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 but let us take a look at how I rank the course and the experience.

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 accomodate 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 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. I grudgingly took a quarter point off due to the fact 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 seemingly 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 review 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.


1 comment:

  1. I made it a little further in this one. Got to hole 16.

    Enough reading about it. I just want to go.

    ReplyDelete