Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Winding Down for Year

Autumn seems to have dug its heels in here in the Niagara Peninsula, as temperatures have dropped noticeably in the past two weeks. We'll be lucky if the temps hit 12 degrees celsius tomorrow and it's getting close to the end of the line for golf in Southern Ontario.

It was another solid weekend of golf, as I shot 78 on Saturday and a tremendous 73 on Sunday, tying my low score for the year. I was actually one under going to the 17th hole but bogeyed the last two holes - a bit disappointing but just getting into red figures so late in the round is breeding confidence as the season comes to a close. I'm already back down to a four handicap after touching a six briefly two weeks ago, quite the improvement in four rounds!

Still, there will be a lot to talk about in the days, weeks and months ahead. I still have a number of course reviews I would like to do - I still haven't talked about my day at the Devil's Pulpit and I also have to do a writeup on my disastrous round at Westmount, where I hit rock bottom with my game. Might be therapeutic to write about that experience!

Lots going on right now on the homefront - just got 17 new windows installed today and a new washer. The Buffalo Sabres begin their season on Saturday night at home against rival Montreal and I'll be there with the Now on the Tee season tickets. My wife is celebrating another birthday on Sunday and I also have my son Evan's first birthday coming up on October 20th. Oh yeah, my 3rd wedding anniversary is also in October on the 28th.

Sheesh...what an expensive month!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tobiano GC

Tobiano
Kamloops, British Columbia, CANADA


7367 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 75.3/135
COURSE ARCHITECT: Thomas McBroom (2007)
ACCESSIBILITY: Public
COURSE WEBSITE: http://tobiano.ca/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 3
LAST PLAYED: July 22, 2010.
LOW SCORE: 77 (+5)




ACCOLADES -
- Golf Digest Best New Canadian Course 2008
- Golf Digest Top 30 in Canada 2015: #25
- Golfweek Best Canadian Modern Courses 2015: #5
- ScoreGolf Top 100 in Canada 2014: #13
- ScoreGolf Top 59 Public Courses in Canada 2015: #10
- Canadian Golf Magazine Top 100 in Canada 2015: #8


"My first thought was just how powerful the site is from a drama and a beauty point of view. I've said it many times, but Tobiano has to be the best site that I've ever seen in terms of that beauty and that drama. With the mountains in the background, and Kamloops Lake and the fissured landscape, it is literally as good as it gets."
- Thomas McBroom, Tobiano Architect

My whirlwind tour of great central British Columbia golf courses continued, as I planned on playing the much-heralded Tobiano Golf Club in Kamloops the day after playing Sagebrush. While Sagebrush won ScoreGolf's award for best new course in '09, Tobiano took the same honour in 2008.

I was pretty exhausted after my full day of playing Sagebrush and the five hours of driving also took it's toll. I woke up a bit late and didn't get out of the house until about 9am to make the hour and a half drive (or so I thought) to Tobiano.

After the full day at Sagebrush, I promised my wife I'd be back at 6:00pm in time for dinner on this day - our host at the cottage we were staying at was flying in from Alberta so the least I could do was be there when he arrived back. I didn't think it would be too much of a problem - unlike Sagebrush, I just wanted to play Tobiano and get back to Vernon.

Well, it ended up taking about a half hour longer than expected to get to Tobiano, as the drive was pretty much two hours from Vernon. Still, the site is quite breathtaking once you arrive, as the course sits above the extremely tranquil Kamloops Lake on what used to be the historic Six Mile Ranch.

Like Sagebrush, the panoramas here are stunning but the golf courses play quite a bit differently than each other.

I didn't have a tee time setup but I called the club on the way to ask them to hook me up with another group. I was a bit dismayed when I finally got there when they told me that my tee time was at noon - there was an opening about a half hour earlier but the girl behind the desk told me it would be with three elderly ladies who are notoriously slow. She figured I wanted to play some players closer to my age and I ended up getting hooked up with a club pro out of Alberta, his wife and another guy from Vancouver who was about a 10 handicap.

My group was great - we ended up playing from the tips and while 7300+ yards sounds daunting, the course definitely plays shorter due to the plethora of downhill tee shots.

