A Buffet of Stunning Golf Views – Vernon, British Columbia

Having never played golf in Canada west of the Rockies, I looked forward to a visit to Vernon, British Columbia sponsored by Tourism Vernon and Golf Vernon partners this past Fall. As I look back, I have to say that I was not disappointed in the variety of golf courses I played and general attractions I visited except to say that my visit was far too short.

Vernon, BC is the oldest community in the Okanagan Valley and the largest in the North Okanagan Valley. Vernon is situated approximately 30 miles north of Kelowna and is surrounded by 3 lakes with the northern tip of Okanagan Lake to the west, Kalamalka Lake to the east, and Swan Lake to the north. Each of these lakes provided dramatic views during the four-day visit.

For those who aren’t aware of the area, twenty-nine golf courses can be found in the Okanagan Valley with the earliest record of golf being played in the area dating back to 1899 in Kelowna when a 9-hole course was located near the present-day City Hall and Memorial Arena.

Becoming known as a golf destination, the Vernon area has eight golf clubs located in their immediate vicinity. I had the privilege of staying at the renowned Predator Ridge Golf Resort and played their two championship courses – Predator (1991) and Ridge (2010). I also played The Rise Golf Course (2008), the Vernon Golf & Country Club (1913) and the Spallumcheen Golf & Country Club (1970) during my visit.

Golf played in the elevated areas of Predator Ridge Resort and The Rise Golf Club certainly gave me that “I’m the King of the World” feeling.

DAY 1

With an early morning Air Canada flight out of Ottawa to Vancouver, with quick flip over to Vernon, followed by a game of golf and a welcoming dinner, this was a long day. Especially with the three-hour time difference added in.

The drive out to Predator Ridge Resort was handled expertly by Tourism Vernon representatives and the amazing views of the surrounding landscape from the van gave insight as to what was ahead over the next few days.

Predator Ridge Resort

PREDATOR RIDGE RESORT

Driving on Commonage Road through the Predator Ridge Resort Community Property that is almost 1200 acres in size, I was struck by the undulating terrain, the first look at a few tasty looking golf holes surrounding a full-length driving range and by the strange elevated platforms randomly dispersed on the property. These platforms turned out to be elevated, open air yoga stations.

Among the many activities available at the Predator Ridge Resort, apart from the golf, are hiking, biking, tennis & pickleball, winter activities (snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and cozy nights by the fire) and use of the fitness center year-round. Predator Ridge is also the summer home of Hockey Canada.

After settling in to my luxurious one-bedroom suite in The Lodge overlooking the Predator golf course, I took the opportunity to step onto my balcony and take in the spectacular view of a few holes on the Predator Course along with the Doug Carrick designed practice facility featuring a full length driving range with grass tees, target greens, putting green and a short game area.

Then it was off to the practice range and our game on the Predator Course at Predator Ridge. As our group of golf writers warmed up the temperature suddenly went the other direction. The wind picked up and the sky opened. On went the rain gear and off to the first tee we went.  Note to self to bring adequate clothing for all types of weather.

View from Resort, Predator Ridge

THE PREDATOR COURSE AT PREDATOR RIDGE

Designed by Canadian golf course designer Les Furber, the 7090-yard Predator Course opened in 1991 to high acclaim. He laid out a wonderful links-style golf course on the properties rolling hills. The long wheat fescue grasses perfectly frame the tight-knit fairways and undulating greens. The Predator Course provides a truly unforgettable golf experience for all levels of golfers. Take time to look around during your game to take in the panoramic views.

The Predator Ridge Resort hosted the Telus World Skins Games on the Predator Course twice, in 2000 (Fred Couples, Sergio Garcia, Mike Weir & Phil Mickelson) and 2008 (Camilo Villegas, Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie & Mike Weir).

To close off day 1, we were treated to a welcome dinner in the Predator Ridge Range Lounge & Grill. Keep in mind that with the three-hour time difference I was eating supper at 11pm Eastern time. The things I do to give our readers the overall picture.

DAY 2

All too soon, my alarm assaulted my ears to awaken me for our day of golf featuring a game of golf at the Fred Couples Signature Design Golf Course – The Rise followed by a second round at the Vernon Golf & Country Club.

After picking up my “Breakfast to Go” in the Clubhouse Lounge, I joined the other golf writers on the shuttle, and we were off.

