Victoria Golf Club – Pebble Beach North

Victoria Golf Club – Pebble Beach North

https://www.victoriagolf.com/

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The Point.  From the Gold tees on 10 there is the 8th green and the 9th tees.

I am not the first to pen that Victoria Golf Club is reminiscent of Pebble Beach.  But perhaps it should be the other way around.  Victoria Golf Club opened in 1893, making it one of the oldest golf clubs in the country; the oldest in British Columbia.  This venerable course set on under 100 acres of property in Oak Bay, one of the southernmost pieces of property on Vancouver Island.  This course was home to Canadian Golf Hall of Fame architect A.V. Macan who worked and played here, making significant architectural contributions to the course to which are still attributed today.  I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play this course on a cool (but dry) February morning this winter.  The experience was one I will cherish; this historic course is most worthy of its high rankings within Canada.

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This view from the 5th tee over the strait and looking at the Olympic mountains is a favourite of mine.

First, and most notably is the property.  Playing only over 6150 yards from the Gold tees, the course is modest and intelligent in its use of land and plays well to the asset of its oceanside location.  And at the pinnacle of this fabulous location is ‘The Point’, part of the course set off Beach Drive alongside the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Here, on a clear day you will get majestic views of the Olympic mountains, notably Mount Baker, in Washington state.  The Point hosts holes 7 to 10 before crossing back over to the remaining 8 holes.  Yet there are spectacular views throughout the course, not just on The Point.

Notable Canadian architect Jeff Mingay has been retained to do some restoration work with a focus on the bunkers.  He’s also supporting some green restoration and tree removal.  His objective, as stated in a SCOREGolf interview, is just “polishing the gem”.  Bringing back the classic, natural look of the course to what Mingay sees as its peak in the early 1950’s under Macan is his goal and from my perspective and that of members I had the pleasure of playing with, he’s doing spectacular work.

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While not a long hole, the par 4 5th demands your attention off the tee.  That is if you can keep your focus…what a view.

The course is no pushover, despite the length.  Wind and large green complexes (which run quick in the summer) are the courses greatest defenses. I three-putted five times and felt fortunate at that so I can attest to the challenges these would provide in any true competitive play.  The opening par 5 provides a fantastic view to the mountains in the distance but the tee shot will command your attention with trees lining right and bunkers left.  But it was the third hole, called the Road Hole, which will truly grab your attention.  Beach Drive runs left and the hole allows for a bail out right with the adjoined fourth fairway.  A narrowing and uphill approach makes club selection challenging and a multi-tiered green makes par a fabulous score.  Holes 7-10 is where Victoria Golf Club shows off its real natural beauty.  The oceanside holes go 4-3-3-4 on the card.  The par 3’s are not long but may be the most challenging of the four.  Land’s End, the 8th, is only 116 yards from the Gold Tees but factor in wind and a slight plateau to the green and club selection is a challenge on a good day.  Add the natural and rugged bunkering and misses make scrambling for par a scramble for certain.  It was breathtaking and would present a unique challenge every single day.

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Being short-sided on 11 allowed me this fabulous view of the Strait…and a less than fabulous chance at par.

The closing nine is no slouch, with precision being the key.  Back to back par 3’s – the 13th and 14th – demand players to hit the green as there’s no easy miss to assure an up and down par.  A good drive on 17, a par 5, will reward players with a birdie chance.  And good thing, since the 18th is a sharp uphill, aptly named Plateau, where par is a good score.

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The 7th hole.  This photo was taken from an older tee box when the hole was a long par 3.  A great view of the 8th behind it too.

The clubhouse, built in 1928, is steeped in history and provides players a chance to enjoy excellent food and a cold beverage and many places to comfortably look over the scorecard and count shots they would love to have back!

The course enjoys an active membership who have a real appreciation and pride for this great course.  I was fortunate to play within a weekly group of 20 members who tee it up each Monday morning.  The consensus was that Victoria Golf Club is a community of golfers who respect their course, the game and appreciate that they have something truly special – quirky and glorious as one member called it.  And as a guest, I can vouch for that.

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Archie Louis, one of my playing partners and VGC member staring down another fantastic tee shot on 9.  Arch put on a stripe show all day.

Aura – 9.5 out of 10 – a national top 20 course and western Canada’s oldest, I mean what is not to be excited about?!  It was a true privilege to tee it up at Victoria GC.

Course Condition – 8.5 out of 10 – It was the closest thing to an off season that Victoria experiences; bunker renovations are ongoing and the greens were not as fast as they are in peak season (though for me that was a blessing).  But make no mistake, this course is fabulous and well maintained.  Staff, like its members, take pride in this course.

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This group did not hold up the pace of play.  What a sight to greet me upon my arrival!