The first hole is a 576 yard par five that starts well downhill and then winds back up toward the green. A really solid opener - the drive (a very long carry) and the layup are no bargain, with the fairway sloping sharply from right to left and the green is pretty blind from back in the fairway. I hit three really nice shots but three whacked the green to start with a bogey.

The second is a shortish par four that doglegs right. You can't see the green at all from the tee and the ideal tee shot is over a large bunker protecting the inner part of the dogleg. I killed my tee shot and had a short pitch shot (shown above) to the green. I'd hit the front of the green and make about a 15 footer for the nice bounceback birdie!

If you can believe it, it took almost 45 minutes to play the first two holes and I was already thinking that there was no chance I was getting my full round in.

Disaster struck on the short par three third. I hit a perfect tee shot but misjudged the distance badly, hitting it about fifteen yards over the green. I was pretty much dead - I'd pitch back toward the green and it rolled through and took three more shots from there, making a terribly disappointing double bogey.

The fourth is a manly par four measuring 510 yards from the tips and doglegs slightly to the left. Lots of great rolling terrain here! I hit my second shot through the green but made the two-putt par from the fringe to stay at +2.


The 480 yard, downhill par four fifth might be the most stunning hole on the golf course. The entire hole is framed by huge dunes and I've read that Tom McBroom didn't move any land here, saying the hole is completely natural. It's like a huge halfpipe all the way down to the hole and it's just thrilling to play. I had a little less than 200 yards into the green and hit a great five iron to about 18 feet but settled for the satisfying par.


The sixth is way back up the hill and is a long dogleg left par four. The approach shot is pretty awesome, as the green sits up on top of the bench and there's nothing but the mountains in the distance providing the backdrop for the hole. I'd wager that a lot of approach shots come up short here, as mine did. I wouldn't be able to get up and down and thus moved to +3 through 6.

I couldn't suppress my laughter upon reaching the seventh tee, a 197 yard par three. The shot is ALL CARRY from one finger of land to another and the green is only about 25 yards deep but extremely wide. It almost seems like it's too hard to hit with a long iron but all three of us hit the green (I used a 5-iron) so maybe it just looks harder than it is...but I doubt it. The pin was over on the left side but my ball was about as far away to the right as you could get. My 100 foot or so birdie effort fell woefully short and I'd miss my par putt as well to move to +4 on the day. This hole is tough!

The par five eighth hole at Tobiano might be the second most difficult par five I've ever played in my life next to the stupid 10th hole at Mystic GC in Ancaster, Ontario. This hole is almost as unfair as that one but is playable I suppose. You need to KILL your tee shot here just to reach the fairway, which again is about 220 yards or so over another huge dropoff area. Into the wind.

Then, you have to layup your shot into an area where the fairway width is about 15 yards and also slopes sharply towards Kamloops Lake on the right. If you're successful with that, you'll still likely have about 180 or so yards left for your third shot to a long, undulating green.

Now, I made par here after hitting my drive into one of those fairway bunkers that fronted the beginning of the fairway but I had to hit a great 200 yard 5-iron third shot into the green to do it. I think this hole is way too hard for a resort-type course and holes like this are why the golf course plays so slow.

The ninth is an uphill par four measuring 418 yards. The landing area is wide but really, the difficulty here is in the second shot, which is played well uphill to a slopey green protected by deep bunkers. I'd three-putt here as well for another bogey and a 41 on the front, this despite playing really solid golf from tee to green.

I was almost to the point of snapping as we waited about ten minutes to tee off on number ten. It was after 3pm already and considering I had a two-hour drive ahead of me, it was quite apparent that I wasn't finishing this round. Truly sad.

The 558 yard par five tenth is a bit 'Plain Jane' compared to the first nine holes but in a way, it's welcomed. Everything is right in front of you on the hole that weaves back and forth and climbs uphill. I sprayed my drive to the right here but still made a pretty routine par.


The 420 yard par four 11th is a beauty - a dogleg right that tumbles downhill off the tee but back uphill a bit to the wide and shallow green. I hit into one of the gaping fairway bunkers on the right then hit the lip trying to get out. I'd miss a two-footer here and end up making a double.

The 12th is another lovely par three that stretches to 240 yards from the tips but plays downwind and downhill. I blocked my 4-iron way right here and made a second consecutive double, as I was completely out of grind mode by this point and just continually looking at my watch to check the time.