The views at The Rise are memorable

THE RISE

The Rise is located high on a mountain overlooking Vernon with views of Okanagan Lake present on a dozen of the holes on the golf course.  Although the vistas on the trip up the mountain to the golf course were amazing, the drop-offs beside the road were somewhat intimidating.

Co- designed by Gene Bates, this Fred Couples design is only one of his two in Canada, the other being Le Maitre at Mont Tremblant, Quebec. The first tee on The Rise sits 1,000 feet above Okanagan Lake and 2,090 feet above sea level. The highest point on The Rise is the 5th tee and it measures 2,628 feet above sea level.

The Rise measures 6,843 yards from the Boom Boom tees with four other sets of tees giving options for all levels of golfers. The Blue/White combo measuring 6200 yards were just fine for me and keeping my golf ball in play was my objective even though the fairway sizes were generous. The outcomes for missing a fairway were penal.   

Walking this course is not an option and we were treated to upgraded Boom Boom Carts, complete with lounge seating, GPS and built in Bluetooth speakers if you’d like to add a little soundtrack to your round.

Our view on the first set the tone for the day with Okanagan Lake in the distance and clouds visible below our 1st-tee level. Suffice to say, the views throughout our round were beautiful. Golf course management provides golfers with a set of “Freddy’s Tips” on how to play each golf hole and looking back I can only think about how much better my game would have been if I had read them.

Although each golf hole on The Rise is distinct and has its own character and challenges, I’m always a sucker for downhill par three’s and the 6th hole was no exception. “Freddy’s Tip says to take a club less off the tee because you are playing downhill. He also says not to be short with the water hazard and bunker waiting for errant shots and he could also have said don’t push, pull or go long with your tee shots.

What is also correct in his tip – “Take in the scenery from both the tee box and the green, as directly away in the distance is an amazing view of the rolling Okanagan hills”, could also apply to each golf hole on the course. From start to finish on our round, I can say that although we enjoyed each hole as we played them, we were anxious to see what was next and we were not disappointed on what we found.

It should also be noted that the natural wetlands were carefully preserved and incorporated into the golf course design during construction.

After a bite to eat on the outdoor lounge and fire-pit overlooking the 10th hole, we made our way back to the shuttle for our afternoon game at the Vernon Golf & Country Club

The Vernon Golf & Country Club is easy to walk and a whole lot of fun

VERNON GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB

Although the Vernon Golf & Country Club has its origin in 1913, it was moved to this, its third location in the City of Vernon in 1922. The golf course was extended to 18-holes in 1928 on a 6,200-yard layout designed by Alex Duthie, who at the time was the professional at Jericho Country Club in Vancouver.

It isn’t often that you must pay heed to passing trains while playing golf, but at the Vernon Golf & Country Club it is a daily occurrence. Once you play the first two holes, you cross over the train tracks to play holes 3 through 15 on what members call the high side of the course. Once again crossing the tracks after the 15th hole you complete your round on holes 16 through 18 on what members also refer to as the “inside five”.

Today the Vernon Golf & Country Club golf course measures 6,609 yards from the tips and is easy to walk. As they say in their yardage book, “Ours is a special club” and “It is well suited to a walk in the park, or from the tips, a more difficult challenge than you might anticipate. Miss in the wrong spot and you have a difficult par.”

The wrong spots referred to in their yardage book are the water hazards and the tall Lombardy poplars and huge weeping willows which line most of the fairways on the golf course. Because of the height of these trees, chipping out from under them is sometimes the only option. Even if you safely navigate the fairways, the slope on the greens provide a final test on each hole.

Many golfers come to the final three golf holes on the golf course with visions of great scores. They often have their hopes ripped out by the strong challenge that awaits them. A huge tree on the fairway guards the left side of the dog-leg left par-4 hole leaving a safe landing spot off the tee to the right side. Your approach shot to the undulating green is slightly downhill and can play up to one club less than you anticipate. The par three, 17th-hole doesn’t look hard until you reach the green and find a severe front slope that funnels golf balls hit short back off the green. What’s not to like about the par 4 finishing hole at the Vernon Golf & Country Club? Off the tee, golfers see a line of Lombardy poplars as well as a creek guarding the right side of the golf hole. Even if you maneuver your tee shot to a safe spot on the dog-leg right fairway, you are faced with a tri-level green protected by bunkers and Pete’s Pond awaiting errant approach shots. 

Overall, the golf course at the Vernon Golf & Country Club provides an interesting game for all levels of golfers and the homey clubhouse provides a nice refuge after golf games for a little refreshment and settling of wagers.