Overall Experience – 9 out of 10 – This is a very special course.  The history, which Victoria draws exceptionally well from on its website; the unique and sensational piece of property and the intelligent design using a fraction of what most modern courses use in terms of land; and masterful design features all add up to Victoria Golf Club being within a small list of elite courses in Canada.

Highlight – I arrived early and asked at the pro shop which holes I should have my camera ready for and the young man politely smiled and said it would be apparent once our group crossed the road where good places would be for photos.  He clearly undersold here.  This course is a golf photographers dream.  And while the lighting wasn’t necessarily the best, the location and the natural features on the point more than made up for some cloud cover.

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Victoria Golf Club promotes its rich history so well given it’s western Canada’s oldest course.

My Best Shot – I hit it well off the tee for most of the day but on 18 an overly aggressive drive skirted by a tree and left me a short iron in.  The approach was all over the pin but came up 12 feet short.  I eyed up the birdie opportunity (I was playing skins so the putt mattered).  The putt was terrific, well-paced, but broke hard left at the end and just missed the left edge.  A stress free par and fantastic memories from a great round of golf at Victoria.

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An incredible golf experience at Victoria Golf Club.  Thanks to all staff and members who made me feel so welcome.

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Smuggler’s Glen – An Eastern Ontario Must Play

Course Reviews – Smuggler’s Glen – An Eastern Ontario Must Play

http://www.smugglersglen.com/

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From the first tee deck you’re so close to the St. Lawrence River.  The relaxed feel is consistent throughout the course.

East of Kingston, Ontario the 401 highway offers an exit called The Thousands Islands Parkway.  This scenic drive brings drivers very close to the St. Lawrence River and quickly on your left Smuggler’s Glen Golf Course along with the Glen House Resort.  The course opened for play in 2005 and was designed by Boyd Barr who created an enjoyable resort course on what Robert Thompson called a “cool piece of property”.  With a river view from the first tee deck, surprising elevation change (used most effectively off the tee on many holes) and outstanding conditioning, this course is one of Eastern Ontario’s best courses.  The course hosted a PGA Tour Canada event in 2012 and while not overly long – just over 6600 yards from the black tees – it possesses a 134 slope rating that will demand your attention.

The opening hole is an awkward hole, a par 5 called The Gorge, as players need to position their tee shot over a gorge into a precise landing area with prominent granite outcroppings making a play of less than driver smart.  The course finds it groove very well on the third hole, as Barr’s intelligent use of the terrain featuring many elevated tee shots to generous fairways  The 4th hole, ‘Bio Challenge’, is a well-designed risk-reward par 5 that provides players several options to play the hole.  Conservative or aggressive, a long yet thin green will make your approach shot very important.

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A well designed hole, the 4th will give players who drive it well a chance to reach in two.

I was very impressed with the course routing and its overall conditioning.  Being a resort course, it is very playable for golfers of all skill levels and the course supports this through five sets of tees, their Green tees measuring at just over 4700 yards.  The greens were consistent and in excellent condition.  The tee boxes were generous and in very good condition given it was peak season.  Staff were outstanding – professional and courteous – and if you can afford the time, their patio allows for excellent views set high and overlooking the river.  Our group made time to add up the scorecard, enjoy a beverage and a bite to eat.

The back nine, after looping back to the clubhouse, features three memorable golf holes.  The 12th is a shorter driveable par 4.  Called ‘The Gambler’, this uphill hole does provide a good birdie opportunity.  The 13th – ‘The Rock’ – features the prominence of the Canadian Shield and is aptly named.  The rock wall is impressive.  The closing hole, another par 5, makes up for the awkwardness of the opening hole and is an intelligent design, challenging players to consider an aggressive approach shot or a more cautious layup.  The strong finishing hole capped off a fabulous golfing experience and left me impressed about Smuggler’s Glen as a fun, resort golf course which will provide a test for golfers of all levels.

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My playing partner Greg was putting on a stripe show hitting fairways all day.

Aura – 7.5 out of 10 – Playing a course where professionals play is always a special experience.   The course is more active in marketing itself but its location within a more underrated part of the province in terms of golf keeps it more of a hidden gem.  Excellent conditions combined with the scenery – in and around the course – made more a memorable golf round.

Value (cost / experience) – 8 out of 10.  Peak fees are $92 and this includes cart; solid for what you get.  I did not expect to enjoy the experience as much as I did; Smuggler’s Glen is truly one of the more underrated courses I have played in Canada.  I could only imagine how beautiful this course would play in the fall season with leaves changing set against the rock and the lush green fairways.