I'd play the 13th hole as well, a 578 yard par five with another huge carry off the tee just to reach the fairway. It's quite the gorgeous tee shot but for some reason, I didn't take a picture here. I'd bogey this one and notice that it was already after 4:00pm. I would have to pack it in.

I can't tell you how disappointed I am that I could only get 13 holes in here. This golf course is just so difficult but everyone and their mother wants to play out here and I truly believe that it's just too hard for the casual player.

I drove through the rest of the course and took a few quick photos before heading out.


The 14th is a 453 yard par four with a blind tee shot. The landing area is well below and from there, the panarama is jaw-dropping, with the gorgeous lake and mountains framing the green that sits even further below the landing area. This looks like it would have been a hell of a fun hole to play. :(

The short 155 yard par three 15th plays downwind and Kamloops Lake runs down the entire left side. Another stunner of a hole.


The 16th is a sharply downhill par five measuring 567 yards. Despite the scorecard length, this hole is likely reachable in two, as it tumbles substantially downhill. Another hole that looked like a hoot to play.

You face another long, forced carry on the 179 yard par three 17th and again, the green is pretty shallow but wide. Looks like a shorter version of the 7th hole.


Now, keep in mind I didn't play it but the 18th looks like a pretty pedestrian finisher. A 473 yard, downhill par four with a pretty wide landing area. Just a very plain hole and not really a worthy closer on such a good course.

The golf course plays pretty firm but nowhere near as fast as Sagebrush. You pretty much have to play an aerial game at Tobiano as well, which isn't nearly as much fun as experimenting with the ground game.

I'm also worried about how this place will look in five years. There is a tremendous amount of housing development going on right now at Tobiano and I have a feeling that it will mar the landscape out there, which in turn will lessen the experience of playing the course in my opinion. The ridiculously slow play also is a major concern and I just wonder why McBroom had to choose a routing that had so many long forced carries even from the front tees.

That all said, Tobiano is slightly flawed but overall is a really solid golf course worthy of the hype.

There is a tremendous amount of risk and reward out here and Tobiano from the tips is a supreme test. From a playability perspective, I think the golf course is just too hard for higher handicappers and I wonder why McBroom didn't place some more tees closer to the fairway for women and seniors. There are way too many forced carries for those players - it's a rugged piece of land for certain, with many benches of land where he placed tees and fairways but I have to figure he could have made a compromise with some of the tee boxes to improve playability for beginners.

There is some width out here, a necessity with the strong winds that you can face in the afternoon and that helps lessen the course's difficulty somewhat. However, this is still a very tough test and you really need to be on your game to score well. There are a few holes that seem to play similar to others: the par three 7th feels very much like the 17th while the tough par five 8th and 13th holes almost play the same from the tee. McBroom also relies on the dogleg left holes a bit more than normal but it's a minor quibble. There are some really strong and memorable holes out here and the golf course flows quite well for the most part. A couple weak holes still do stand out, however.

Stunning views and unbelievable topography make Tobiano one of the more beautiful golf courses in the country and dare I say, the world. However, I expect the landscape to be marred somewhat as housing starts to make its way onto the course and disturb the tremendous vistas.

Tobiano is in tremendous shape for a young course - the greens were like velvet and the fairways and tees were in excellent condition. Greens were a touch slow compared to Sagebrush and the ground game isn't really an option at Tobiano, for the most part.

The stunning views of the mountains and the lake certainly help but the slow play and all of the noise from the bulldozers and workers putting up houses are a detraction.

This land is quite severe and McBroom's routing takes the player up and down cliffsides and other benches throughout the golf course. This is a course I wouldn't want to walk.

Tobiano has to be one of the tougher tests in Canada. I thought the experience of playing there would be a bit higher but the encroaching housing development and the issues with slow play damage what could have been one of the more special golf courses in the country.

Still, I'm very glad I made the effort to play Tobiano and I hope to return someday to play all 18 holes. I will bet that this course will be ranked inside the top 30 in the country by next year.

EDIT: SEPTEMBER 7, 2010
I'm happy to say I was able to get back out to Kamloops earlier this summer and finally got the chance to play all 18 holes this time. In fact, I played 36 in a single day!

