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 marveling 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 Scott McDonnell, the new food and beverage manager, 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!