Thursday, March 17, 2011

Golf Trip of a Lifetime: Volume Two

This is another post written in the past...

I'm writing this post at home, one full day before my departure from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, having grown frustrated from my complete inability to pack all of the warm clothes I'll need into my smallish carry-on suitcase.

My destination is arguably the finest golf resort in North America, Oregon's Bandon Dunes, which sits right on the Pacific coast.

That said, I've timed this post to appear just as I'm set to tee off at Bandon Trails, the 55th ranked course in the US according to Golf Magazine, for my first round in 2011.

This is a dream trip without doubt and I'm spending five days and four nights at the resort. If all goes as planned, I'll be playing ten rounds of golf in those five days, playing all four courses onsite at least twice.

They are all highly decorated. The original course, David McLay Kidd's Bandon Dunes, is currently ranked 33rd in the US according to Golf Magazine while the publication ranks the second course built at the resort, Tom Doak's Pacific Dunes, 10th in the US. The aforementioned Bandon Trails, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw collaboration, is the third course while the newest, Tom Doak and Jim Urbina's Old Macdonald, was just completed in 2010 and will hit the rankings for the first time later this year. Early word is that Old Mac ranks very highly among the four and maybe just a tad below Pacific.

I'm going to try to update my Twitter feed as much as possible over the course of the trip and maybe will even upload a crappy Blackberry photo or two of the course if I get the chance.

I will be bringing my lovely SLR for the trip and plan on taking as many photos as I can, weather-permitting of course. Upon my return, you can look forward to seeing detailed reviews and photo tours of all four courses at the resort.

Here's hoping for decent weather! Talk to you in a week!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Predator Ridge - The Ridge Course

*** Now on the Tee has MOVED to our own domain!!! ***


Predator Ridge Resort - The Ridge Course
Vernon, British Columbia, CANADA

7123 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Doug Carrick (2010)
LAST PLAYED: July 26, 2010.
LOW SCORE: 74 (+2)

- Canada's Top 100 2017: #38
- ScoreGolf Top 110 in Canada 2018: #28
- ScoreGolf Top 59 Public Courses in Canada 2017: #9

The final stop on our 2010 golf trip to British Columbia was the Predator Ridge Resort in Vernon, just outside of Kelowna.

We arrived at the club well past midnight, grabbed our keys and drove out to the Peregrine Cottage that was assigned to us.

The accommodations were unbelievably spacious and comfortable and our only regret is that we didn't get any time at all to enjoy them, as we quickly hit the sack in preparation for our early morning tee time.

We were going to be playing the brand new Ridge Course at Predator Ridge and it was a bit of a coup, as the course wasn't officially going to be open to the public for about another week.

Doug Carrick and his team are behind the $10 million Ridge Course, which features eight completely redesigned holes from the old Peregrine course and ten brand new ones. The terrain is absolutely spectacular, with holes climbing up and down the mountainside, rock outcroppings galore and beautiful vistas of surrounding mountains and lakes always a constant.

Being our last round of the week and one that we needed to get done in a timely fashion in order to catch a mid-day flight, we decided to play the 6655 yard Blue Tees as opposed to the Blacks.

The course doesn't feature a "figure 8" routing, instead starting and finishing near the clubhouse on very open land in an "out and back" style. The first hole plays on this links-style land but a very long cart ride awaits in order to get to the second tee and right away you can see the character of the course change, as you move into more of a parkland setting, albeit on a mountainside with rock outcroppings at almost every turn.

The downhill par four second is a beauty and the two-shot third takes you right back uphill. The dogleg right par four 4th is another strong hole, as you get your first glimpse of the lake well down below.

The 244 yard par three 5th is just a gorgeous piece of business, falling straight downhill the whole way with the mountains and lake providing a memorable backdrop. Things get even more interesting on the 438 yard par four 6th, as a very large and intimidating rock outcropping obscures the landing area from the tee, making first-time play quite a challenge! I think we sat on that tee for at least a minute before figuring out our line! What a golf hole!

You continue your descent on the par five 7th, a lovely dogleg left that starts to climb from the landing area all the way to the green.

From there, you must deal with a tough 229 yard par three before concluding the outgoing nine on the visually stunning par five 9th, a reachable 509 yarder that features rock outcroppings on both sides of the hole. My attempt at reaching the green in two ended up hitting the rocks on the right and bouncing back over to the left, just in front of the green, where I'd make my first birdie of the day.

You begin to climb back up the hillside on the par four 10th, which again features an outcropping that comes into play just left of the green. The 11th is a lengthy par five that climbs the entire way uphill and features a narrow entry into a well-protected greensite.