I still think the golf course is too difficult for higher handicappers, even from shorter tee decks, as the forced carries are just too considerable in many cases. However, I did enjoy myself a bit more the second go-around and will probably venture back again at some point in the future.

And I was right with my prediction that Tobiano would settle within the top 30 in the 2010 rankings - in fact, the course fared even better than I could imagine, finishing in 16th spot in the country, high praise indeed.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Annual "End of Year Surge"

Every year at this time I seem to put together some really good scores, prompting a bunch of snarky comments from the likes of Harry and Cal who make fun of the fact I can't seem to go on a similar run when it actually means something.

2009 has been a tough year on the golf course for yours truly - my handicap index has gone from a 1.7 at the beginning of the year to a 4.8 at the beginning of the weekend. From the tips at St. Catharines, that gives me a six handicap, almost unfathomable to me.

I've had a hell of a time even breaking 80 this year and my last round in the 70s was in the fifth leg of the Niagara Men's Tour at LochNess Links over a month ago.

However, my traditional 'Fall Season Surge' has taken over and I was able to put together one of the best scoring weekends of the year.

On Saturday, I played in a great group with Cal, Harry and Dr. Greg, who comes back to St. Catharines to play a few times a year. I continued my new strategy of hitting driver off the short par four 1st hole and made a routine par.

On the second tee, Harry, who bogeyed the first hole, started some trash talk about my high handicap and said we should play a match today. He even agreed to give me three shots (he's down to a 3 handicap versus my 6), after which I said I'd destroy him with shots.

So we decided to play a match for the huge sum of $5.00. After I parred the first eight holes in succession and bogeyed the ninth, I found myself leading 7 UP AFTER NINE HOLES!

Harry, unlike his recent fine play, was having a pretty tough day on the course but foolishly asked if he could press the bet. I quickly accepted and while I made a few really big mistakes on the back nine (double bogeyed the 12th and 17th holes), I still ended up prevailing 3&2 on the back side to win the whole bet.

For the round, after shooting 37 (+1) on the front, I was stumbling on the back - I was +7 on the 18th tee and I figured I'd make my normal bogey five on the last hole to shoot yet another 80. But I got those thoughts out of my head, crushed a drive down the middle then nailed my approach shot to about 6 inches, barely missing an eagle. The birdie gave me a round of 78 (+6), my first sub-80s round in five weeks! Wicked!

I followed that up on Sunday with an even better round. Playing with Cal, Joe B and Thane, we all started very slowly - the group didn't make its first par UNTIL THE FOURTH HOLE!

I started bogey/bogey/bogey but parred in on the front for a 39 (+3). I bogeyed the 11th and 13th holes but BIRDIED the 10th, 14th and 16th holes to shoot a tremendous one under 35 on the back, finishing the round with a 74 (+2), my second-best score of the year.

I'm just trying to keep the ball in play off the tee, shortening my swing with my driver and my irons and it seems to be working. I'm also really concentrating on getting through to the left side on the follow-through and hitting down through the ball at impact. It also helps that my putting has gotten much better, as I'm standing much more upright than normal and the line seems to be easier to read with that posture change.

The autumn here in Southern Ontario has been excellent weather-wise so far - in fact, our weather right now is better than we've had the entire summer. The golf course is in fantastic condition too so I expect to play right through October or until the club aerates the greens.

Hopefully the renaissance with my game continues, as I'd love to put together one round this year at par or better.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club - Part Two

SAGEBRUSH GOLF & SPORTING CLUB - Read Part One Here

THE TENTH HOLE: 160 YARDS - PAR 3

This little par three plays downhill and downwind, making it play quite a bit shorter than the yardage, especially in the afternoon when it’s gusty.

There are some nice undulations on this large green, with a false front to be contended with as well.

There’s a bit more room to the right than it appears, with things opening up a touch beyond the hillside. My tee shot rolled just through the green to the back left and ended up in some long fescue. Richard pleaded with me to pull it out of there with no penalty, as he said the fescue should have been hacked down at greenside – he said he only intends the really poor shots to be penalized by fescue whereas shots just missed should be playable from shorter rough or the sagebrush. Still, I couldn't get up and down and made bogey while Richard made a routine par.