DAY 3

With a later departure from the Predator Ridge Golf Resort for our outing at the Spallumcheen Golf and Country Club, we were able to partake in the bountiful breakfast buffet at The Range Restaurant.

Hole#6, Spallumcheen Golf & Country Club

SPALLUMCHEEN GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB

The Spallumcheen Golf and Country Club is located 10 minutes outside of Vernon, BC in the District Municipality of Spallumcheen in the Northern Okanagan. The district name was derived from the word “Spallumshin” used by the BC First Nation Shuswap Tribe meaning “Valley Flat”.

Golfers should not take this definition literally as they will find many areas of elevation throughout the rolling meadow landscape of the golf club, especially around Deep Creek that meanders through the 6423 yard, 18-hole golf course. Water comes into play on a dozen holes on the 18-hole Spallumcheen layout designed by Bill Simms and Cyril Foster. 

Golfers have the choice of playing the entertaining nine-hole executive or the more challenging 18-hole layout at Spallumcheen. A pleasant and challenging walking course greets golfers from the tee shot on the first hole to the finishing green protected by water on the 18th hole.  Although the courses’ rolling fairways are wide and lush, they are defined by full growth trees that await mis-hit golf shots.

Knowledge of the shots to be played on this layout can only be attained by play, although the course guide provided by the Club gives tremendous insight on hole by hole play. My favorite holes were the par 4, 358-yard sixth hole and the par 3, 131 yard seventeenth.

The sixth hole features a downhill tee shot requiring a layup to a narrowing fairway while keeping in mind Deep Creek in play along the entire right side of the hole. The multi-elevations on the green are in play only after golfers negotiate the bush and pond protecting the front left side of the green and the three bunkers located around the green. A par on this hole is dependent on an accurate tee shot.

Although short in length, the par 3, 17th hole has a ton of character. An accurate tee shot over water is required to a severe, sloped green surface surrounded by bunkers. Underestimating your tee shot can result in a reload for a ball finding a watery grave.

The Spallumcheen Golf and Country Club describes their course as a “gem” in the Okanagan and this writer would have to agree.

After a tasty lunch in the clubhouse at Spallumcheen Golf and Country Club, we boarded our shuttle. We were off to visit both the Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery for a tour and sampling of their products and then on to the Marten Brewing Company where we toured their Craft Beer Micro-Brewery and then sat down in their Bar & Grill for our evening meal. Both establishments enhance the downtown core of the City of Vernon.

DAY 4

RIDGE COURSE AT PREDATOR RIDGE

If you like playing golf from mountain heights with amazing views of never-ending ribbon-like fairways framed by granite outcroppings and traversing 450 feet of elevation changes (thank goodness for golf carts), then Doug Carrick’s Ridge Course is for you. The 7123-yard Ridge Course opened in 2010 providing a sharp contrast to the Predator Course at the resort and it was awarded ScoreGolf Magazine’s Best New Course in Canada that same year.

At a cost of $10 million, Mr. Carrick redesigned eight holes from the original Peregrine Course at Predator Ridge and skillfully sculpted ten additional holes out of the rugged wilderness. The Ridge course offers two styles to golfers with the 1st, 17th and 18th holes somewhat links-style while the remaining fifteen holes meander through valleys and around lakes with all fairways and greens framed by granite outcroppings.

Hole #5, the Ridge Course at Predator Ridge Resort

One of the camera-ready holes is the par 3 – 5th, featuring a downhill tee shot measuring anywhere from 167 – 244 yards with a view of Okanagan Lake in the background. It’s always exciting to watch the flight of your golf ball as it flies down to a generous green framed by two bunkers strategically located to capture errant tee shots, all backstopped by more granite.

All too soon, my visit to Vernon, British Columbia came to an end and it was time to head back to Ottawa. As I said earlier, my trip was far too short but my memories of my first visit to play golf west of the Rockies are positive. As I review my pictures from each golf course I can only smile and think about a return visit. It’s can’t come soon enough.

Fast Facts

Tourism Vernonwww.tourismvernon.com

Golf Vernonwww.golfvernon.ca

Predator Ridge Golf Resortwww.predatorridge.com

The Risewww.therisegolf.ca

Vernon Golf & Country Clubwww.vernongolf.com

Spallumcheen Golf & Country Clubwww.spallumcheengolf.com

Okanagan Spiritswww.okanaganspirits.com

Marten Brewing Cowww.martenbrewpub.com