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The Canadian Shield is a prominent feature throughout the course and the rock outcroppings frame landing areas exceptionally well.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10 – I really enjoyed this course.  The conditioning was consistent and superb.  I appreciate the intelligent use of the terrain to create many vistas for confident and visually impressive tee shots.  The awkwardness of the opening hole and its focus on precision was a contrast to the rest of the course and being a first time player, I now know how to effectively play that hole.  The warm up/practice facilities were under construction; one step back to take two important steps forward.  Good to see that investment being made.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8.0 out of 10 – Smuggler’s Glen anchors an impressive and underrated golf region in Ontario.  Eastern Ontario is not prominently thought of for golf, with water activities along the river leading recreational interests.  But this course was fantastic and for golfers who are seeking a relaxed and challenging golf experience I urge you to visit and play a round.  Like myself, I am confident it won’t be your last.

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Even waiting on the tee has a relaxed feel to it!

Highlight (what is great about the course) – What’s great?  The people, most definitely.  The course, like the golfing experience overall, has few weak points.  Playing with a couple buddies, we were able to enjoy a friendly, relaxed round which rewarded good play (them) and penalized errant shots (me).  The property and its location capped off a fabulous day, and being only 3 hours east of Toronto I look forward to returning to play it again (and again).

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – Absent a truly memorable ‘signature hole’ (there’s many options) the course offers a level of consistency and quality which players will enjoy.  The resort feel at Smuggler’s Glen is on point.

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The clubhouse patio overlooks the river and is set at a high point at the club.  A great way to reflect on a fun round of golf.

Bear Mountain – Mountain Course – Well Worth a (Second) Look

https://bearmountain.ca/recreation/golf/mountain-course/

Having played this course twice in its earlier days, it became apparent that Jack Nicklaus had been given access to a most beautiful and challenging piece of property from which to build the original or two courses planned for the resort.  I have reviewed this course before (see here) but after a recent follow up visit, and important course routing changes, I am compelled to re-write my review.

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The downhill par 3 16th requires focus and confidence.

With Bear Mountain hosting a 2016 and 2017 PGA Champions Tour event, it was apparent that investments were made to the course, notably the bunkers, but clearly throughout the course.  Importantly, adding their former 19th hole to the rotation was a brilliant and important decision which makes the course more enjoyable, and depending on the weather, more challenging.  I was critical of the course before but important changes, investments and upgrades have me re-thinking my critique.  Remaining still are some elevated greens and a tighter, target-golf feel on some holes at this course but as the course has matured, the focal areas for landing the ball seem more visible and prominent and have helped to mitigate this.  Add the fact the completion of the Valley course and the challenges of the Mountain course are well complemented with design differences with its sister course.  The Mountain remains the crown jewel of this 36 hole resort.

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The signature hole, and formerly their 19th.  The par 3 14th can provide challenge when windy.

So has my attitude about this course changed?  Yes it has.  The back nine present three of the most visually appealing par 3’s you will find in golf.  The closing stretch – 15-18 – present significant risk-reward options to score well or save a round.  I still love the affinity green look of 13 (originally the 14th), where it seems anything long will fall off the mountain and into the strait well below.

During my recent visit where I toured the back nine, the 14th was playing just under 160 yards from the Golden Tees.  And that was a good thing as you’re essentially at the highest and least protected part of the course and winds can give you significant pause for reflection on club selection.  Stand over your ball and the small green looks ever smaller.  I applaud the course for their decision to incorporate this hole into play; it truly magnifies the excellence of this course.

Since my play there back in 2013 and 2014, the housing developments are also more mature.  Not everyone feels comfortable with houses so close to play, but this is a special course and with the maturity of the course helping showcase specific landing areas on certain holes, players should focus on enjoyment and playing to their own strengths.

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Looking back from the downhill par 4 15th.  To the right is the fairway for the uphill 13th.

It is certainly a course where one should bring their A game and a well charged camera, as there are countless opportunity for photos.  It is a challenging layout but a golf experience which I thoroughly enjoyed and only hope I can experience once again.  Look around and take in the marvelous scenery, even look back, for some holes offer an incredible view behind you as well as ahead!  My pictures paled in comparison to the pictures available on their website.

It is always exciting to tee it up where the pros have played.  I look forward to my next visit where the Mountain course will be a priority for me to play!

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With exception amenities, Westin Bear Mountain is a great place to stay.  It can make playing 36 a little easier too!

Aura – 8.5 out of 10 – This is a special course with views of Victoria and Washington State which are stunning.  The golf course is of a quality that complements the scenery.