THE ELEVENTH HOLE: 488 YARDS - PAR 4

Very long par four that benefits from the prevailing wind being behind the player on the approach shot. One of the coolest tee shots on the course – the panorama here is just stunning and so grand in scale that I couldn’t properly frame the shot below to include the green (set well to the left) and the landing area off the tee, which is further to the right than shown below.

The picture below shows the landing area off the tee, as the best line would be just a bit left of the centerline ‘fescue island’.

The approach shot is downhill, making it play one to two clubs shorter and perhaps more depending on the helping wind. Shots played to the right side will kick back toward the center of the green.

If you get a bit frisky with your line and end up left, this is what you might face, as there is a very steep slope that falls considerably from the green. You can barely make out the flag, sitting in line with the fence on the right center of the photograph.


To give you a sense of scale here, in the photo above you can see a group of players on the 11th tee way in the background. Once near the green, you have to contend with a false front and a green that slopes sharply from right to left but low stinger approaches will work quite well. A tremendous par four in my opinion, one that Richard birdied from the tips while I barely missed my own bird and settled for the satisfying par.

THE TWELFTH HOLE: 122 YARDS - PAR 3

The very short par three 12th hole sits well up on top of the property and what a gorgeous spot it is. Richard is reminded of Pine Valley when on the tee, with rugged and deep bunkers offering additional protection for the tiny putting surface that resembles an upside down bowl.

This is quite the test for a short one-shotter and there is truly nowhere to miss it, as anything not hitting the green almost assures the player of a bogey. You aim for the middle of the green here and take your chances with the putter.

Of course, I did the smart thing and aimed for the middle but pulled my shot ever so slightly left, right at the flag. When we got to the green, we saw my ball sitting about 4 inches from the cup. Richard said it would have only been the second ace at this hole since the course opened.

Yes, I made the putt for birdie.

The jaunt from the 11th green to the 12th tee is the toughest climb on the course and one of the only reasons Sagebrush is a tough walk.

THE THIRTEENTH HOLE: 320 YARDS - PAR 4

This downhill par four plays from the top of the property over the trout lake down below. This is “Richard’s hole”: he wanted a risk/reward par four with similarities to Riviera’s wonderful 10th hole. Here, the slope of the fairway takes the ball left to right so if you are looking to drive the green, which is definitely reachable, you have to hug the tree-lined hillside on the left to give yourself a chance to run it in.

Alternatively, you can choose to layup or hit into the expansive fairway to the right or short of the bunker. However, that leaves an extremely difficult pitch over the front bunker to a green that slopes hard from right to left and front to back.


You can see how the green falls away at the rear, penalizing any approach that isn’t hit with precision.

I took the aggressive line with my driver, hitting it on the boundary left and the ball came up about thirty yards short. I'd hit an indifferent pitch and proceed to three putt the green while Richard drove into the front bunker and got up and down for a nice birdie.

This is a really strong short par four.

THE HIDEOUT

I’d be remiss if I didn’t stop here and talk about ‘The Hideout’, the little getaway at the foot of the 13th tee. The Hideout is an important part of the experience at Sagebrush and a post dedicated to the club would be incomplete without a good look at this great getaway in the middle of the course.

This is the second yurt on the property and it sits right on the private trout lake, giving players the ability to take a break from the golf action and do a little fly fishing! Lots of extra rods onsite for those who didn’t bring their own gear!







It can also be defined as a halfway house on steroids, with interim food and beverage service, a big screen television and fine cigars and local wines, among other things.





Richard called in from the 12th tee and made sure some burgers were on the grill for us after we teed off on 13. We stopped in for lunch and I was able to meet Roy Jeffrey, his wife and another couple - Jeffrey, founder of telecommunications giant WesTower Communications, is one of the major financial partners in Sagebrush.

It's a pretty low-key place, as you just grab whatever you want and sit down, pretty much the honour system here. Very cool!

The club also serves its signature steak dinner here in the early evening for many of its guests. What a great place to unwind during or after your round and many players stick around until darkness falls.

I had a burger, a powerade and some potato chips before Richard and I headed back out to finish our round. No time for fly fishing today!