The 12th is a picturesque mid-length par three measuring 171 yards with a large and undulating putting surface and the 13th is the last par five on the course, a lengthy 562 yarder with a bit of a halfpipe-styled fairway that runs between the outcroppings.

The 14th requires a precise touch both from the tee and green. Not long at only 396 from the tips, the tee shot plays downhill but the second shot is uphill to a partially blind green site, especially if you lay back too far, with a large outcropping on the left side always on your mind on the approach.

The 15th is the last one-shotter on the course, a little 165 yarder with water fronting the left side of the green and an outcropping in the back right that causes trouble for any players that decide to bail out.

The 16th is a bit of an awkward hole, a 336 yard par four that tumbles down hill with a greensite hidden behind the treeline and a water hazard on the left. A definite "position-first" hole.

The course moves back to open, links-style land for the last two holes and both are absolute brutes. The 17th is a 472 yard par four monster, featuring a diagonal carry across a water hazard with bunkers through the fairway on the right. This hole was very notable for yours truly - to this point, I had hit every single green in regulation. That's right - I was 16 for 16 and I never had hit all 18 greens in one round in my entire life. Well, that streak would continue, as I drove into the fairway bunker and with approximately 200 yards left, I proceeded to hit the lip on the bunker shot and barely escape the sand. It didn't take long for the smile to return to my face though, as I would hit my next shot to within ten feet and make the putt for the extremely satisfying par!

The 18th goes back the other way toward the clubhouse and the second shot is a doozy, uphill, over a little creek to a very elevated and expansive putting surface. I'd three-putt here, my fourth of the day and shoot a strange 74 (+2) despite 17 greens in regulation.

Almost all of the Doug Carrick courses I've played share similar characteristics and The Ridge Course is no different. You'll find plenty of elevated tee shots throughout the round, wide playing corridors, more than a fair share of uphill approaches and large and conservatively contoured putting surfaces. He designs fun golf courses and The Ridge definitely qualifies.

As usual with Carrick, the architecture is strong and he's done a very good job using the land given to him. The routing is a bit awkward in spots but I'd be hard-pressed to offer an opinion on what he could have done to make it better. The course is very playable for players of all levels and it's certainly a heck of a lot of fun.

The golf course was pretty much brand new when we played and I must say that I was extremely impressed with the overall conditioning. You can tell that the resort didn't rush people onto this course, instead letting it grow in and settle before having some play. The turf was nice and firm through the greens and the bunker edges didn't have that brittle look that you sometimes get with newly-designed courses. Bravo!

And I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the views, which certainly rank up there with the best our country has to offer. Simply stunning!

Unfortunately, the course really isn't walkable, with a couple significant green-to-tee transfers and a lot of downhill/uphill climbs throughout the round but I don't want that to deter any ardent walkers from experiencing this fine track.

My only personal regret was playing the Blue tees instead of the back deck. At just over 6600 yards and playing much less than that distance due to the elevation, I only used my driver on two or three par fours so I feel I would have gotten a stronger test from the tips. That's something I'll rectify in my next trip out west!

Predator Ridge's new Ridge Course recently took home the ScoreGolf award for Best New Canadian Course in 2010 and I will predict right now that the course will find a place somewhere comfortably inside the top 50 when the magazine comes out with their next country-wide rankings in 2012. It's a must-play for any visitors to the Okanagan region in British Columbia and I won't be surprised if it quickly becomes more popular than the original course at Predator Ridge. I look forward to returning, hopefully sooner rather than later!

The Peregrine Cottages at Predator Ridge

2nd Tee

2nd Hole Approach

Looking back from behind 2nd Green

3rd Tee

Approach shot on the 3rd

4th Tee

Approach shot on the 4th

The lovely 'drop shot' par three 5th

Cal having second thoughts about leaving Canada for Israel

Steve and Ryan check out the beautiful view

The captivating 6th hole

Approach on the 6th

Looking back toward the ominous outcropping on the 6th

The beautiful 7th hole

Second shot into the 7th

The par three 8th hole

The 9th Tee

Approach shot on the 9th

Looking back down the 9th fairway from behind

The 10th tee

Approach shot into the elevated 10th green

The 11th Tee

Approach shot into the par five 11th 

Looking back down the 11th fairway from behind the green

The short 12th hole

The 13th tee

Approach shot into the 13th

The 14th Tee

Tough approach into the 14th

The par three 15th

Tee shot on the downhill 16th

Little pitch approach into the 16th

The 18th tee

An uphill approach into the elevated 18th green

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Beautiful B.C. V2.0 - Sagebrush 2010

The bulk of our trip out west in 2010 was going to be spent at Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club, a course I reviewed in detail last year.