Value (cost / experience) – 7 out of 10.  Not the value track that others can boast in Victoria, but there is a quality to Bear Mountain which makes playing here worth the expense; it is a wonderful golf experience.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – Improvements are clear and evident since my first visit and this is one area where the course shines!   – 8.5 out of 10

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Having played there twice, I loved it and would welcome a chance to come back and play it again.  It is a very stout test of golf on a beautiful piece of land.  With a second course alongside it is now a destination for golfers seeking great golf – 8.5 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The view off the 14th tee is breathtaking.  But before you even tee it up, step outside of the clubhouse and check out the scenery and breathe.  You would never know you were mere minutes from downtown Victoria.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – The obvious choice is for me to get an office in Victoria so I can play more regularly at Bear Mountain.

Just So You Know – The addition of the new Valley Course provides a great complement to this course and makes the Stay and Play options for this Westin Hotel resort course even more attractive.

Playing Partner Notes – When you play with a member who is a retired golf professional you get some unique insight.  My first experience playing with Brian D. was special.  It was a damp, foggy December morning and we got off early.  After the round he stated he was pleased with his score considering he was seeking to hit close to the cart path to avoid walking far to get to his ball.  He demanded I keep my bag on the cart as we played another round in the afternoon as the fog burned off.  He was insistent I see this course in all its natural beauty, and wow, what a thrill that was!

Lakeview Golf Course – A Unique and Historic Municipal Course

Lakeview Golf Course – A Unique and Historic Municipal Course

http://www.mississauga.ca/portal/discover/lakeviewgolf

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Standing on the first tee at Lakeview Golf Course

The uniqueness starts once you pull in the driveway…and enter carefully as your drive bisects the 11th and 10th holes.  Quickly you see the great quality of this course, exceptional for a municipal track.  Conditioning is a strong asset for Lakeview, maybe not its strongest asset but a significant one.  For me, the allure of this course is its history and along with its conditioning it is why it made my personal Bucket List.  The plaque outside the clubhouse shares an overview of the rich history of this course.  The scorecard also provides insight to some of the legendary names who walked the same fairways – Armour, Sarazen and Hagen.  Lakeview hosted two Canadian Opens, in 1923 and 1934.  The City of Mississauga actually provides some dedicated space on the course website to share more of its history.

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I wish more courses promoted the celebrated their history the way Mississauga does with Lakeview.

I played the course in early July and the conditioning was superb.  And while conditions have been wetter than usual, the course has been well kept.  For a municipal course, it dispels so many of the stereotypes around condition.  Greens were consistent and rolled true.  I found surprisingly few ball marks.  The rough was not as penal as it could have been and fairways were excellent.  Bunkers were fair and had sufficient sand, some of the best I’ve played in all season.  It’s a course which its regular players are proud of and it shows.

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Hadn’t even teed off on 1 and someone wanted to play through.  Coyotes can be a common sight at Lakeview.

Yet pace of play was an issue and this was consistent with my previous experience at Lakeview, an issue I acknowledge is not exclusive to Lakeview.  My playing partners, a group of three seniors playing a skins match more than offset the delays and made my visit a real delight, as they needled each other in a lighthearted way which shows the extent to which Lakeview is a true meeting place for many local residents in the season, similar to private courses.

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Some of the best bunkers I’ve played this season are at Lakeiew as seen at the par 3 9th.

The layout is where I feel this course has both tremendous strengths and glaring weaknesses; the back nine closes strong with a stretch from 6 to 9 with great variety and challenge.  The par 4 8th is a risk/reward short hole which can be played conservatively with a precise shot to a smaller landing area, or, aggressively to the left part of the green which is well guarded by bunkers.  The 9th hole is a long par 3 which looks like a thin sliver off the tee but has more surface area then it appears.  Other good holes, like the closing stretch of 16 to 18 reflect good diversity of shot making needed to score well.  The par 5 16th allows big hitters to go for it in two but with a creek meandering short and left it requires precision.  Like others, I have serious issue with the par 4 12th hole.  A true target golf hole, the tee shot needs to be longer than it appears to have any real shot to play up to an elevated green, but too long and you’re in the creek. If you’re a guest, ask your playing partners for a yardage but I think a 190-200 yard shot is ideal.  That hole simply doesn’t flow with the rest of the course.  One other critique is a very high number of errant balls which enter into other fairways.  While the fairways are generous, often there is not much rough available before trees (which help separate one hole from another) come into play.  And for a course which gets considerable play, the risks of balls coming into play from other fairways is high.  Still, the layout has some significant merit, uniqueness and ensures Lakeview is no pushover.

Playing at about 6300 yards from the tips, the course offers three sets of tees.  As some other courses have done, I’d like to see the City incorporate a set of Family Tees, allowing juniors and first timers an opportunity to experience this beautiful property at a yardage inside of 4900.  As a municipal course, this could provide greater access to a future generation of players.

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The par 5 16th provides a narrow opening on the approach.

I left Lakeview satisfied with my golf experience and hopeful that I can enjoy this game well into my senior years as my three playing partners did on what was a rare, truly sunny summer day in Ontario this year.

