrade to bring them in line with the clubhouse. Kind of down-market at the moment, the kind of thing you’d expect at a course of much lower quality. But I digress.
Tower Ranch is a version of Tobiano without the majesty. Sure the first two holes are relatively easy, but with the backdrop of an electrical facility as opposed to the lake that is the canvas of Tobiano, Tower Ranch pales. That, however, doesn’t really impact the golf course, which uses many of the same concepts as Tobiano, right down to the bunkering. One might consider it Tobiano-lite.
The main difference, perhaps, is that Tower Ranch feels more target-like, especially after the initial holes and certainly on much of the back nine. The club is certainly aware that its fescue could be a problem and has cut it down in many places. At its best – on the short par-4 third hole – Tower Ranch reaches for some of the highs of Tobiano. At its weakest, like the sixth, a long par-4 that mirrors the fifth at Tobiano, right down to its downhill approach to the green, Tower Ranch feels like a bit of an imitation. It doesn’t help that the two courses were built virtually at the same time, with Tower Ranch opening a year earlier.
I hadn’t played Tower Ranch’s back nine on my first tour two years ago. The back side of the course features its best – like the beautiful uphill 11th, with its sparse, smart bunkering – and the worst – the 15th, a par-5 with a nice tee shot, but essentially a mess from that point onwards. It ends with a nice kick – the downhill 16th was a glorious tee shot, and the 17th and 18th feel nicely surrounded my massive hills. The 18th may play shorter than it appears on the card, but is a good closer nonetheless.
Tower Ranch hasn’t been the hit Tobiano was, but it does have some interesting holes, and I’d say it is worth seeking out, if for the back nine alone.
From there we headed to Black Mountain, a Wayne Carleton design that opened last year. At 6,400 yards, it sounded sort of promising. I often think too many courses are built at unreasonable lengths – and hardly anyone plays a course at 7,400 yards. Unfortunately the reality of Black Mountain didn’t match the concept I had in my head. It is a pure target golf course, so leave any notion of driver in your bag. Instead you open with an awkward hole with a tee shot down a hill and a decidedly uphill approach. The second hole is even worse – a par-5 benched into a hillside that narrows considerably in the landing area. It gets slightly better on the third, a natural mid-length par-4 to a relatively sparse green, but the fourth, a downhill par-3 demonstrated many of the issues facing the course. Some land shouldn’t hold a golf course – such is the case with places like Furry Creek and Black Mountain. In order to deal with the extremes of the land, greens are perched so as to propel even a slightly mishit shot into oblivion. That happens on the fourth, and again on the 7th. Don’t even get me started about the 8th, a downhill par-5 to a slight landing area with water on one side and the rocky face of a hill on the other.
Sure the back nine is more natural – at least after you get by the 10thhole, with its awful rocks between the road and the fairway. My friend Brad Pelletier, former head of IMG Sports in Canada, oversees the course and assures me it has found an important market for daily fee golfers. That’s great – I just think the mid-market could benefit from a design that isn’t quite so penal. Black Mountain often swallows even passably hit golf balls. And who enjoys that? Beyond that, much of the design looks forced. Holes cut into the side of the hill. Ponds everywhere designed to compensate for the lack of length. Not my cup of tea, but judging by the number of golfers playing the day I was out, I might be on the minority on this one.
Tomorrow: The Ridge Course at Predator Ridge mixes excellent shot values with spectacular views.