Click here for my full review of Tower Ranch.
Course Reviews – Tower Ranch – An Awe-Inspiring Mountain Golf ExperienceTobiano 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.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.
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.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.
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.
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.
Bucket List Update – Spring 2017
My decision to expand my personal Canadian public course ‘bucket list’ from about 72 courses to close to 100 was met with mixed reaction. To be more specific, one person commented that can a list of close to 100 public courses in Canada be considered a ‘bucket list’ or does it simply become just a list? A fair and valid critique and one best argued over a pint on the 19th hole of many of Canada’s best public (or private) courses. I am unapologetic about my bucket list and as I mentioned before, there’s a certain degree of self-indulgence in this list of mine. But arguing for it, the 2015 Golf Facilities in Canada Report cited 2126 public golf courses in the country. Looking at my current list of 98 courses, this is merely 4.6 percent of that total. Picking almost 100 from over 2100 ensures strong geographic representation with a quality focus.
With the exception of the territories, my list covers off all 10 provinces. My additions are not represented in all 10 provinces – at this time. In 2015 I had played ten courses in PEI to complete my bucket list there. And while none were added over the winter, I am getting some people mention to me that I should consider adding Belfast Highland Greens, a stunning 9-hole course which plays to a par 37.
To-date I have played 31 courses on my list. There’s a shockingly low number played in my home province of Ontario and I have yet to tee it up at all in Manitoba (which @meximenno is quick is remind me of regularly).
My goals for 2017 are to play Tower Ranch and Gallgaher’s Canyon in Kelowna while in BC on business. Other courses will likely be in Ontario this year, understanding there’s several great options in Muskoka I hope to access this fall. Others could be more a one-off with day trip potential to get in 18 or 36 an option for me. I don’t see other extended travel this summer for me but we shall see. This is a list I can work on over the years and having the anticipation of quality public golf across the country provides all the justification I need to have added to my list.
What courses are on your must play list? Is a list of 100 public courses in Canada too large to be considered a bucket list? And most important, am I missing any courses? Check my list and my bucket list map to see where I still have to venture to and play. With golf season almost here for all of Canada I hope there’s a golfing bucket list adventure planned for you in 2017.