Aura – 7 out of 10 – And I am likely being generous here.  But it’s too bad.  The course is unique and is well designed and maintained to a very good quality.  If you appreciate the history of the game, this course should be on your must play list.

Value (cost / experience) – A peak fee of $68 +tax to walk in the Greater Toronto Area is very good value.  Manage expectations around time – this will not be a three and a half hour round – and you can leave feeling you’ve had a great experience, as I had.  Greens fees can be found here.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 8.5 out of 10.  It has been a damp spring and summer in Ontario and no surprise, the course was in superb condition.  Many of the holes are very intelligent in their design and pose a true challenge in strategy and shot making.  The fairways and greens are very good and bunkers may be some of the best I have played all season.

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Great golf in the heart of the GTA.  The parkland layout at Lakeview is easy to walk.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – My experience was very good, the City of Mississauga has made some excellent investments in the maintenance of this course and I would return again…for no other reason than to seek out my three playing partners for another 18! – 7.5 out of 10

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – This is an easy one.  Let’s change up the 12th hole, even if it made into a longer downhill par 3, that’s fine.  This blind downhill tee shot and a challenging uphill approach doesn’t fit within the layout and feel of the other 17 holes.  But it does detract from the overall playing experience.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – Convenience.  Affordability.  History.   The course is very close to the QEW in the south west end of Mississauga.  The price excellent and to walk the fairways of legends and appreciate the history of this course provided me the value and experience I was craving.  The closing three holes were surprisingly challenging and beautiful.

 

Tower Ranch – An Awe-Inspiring Mountain Golf Experience

Tower Ranch – An Awe-Inspiring Mountain Golf Experience

Course Reviews – Tower Ranch – An Awe-Inspiring Mountain Golf Experience

http://www.golftowerranch.com/

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My approach shot on the first hole at Tower Ranch.  Hard not to get distracted by the view.

For anyone who’s played golf in the Okanagan Valley in B.C., you may see some similarities to Tobiano when you visit Tower Ranch.  It is hard to avoid the comparisons; really, given the ruggedness of the landscape and the fact that Canadian course architect Thomas McBroom designed both Tower Ranch and Tobiano.  Journalist Robert Thompson has stated Tower Ranch is like Tobiano but without the majesty.  But having experienced them both now I would contest that Tower Ranch has its own unique majestic beauty and a brilliant back nine which allows the course to finish strong and leave players wanting more.

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Looking high up from the second green.

Set in the eastern hills of Kelowna, set very high over the city and Okanagan Lake, Tower Ranch was built in 2008 and is certainly one of the finer championship courses in the region.  Complementing the excellent golf options in the Okanagan, Tower Ranch is worthy of its place on Canadian course ranking lists.  Canadian Golf Magazine placed this in the Top 50 Public Courses in 2016 and it is certainly worthy of its place on that list.  I was fortunate to visit on a sunny spring morning, and feel McBroom was fortunate to have access to such a great piece of land to work with. The views of the opening holes and the city and lake below create a great first impression and I knew my golf game and my camera would get a good workout.

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Holding my finish on the par 3 5th hole.

As had been mentioned by other reviewers I read leading up to my visit, one critique is the lack of a practice range.  But working on the short game and getting used to the speed of the greens and the effect the slope has on the ball was worth the extra time.  Checking in was easy, as the staff were courteous and professional and made me feel most welcome.  My bag was loaded onto a cart – it is a course one needs to use a cart.  While I prefer walking I can appreciate the need for some courses to be cart only and this one certainly warrants that policy.

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The par 3 7th hole shows the challenges of this Tom McBroom design.

The layout is such that McBroom manages the significant elevation changes more directly on the opening nine with the first three holes playing significantly downhill.  Of course, heading back to the clubhouse at the turn, this makes the 8th and 9th even more challenging as stout, uphill holes to end the opening nine.  The course was in immaculate condition.  Even for early in the season the tall grasses which guard many of the holes set off from the generous fairways were high and thick.  Playing off an appropriate tee box will help make the round more enjoyable.  Make no mistake; this is a challenging championship layout.

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A tough set of bunkers short of the 9th green.

I felt the back nine was one the most enjoyable and challenging I have played in some time.  The mastery of McBroom’s work is seen a stretch from 11 to 15 where a stretch of 4-3-4-3-5 showcase the rugged landscape and his design brilliance.  The par 5 15th invites players to challenge the dogleg and bite off as much ground as possible; it is a stretch of holes I’d love play on a more regular basis.  And it certainly reinforces the need for a cart-only policy.

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The 11th tee starts off my favourite stretch of the course.  This is my favourite hole on the course.

