|The ninth tee at Gallagher's Canyon drops straight off the side, over the Subway sign and into the canyon. (GolfPublisher.com)|
KELOWNA, B.C. - The earth drops straight off the side of the tee. The canyon below is stark nature: tall trees, a stream, sandy rocks. Go ahead, take a deep breath and look. It's just over there, past the Subway and Taco Time cardboard markers.
This is the scene at No. 9 at Gallagher's Canyon Golf & Country Club. The most majestic natural view on the whole golf course and there's some unmissable tee-box advertising to draw your eye away.
It's a good thing Gallagher's Canyon is such a worthwhile play - a lesser course could never overcome a faux pas like this. But there's too much to like about this Okanagan Valley course to let Subway get in your way.
Gallagher's Canyon is one of those rare blends of scenic and playable holes. It has mountains but doesn't force you to be a mountain man. It seems to understand that being beautiful doesn't give it license to clonk you over the head.
"I think Gallagher Canyon's overrated as far as being a tough course to play," local golfer Wynn Williams said.
The first hole has a way of building up a Clint Eastwood mystique. Shooting off the clubhouse roof can do that.
That's right. The roof.
The back tees on No. 1 are on the clubhouse roof. Climb up, bomb one down into a fairway flanked by bushy ponderosa pines and start heading uphill toward the green and the mountains. Playing Gallagher's Canyon No. 1 first thing in the morning is worth three cups of black coffee and two Red Bull chasers. You're getting a jolt, ready or not.
It's enough to make you think you're in for a beating, but this 434-yard par 4 is the No. 1 handicap hole. It gets easier from here - but no less scenic.
"The thing people talk about is the scenery more than anything," Head Professional Peter Hopley said. "We get a lot of comments that it's distinct."
All the courses in this region of lakes, wineries and golf seem to have that British Columbia quality: fresh air, blue skies, tall trees. What sets Gallagher's Canyon apart is the number of up and downs out on the course and ... well, Gallagher's Canyon.
You come upon the canyon on the eighth green and get it almost the whole way through the 505-yard, par-5 ninth. (A sign asks you not to launch shots into the canyon, which could endanger hikers; most golfers seem to take this as more of a challenge than a polite request.)
But first you have to pass the entrance exam of No. 7 - a 399-yard par 4 with such a narrow, tree-lined dogleg opening from its elevated tee that you really can't safely hit your drive much more than 150 yards. This isn't the spot to break out that new Nike SasQuatch.
Gallagher's Canyon is full of holes that make you think. There's no one clear way to attack this Les Furber design. No. 15 alone can have you debating yourself long into the post-round meal. This 350-yard par 4 requires about a 280-yard drive over a gully to find a safe landing area. The other option is to hit a mid-iron off the tee and play it close-vested.
"There's a lot of intrigue to this course," first-time player Jim Lee said. "I can see why so many members keep playing it."
Chances are you'll agree with them. Subway sign notwithstanding.
In a week of Okanagan plays Gallagher's Canyon stood up as my favorite. It has a little of everything, and several holes you aren't likely to forget. It's also a place with an obvious appreciation for golf history - and, more importantly, for golfers.
The clocks in the clubhouse grill are set to
Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews time. It's a nice touch - but not as nice as the cart girl delivering a requested left-handed hybrid "rescue club" from the clubhouse in about four minutes flat.
While Gallagher's Canyon isn't going to pummel you, some local knowledge helps. The greens are big and hold some breaks that take getting used to.
"You'll play some courses around here with more severe greens," Hopley said. "But you can hit a lot of greens in regulation here and it's no guarantee you'll two-putt everything. There's a lot of challenge."
It's hard to beat Manteo Resort (800-445-5255) for Kelowna accommodation. Many a local couple has celebrated their honeymoon here, and Sting took the rock-star suites on the fourth floor when he did a concert in town. Be sure to ask for a room with a lake-view balcony.
Luckily, this unexpected high-end spot is in a good central location for golf and only a five-minute drive to the downtown shops and little casino.
For a blowout dinner in a picturesque setting, Gray Monk Estate Winery (www.graymonk.com) is the spot. The outdoor patio overlooks vineyards that stretch all the way to Lake Okanagan. Cooking with a daring touch goes well with the good wines, and the waitresses may just be the best you've ever had.
In downtown Kelowna, FIX Café stands out as an underrated find.
If the $105 green fee is a bit much for the family budget, there's an on-site short course, the 3,846-yard Pinnacle, which runs only $18 and is no pushover.
May 21, 2007
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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