Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Sad Day - Richard Zokol Leaves Sagebrush

Richard Zokol (L) and yours truly at Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club in August 2009

News broke late last week that two-time PGA Tour winner Richard Zokol had broken off ties with the superlative Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club on Nicola Lake in British Columbia.

I first found out via text from a friend of mine on Thursday evening and got more details on Friday morning after reading Robert Thompson's blog post about the split.

There is a great story behind Sagebrush and it goes all the way back to the mid-1990s, when Zokol was a regular on the TOUR. He got the idea to build a "legacy" course of his own after hearing Ben Crenshaw talk about his brand new minimalist design in the middle of Nebraska called Sand Hills. SH would soon become known as one of the world's greatest golf courses and that just reinforced the idea that something similar could be sustainable in Canada.

Fast forward to 2002, when a partnership was formed with his friend Terry Donald and land started being acquired on an old ranch on the interior in British Columbia. Many thought a golf course couldn't be built on such a rugged site but Zokol's enthusiasm won over designer Rod Whitman and the two would team up with noted agronomist Armen Suny to find a workable routing.

The Whitman/Suny/Zokol designed Sagebrush opened to wide acclaim in late 2008. ScoreGolf and Golf Digest both named it the best new course in Canada for 2009 but the honour Zokol was most proud of came in 2010, when the USGA named Sagebrush as the preeminent example in North American golf for their use of leading-edge agronomy practices for firm and fast playing conditions.

One of the great moments in my life came in August 2009, when Richard invited me to become a member of his club.

Dick surprised me with a phone call to my office after hearing through Robert Thompson that I was interested in visiting Sagebrush. I had a business trip in Victoria and planned to spend a little time in the Kelowna area with my wife and infant son for a few days of R&R before heading back to Ontario.

We spoke on the phone for about a half hour and Dick invited me to visit Sagebrush as his guest. I fully expected to shake his hand when I arrived and then be sent on my way to play as a single.

That didn't happen...

Instead, Dick told me to hop in his pickup and he gave me the grand tour of the site, showing off the course, the incredible Hideout just off the 13th tee and also the land they intended to sell as real estate. We arrived back at the temporary pro shop and I was shocked even further when Dick told me to wait a couple of minutes.

"I'm just going to head inside to grab my clubs. I'll be right back."

The two of us would proceed to play about 21 holes and it was as grand a tour as you can imagine, as Dick showed me all of the options the player had available at Sagebrush. Low hooks, running shots, high fades, putter from 100+ yards away...every shot you could think of was an option here!

I was completely blown away by his course but mostly his hospitality and his incredible love and enthusiasm for what was built at Sagebrush. We finished off an incredible day with a glorious steak dinner at the Hideout, where I would ultimately get the invitation to join the club.

I accepted Dick's offer and would return to the club one time the next year, visiting with friends Cal, Ryan and Steve in July 2010 for three wonderful days. As usual, Richard's presence at the club was a constant, both during the day and at dinner in the evenings at the Hideout, as he was always entertaining members or guests of the club.

I decided to resign as a member last year - Sagebrush is all the way on the opposite coast and with a young family at home and a business to run, I just couldn't justify making the trip out there every year.

That said, I was stunned when I heard the news that Dick was no longer associated with the club. To many, Richard Zokol WAS Sagebrush. It was his dream, he helped in the routing and design phases, actively sought investors and had the ultimate say in building the membership, which was by invitation-only, with final say coming from Richard himself as chairman of the club.

I don't want to speculate on the reasons for the fallout. I'm sure this is a painful time for Richard but he will ultimately be fine - he's a remarkable person, extremely principled, passionate and perhaps the most driven individual I've ever met in the golf world. The cream always rises to the top...

In the end, I wish nothing but the best for my friend and also hope that Sagebrush is able to stay viable during a very difficult time in the golf industry. I can't think of another course in Canada that's as fun to play and it deserves its success.

MORE ON SAGEBRUSH FROM NOW ON THE TEE -

Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club Review: Part One
Sagebrush Golf & Sporting Club Review: Part Two
Sagebrush: 2010 Trip Review & Pictorial

1 comment:

  1. Don’t forget, the Mayakoba Golf Classic on the beautiful Riviera Maya in Mexico will be airing Feb 22-26. See Greg Norman, Johnson Wagner and Nick Price among others. Check out the website for more information, details and news. http://bit.ly/ArfDv4

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