Golfers Are Always Rewarded in the Thompson Okanagan
By Andrew Penner
It's just 250 yards to the front edge and the wind is helping. True, I've been spraying it all over the planet, but I've got the firepower. My foursome is egging me on. My adrenaline is flowing. A lay-up with a "chicken stick" is not an option. I take the headcover off my driver and there are smiles (and smirks) all around. Will my risk be rewarded? Who cares? We're in the Thompson Okanagan. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. The orchards are in full bloom. And, truth be told, we were rewarded the moment we teed off.
Well designed golf courses invite you to go for broke. To take chances. To take out the big stick when common sense says otherwise. After all, you only live once. May as well live life to the fullest. At least, that's what I usually tell myself just before making a triple.
For golfers playing in the Thompson Okanagan, the pain of poorly-timed triples (is there ever a good time?) is tempered by experiencing some of the finest golf courses in the country. Unquestionably, this region of world-class golf is satisfying on every front...regardless of how may "others" you pencil on the card.
With over 30 championship-calibre golf courses to choose from in the Thompson Okanagan, there is no shortage of places to play. From high-in-the-hills stunners to lakeside charmers, there is plenty of variety as well. Whether it's Kamloops or Kelowna, Oliver or Osoyoos, the sun-soaked brand of golf here - together with the vineyards, the orchards, and the lakes - makes for one of Canada's most popular and recognizable golf destinations. And, if you love to play with a little go-for-broke swagger, rest assured, there are ample opportunities.
At Predator Ridge, for example, which features two super-scenic courses that tumble and roll in the arid hills near Vernon, golfers can throw caution to the wind and try to be a hero on numerous occasions. The Doug Carrick-designed Ridge Course, which SCOREGolf Magazine awarded the Best New Canadian Course in 2010, features three reachable par-5s and a drivable par-4.
Like most reachable par-4s, the 16th on the Ridge Course epitomizes what a risk/reward hole is all about. The downhill 298-yard par-4 (the direct line to the green is approximately 250 yards) is fraught with danger. A large, ball-hungry pond protects the front of the narrow green so any attempt to go for it must be hammered high in the air and struck perfectly. Of course, a bail out right and short is always there for the taking. So, yes, hitting a "chicken stick" - say a 5-iron - might be the prudent thing to do to take the water out of play. But, come on, where is the fun in that!
With numerous accolades and awards over the years, Predator Ridge is certainly a must-play in the Thompson Okanagan. The luxurious course-side accommodation, the world-class practice facility, the fitness center, and the restaurants and patios overlooking the action all add to the allure.
Another awesome benchland course in the Vernon area is The Rise. Designed by Gene Bates and Fred Couples and opened in 2008, The Rise careens through a variety of natural settings, including dense pine forests, wetlands, and vast, sage-covered bluffs that serve up stunning Okanagan views. In fact, if panoramic vistas are your thing, The Rise is the Okanagan's trump card.
And, for edge-of-your-seat drama when it comes to "risky" shot making, The Rise also accommodates. The 13th is a great go-for-the-green par-4 that also features an incredible lake and mountain backdrop. At just 280 yards and with the hidden green sitting well below the fairway, even medium-length hitters have a shot at it. The same can also be said for the 9th, a 480-yard par-5 that swoops down the hill. The perfect plan here involves a solid drive, a laser-straight hybrid down the hill, and a tap-in for eagle. Regardless of whether your heroic plan comes to fruition or not, a photo capturing the spine-tingling backdrop is absolutely required!
For its sheer visual and photogenic appeal, Tobiano, a challenging Thomas McBroom design located high above Kamloops Lake, should also be high on your list of places to play. This is one of those rare courses where choosing a signature hole would be an extremely difficult proposition. However, if we're talking risk/reward holes, it doesn't get much better than the par-5 8th. This unique par-5 - it cruises along the edge of the bluff in eye-popping fashion - will entice you on the tee shot (clearing the ravine is a must!) and again on the approach (right is dead!).
The hole previous, the diabolical 7th, is an all-or-nothing par-3 with a green hanging on a precarious perch with drop-offs all around. Ever get nervous over the ball? Guaranteed, your knees will be knocking here! Unquestionably, there are many such "nervy" shots at Tobiano that will test your bravado. But, at the end of the day, and regardless of how satisfied you are with your score, this is one of the most impressive courses in Canada and an opportunity to play it should not be passed up. SCOREGolf Magazine, Canada's highest read golf publication, ranks it the number one public golf course in British Columbia.
Other excellent courses in the Kamloops region include Sun Rivers, The Dunes, Sun Peaks, Rivershore, and the Kamloops Golf & Country Club. A different course every day for a week in the Kamloops area is not a bad call!
Another Thomas McBroom design that has turned plenty of heads since it opened in 2007 is Tower Ranch in Kelowna. The course features significant elevation changes, gorgeous views, and an exciting collection of golf holes, including one of the best finishing runs in the province. The first two holes plunge down the hillside and the second, a medium-length par-5, is a great early-round "gambler."" If you can blast your tee shot down the left center it will run forever, affording you an opportunity to hit the green in two. But be warned: a poorly struck approach will likely find a watery grave. Tower Ranch, thanks in part to its sweet finish on an exposed hillside, was recently voted the number one course in Kelowna by members of the British Columbia PGA.
While Kelowna's golf scene is certainly hot - other great tracks in this area include Sunset Ranch, The Okanagan Golf Club, Gallagher's Canyon, Kelowna Springs, and The Harvest Club - there are other mini destinations within the Thompson Okanagan that also pack some heat! Take the south Okanagan, for example. Home to Canada's only true desert, the Osoyoos area is a little slice of heaven for golfers.
The Osoyoos Golf Club - a 36-hole semi-private facility - is a great place to start. Thanks to its warm climate, this area boasts one of the longest playing seasons in Canada. They often start their season in February and go well into November. Not bad for "The Great White North!" Other courses worth playing in this area include Nk'Mip Canyon and Fairview Mountain. Both are staged in beautiful natural settings and surrounded by some of the prettiest vineyards in British Columbia. (Golf and wine pair well together.)
Another region within the Thompson Okanagan that's always a go-to spot for birdies, beaching, and boating is the Shuswap. Although known for being "The Houseboat Capital of Canada," the Shuswap is certainly a tidy little place to do some swinging. Talking Rock, located near Chase, is a gorgeous lakeside crusade that features isolated, tree-lined holes and plenty of photo-ops throughout. There's always a "risk" when you play the par-3 15th. It's one of the most picturesque holes in British Columbia. However, if you miss the green, your "reward" will be an extremely difficult up and down. Thankfully, the finishing run here, which includes a reachable par-5 and a drivable par-4, offers daredevils another chance at redemption.
As for rolling the dice on other courses, the Salmon Arm Golf Club, easily one of the best parkland layouts in Canada, finishes with a beautiful par-5 that epitomizes what the adventurous brand of golf in the Thompson Okanagan is all about. The picturesque hole - it sneaks down the hill and features a kidney-shaped green protected by sand and water - dares you to put it all on the line by going pin-hunting. What will you do? What's the sensible thing? Hopefully this little morsel will help you make up your mind: everyone who tees it up in the Thompson Okanagan has already been rewarded. So swing away, my friend. Swing away.