Cal, Steve, Ryan and I started the trip by playing 36 holes out at Tobiano in Kamloops then made our way south to Merritt to prepare for three full days at Sagebrush.

The guys were generally impressed with Tobiano but they agreed with my earlier assessment that the course was overly difficult for low and high handicappers alike with the excessive amount of forced carries, making 5+ hour rounds the norm. We did, however, have much more fun playing the middle tees in our second round and pace of play was decent due to an empty course after some heavy rains.

We made the beautiful 15 minute drive north from Merritt to Sagebrush, with Nicola Lake shimmering in the early morning sunshine. I was very proud of what Rod Whitman, Armen Suny and Richard Zokol had accomplished with their work at the club and my only hope was that I didn't set my friends up for a letdown after talking the course up so much in the days and weeks leading up to our trip.

My friends shared my excitement as we finally reached our destination and after getting loaded onto a couple carts, we made our way up the hill from the parking lot to the pro shop to officially sign in.

Terry Donald, the President and General Manager of the club who I had met last year, immediately recognized me as we reached the pro shop and after renewing acquaintances, I introduced him to the guys. Steve wanted to meet with Norley Calder, the club's superintendent, so Terry got on his walkie talkie and summoned him to the pro shop.

We all chatted for about 15 minutes - Mr. Zokol wasn't expected for about an hour or so but Terry said he and Dick would be joining us for dinner later that night at the Hideout, the club's awesome "Halfway House on steroids" right on the fly fishing lake.

We said our goodbyes and headed right to the first tee, a reachable par five that climbs the whole way up the mountainside. Thankfully, the guys fell in love with the course on first site, loving the playability and shot options while also marvelling at the firm and fast conditions.

They loved the little touches too, like the bottled water and chocolate bar stations set up throughout the course, all complimentary of course!

We played the back tees in our first round and birdies were scarce. I made the first birdie of the day at the gorgeous par four 3rd hole and Ryan would make the only other birdie in our first round, making a deuce at the short par three 12th.

This was a very notable moment during the trip from a comedic perspective, as Ryan called the 122 yard hole "stupid", saying it was entirely too easy and felt "out of place" with the rest of the course. The rest of us vehemently disagreed, giving him various reasons why the hole works so well (uphill, with a heavily contoured green, penal bunkers and fall-off areas if you miss the tiny target) but he was adamant in his beliefs. The comedic part came throughout the rest of the trip, as Ryan would make a mess out of the hole every time, making two doubles and two bogeys before finally admitting he was wrong about his initial thoughts. Karma would smile on him in our sixth and final round two days later, as he'd finally make his first par there. I think we even applauded after that one!

There was one really unfortunate moment as well for Cal - on the 11th hole, a mid-length par four, he hit his drive and we all heard a strange sound at impact. It's the last thing you want to hear and then see when you basically just started a golf trip.

The shaft of Cal's driver was broken.

To his credit, he never got too upset. He certainly wasn't a happy camper for a few hours but really, there was nothing that he could do about the situation - you just have to get over it quickly and try to enjoy the trip. He'd use my driver for the rest of the vacation and thankfully, it would survive his freakishly fast clubhead speed and stay in one piece for the duration of our stay.

Despite perfect weather conditions, our scores in round one were pretty sad: Ryan shot 83, I shot 87, Steve was 88 and Cal was 89.

We made our way to the Hideout for lunch and the new food and beverage manager, Scott McDonnell, had some barbecue gourmet hot dogs and chips all ready for us. The Scotty Mac prepared lunches were a particular highlight of the trip, as he'd also make hamburgers and these ridiculously delicious barbeque roast beef and cheese sandwiches on the other two days.

We'd move up to the middle tees for our second round and I really got on track, making three birdies in a four hole stretch between the 11th and 14th on my way to a back nine 35 and a two over 74 overall. Steve birdied the 11th and the 13th and Ryan made a solitary bird on the 13th, leaving driver-less Cal as the only guy to get shutout on day one.

Our dinner at the Hideout that first night was off the charts. Scotty Mac prepared barbecue-grilled chicken wings as an appetizer for all the guests, which included a few Golf Club Atlas guys in Bob J, Sean L and Richard C. We all sat together that night, along with Terry Arnold and enjoyed beautiful steaks and some great Okanagan red wine. Dick arrived after we had finished eating and the guys got to sit and chat with him for an hour or so while I sat and had dessert with Bob, Sean and Richard C.

Just a great night!

We were back at the club early the next morning and went to the back tees again with a bit more success than our first go. I ended up shooting 77 with a couple birdies (#1 and #13), Ryan shot 80 with birdies on the same two holes while Cal finally got his first at Sagebrush with a three on the par four 11th.

