There was a lot of interest from most of my buddies at the golf club but only three of them were willing to make the firm commitment to go when I finalized the dates in January – I needed to give plenty of notice to the chairman at Sagebrush, former PGA Tour pro Richard Zokol and it was pretty important to book by the foursome in order to make things work for both the accommodations and the car travel.
Being the Type-A personality that I am, it was no surprise to Cal, Steve and Ryan that I had written up an extensive itinerary for the trip, with complete cost breakdowns on the golf, accommodations and rental car, along with a timeline for all of our activities. Still, I think they laughed for ten minutes straight upon seeing the document.
I can take the ridicule though!
They were all completely on board with everything I had planned so we were set – on Wednesday July 21st, the four of us flew from Hamilton, Ontario to Kelowna, British Columbia to begin our five day golf odyssey in Western Canada.
We arrived in Kelowna around 10pm on Wednesday night, grabbed our minivan rental and immediately drove two and a half hours northwest into Kamloops. We had two rooms booked at a Ramada in the city and pretty much hit the sack immediately – we had a 36 hole day ahead of us at Tobiano in less than seven hours.
I had visited Tobiano the year before (click on the link to read my review) and my first impression wasn’t overly positive. The scenery was jaw-droppingly beautiful but I felt the Thomas McBroom-designed course was entirely too hard for most players, with many forced carries and that usually means lots of lost balls and five hour plus rounds. In fact, I was only able to get 13 holes done in four hours before having to leave in order to make a dinner engagement – frustration doesn’t even begin to describe my initial experience.
Still, I was eager to return to see if I was wrong about the place, especially after driving through the rest of the course and seeing that three of the holes I didn’t get to play originally, specifically the 14th, 15th and 16th, might be among the best there.
Our first tee time was at 8am and we arrived early enough to hit some balls. The temperature was warm enough for all of us to be wearing shorts but the sky was looking pretty ominous as we started our day. Despite my warnings about the difficulty of the course, we played the back tee decks for our first round, which measure well over 7100 yards.
The first four holes weren’t kind to me, as I started off by taking two penalty strokes on the 1st on my way to a double there and followed with bogeys on the 3rd and 4th holes as well to go +4 through four. Cal, Steve and Ryan all started off pretty well, going +2 through their first four and all were absolutely flabbergasted by the place. I mean, they completely and utterly were in love with the golf course!
Their impressions only got better on the awesome par four 5th hole, which runs downhill through some gigantic dunes and almost looks like a half-pipe from the middle of the fairway. All four of us made double there and made our way up to the 6th tee. At this point, they likely thought I was nuts when I kept talking about how difficult the course was about to get, as the wind really started to kick up at this point.
The 6th features a gorgeous plateau green and the guys just stared out toward Lake Kamloops with silly grins on their faces upon reaching the putting surface. It’s truly a beautiful spot on the course and perhaps one of the most exposed areas at Tobiano – the wind was blowing hard and you could see the weather really starting to roll in as we hit the treacherous par three 7th and its 197 yard carry over a gorge.
Ryan was the only one to hit the green with his tee shot and made the only par in the group, with me bogeying and Steve and Cal throwing up doubles. I think this is the point where they finally started to believe my earlier warnings about the difficulty of the course and getting to the 8th tee, with a 220+ yard carry over a gorge into a three club wind didn’t help matters!
We’d all completely blow up on this hole, with all of us making double bogeys or worse – if you aren’t done in by the long carry off the tee, you’ll likely get shafted by perhaps the toughest layup shot on a par five in the country, to a sliver of fairway that slopes about 25% toward the cliffside and certain doom.
It didn’t get much better on the 418 yard uphill 9th, with Ryan making the lone par and Cal, Steve and I making yet another double.
The scores weren’t pretty – Ryan shot a respectable 42 but Cal came in with a 46, I shot 47 and Steve shot 48.
Our moods got only worse – rain started coming down as we hit the 10th tee and by the time we drove out to hit our second shots, we were literally in the middle of a monsoon. The temperatures had dropped about 10 degrees as well and only Ryan and I had rain jackets in our bag. We tried to wait it out, putting our carts beside each other in order to thwart the rain coming in but it was to no avail – we were getting soaked.
So we decided to grab an early lunch and hoped that the storm would pass soon enough for us to complete our 36 hole day.
An hour or so later, after a great meal in the clubhouse, we made our way back to the 10th tee to start our back nine over again. It was still overcast and cool and we still dealt with some on-and-off drizzle but things pretty much went off without a hitch for the remainder of the day. Steve made the first birdie of the trip on the par five 16th and I followed up with one of my own on the par three 17th but it didn’t help our scores much.
Ryan came in with a pretty solid 83 but I must say it was tough adding up the other three scores: I bogeyed the 18th to shoot 90, Cal was 93 and Steve was 98.
It was a massacre at Tobiano!
We checked in with the pro shop to make sure we were okay to head back out and were given the green light. There weren’t too many groups out at this point in the day, especially with the weather still a factor so it looked like we’d be able to get around in decent time. Still, after our high scores, we smartly decided to move up to the ‘Spur’ tees, which measured a little over 6600 yards in order to minimize the long forced carries.
The strategy worked and we all started to score much better – I birdied the par five first hole right out of the gates and Ryan birdied the par three 3rd for his first of the trip. We’d even conquer the really tough 7th and 8th holes from the Spurs – all of us parred the 7th and only Steve bogeyed the par five 8th.
After nine holes, you could see the improvement in our scores: I shot 39, Ryan went out in 41 again, Cal was 42 and Steve was 45.
Cal made his first birdie of the trip on the par five 13th and by the time we got to the 14th tee, the sun came out and with it, the most glorious rainbow we’ve likely ever seen. In fact, at first it was a double rainbow but by the time we pulled the camera out for some photos, it had merged into just one. Still, the light at that time of the day was perhaps the most stunning I’ve ever seen on a golf course and it made for some ridiculous photos, which you can find at the bottom of this post.
The birdies continued, with Steve making a great deuce on the gorgeous par three 15th and me making a birdie four on the downhill par five 16th. The final scores in our second round were substantially better – I ended up shooting a solid 77, Ryan came in with a 78, Cal a 79 and Steve was 89.
We’d head back into the city and grab a nice dinner before making the hour long drive south into Merritt, a little town that we’d be staying in for the next three nights. We checked into the Ramada there and I proceeded to get smoked in a poker game that night, falling victim to Ryan’s unbelievable tendency to one-out me on multiple occasions, much to the delight of all the guys.
I still slept well that night, knowing that we had three full days at Sagebrush to look forward to!
Check back in the next couple of days for the Sagebrush portion of this great golf trip but for now, enjoy some of our photos from Tobiano!