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.

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36 Holes. 36 Hours. Golf Tripping to Kelowna, B.C.

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The views at Tower Ranch overlooking Kelowna are sensational.

Kelowna, British Columbia is one of the most picturesque cities in Canada, positioned beautifully in the Okanagan Valley and along Okanagan Lake.  Arriving at Vancouver International Airport on an overcast morning, I had set an itinerary for myself over 36 hours which would allow me two rounds of golf at two of Kelowna’s 18 local courses, and arguably two of their best and both positioned on my bucket list – Gallagher’s Canyon and Tower Ranch.  My GPS identified the drive from YVR to Gallagher’s Canyon at just over 4.5 hours.  As is the case anytime I’ve driven in BC, the journey is just as memorable as the destination.  The drive to Kelowna, along the Trans Canada, and Highways 5 and 97, took me over two mountain passes – Needle Peak and Pennask Mountain.  At Pennask, the elevation change took the rain showers I had experienced from Vancouver and changed it over to a significant snowfall.  Considering I was only about 50km from the course it was eye opening to experience this!  Gallagher’s Canyon is about 35 years old and is set along Scenic Canyon.

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The 9th hole sets players alongside the expansive canyon drop to the left.  But the impressiveness truly starts on the opening tee with one of the best opening tee shots in golf in Canada.  This is an excellent layout with brilliant use of the elevation change throughout the course.  A full review of Gallagher’s Canyon is forthcoming at 36aday but this is an excellent championship course which hosts the PGA of BC Championship.

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Gallagher’s Canyon provides one of the best opening tee shots I’ve experienced in Canada.  Set high above the fairway, tee it high and let it fly!

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The peak at Pennask Mountain is about 1700m above sea level and brought some early May weather I did not expect.

Activities outside the golf course are plentiful with wine tours, craft breweries, arts, spas and farm-to-table tours to mention only a few, and of course there is the lake and the abundance of water activities.  Resting up after a memorable round and sampling local beer and farm-fresh food, I was able to arrive early at Tower Ranch Golf Club.  A Tom McBroom design, this course is one of the most visually stunning I have experienced with intelligence in its design.

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Course designer Tom McBroom uses the terrain so effectively as seen here on the par 5, 15th.

My advice; play one tee forward as the course demands excellent ball striking.  Yet McBroom adds a playability factor for players of all skill level with his design that can funnel shots back into position through effective use of the natural, and very hilly terrain.  It’s a course I’d love to play again and again.  Holes 11-13 may be one of my favourite three-hole stretches I’ve experienced.  Fortunate to catch a sunny day, it only added to the awe of the vistas looking over the entire city from its location high up the hillside.  Finishing my round, it was hard to believe that my quick trip to Kelowna had come to an end.  With business in Vancouver I had to return back and the drive, set in brilliant, mild sunshine was relaxed and easy.

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Get used to views like this on your drive.

Everything about this trip was easy and efficient.  Airport car rentals are extremely efficient to get renters off quickly.  Having booked tee times in advance, the toughest decision I had over the two days was where to go for dinner and what to eat.  Tacking on time over any trip to Vancouver, this two-day, one night getaway is exciting, memorable and will have you wanting to come back to Kelowna for more.

Two days.  921 km.  36 holes.  2 bucket list courses.  One incredible city and a great golfing experience.

Tobiano – 18 Signature Holes.  One memorable golf experience.

Tobiano – 18 Signature Holes. One memorable golf experience.

Course Reviews – Tobiano – 18 Signature Holes.  One memorable golf experience.

https://www.tobianogolf.com/

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The view from behind the 13th green provides a great panorama of the course and Kamloops Lake.

“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.

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The first tee provides players a great sense of the course, the land and the scenery.  This is an excellent opening hole.

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).

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My first view of the tough 5th hole.  It’s a brute of a par 4 which requires a strong tee shot and precision on the approach.

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.

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The 6th green looking from the side.  It’s a beautiful golf hole with a flawless backdrop.

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!

 

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The 3rd of a great four hole stretch, the par 3 7th carries a gorge to a narrow landing area.

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.

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The par 5 8th hole affords a beautiful look at your second shot.

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

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Just loved this view off the 12th green.

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.

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The 15th is a stunning par 3.

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.

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