We'd move up to the middle tees again for the second round of the day and I'd continue my decent play, making two more birdies in a round of 76. Ryan was having some major problems with his leg at this point in the trip and started limping noticeably but gamely played on.

Dinner that night was epic at the Hideout: the appetizer was barbecue-grilled lobster tails and as usual, it was steak for the main course. We kept to ourselves for the most part on night #2, as Terry and Dick were entertaining potential members from the looks of things.

Our last day at the club was notable for a match that I was playing against Ryan. We had been typically playing $10.00 straight-up matches but I was behind $20.00 to him at this point in the trip, not including poker losses, so he offered to play this match for twenty to give me a chance at breaking even.

I was game!

We started on the fifth hole instead of the first due to a group that had just teed off - Sagebrush only allows about 40 players per day on the course so you basically should never have to wait on a shot at any point. Dick suggested that we just head over to the 5th to avoid the only other group on the course at that point.

After making another frustrating double bogey on his nemesis par three 12th hole to go three down, Ryan asked if he could 'press' our bet, adding another $20.00 bet to the mix. Never one to back down from a challenge and sensing some weakness in Ryan's game, I happily accepted his offer.

Lets just say that Ryan stepped it up a notch. He'd birdie the 13th to beat my par then his bogey on the 14th was somehow good enough to win the 14th. I'm only one up now.

I'd birdie the 15th to easily beat his bogey but he'd finish par-birdie-birdie to win the last three holes of the back nine.

We'd move to the first tee to finish the last four holes of our round and as I teed up my ball, exclaimed:

"I can't believe I've blown a 3up lead to go one down with four holes left."

Ryan laughed and then delivered the perfect punch line.

"Yeah, even better is the fact that you're dormie on the press!"

I had completely forgotten about the press and the stunned look on my face was enough for Steve, Cal and Ryan to start laughing hysterically.

I'd birdie the first to show some life but Ryan would put me away with a birdie of his own on the 3rd to take both the overall match and the press and make me $40.00 poorer. This despite me shooting 75 versus Ryan's 76, another fact that made the guys howl in laughter.

After another great lunch, we'd play a low-key last round with no wagers on the line. Steve and Cal both came in with their best scores at Sagebrush, with Steve shooting 80 and Cal shooting 78. Ryan shot 77 and I came in with a 76. We took a few more photos as the sun started to fall before departing for the last time.

All of the guys absolutely loved Sagebrush and thankfully it exceeded their high expectations after I had talked so glowingly about it prior to our trip. In fact, they were already asking me if I'd be going back in 2011, hinting that they'd want to join me again for another excursion.

To think we still had one more course on our agenda - after dinner in Merritt that night, we made the late-evening two hour drive through Kelowna for our date with the brand-new Ridge Course at Predator Ridge.

More on that course in my next post! For now, please enjoy a look at some photos from our trip to Sagebrush!

1st Tee

Cal's approach to the 2nd

My approach to the 2nd

Steve on the 3rd Tee

Cal on the 3rd Tee

Ryan on the 3rd Tee

Me teeing off on the 3rd hole

Cal, Steve and Ryan on the 3rd Green

And now is the time when we dance!

Me on the 4th tee

Steve and Ryan on the 4th tee

Steve teeing off on the 4th

Looking at the 4th green from behind

Mugging for the camera on the 5th fairway

Hitting a bunker shot on the 5th

The 5th green from the side

Steve spots a small snake on the 7th green

Steve putting on the 7th

Steve with a precarious second at the 9th

My second shot to the 9th

The glorious 9th green

The 9th green

The 9th green

Putting on the 11th green

Steve and Cal having fun on the wild 11th green

Ryan, Cal and Steve enjoying themselves on the 12th tee

Yours truly with the 14th in the background

Cal with the 14th in the background

Steve with the 14th in the background

Ryan with the 14th in the background

The short par three 12th, Ryan's favourite ;)

13th Tee

Ryan takes in the view on the 13th

Steve on the 14th tee

Ryan on the 14th tee

Cal on the 14th tee

Cal trying to advance it from the thick stuff on the 14th

Steve's second on the par five 14th

Steve on the 15th tee

Ryan on the 15th tee

Cal on the 15th tee

Cal in the fairway bunker on the 16th

Approach shot into the par five 16th

I'm in a bit of trouble on the 17th, going out sideways

View of the 18th green from above

A look at the view from above

Hangin out as the sun sets

Dinner at Sagebrush with Terry D, Bob J, Sean L, Cal, Ryan and Steve

The Hideout

Steve and Cal

I love this place!