As an inveterate golf explorer, I live to discover great courses and exciting new golf destinations. While I still find many interesting golf courses, very seldom am I been surprised by finding a really “overlooked” worthwhile “golf destination.” Surprise! You must come to the Kelowna in British Columbia.
Kelowna (meaning “Grizzly Bear”) is a beautiful modern lakeside city of 115,000 people that swells to 180,000 during the height of the vacation season. Golf is but one of many surprises to delight you in the Kelowna area. The region is largest settled area along the 68-mile Okanagan Lake. Just a 50-minute flight or 240-mile drive from Vancouver, the immediate area features 25 wineries (see www.kelownawinetrails.com) together with a collection of galleries, museums, theaters, craft and farmer’s markets, and restaurants making it a delight for families or couples, or for a dedicated golf getaway.
I recently had the good fortune to play twelve of the area’s golf courses (there are 17 in all) and can state with complete confidence that even the most discriminating golfers along with casual players, together with those on a budget will find more than a few layouts to fit their bill in Kelowna. By my count, I played at least six “outstanding” courses and the remaining six were quite good – fun for anyone. The views are varied and wonderful, the conditioning very good, and the prices are quite reasonable. Most importantly the people are extremely hospitable. It’s no wonder that once Americans and fellow Canadians visit the area, they fall in love with it and return often, sometimes to live!
Yes, there is a golf course offering for every type of golfer and budget. Here is a quick rundown. Predator Ridge is the furthest away from downtown Kelowna, but only an easy 45-minute drive north at that. It’s original course, The Predator, is well-known in Canada having held two Canadian Skins Games and has been rated among the best in the Country. Then in 2010, The Ridge opened to rave reviews – “The Best New Course in Canada” and comparable to the best anywhere in the United States. The Predator is a faux links course that plays firm with tricky undulating greens, and has lots of mounding reminiscent of the feel you might experience on an Irish links. In contrast, the newer Ridge Course, features some eye-popping rock croppings and elevations changes that are not only so very picturesque, but are exciting to play. The Ridge is slightly more forgiving with much less movement in the putting surfaces, but a very creditable test nonetheless. Together they are at the top of the golfing food chain in Kelowna with excellent conditioning and service to match.
If there was a real golf course surprise for me on my trip, it was The Club at Tower Ranch designed by Thomas McBroom. Whether for its absolutely impeccable conditioning, head-twisting views, or stunning challenge, there is a good chance that you will agree with me that Tower Ranch may be one of the more memorable courses you will ever encounter. The playing surfaces rate among the best I have ever encountered – anywhere! The fairways play firm, fast, and tight while the only excuse for not holing a putt would rest with the golfer. The course is anything but easy as the dramatic bunkering and native grasses can be deadly to errant shots. When you add many false fronts to the testy fast greens, it makes for a fairly stout test. Now for the best news, the views from this hillside layout of the Kelowna Valley and the lake beyond are spectacular!
Gallagher’s Canyon continues our Kelowna feast. The facility known throughout Canada has a spectacular 18-hole layout that winds over a variety of terrains among the towering ponderosa pines and affords several spectacular views of the so-named Gallagher’s Canyon several hundred feet below the course. Stray from the course anywhere and you will be challenged to recover. And speaking of feasts, I enjoyed an absolutely superlative gourmet meal at the Gallagher’s Canyon clubhouse!
For another outstanding treat, the Okanagan Golf Club features both two heavily forested layouts, The Quail by Les Furber and The Bear by Jack Nicklaus. I am still having trouble trying to figure out my favorite between the two as both are spectacular and similar in look and terrain. While you should want to play both of these gems, if you can only play one, a toss of the coin would suffice. Both layouts qualify as shotmaker’s courses as they demand accuracy off the tee and strong approaches to the well-guarded greens.
