Part of a week-long account of my recent trip to the interrior of British Columbia and Alberta.
Course: Golden Golf Club (Bill Newis, Les Furber); Radium Springs (Les Furber); Eagle Ranch (Bill Robinson)
My drive to Radium Springs from Vernon took almost five hours, though I doubt there are many more spectacular road trips anywhere. The mountains loom throughout, and after several hours I emerged in Golden. Golden Golf Club, split between work done by Bill Newis and Les Furber, had been on SCOREGolf’s Top 100 in the past, so I decided it was worth investigating and made a quick side trip off the highway. I guess I hadn’t realized there had been a change in time zones, so I showed up relatively late at the club and without any advance notice. Thankfully the young pro in the shop figured it was quiet enough to allow me to take a tour, so I went out with my clubs and camera. I didn’t intend to play — though I did hit a few shots. The best holes on the course come almost entirely on the front nine, done by Newis, who created numerous courses in Alberta and B.C. Though the opener is pedestrian, with low-lying bunkers, the second hole was much more interesting, with a large drop from the tee down to a flat area of fairway. A walkable course in an area where most have to offer carts to be playable, one immediately notices the difference between the front and back nine. The fairways on the front are rugged, lumpy and bumpy, while the back nine, as done by Furber, are graded unnaturally flat (though I think the closer is part of Newis’ original course). My tour was quick — about an hour and a half — and Golden was interesting, if slightly underwhelming. Worth playing if you are nearby, but I wouldn’t go out of my way.
The following day I awoke (still not having realized there was a time difference of an hour in this part of B.C.) and drove down to Radium Springs from the Radium Resort (the course, the second owned by the resort, is located about 10 minutes from the hotel). Another Les Furber design, Radium is also walkable, so I took advantage of the opportunity. The course certainly does not grab you — both the opener and the second hole are hard doglegs, moving to the left. The front nine is a mix of styles, as if Furber wasn’t sure what he was trying to accomplish.
There are Trent Jones-type bunkers, Dye-style railway ties, and waste bunkering. It is an odd mix, and makes the course less than cohesive. Furber uses manufactured ponds on several holes, including the 10th, where a large water hazard guards the green. The remainder of the back nine is largely uninspired, at least until you reach the lay of the land 13th, where the fairway pitches hard to the right. The 14th, an interesting par-3 over a chasm, has a pleasing green that pitches hard to the front right, making club selection important. The 15th is too bizarre for words — a 180 degree dogleg at 428-yards where players can cut the corner by hitting over what appears to be an expanse of forest.
Thankfully Radium ends strongly. The 16th, a mid-length par-4, plays to a green perched on the cliffs overlooking the dramatic wetlands, and the 17th is a great heroic par-3 off the cliffs to a green perched precariously on the other side. The 18th tee offers more dramatic vistas and some smart inner-angle bunkering. The finishing kick at Radium is terrific, but it is hard to see how three holes make this a Top 100 course in Canada. That’s not to say it is bad — there are few awful holes despite the mix in styles. It is just an enjoyable course with a startling finish.
Eagle Ranch, by designer Bill Robinson (the brother of Whistle Bear designer John Robinson and a former associate of Geoff Cornish), is regarded as one of the best-conditioned courses in the region. Easy to see why, judging by the nice driving range. The course, which tips out at 6,646 yards, starts plainly an average par-4 followed by a mid-length one-shot hole over a pond. In fact, Steven Haggard, the head pro who joined me for the round, described the course as having two distinct nines — the front is more parkland style with few changes in elevation, while the back nine is more dramatic. The best holes on the front nine — namely the downhill 7th, which plays into a valley and then up to a green located on a hillside, and the mid-length 9th, with a tee shot over a large valley — feature significant elevation changes. All in all, the front nine doesn’t grab you, but it is solid golf. The back nine starts out oddly, with a massive, slightly uphill par-4. Haggard told me the hole had been redesigned several times, and was once a par-3. The hole now features a dramatic tee shot and an uphill approach. Strangely the hole also features a split fairway, though one can’t reach the green from the right side.
Using rugged terrain through the opening holes of the back nine, there are several standouts including the 13th, a mid-length par-4 that plays up to a plateau and then into the flat area of the property, and the 16th, a drop shot par-3 that plays to a slight, narrow green, and will likely be the most memorable to most. There are some plain holes along the way, like the 14th and 15th, which are on the flattest areas of the course.
I’m of two minds on the closing hole, a par-5 that plays decidedly downhill to a green set across a canyon. It is a spectacular hole visually, though Haggard mentioned many mistakenly feel they have to lay up short of the canyon if they mishit their tee shot. In fact the angled approach on the second shot is clever, leading players to take on more of the hazard than they actually need to. I found it to be one of the most dramatic and interesting holes I saw on my trip, a surprise for me as Robinson rarely demonstrated this level of ability throughout the rest of the design. Nonetheless, Eagle Ranch is a solid effort, a good design with several standout holes.
Next: Greywolf and Banff Springs