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Gallagher's Canyon leaves 'em gaping

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,

KELOWNA, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Gallagher's Canyon in Kelowna, British Columbia is a golfer's thrill ride, a wild and wonderful woodland experience delivered courtesy of co-architects Les Furber and Bill Robinson. The course is located on a bench of land adjacent to gaping and camera-worthy Gallagher's Canyon itself. It's crucial to remember that "bench" in this instance is a geographic term, and unlike a perfectly flat park or picnic bench, this "bench" bends uphill, downhill and side-hill, sometimes concurrently.

The challenges begin early in the round. In fact a player is already under the gun at the first tee box, as this lengthy and narrow par 4 plays down to the fairway from an elevated tee and then sharply uphill to a plateau green. Crack players will be literally in the shadow of the clubhouse as they tee up this opening salvo, 435 yards from the target. The championship markers are 6,800 yards, and will be a bit much for most players, though the slope rating seems suspiciously low at only 123, with a course rating of 72.2. The blue markers are more approachable at 6,400 yards, with the same benign 123 slope, and a course rating of 70.1

Regardless of the numerology attached to the scorecard, a par 4 will be a rarity on this opening act. One older member confided that he pars the hole regularly, "but I consider it a par 6," he says with a laugh. Whether you birdie or butcher, be thankful that the hardest hole on the golf course is behind you as you step to the second tee.

A quartet of par-3 holes showcases the variety offered by the course.

The third hole is about 150 yards over a chasm of wetlands that will claim any ball left of target. While the tee and green are roughly on the same level, the same cannot be said at the eighth, which plays uphill to a plateau green that seems suspended in the air. Hit it over the putting surface from 180 yards away and it appears as though your errant pellet will tumble all the way down into Gallagher's Canyon.

The eighth is flat as a tabletop in comparison to the 13th though, a controversial par 3 that plays drastically uphill to a three-tiered green that cannot be discerned from the teeing grounds. Perhaps to make up forthat double difficulty, the 16th plays downhill from a nosebleed altitude, 200 yards to a large green that will likely play at least a club shorterthan the advertised distance.

It's a theme throughout the course, as a downhill tee shot will follow an uphill one, or a severe dogleg will come after a hole that's runway-straight. The course is laid out in two loosely defined clockwiseloops, and the routing is such that there are virtually no parallel fairways on the premises. Each hole is a study unto itself, in its own private corridor. Gallagher's Canyon is a housing development in addition to a golf course but the residences are set back away from the playing fields and remain unobtrusive in nature. The reasons the housing stock don't impede the golf experience are twofold. First, the houses are relatively few and far between, they aren't stacked up side-by-side like you see in Florida, orother real-estate-driven golf communities. Second, the housing isn't showy or outlandish. These are low-profile residences with generous set backs, and it's very easy to overlook these occasional dwellings and concentrate on the task at hand. It's more than easy. It's imperative.

There are at least a dozen memorable holes at Gallagher's Canyon but the par-5 sixth and par-4 seventh might be the best back-to-back tandem on the property. The sixth is a 500-yard par 5 with a unique visual feature. A shaggy grass depression looms about 100 yards in front of a plateau green so suspended in the air that it appears to be a three-dimensional poster. Big hitters can blast over this wispy impediment, leaving a chip shot to thegreen. Those with warning-track power only should lay up carefully, and hit a shorter iron from 120-130 yards away.

Before launching a tee shot to a ribbon of fairway on the downhill, gently doglegging 360-yard seventh, take a good look at the canyon that gives the property its name. Beyond the canyon are Black Mountain and the lyrically named Layer Cake Mountain, offering even more memorable viewing opportunities to a facility that has no shortage. The canyon is a "CrownProperty," meaning it's owned by the Canadian government. This sprawlingarea north of the golf course proper is agricultural in nature and contains the orchards that are ubiquitous to the region, hiking trails and streams. Tradition has it that players will often launch a ball into the canyon for good luck but that practice has been discouraged as more and more hikerstake to the trails below. Besides, who needs to intentionally lose a ball like that when so many legitimate ball-losing opportunities abound on this beguiling track bracketed by woods, streams and vegetation?

It would be great to have the opportunity to walk this pristine property but because the golf course is routed in part through the aforementionedhousing development, a couple of longish cart rides through tunnels willdiscourage all but the most hard-core ambler. Even without the road crossings through sub-divisions, you need legs like Lance Armstrong to negotiate the hills and dales here and still have enough firepower to generate a powerful swing.

Back nine highlights include the wonderful 12th, a 510-yard par 5 framed gorgeously by hardwoods on both sides, and the tough 14th, a lengthy par 4 with a large pine tree offering an unmistakable target in mid-fairway.

Members of this semi-private facility claim about 60 percent of the rounds played annually. They enjoy the course because of variety and claim it rarely plays the same way twice in succession. Head Professional Peter Hopley echoes the same sentiment.

"The setting is probably our greatest asset. Even folks who aren't that serious about the game will come out here just to take in the views," explains Hopley, who's been in his position for nine years. "People really love a true mountain course and that's an accurate description of Gallagher's Canyon. We consistently hear that people enjoy that every hole has its own unique setting, and love the fact that they don't see the rest of the golf course from the hole they're playing."

In addition to the main course, the Pinnacle Course offers time- or distance-challenged players the opportunity to tee it up on a 2,000-yardexecutive track, featuring five par-4 holes and four par-3 holes. This "mini-me" has many of the same characteristics as the big course, with elevated tees and a couple of holes that skirt the canyon itself. This third nine helps alleviate some of the pressure on a course that does more than 40,000 rounds annually.

Built in 1980, this 350-acre property features uniformly excellent conditioning, a credit to superintendents Ashley Legeyt and Frits Verkerk.

Gallagher's Canyon is marred just a bit, however, by a hole or two which aren't quite up to snuff. The penultimate hole is totally out-of-character with the rest of the course, for example. This sharp dogleg to the left is flat as a game-board, uses housing as an aiming point from the tee, and drains poorly to boot. But thankfully this is the rare exception. The rule is that Gallagher's Canyon is among the most exciting golf experiences in the Okanagan region, which is an up-and-coming golf destination that offers no shortage of worthwhile venues.

Dining out

Dozens of worthwhile options exist. A small sampling would include Wild Apple Grill at the Manteo Resort for gourmet continental cuisine, Christopher's Steak & Seafood, The Teahouse for its orchard setting, Yamas Taverna for Greek specialties or The Vintage Room for seafood.

Enjoy a beverage or a meal on the deck overlooking the first tee, where golfers begin their round on the course's most difficult hole.

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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