THE FOURTEENTH HOLE: 584 YARDS - PAR 5

A long par five that plays significantly downhill off the tee but moves back uphill on your second and third shots. Tee shots need to carry the sagebrush but there is one of the widest landing areas on the course here. Tee shots hit further right give better sightlines into the green but need to carry further to avoid the brush.

You have the choice of giving it a go on your second shot or laying up, although the wind will likely be very strong in your face by this point in the round. The ideal second shot hugs the left side to open up the visual to the green. Shots hit to the meat of the fairway on the right side will leave a semi-blind approach.


You can see above how tricky the third shot can be if you are a bit right of center, as you can see the pin but little else.

Bunkers left and long will swallow a lot of golf balls here. The left greenside bunker is very shallow and the prudent play on a short-sided shot is to putt the ball out, something I don’t usually get the opportunity to try but did on this day, as my wedge third was pulled into this bunker. I'd putt out of it to tap in distance for my easy par, tying Richard on the hole.

Again, lots of different shots are required or available at Sagebrush and this is just another example.

THE FIFTEENTH HOLE: 356 YARDS - PAR 4

A relatively short par four that is played into the wind and challenges the player with a fairway that isn’t visible from the tee. Another very wide fairway with shots hit to the left benefiting the most due to the left to right kicker slopes down below.

The second shot plays back up the hill and likely from a sidehill lie to a very long and narrow green surface.

Shots that leak a little to the right or come up a bit short will fall way down the slope to the right, leaving a difficult pitch shot back up the hill or even worse, a tough bunker shot.



This is certainly not the most intimidating looking hole when looking at the scorecard but a tough second shot and a neat green site offer plenty of challenges, especially when the pin is up front. Both Richard and I found the fairway and both ended up in the left fringe, where we'd also both get down in two for pars.

THE SIXTEENTH HOLE: 644 YARDS - PAR 5

The tee shot on this long par five should be played toward the valley of trees in the distance, as the middle of the fairway is obscured by the hillside in the foreground. Balls hit to the right will likely bounce well left to safety off the sagebrush.

The second shot can be partially blind, depending on how far you hit it off the tee and plays well downhill. The proper line is just a bit left of the rockpile in the distance, as there is a high likelihood of the ball filtering down the hill and onto the green. However, you must be sure to avoid the deep and scraggly fairway bunker that offers protection from players going directly at the green.


The third shot will be played from above the green to a very large and undulating putting surface that breaks sharply from right to left. Little pitch and runs work great here and it’s incredible fun to watch the ball run down the hill and off to the left toward the pin.


I'd nail a perfect drive but push my hybrid second shot well right into the junk, eventually making a crushing double bogey seven. Richard made yet another birdie here, continuing his incredible back nine hot streak, getting to three under on the side!

THE SEVENTEENTH HOLE: 434 YARDS - PAR 4

I’m pretty sure Richard said that this is his favourite vista on the entire course, with Nicola Lake and the mountains in the background and the 18th hole sitting above the 17th in the foreground. The tee shot here is played downhill to a fairway that is blind in the picture below. The proper aiming point is the fairway bunker on the left hand side.

It’s a pretty straightforward approach shot here into the prevailing wind, with a bit of a false front and a large swale near the back of the green.


I'd hit my drive way right here but thankfully things open up quite a bit over there. I'd proceed to get my approach to the front of the very deep green and make about a 12 footer for par after my birdie effort came up well short of the back pin. Richard barely missed another bird, tapping in for the routine par.

THE EIGHTEENTH HOLE: 420 YARDS - PAR 4

A solid finisher, played into the prevailing wind where you need to decide how far right you want to go to open up the view for your second shot. Balls will tend to bounce a bit to the right due to some fairway sloping in that direction but you can have a bit of a blind second shot if you venture too far to the left.

According to Richard, there was a lot of debate on where to place this green. The initial plans called for the green to be placed well right of where it is currently but the problem was that the second shot would have been completely blind due to the fact that the area was much lower than fairway grade. Richard was strongly opposed to a blind approach shot on the last hole so a compromise was made and the greensite was moved to its present location.



There’s a chipping area behind the green and I can tell you that it is no bargain getting up and down from back there, as my 5-iron second shot went long but I ended up curling home an eight footer for the satisfying par and a round of 79! Richard also parred here for a 33 (-3) incoming nine for a final score of 73 (+1).

