In the mid-19th century, British Columbia’s Okanagan region experienced such an influx of prospectors that it helped give the province its nickname, “the gold colony.” That period is now part of history books, but recently the area has seen another sort of explosion—call it a golf rush.
With its temperate, dry climate that allows golf to be played from March through October, this mountainous region has added almost a dozen new courses in the past few years, with several more under way.
The lure is easy to understand. Stretching more than 200 miles from the city of Kamloops south to the United States border, Okanagan is an idyllic valley with 3.5 million acres of forest surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Skiing in winter months gives way to boating on the numerous lakes and golfing on tumbling fairways. And in many ways it’s like a nascent version of Napa Valley, punctuated by upstart boutique wineries—only instead of producing Cabernets, they are famous for their highly regarded ice wines.
Not that it is all a rural retreat. Cities like Kamloops are growing quickly, and several of the best new courses have sprung up as the centerpieces of ambitious residential projects. But more often than not, Okanagan courses are reached by breathtaking drives through rolling wilderness. For this reason, not everyone is aware of the golf explosion, but given the accolades several courses have recently received, that is sure to soon change. A four-day tour of the region reveals its many pleasures.
Regular flights from major Canadian hubs like Vancouver and Calgary land at Kamloops Airport, making the center of the Okanagan Valley easily accessible. A half hour’s drive west of the airport is the Tobiano Golf Club, perched on the edge of majestic Lake Kamloops. Created by designer Thomas McBroom as part of a resort and residential development, the course features an unusual mix of desert and mountain golf. It only fully opened to the public in July 2007 and has been a magnet for attention since. McBroom’s design utilizes a series of hills and valleys to great effect. Forced carries abound, and there is the occasional blind shot. The more photogenic holes, like the 15th, with its views of the lake, can be deceptive: Tobiano’s beauty often belies its bite, which makes the layout surprisingly challenging.
For a postgame dinner, downtown Kamloops has two good options: Brownstone Restaurant offers an eclectic mix of dishes with local flair, while Ric’s Grill serves top-grade Canadian beef. Just outside town on the Thompson River, the South Thompson Inn has brought Kentucky all the way to western Canada, with its Bourbon Lounge and riding stables. The charming hotel boasts 57 rooms, all named after famous racetracks and horses; a separate guesthouse can be rented for larger parties. And the Robert Trent Jones–designed Rivershore Golf Links is a nine-iron shot from the inn.
In British Columbia’s scenic interior, where many come to walk, hike, and climb, driving is a pastime of its own. The 50-minute trip east of Kamloops to Talking Rock Resort & Quaaout Lodge follows a winding highway mirrored by meandering rivers and eventually reaches the shores of Little Shuswap Lake.
The Little Shuswap Indian Band, which runs Talking Rock, has incorporated its heritage into many elements of the resort; for example, the lodge’s entranceway is designed with a central fireplace to look like a traditional kekuli, or winter house. Native elements are also highlighted at the resort’s Jack Sam’s Restaurant. It focuses on regional produce and meat, and serves dishes like buffalo ragout and salmon grilled on cedar.
Created by Graham Cooke and Wayne Carleton, the resort’s two-year-old golf course has the classic feel of a Donald Ross design, with broad, sweeping fairways that run through a pine forest. The back nine climbs up the side of a small mountain and then, at the 15th—a picture-postcard par three with the lake as a backdrop—starts to wander down toward the resort. The final hole of the course runs parallel to the lake’s shoreline, ending with a fantastic green set next to the resort.
Though the Okanagan is renowned for its wines, another result of the temperate climate is the area’s terrific orchards. Ninety minutes south of Talking Rock, Davison Orchards is one of the region’s most historic, and its apple pies are worth a pilgrimage. From there it’s a 15-minute trip farther south to Predator Ridge Resort, just outside the town of Vernon. The resort offers ultracomfortable cottages; airy suites with full kitchens are available in the lodge.
When it opened in 1991, Predator Ridge was the first golf resort in the area, and it has since helped build the Okanagan’s reputation as a golf destination. Currently there are 27 holes, including a Les Furber course set on a stunning group of low-rise hills, with more scheduled to come. Toronto designer Doug Carrick is adding nine and reconstructing nine others to create a cohesive layout, with tees positioned on the top of rocky crests. A third course, by former Masters champion Mike Weir, is said to also be on the books. For now, the tight fairways and plunging greens give a great workout.
Predator Ridge’s stately clubhouse has received a $1 million upgrade over the last year, which involved expanding the excellent wine selection and updating the five-star menu at Range, the resort’s restaurant. With great views of the course, it’s a perfect place for lunch after a round.
Situated on the picturesque route along Okanagan Lake toward Kelowna, Gray Monk Estate Winery was one of the first on the local wine scene. It was founded in 1972 by European immigrants and is still run by the same family. In addition to the regional specialty of ice wine, Gray Monk produces whites, reds, and rosés, some made with lesser-known German varietals like Ehrenfelser, Rotberger, and Siegerrebe. Visiting is the only way to try the wines; Gray Monk doesn’t export outside Canada, and the bottles tend to go quickly at local shops. A lovely spot for dinner, the winery’s Grapevine Restaurant serves a mix of European fare featuring local ingredients.
An hour’s drive from Predator on the other side of Kelowna, Quails’ Gate Estate Winery runs a tour every morning at 11 throughout the summer season. Each one ends with a tasting of the estate’s Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and ice wines. Afterward stop by the winery’s Old Vines Restaurant, which overlooks Lake Okanagan, for a lunch of Vancouver Island crab cakes and farm-raised duck with tagliatelle.
The 80-year-old Hotel Eldorado, on the shore of Lake Okanagan in Kelowna, is 15 minutes from the stunning course at the Club at Tower Ranch, another McBroom design. (He has two more under construction in the area, including a project with Annika Sorenstam.) The course brings together many of the region’s key elements—the front nine rolls down a hillside, running adjacent to an apple orchard, and the back nine features exceptional views of the surrounding mountains and lakes—making it a fitting final stop on this Okanagan golf tour.
Hotel Eldorado Rooms, $150–$370. 500 Cook Rd., Kelowna; 866-608-7500; hoteleldoradokelowna.com
Predator Ridge Resort Rooms, $85–$360. 301 Village Centre Pl., Vernon; 888-578-6688; predatorridge.com
South Thompson Inn Rooms, $150–$205. 3438 Shuswap Rd., Kamloops; 800-797-7713; stigr.com
Talking Rock Resort & Quaaout Lodge Rooms, $130–$205. 1663 Little Shuswap Lake Rd., Chase; 877-663-4303; talkingrock.ca
Brownstone Restaurant Dinner, $45. 118 Victoria St., Kamloops; 250-851-9939; brownstone-restaurant.com
Gray Monk Estate Winery Dinner, $40. 1055 Camp Rd., Okanagan Centre; 250-766-3168; graymonk.com
Quails’ Gate Estate Winery Lunch, $25. 3303 Boucherie Rd., Kelowna; 250-769-4451; quailsgate.com
Ric’s Grill Dinner, $35. 227 Victoria St., Kamloops; 250-372-7771; ricsgrill.com
Davison Orchards 3111 Davison Rd., Vernon; 250-549-3266; davisonorchards.ca
Rivershore Golf Links 330 Rivershore Dr., Kamloops; 866-886-4653; rivershore golflinks.com
Tobiano Golf Club 38 Holloway Dr., Kamloops; 877-373-2218; tobianogolf.com
The Club at Tower Ranch 1855 Tower Ranch Blvd., Kelowna; 250-491-8211; golftowerranch.com