Kokanee beer goes down exceptionally smooth. This tasty lager, brewed near the town of Creston in British Columbia's southeast corner, has a famed slogan. "It's the beer out here," is the line heard at the end of every commercial. The label on every blue can of Kokanee depicts a high alpine scene complete with glaciers and rugged mountain peaks. If you look really hard, you'll notice "sasquatch" clinging onto the mountain as well. No sasquatches have been sighted on the Kokanee Springs Golf Course, however the course plays smooth and easy, just like the "beer out here."
Kokanee Springs Golf Course is not easy to get to - just one of many reasons why this place is special. Getting to the Kokanee Springs course will likely require boarding a BC car ferry, driving through a mountain pass (or two), or at the very least, numerous stops beside the road to study your map to get your bearings. Once at the course, it won't take long to figure out that your tedious navigational work has been time well spent.
"Basically, we're in the middle of nowhere," says Dave Nikerk, Kokanee Spring's flamboyant new teaching pro. Nikerk, formerly from the town of Invermere, which is located 150km east of Kokanee, is pretty comfortable in the mountainous Kootenay region. His "secret" route back to Invermere saves him an hour and a half due to his indigenous skill at handling his 4x4 through beat up logging roads that take him up to 6,000 feet. "The pass is kind of rough, I wouldn't recommend it," he tells me with a smirk before we head to the tee.
Kokanee Springs is not your average resort course. This isn't frilly, pampered golf with Rolls Royce power carts, lemon water on the practice tee, and Honey Dijon in the ham sandwiches at the half way house. Incidentally, the carts could very well be Harley Davidsons left over from the 70's, the water is no doubt collected straight from mountain runoff, and the ham is smoked by a local redneck. All the better, I say. Kokanee Springs has a charming personality and a unique ambiance all it's own.
This Norman Woods course is best characterized by immense rolling greens, wide tree-lined fairways, and spacious tee areas positioned for panoramic views. In fact, the rule of thumb at Kokanee Springs seems to be "go big or go home." Perhaps one of the reasons Kokanee is so popular with the city crowd is the spaciousness of the property. At Kokanee you can take a deep breath and relax as you catch a view of the Kokanee glacier, crack open a locally brewed lager (that would be "the beer out here"), and peg it up on one of the finest "hidden gems" in Canada.
The course starts with a jaw-dropper that really sets the tone for what's ahead. To get to the first tee though (and the tenth tee, and the half-way house), you've got to first cross your fingers and hope your powercart can make the climb to a natural shelf where the action will commence. After summitting, your cart might need a little cool down, and so will you. The first hole drops seventy glorious feet to a lush fairway framed by ponderosa pines. Needless to say, it doesn't take long for the first "postcard hole" on the course.
The front nine continues wandering amiably through the trees, like a wise old man strolling on a Sunday morning, content, at ease. Fairways descend gently down slopes and greens rise eloquently to thoughtfully chosen sites. Fittingly, the course designer, Norman Woods, is regarded as a wise, educated man. Getting on in age, his designs are full of grace, full-bodied, and exceptionally good tasting. Norman Woods apprenticed under the great Stanley Thompson. He has more than 300 courses to his credit, a strong portfolio granting him well-deserved respect in the business.
The fifth is a robust par-4 that tastes exceptionally fine. The fairway falls to a flat runway lined with traps. A rocky creek glistens in the distance; a bridge leads the way to a massive green eloquently protected by sand and trees right, the chattering creek left. Load your camera, you'll want a picture here.
Kokanee Springs cannot be classified as a long, difficult course. It plays a modest 6,537 yards from the back tees and numerous holes feature a drop in elevation to help your cause. It's the kind of course that gives you plenty of opportunity to make a birdie, but then out of nowhere, every four holes or so, hits you with a diabolical test where par is mighty fine. The par-4 ninth is a great example of this: it sweeps to the left, measuring 430 yards from the back tee. Anything off line will pay a penalty. Missing the fairway could mean a lay-up as a greedy little creek short of the green will smite a less than stellar approach.
The back nine is equally as charismatic as the front. The tenth tee yields fantastic views of Kokanee glacier and the peaks of Kokanee Provincial Park, located on the other side of Kootenay Lake. This 418 yard down hill par-4 is lined with trees and is cruel to crooked tee shots (as good as they taste, don't throw back too many at the turn).
The back nine features a number of tee-shots that require some thought. At first glance, the driver seems to be the proper choice. Then, after some deliberation, the smarter option appears to be a safer club - could it be a five-wood to the corner? A three-iron? No, on second thought, you didn't spend a day and a half getting to the course only to pussy-foot your way around - it's most definitely the driver. Let it feast!
A driver won't be necessary on the short par-3 sixteenth. Just a little pitch down the hill, there's a distinct possibility of glory on this pretty hole. In fact, with the exception of seventeen, which is a gut-busting par-5, victory can rightfully be attained on the closing stretch. Holes fourteen, fifteen, and eighteen are all medium-length par-4's that are quite manageable (unless of course you've been exceptionally devout at quenching your thirst).
The eighteenth hole sums up Kokanee Springs to a tee. The teeing area is immense, there is plenty of fairway to work with, and the green is the size of a football field. By the way, if you complete the course without a three-putt you'll probably be the first player in history to do so. Hint: increase your gimme range to anything inside fifteen feet to give yourself a chance at this most coveted declaration.
Every now and then you just need to get away from it all. Kokanee Springs understands that and they have a cure. It's propitiating treatment for your soul complete with stunning mountain vistas, comfortable accommodation, wide open space, clean air, and to top it off, locally brewed thirst-quenching beverages that go down smooth - almost as smooth as the golf.
Kokanee Springs Golf Resort
Crawford Bay, BC, Canada
Phone: 1-800-979-7999 or 1-250-227-9226
6537 yards, par 71 championship course
Kokanee Springs is located on highway 3A in British Columbia's southeast quadrant. The course is located near the village of Crawford Bay, on the eastern shores of Kootenay Lake. There is no major airport nearby. Driving times are as follows: Spokane, Washington - 3.5 hours / Vancouver, BC - 9 hours / Calgary, Alberta - 6 hours / Seattle, Washington - 8 hours / Kalispell, Montana - 5 hours.
Stay at the Kookanee Springs Resort near the course (Basically, it's your only option). Call the 1-800-979-7999 number to reserve. Stay a long time for maximum results.
The restaurant at the course is outstanding. The atmosphere is warm, the food is excellent and the people are friendly - the perfect kind of place to hang your hat when nourishment is on your mind. Sit in the gazebo for maximum results.
The fishing on Kootenay Lake is world-renowned. The Gerard rainbow, a species of trout living in this very deep lake, is much sought after in these parts. The Gerard is caught in depths up to 400 feet and can weigh up to 40 pounds. These are trophy fish that regularly attract the best anglers in the world. Fishing guides/tours are available nearby. The town of Nelson, across the ferry and another ½ hour drive further west, is one of the prettiest towns you'll visit anywhere. Many of the buildings in the downtown area are over 100 years old and feature impressive architecture. The town has a "timeless" feel to it - something few places can offer. Also across the lake, the Ainsworth Hot Springs are famous for their natural caves within the hot pools. Activities such as hiking, sailing, kayaking, and biking are also very common in the area. Play hard!
Andrew Penner is a longtime member of the Canadian PGA. Author of "One Flew Over the Caddyshack," he also writes for a number of magazines throughout Canada and the U.S.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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