If there is a fun member’s club that is busy to boot, it is the Kelowna Golf & Country Club. Of all the area’s golf courses, this had the most “club” feel to it as it does have many members belonging. Outside play is thankfully available which makes for a hefty 55,000 rounds in an 8-9 month season, and it takes no time to realize why it is so popular. Located close to downtown, it has two defining spectacular features; an adjoining steep rock mountain that uniquely borders the par-five sixth hole, and the gorgeous lake that impacts three holes for Kelowna’s version of “Amen’s Corner” and is a nice backdrop for the clubhouse. Like many of the other Kelowna layouts, it is defined by its towering pines, and the conditioning is excellent despite its relatively heavy play. This is not a particularly long course on the card, but the good players will not find it easy either; it’s a most entertaining test.
If you get want a change of scenery from the majestic trees that adorn many of the layouts and want to golf your ball in the wide-open expanses, the Harvest Golf Club is recommended. The Graham Cooke-designed layout plays among the open meadows that are adorned with apple trees topped off to keep them from producing. Though mostly flat, the fun layout sits above the town and affords wonderful views of the lake as well.
Sunset Ranch & Country Club is the “player’s club” in Kelowna. The tall pines that guard most of the fairways make for some of the tightest hitting areas I encountered. When you consider the smallish diabolical greens, you have to be a complete golfer to score well here. Sunset Ranch definitely qualifies as a “local knowledge” course with lots of up and down holes, and you will likely leave a few shots out there during your first visit or two making for a great reason to return!
Black Mountain Golf Club is another very scenic course and is just less than 6,400 yards from the tips, but may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Its set of six par-3s is as challenging as you will find with five of them measuring more than 210 yards! Golfers will also enjoy the natural rock outcroppings and the par-four 5th island green.
Below is the island green to the 372-yard par-four 5th hole set in the beautiful surroundings of the Black Mountain Golf Club. (Courtesy of Tourism Kelowna and the Black Mountain Golf Club.)
Just across the lake a scant 10 minutes away in West Kelowna is the engaging Shannon Lakes Golf Club. The rather non-descript bunkering belies the fact that this is a very engaging layout that just manages to grow on you. It is extremely playable for the average golfer, but offers lots of subtle challenges for the better player. The course just gets better and better as it progresses and golfers will be very impressed with the challenging speedy greens. The stretch from ten through twelve enveloped in the trees in the hillside and the lakeside par-four seventeenth are some of the best holes in the region.
Below: Looking back on the 405-yard 17th hole at the Shannon Lakes Golf Club – a “great hole” in a region of many splendid ones! (Robert Fagan)
Finishing up my tour of Kelowna golf is the engaging Kelowna Springs Golf Course nearly adjacent to the airport. It is a flat valley course that is very walkable and playable. It is not without its challenges, however. True to its name, seven ponds come into play on 11 holes. It features interesting well-bunkered undulating greensites that keep your attention focused. Friendly Kelowna Springs may be the best option for the casual golfer on a budget.
And speaking of lodging and restaurants, many of the golf courses feature very good food and there are plenty of other places to eat at in a city this size. The same goes for the lodging. I stayed at the clean and comfortable Coast Capri Hotel that was centrally located to the golf courses as well as downtown, but there are many other offerings. As for the golf courses, tee times at any of the twelve golf course that I played or the seventeen in the region can be booked by visiting www.golfkelowna.com. For general information, you can find a wealth of it at www.tourismkelowna.com.
The other attractive aspect of all the golf you’ve just read about is that the courses are well-marked and so conveniently located near one another, yet feature a variety of looks. Would you believe that I played all twelve courses and didn’t even come close to using half a tank of gas? And if you are really ambitious, Kelowna makes for a great starting place for more great golf just located not much more than an hour north in Clinton or a bit further in Kamloops. So whether golf is your focus or just part of your agenda, Kelowna, British Columbia is indeed a spectacular golfing Mecca.
For more pictures and further details on each of the golf courses mentioned, check out my “Course Reviews” on this website.