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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The Lakes Golf Club – A Cape Breton Gem

http://www.thelakesgolfclub.ca/

The assist on this has to go to SCOREGolf’s own Bob Weeks, who introduced me to The Lakes through a SCORE Golf TV promotional spot on Cape Breton Golf. Only fair to offer credit where it is due. This course was a surprising gem within a trip to Cape Breton in August 2013. In fact, the header image for this blog is taken from the 6th tee looking over the Bras D’Or Lake.

I felt fortunate, the course was hosting the inaugural Cape Breton Celtic Classic, a PGA Tour Canada stop only 4 weeks out. The sense of pride which staff had about the course was evident; the grounds were pristine and they made note in a courteous and professional manner to have our foursome take care of keep the course which seemed in tournament shape. This Graham Cooke design is only 4 years old, cut on the side of a hillside which in the winter is used as a ski hill. Most unique was their use of the terrain; having players hit range balls into the hillside! Very clever.

My first impression was positive, as the staff were very polite, courteous and helpful. The starter took time to share with us some local knowledge along with a brief history of the course. Tee boxes are well spaced to accommodate golfers of different skill. The holes were spread out very well over the grounds, avoiding congestion and minimizing risks of errant shots (they converge nicely on the 17th tee; look back over the 16th green and out past the 17th green, wow). It is recommended that players use carts, walking would be possible but the elevation changes from hole to hole is significant in spots. In surprisingly few instances does the slope affect play in a difficult or challenging way, but it is leveraged in to take advantage of the natural beauty and spectacular views north over the lake. There are only three holes to me which seem somewhat pedestrian; 1, 9 and 10. All others set higher up in the hills provide breathtaking scenery.

The course has fair landing spaces off the tee but penalizes errant play.  Greens are generous and fair, but too will challenge approach shots with strategic bunkering.  Accuracy is more of a premium than length. That said a prevailing wind from the west will make some holes play long! Greens were running fast and firm, demanding respect and an awareness to leave the ball below the hole. Slope ratings are high, representing the need for solid ball striking!

Pace of play was consistent and not an issue. I really enjoyed the experience to play this course. In my opinion, it is a hidden gem set amongst world class courses of Cape Breton Island and worthy of a stop within the golf trip rotation of the Island. Located close to Sydney, it provides some convenience for travelers but is set in a quaint, rural location. This course is not on a top 100 list in Canada that I am aware (yet) so will remain a reward for those who come play.

Aura – 8 out of 10 – The fact it was hosting a PGA Tour Canada stop justifies this ranking. The scenery and quality of the course cemented it.

Value (cost / experience) – 8.5 out of 10 – Green fees are very reasonable for a course of this quality, but explore stay and play options to maximize value (see below)

Course Condition (fairways/greens, layout) – The course was already gearing up for their tour debut. The efforts of staff to prepare the course, including details like fairway conditioning and surprisingly few ball marks on greens reflect the high mark – 9 out of 10

Overall Experience (how did the round make me feel; would I return) – Visually impressive, with a quality of play to match. This course held its own in the opinion of playing partners in relation to Cabot Links and Highlands Links; unique, complementary and not the signficant drop off we had expected. Memorable in its own way, with many positives! – 8 out of 10

Highlight (what is great about the course) –Stand on the 6th tee on a sunny day and you will struggle to identify a more beautiful golf hole in Canada. Drivable par 4’s have their own mystique but this maybe one of the best. Certainly part of the conversation in terms of most scenic golf holes I’ve ever played!

Recommendation (magic wand…what would I change) – 5th hole may have the most abrupt slope on the fairway…nothing unfair, but does require some attention on your approach! Do yourself a favour, play one tee box ahead and enjoy the round! Minor issue, but surprised the pro shop did not have swag out for the PGA Tour Canada event when we were there…though my bank account may have appreciated it! Watch the SCOREGolf video; it will help cement your decision to play there!

Just So You Know – It is highly recommended that you explore a stay and play package through The Birches Country Inn. Quality accommodations, sensational homemade breakfasts and a true commitment to service which extends to providing carts for golfers in their back lot, a 5 minute cart ride to the course clubhouse! And yes, they can help take care of securing your tee time for you as part of your booking! Take time to enjoy breakfast and watch the hummingbirds! Thank you again, Mr. and Mrs. MacPherson!

My Best Shot – Hole 1, an errant drive in the bunker off the tee meant a GIR was not possible. My 4th shot a sand wedge, bounced once and struck the pin, leaving the ball 4 feet away. A slippery left to right par putt dropped in the hole. Nerves settled and scorecard unscathed…a great start to a great day!