Richard headed back in for a conference call while I played a few more holes and took all the photographs you see in these two posts.

Afterwards, I headed back out to the Hideout for the steak dinner, sitting and conversing with head superintendent Norley Calder and a few of his friends who he had out as guests on this day. Richard joined us as well a bit later, along with his partner Terry Donald and a few other of the 20 or so people on the course that day, one of whom was Kyle German, the 2008 Canadian PGA Club Professional Championship and 2009 Canadian Open participant.

I hung out for a quick drink after the dinner but had to run - I left Vernon at about 7am and it was already almost 7pm - I still had over a two hour drive to get back so I thanked Richard, Terry and Norley for the incredible day and was on my way after one more quick photo.

Well, it's pretty easy to see that my time at Sagebrush was something truly special.

There are an abundance of different shots to play out here and you are also given many different risk/reward opportunities off the tee and in the fairways. Accuracy off the tee isn't the most crucial factor at Sagebrush, with plenty of width in the fairways to accommodate wind conditions. As indicated, one of the things Richard was most proud of was the fact that almost every hole had a tee box at the beginning of the fairway to improve playability for novice players. With many of the holes swinging downhill a bit to start, that means the golfer can roll it off the tee and still have a reasonable opportunity to continue to play the hole out. Meanwhile, playing the tips will challenge the best players with more some forced carries sprinkled throughout the course.

Richard admitted that Sagebrush might be a pushover for top players in calm conditions but this is a course that was designed with windy conditions in mind, conditions that are prevalent pretty much every afternoon in the Nicola Valley. It is a superb test under normal conditions.

Sagebrush also offers incredible variety: looking for short par threes? Got it. Long par threes? Got it too. Driveable par four? Yup. Reachable par fives? Yes sir. Heroic, long par fives? How about two of them? With wildly undulating fairways and greens and myriad playing possibilities on each hole, Sagebrush offers as much variety as any course I've ever played. It's truly a place where you can play a hundred times and each time you can try something different. One quibble is that a couple of the par fives (7 & 16) and a couple of par fours (2 & 5) play and feel very similar. From a memorability standpoint, every hole seems to have a different wrinkle to it but the whole concept of the course and it's design seems to flow beautifully from the first hole all the way to the last.

The backdrops at Sagebrush are awe-inspiring, with the mountains towering above the course and Nicola Lake always present in the background as well. As for conditioning, the seventh hole was still in kind of rough shape when I played as mentioned earlier. There was also some work being done near the green on 16 but I must say that the overall conditioning here is outstanding. Norley Calder has done a wonderful job getting the course to play exactly how Richard envisioned - firm and extremely fast. The greens were stimping at close to 11 when we played, or "right on the edge" as Richard said. The ball just rolled and rolled on the fairways and the ground game is embraced with open arms at Sagebrush. Truly wonderful and the course was recently awarded by the USGA as one of the top clubs in North America from an agronomic perspective.

The overall feel and atmosphere both on the course and at the club is off the charts. This 'feels' like the way golf should truly be - the club likes to have only about 7 to 8 groups on the course on any given day, making you feel like you're the only ones out there. Add this to the gorgeous backdrops, the coolest halfway house I've ever seen, the fly fishing and the unbelievably fun golf course and you have the perfect golf experience!

There are a couple really tough hikes from green to tee so it would be a very difficult walk. I don't think it's impossible though and one day, I hope to try to carry a bag and walk the place...

What I can say honestly is that my day at Sagebrush was one I'll never forget. I obviously had the great fortune of teeing it up with the ultimate escort in club chairman Richard Zokol but even putting that aside for a second, I've never played a golf course that was more fun than this one.

There are so many different ways to play each hole and each shot you face during your day. You have a smile a wide long on your face all day as you watch balls trickle down slopes toward the pin or tumble an extra 30 yards down the firm fairways. This is the way golf was meant to be played and enjoyed and I truly can't wait to get back.

Let me know what you think of the course based on my profile and photos and let me know if you would ever be interested in tipping it up out there. I'm hoping to make a return in 2010 and would perhaps have the opportunity to bring some guests with me.