The tee boxes were immaculate and very flat.  Greens were pristine and I stopped looking for ball marks after about 5 holes, not finding any; it is nice to see players and staff take such pride in their course.  The bunkering around the greens are demanding but fair.  The greens are not easy, with slope and in many cases false fronts which will make approach shots and greenside shots more challenging.  The pictures help tell the story and provide a compelling case for Tower Ranch as a must play when visiting Kelowna and the Okanagan region.

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The par 3 12th hole shows off the dramatic landscape and the rugged beauty of the area.

Aura – 9 out of 10 – The drive up to the course created that this was going to be a special experience.  The clubhouse is large and is located to provide convenient access and stunning views.  Having experience the course for myself it is possible it may even be somewhat underrated in its beauty.  I appreciated the solitude of the golf experience on the back nine.  Holes 12 and 13 were two of the most peaceful and enjoyable I have played, set at the farthest reaches of the course and away from any development.  It lacks the profile of some other excellent Canadian public courses more highly rated but holds its own as an excellent public course.

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Love the views from the back nine.

Value (cost / experience) – 7 out of 10.  Peak fees are $123 are not going to attract the highest marks as a value play, but value is defined relation to quality and this is where this course is strong.  Membership is $3250 for an individual with unlimited access and this includes cart access.  Make no mistake, this is a very high quality course and it’s well worth a visit.

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The par 5 15th was so exciting to experience.  A brilliant design and fun to play.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – In a word, exceptional.  The attention to detail from the superintendent and staff is seen throughout.  The course is well designed, exceptionally maintained and McBroom has added another gem to his course of Canadian designs.  While not a fan of tall grasses which can over penalize misses, the contouring on many holes help kick balls back to the fairway.  On the opening stretch of holes this was appreciated.

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The par 5 17th.  Exceptional sight lines off the tee.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 8.5 out of 10 – Tower Ranch provides a unique and high quality golf experience that reinforces Kelowna and the Okanagan as an exceptional golf destination.  With a strong closing nine and a staff whose commitment to service and a quality golf experience, I look forward to when I can return and play again.  The round capped off a truly memorable 24 hours in Kelowna, having played Gallagher’s Canyon the afternoon before.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – I like the feel of the elevated tee shots on 1, 2 and 3.  But the experience on the 12th and 13th tee, feeling I have the course to myself and not seeing anyone else around was a feeling I won’t soon forget.  Add the countless views of the city and lake below and there is much that is great about Tower Ranch.

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The view from the 17th green over Kelowna and Okanagan Lake.  I’ll be back!

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – I lost a number of balls in the tall rough on the front nine…but if you’re asking what I’d change, first, I’d say a straighter game for myself off the tee.  The course is fair and tough.  If pressed, I’d lower the rough along the mounding on the elevated holes on the front but Tom McBroom places a premium on accuracy and I wouldn’t change that.

My Best Shot – My approach on 15 was blind down to the green set below and I hit a wedge shot that I felt was good.  Well, as it turned out, it released and slowly rolled closer and closer to just outside of 4 feet but still on the high side.  Unable to get the delicate putt in for a birdie, my par on 15 (as with the few others I had) was one of satisfaction.

Gallagher’s Canyon – A Brilliant Championship Layout

Gallagher’s Canyon – A Brilliant Championship Layout

Course Reviews – Gallagher’s Canyon – A Brilliant Championship Layout

http://www.golfbc.com/courses/gallaghers_canyon

 

It is fitting that this review is being written as Kelowna and Gallagher’s Canyon are set to host the GolfBC Championship on the Mackenzie Tour (PGA TOUR Canada).  I had the pleasure of playing Gallagher’s Canyon in early May on a quiet afternoon, seemingly having the course to myself which allowed me ample time to appreciate this Les Furber and Doug Robinson designed gem.  The course was designed in 1980 and I actually played it over 25 years ago.  Staff were kind to point out there has been some routing changes but the prominence of the Canyon remains a focal point.

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Teeing off on the first hole.  Set for my own ‘championship’ experience.

This mountain course, which one article cited as “rugged yet refined” is walkable but does come with some significant elevation change in places.  The front nine begins with a bold start.  The Tour tees measure at over 6800 yards and I was able to tee off just behind the pro shop, set very high above the fairway below and providing a majestic view of the hole.  Stout, at over 430 yards, this hole will demand players’ attention.  However for me the course reflects the intelligence of its design on the next two holes.  A shorter par 4 provides an element of risk and reward for players.  And while not necessarily drivable, the options of how much of this hole to bite off from the tee provide players decisions to consider early.  The third hole is also an attention grabber.  Missing short and left is simply not an option as the elevation changes of Gallagher’s shows itself once again.

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Such a masterfully designed par 3, the third hole at Gallagher’s.

