Wine, weather & a world apart – Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada by Dave Finn
It has been thirty years since I last visited Kelowna British Columbia. My recollection was of a small quaint town of some 60,000 residents, nestled along the shores of the Okanagan Lake, completely surrounded by lush apple, peach and cherries orchards offset by the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Rockies in the distance. What I do not remember from those days was any mention of golf or a large number of wineries that could be toured. Times have certainly changed since the early 80’s.
Kelowna has now blossomed into a vibrant hub and the largest community in the Okanagan Valley with a population of over 115,000 (167,000 if you include the Central Okanagan Regional District). Newcomers have been lured here by the moderate year-round climate, warm summers with low humidity and little snowfall in the winter. Kelowna also boasts one of Trip Advisor’s “Top 10 Canadian Beaches” where you can sunbathe, swim, boat, fish, bike and hike. All this and you are still within a one-hour drive of three major ski destinations if you crave a change of seasons and mountains where you can learn to ski or challenge your skills.
And the wines will definitely challenge your taste buds! They are simply amazing to say the least! There are more than 25 wineries right in Kelowna and almost 200 in the surrounding valley so after a round be sure to take the time to perhaps explore the ‘Corkscrew Trail’ and savor the flavors. The wines are intriguing, produced by large facilities and small family vineyards alike. Many have received prestigious awards at the London International Wine & Spirits and San Francisco International Wine Competitions but sadly, many are not available outside British Columbia so may I suggest you stock up!
And let’s not forget about golf – a major factor that will positively influence your decision to visit the area. Kelowna holds claim to having over 2,000 hours of sunshine per year with a measly 11 inches of rain annually, making it one of the longest and driest golf seasons in Canada. Kelowna currently has 17 golf courses, soon to be 18 when the highly anticipated Ponderosa Golf Course opens, making them one of the highest, if not the highest concentrated golf destination in Canada.
Some of the best known local golf courses include: Predator Ridge (two time host of the PGA Skins Game), Tower Ranch (Travel + Leisure Golf Best New Course in Canada 2009 and one of Golf Digest’s Top 3 Best Courses in Canada 2010) and the Ridge Course at Predator Ridge (opened in 2010 to rave reviews including Best New Course in Canada by ScoreGolf magazine).
On my visit I had the opportunity to play The Harvest, Tower Ranch and The Quail courses.
The Harvest Golf Club is one of Graham Cooke’s original designs that meanders along the hillsides of productiveorchards, offering amazing views of the city and the Okanagan Lake. This 5,454 to 7,109 yard layout is a perfect way to start your golf trip as you can spray the ball off the tee without getting into too much trouble. You will find that most of the difficulty here is on your approach shot where accuracy is the key. A true resort-style course and if you pick the right set of tees, you will enjoy yourself without losing any golf balls (as I can attest to). Remember to stop at the turn so you can appreciate one of the most breathtaking views from the clubhouse to the 18th green, overlooking the waterfalls with the mountains in the background. A true Kodak moment indeed!
The Club at Tower Ranch is a dramatic Thomas McBroom links-style design that is carved out of the Kelowna hillside with spectacular panoramic views of the mountains and Okanagan Lake. There is no way to ease in on this layout. McBroom forces you to hit your driver on the first hole which brings the fairway bunkers into play on the left and a fescue filled hillside on the right.
Holes 13 & 15 are probably the two most controversial holes on the course as both require a good drive over a valley while avoiding the bunkers to reach a narrow fairway for your second shot. The green on the par 5 – 15th is almost impossible to hit close with your approach if the pin is up front, so be forewarned. Tower Ranch offers tremendous elevation changes, steep-faced bunkers – that you WILL be in and tough greens where it is a challenge to avoid the inevitable three-putt but definitely my favorite golf course!
The Quail Course at Okanagan Golf Club is a Les Furber 18-hole par 72 design from 1994 with six sets of tee block combinations that start from 4,713 yards and stretches out to 6,794 with a slope of 138 and course rating of 73.1. It is truly intended for all caliber of players since you can pick a distance that is most comfortable to your ability.
Furber has designed a great run of holes. Number 2 through 6 truly accentuate the natural contours of the land while working with the existing trees and foliage. The first fourteen holes are park-like in design, tucked amongst tall pines that line the narrow rolling fairways with plenty of elevation change. In contrast the last four holes have more of a links-feel to it with open fairways and little elevation change. Great course but if I could offer a couple of words of advice – “hit’em straight!”
Most of the recollections I had about Kelowna have not changed – that charming small-town feel with amazing scenery, plenty of sunshine and now some of the finest wines and most decorated golf courses in the country. Nine & Wine at its finest!
Kelowna is located two hours north of the US border above Washington State, about a six hour drive or a one hour flight from Seattle. There are daily direct flights Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria. If you are interested in experiencing golf in Kelowna then visit BC Golf Guide or call them for more information at 1-877-223-7226.
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