If the Okanagan Valley of Canada's British Columbia is considered the best place in the country for winemaking, then consider the golf in the area to be the perfect filet mignon. Located just an hour by air from Seattle with the beautiful town of Kelowna serving as its anchor, the Okanagan Valley has become a wonderful retreat for both fans of exciting golf and delectable wine.
Before I get to the wine (which isn't hard to find in the Okanagan), there's plenty of great golf to write about. First of all, let's clear up a few misconceptions that some of you southerners may have about the land up north. Canada isn't all that cold. In fact, the Okanagan boasts some the best weather in all of Canada, with warm summers, beautiful springs and downright spectacular fall months. And the sun stays out for what seems like forever during early summer months, making it possible to play well over 36 holes a day if you feel so inclined. The weather? It's a non-issue.
For starters, the Okanagan Golf Alliance represents the best of the best in the area, with four destinations already in the Rota and more are on the way. And while it's suggested that there's no particular order to enjoy them, why not take it from someone who's been there and plan a trip over five days. (I'll help outline the golf for you, but the wining and dining is up to you.)
Upon your arrival to Kelowna, start your experience at the Okanagan Golf Club. Just brace yourself for a long car ride to the golf course—it's a whopping five minutes! Located in what seems like walking distance from the baggage claim, the Okanagan Golf Club is perhaps the best golf course ever situated near an international airport. On the property, you'll have no clue you're so close to civilization, considering the airport is both below you in elevation and the golf course is nestled deep in ponderosa pines.
Grab a bite to eat and get ready to tackle The Bear, the first of two courses at Okanagan GC. With such an aggressive moniker, you'd expect The Bear to be, well, a bear, but in actuality, it's the perfect warm-up round of golf. Designed by Nicklaus Design (which explains the name), The Bear course resembles all that a great golf course should be: It looks tough, but plays benign, therefore lending golfers a true feeling of accomplishment, despite the course playing easier than it looks. There's a nice variety too, with several holes featuring downhill tee shots and short, fun par-3 holes. Once you wrap up, time to hop in the car and get ready for your short drive along Lake Okanagan to what's known as Predator's Ridge, located near the lake in Kelowna's sister town of Vernon._Ê
Resembling a ski lodge more than a golf oasis, Predator's Ridge can easily double as a cozy, wintertime retreat. But with one look at the golf course, though, you'll see this place was built for pure golf. Designed by Canada's own Les Furber, Predator Ridge has 27 holes to choose from that, unlike The Bear course at the Okanagan GC, pack a vicious bite. Each nine begins in a unique setting, overlooking an expansive area of rolling hills and wild grass, much like what you'd expect on a links course in Scotland or Ireland. And speaking of links, be ready to tackle all 27 of them, since there's not a hole you'll want to miss. The Peregrine nine weaves through dense woodlands with a glimpse of the spectacular Lake Okanagan in the distance. The links-style Redtail nine places a premium on second shots, often requiring a golfer's best ability to "stick and hold" the tough, tight pin locations. And finally, the Osprey nine is, in my opinion, the toughest, but with that comes a whole lot of satisfaction when you make par or better on any hole.
With the increased level of difficulty on each of the 3 nine-hole layouts, let it be known that these courses are anything but unfair. With a little practice and some serious discipline, the three nines at Predator's Ridge can be tamed. Just don't forget to take advantage of the 11-acre practice facility before your round and be ready for some beautifully manicured greens._Ê
After an exciting round of golf at Predator's Ridge, get ready for a little reprieve as you head back to Kelowna for some sightseeing and wine tasting. Whether it's water sports, outdoor recreation or shopping, Kelowna doesn't disappoint. However, it's the vino that'll really get you in the mood for relaxation. Among the favorite local vineyards is Quail's Gate (www.quailsgate.com), featuring an idyllic setting just on the northern edge of Lake Okanagan. Known for producing stellar Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, one would be remiss to not taste and enjoy the sweet taste of ice wine, which is made with grapes carefully plucked from the vine while frozen. If you want to couple the experience with cuisine, the Old Vines restaurant on site at the Quail's Gate winery is just the ticket. After a few tastings and a delicious meal, round out your evening with a stroll along Kelowna's Cultural District showcasing a variety of art, cuisine, music and more.
Time to tee it up again. This time, the course is Gallagher's Canyon, where unlike the previous courses that held a hospitable resort feel, Gallagher's Canyon will have you feeling like a country club member, even if it's just for the day. The course, designed by Bill Robinson, resembles a true mountain course with loads of elevation changes and topographical variety. Not exceptionally long, measuring only 6,802 yards from the tips, Gallagher's Canyon makes up for it with a series of uphill-downhill approach shots, requiring precise club selections. The par-3s might sting if you aren't paying attention, but the par-5s are a hoot. If that's sounds like too much of a challenge, consider the mid-length 9-hole Pinnacle course. It's a lot easier. After golf, rinse down some fabulous food in the clubhouse and play Gallagher's Canyon again!
Aptly named The Harvest Golf club, the course for day four is truly unique. Built literally in the middle of gorgeous apple orchards, the harvest is an 18-hole Graham Cooke design that sprinkles through groves of nine different types of apples that you can literally pick for a refreshing burst of energy during your round. The course, which appears deceptively easier than the others due to the vast acreage of rolling fairway and grassy areas, is actually a tricky test of golf. You have to have a knack for chipping and putting to score well here, but even if you don't, the wide fairways make it easier to get by if your ballstriking isn't at it's best. Once the round is over, don't plan on going far to find some great wine for dinner. Explore the Harvest's own collection of award-winning wines, and partake in a delightful dinner at the Harvest Dining Room.
The last round had better be a good one, right? Time to end your golf trip to the Okanagan in style on The Quail course at the convenient Okanagan Golf Club. Designed to inspire even the toughest course critics (I know, I played with a bunch of them), The Quail has all the trimmings of a memorable golf course. There are elevated tees, straightforward holes and a healthy mix of doglegs, all culminating in a collection of holes that require virtually every club in the bag. Designed by Canada's own Les Furber, the course plays more like a target-style course than a course where you can bomb away, making it a favorite among players who take pride in hitting accurate tee and approach shots. Speaking of shots, bring your camera. The Quail course has 18 worthy contenders for a photo to put on your desk or office wall.
There you have it! Great golf runs abundant in the Okanagan Valley, but playing golf is only the beginning. A visit here just isn't complete without indulging your palate with all the fine wine and gourmet cuisine there is to offer. To get the scoop on the best golf in the area, visit www.spectaculargolf.com, and to really get a better understanding of the Okanagan beyond the golf, visit www.tourismkelowna.com. Both sites are wonderfully arranged and packed with everything you need to know to plan the perfect golf vacation in British Columbia. _Ê