I love the routing of this course.  In fact, the only place where the course seems at all tight is off the first tee but it simply isn’t the case.  The layout is masterful and Furber and Robinson use the natural terrain to create appropriate vistas off the tee and subtle uphill holes for players to take on.  As one would expect with a Tour-caliber course, the greens were spectacular.  They rolled true and consistent.  As one may expect, uphill putts needed an aggressive hit whereas downhill putts required a delicate touch.  I loved the stretch of holes from 4 to 7; brilliant use of terrain to create a 4-4-5-4 combination which I place up against any public course in the country.  The ninth closes off the front with the canyon hole.  The drop off left is staggering but fortunately it does not really come into play as the fairway frames the hole nicely.

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The downhill 5th hole.  My only birdie of the day.

The course offers four unique tee blocks with a hybrid combination providing five play options.  Something which I did not experience back in the early 1990’s was a housing development running adjacent to many of the holes on the back nine.  I felt the back nine was not as challenging as the front but still brought the attention to design detail.  The subtle doglegs on 10 and the steady uphill challenge of 11 provided further appreciation to Furber and Robinson’s work.  I would have liked to have seen more from the closing two holes, but making providing birdie opportunities on a closing hole of a championship course will always create excitement, even from this 10 handicapper.

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Just left off the 9th tee is this sign…and this view.

Add to this courteous and professional staff, a fully stocked pro shop and a sensational clubhouse and my return experience at Gallagher’s Canyon proved to me I should not wait another 25 years to come back and experience this great course.  Also, combine the golf experience with a growing food culture, exceptional recreational opportunities off the course and one of Canada’s best wine regions and Gallagher’s reflects all that is excellent in Kelowna.

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On the tee on the par 4 11th.  A stout uphill hole.  Great to see the sun shining.

Aura – 8.5 out of 10 – Playing a course where professionals play is always a special experience.   This is one of the more unique and enjoyable courses I had played in some time.  Excellent conditions combined with the scenery – in and around the course – made more a memorable golf round.

Value (cost / experience) – 7.5 out of 10.  Peak fees are $125 but include access to practice facilities and a cart.  However, there is greater value to be had with a later tee time or play in the shoulder season.  Membership for a single player requires annual dues of only $2400 after a one time initiation payment.  For one of the province’s best courses and a championship layout this is worth a visit.

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Fabulous green complexes at Gallagher’s Canyon.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 9 out of 10 – This is one of a handful of courses I could play every day.  The layout is exceptional and the designers utilize the terrain exceptionally well.  Tee boxes were fabulous and the fairways well framed off the tee.  As a public course, the rough was not too penal and the greens were in outstanding condition.  In rare form, I did not visit the bunkers at Gallagher’s so I cannot offer any comments on their condition.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – This is an excellent golf course and worthy of its high rankings for public play in Canada.  Following a 4.5 hour drive from Vancouver through snowy mountain passes, the chance to walk Gallagher’s and appreciate this mature layout started my quick visit to Kelowna perfectly well.  I certainly hope to return again soon – 8.5 out of 10

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Standing on the 17th tee and facing a sharp dog leg.

Highlight (what is great about the course) – Reminiscent of other courses in Canada which bring uniqueness, challenge and enjoyment, Gallagher’s Canyon is truly unique.  From the opening tee shot, to the awe of looking down from the 9th and a chance to enjoy time in this relaxed clubhouse following the round, the entire experience was a highlight.

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – The abruptness of 17 and its strong dogleg design could benefit from some additional work.  But I feel I am splitting hairs here as the course is well designed and it is one round I have replayed in my head this year again and again.

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My round complete, looking back on the 18th fairway.

My Best Shot – Having spent the first four holes scrambling, the downhill 5th hole allowed me a chance to attack the pin on my approach.  My 8-iron almost hit the pin leaving a short four footer for birdie.  My only one on the day, mind you.  Let’s see the pros match that this week!

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Forest Golf Club and Inn – My greatest value play

Forest Golf Club and Inn

http://www.golfforest.ca/

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Back in 2010 – a much warmer weekend then 2017 – my Dad tees off on hole 1.

It’s a subtle re-brand, changing the name from Forest Golf and Country Hotel to Forest Golf Club and Inn.  New course ownership, under the GolfNorth consortium is bringing about some changes but what remains the same is 27 holes and some of Ontario’s best value in golf.  You won’t find Forest on top course listings; in fact their 18-hole course doesn’t have a hole over 400 yards.  As a par 66, this windswept course offers value, fun and enough challenge to bring golfers back.

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Looking off the 7th tee to the 6th green and the 4th fairway.

