Course Reviews – Tobiano – 18 Signature Holes. One memorable golf experience.
“It’s the little things that separate the good from the great” – Bob Schneider
I’ll borrow a line from an Austin, Texas singer/songwriter because his words are most appropriate to describe the golfing experience at Tobiano, just outside of Kamloops, B.C. I had the pleasure of a day between business commitments in Vancouver in early May and made the trek north. Even in less than ideal weather conditions (it was a cool, wet day when I traveled to Tobiano), this course is one of the country’s best public plays and golfers need to place this high on their ‘must play’ list. As a growing fan of Tom McBroom’s work, the Canadian golf course designer utilized a masterful parcel of land on the south central shores of Kamloops Lake to create an expansive and challenging course which draws upon the terrain to shape and define holes which flow well and complement each other. Based on my limited experience, I would place this as McBroom’s finest work to date.
The experience begins before the tee is placed in the ground on the par 5 first hole. The facilities are clean and modern. The course opened in 2008 and the facilities remain pristine. Of course, talk to any staff – from GM, Head Professional, Servers and Starters – and they exude pride, passion and a commitment to service that goes beyond almost any public golfing experience I have had. After a long drive it helped me to relax and settle in for what promised to be an enjoyable afternoon. Mid-week on a cool, wet afternoon meant I seemingly had the course to myself. Head professional, Shannon McGeady shared with me important information on the course about the terrain and some of the blind shots I was about to experience. She was also helpful in identifying a tee box for me which was ideal given my index. Tobiano has five sets of tees and two options to play split tees, making what amounts to seven different playing options. These have the course set from 5350 to 7360. If in doubt, play one tee less than normal. It will allow you to enjoy the experience more. There are a couple forced carries and a few blind shots (but tee markers serve as excellent aiming points, purposefully).
The conditions are practically flawless. The greens may be the best I have ever experienced; rolling true and consistent and with predominantly gentle slope. I stopped looking for ball marks, not seeing any for the first six holes. The tee boxes are mint. Practice facilities are outstanding. The fairways range from tight to quite generous and are clearly identifiable in contrast to the rough and the desert-like brush evident in the gorges and beyond the rough. If there is a fault, and it is minor to me, it is the amount of small pebbles in the sand traps. It is a tough, but fair course. The greatest carry is on the par 5 8th hole. Here is where identifying the correct tee to play off will really help. The stretch of holes from 5 – 8 are four of the most beautiful and challenging you may find. The par 4 6th creates a stunning optical illusion on the approach where any shot past the green will land in the lake. On the back nine, I loved the 13th, 15th and 16th. But let’s be honest; the challenge for Tobiano is identifying a signature hole from 18 which are unique, well designed and visually stunning.
I loved this course. It does not easily fall into one certain style which is fair given the uniqueness of its landscape. What it is, and I say this with certainty, is one of the best public courses I have experienced in Canada. Canadian Golf Magazine placed this as the 8th best course in the country. I love the subjectivity of course rankings but will not argue this. In terms of public courses you’d be hard pressed to find courses that are better across Canada; the list would be a very small one. I look forward to a return visit. This time, I will look to bring the sun with me!
Aura – 9 out of 10 – Chances to play nationally ranked top 10 courses is a special opportunity. This course delivered and actually exceeded my expectation.
Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10. Traveling in early May, paying $109 for a course of this condition is great value. Even a full membership for $2500 is strong value. For a traveler, make time to play 36, pending availability, and you can get your second round at a 50% rate.
Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – Simply stunning. The superintendent and staff take great care of this course. Greens were some of the best I have ever experienced on a public course. – 9.5 out of 10
Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – This is a very special place. The golf, like the land, is unique and exceptional. – 9.5 out of 10
Highlight (what is great about the course) – The course starts with very strong golf holes. But holes 5 to 8 are some of the best you may experience…until the back nine. Take a pause and savour the tee shot on the par 3 15th. My favourite though may be the view looking back over the course from behind the 13th green. After the round, enjoy the restaurant and the view from the lounge. Made me smile to have a bald eagle flying overhead while putting out on 6 and teeing off on 7. Simply stunning. Lastly, the drive to Tobiano from Vancouver along the Trans Canada is bucket list worthy in its own right.
Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – It is a tough course to walk. Some of the distances between holes are long and meander up and down the valleys. It’s nit picking, but the bunkers were very good, not great. And while there are more blind shots than I am used to, I will acknowledge they did not detract from my experience at all. The course is not perfect, it just feels that way.
Just So You Know – Unlike many courses across Canada, Tobiano has a great social media presence. The website presents information clearly and they have an active twitter account @tobianogolf
My Best Shot – Playing smart with a 3 wood off the tee on the downhill par 5, 16th I layed up to a great yardage and my approach released longer than I’d like, leaving me 20 feet uphill. With a good read, I hit it firm and it rolled in for a birdie and helped me to break 80 at course where scoring can never be taken for granted.