I play this course annually on the last weekend of April with a group of 24.  This year marked our 17th year visiting this rural farming community about 45 km east of Sarnia, Ontario and just south of Lake Huron.  Over the years we’ve experienced hot, summer-like conditions, late winter wet snow and pretty much everything in between.  In addition, Forest has a 9-hole course but it is set more in a valley and is prone to early season dampness or flooding.  This year all 27 holes were open and the course was lush and played long.

The course has a hotel on site along with a restaurant so it is possible for visitors to park their car and not start it back up until it’s time to leave.  The restaurant is not as lively as it once was, with other places in town (only 5 minutes away) providing some stiff competition.  However, despite this, Forest Golf Club and Inn remains one of the best value golf destinations I have experienced.  The shoulder season special of 2 days/2 nights unlimited golf is $140.00. Most of our players come a day before and their 3 day/3 night special is $190.00  They promote the “Unlimited Golf Package” year round so even in the peak season there is value to be had.  Now this does not include cart fees which for our group – given our collective age and skill level are mandatory but for a group of golfers of diverse skill who are all seeking two rounds a day, this is perfect for us.

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Bundled up and battling cold winds, the approach on the island green at 11 is even tougher.

The course starts in the valley for the first two holes with a straightaway par 4 and a par 3.  Moving up, the wind and water come into play.  Despite the 3rd hole being a short 124 yards (and often playing shorter) a crowned green and strong spring winds make it a tough hole.  The course is well protected by water on 8 holes.  Even at only 4600 yards, this provides the course some teeth.  Renovations over the past few years feature Lambton County’s only island green on the par 4 11th.  The approach, always into a strong breeze any time I have played it, makes the short iron approach much more challenging than that yardage would indicate.  The longest holes – 12 and 14 (368 yards and 380) are made tougher by the fact one of them is always directly into the wind.  One year, our group factored four extra clubs because of the wind and still came up short on the approach.

The conditions are consistently good but more attention to the greens would take this course to another level.  But make no mistake, this course is without pretense and provides relaxed, enjoyable golf for players of all skills levels.  Their second set of tees make the 18 hole course just under 3900 yards.  The nine hole course is a par 33, with 6 par 4’s and 3 par 3’s.  At 2057 yards, it uses elevation changes to create fun and challenge.

 

The hotel is clean and built to accommodate groups exceptionally well with one wing extending just adjacent to the 18th green making it convenient to leave the clubs in the cart over lunch before a second round.

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On the tee at Hole 10.  A longer straightaway par 4.

My favourite stretch on the course is holes 4-6 which wrap around a large pond and reflect the risk-reward aspect of Forest.  Driveable greens for sure, with holes 4 and 5 playing 264 and 267, but water and OB await any errant shots.  The 9th hole is also a fun one with players seeking to cut the corner on the dog leg par 4 over water and make their second shot as short as possible.

Forest Golf Club and Inn does not try to oversell itself; it is a shorter, fun and very approachable golf course.  With a focus on value yet possessing enough challenge for all players it remains the home of the Pitch, Putt and Gimme group based in Hamilton, Ontario and next year will be year 18.  Maybe next year I can finally get a birdie on the challenging downhill par 3 17th, only 109 yards but I have bogied that hole more than I’ve parred it and have yet to birdie it in 17 years!  Always good memories, good golf and exceptional value.

For this value conscious golfer looking for a relaxed, fun golf experience this is the place for you.

 

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With 40 km/h winds, approach shots need to carefully thought out.

Aura – 5 out of 10 – Perhaps too far removed from major golfing markets, but under the GolfNorth banner this may change over time.  It has a small but faithful following and focuses wisely on its golf value.

Value (cost / experience) – 10 out of 10.  The focus, given the location, is the stay and play deals and Forest is smart in its marketing efforts.   Even in the peak season, our group could enjoy 3 days accommodation and unlimited golf for $265 pp.

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – 6 out of 10 – I quite like the layout and appreciate the investments made over years (improvements to bridges and fairways).  The greens remain inconsistent and have been that way for many years now.  And while some feel a par 5 would help add to the course, I like that focus on shorter playability.  Our group includes several retirees who don’t play much golf yet everyone feels they can play this course and contribute in a scramble.

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – 7 out of 10 – This course is a fun way to kick off my golf season and after the Masters is done, I focus my attention to Forest and the start of my golf season.  I like the fact that the course mixes shorter, more forgiving holes with some challenge (water, design and wind).

Highlight (what is great about the course) – The 18th hole and its proximity to the hotel can provide a gallery at times.  For our group, add a couple drinks and the pressure of the approach or birdie putt on 18th becomes more pronounced.  Like the 16th at TPC Scottsdale, the 18th at Forest has taken on an enjoyable life of its own on late afternoon rounds.

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Spring 2016 – one of my favourite golf pictures. 14th tee at Forest, Dad and I.