|Go ahead, try and fly the marsh at the dogleg of the short, severe, par-4 14th. Quail dares you. (GolfPublisher.com)|
KELOWNA, B.C. - The jokes come fast and furious from the marshal. So fast and furious there almost isn't enough time for the groan track.
"We had a guy from Beirut the day. ... He blew up on No. 3," the marshal begins, seemingly waiting for a rim shot to sound from the tall trees.
"No, really. He took a nine."
The woman I'm playing with seems less offended by the bad taste than stunned that someone could proudly tell such a bad joke. But that golf course marshal would prove mighty handy, finding balls at a rate bloodhounds would envy and actually giving them to the paying customers.
It turns out to be a good primer for a round at the Quail at Okanagan Golf Club. This track is bound to annoy you at some point, but it's a good bet to be your friend at the end of the day.
Quail tests your accuracy, your nerve and your good humor. Especially the latter.
It's a sharp departure from many of the golf courses in this British Columbia wonderland of lakes, wineries and golf. In Okanagan, chilling is a way of life; at Quail your knuckles will whiten from gripping that driver extra tight.
"People who play Quail talk about how tough a course it is," Head Professional Jason Laczkovics said.
If you want to swing easy at Okanagan Golf Club, you play the Bear, Quail's wider-fairwayed sibling. Sometimes, though, it's a pleasure to be pained.
"I prefer the Quail because I play it worse," local golfer Wynn Williams said. "It sounds silly, but I like that it's testy."
Nothing brings a group of golfers together like feeling everything's against them. Quail can do that from the first drive. Chances are at least half of your group is going to end up in or near the trees on No. 1.
By the time you get to No. 4 and see where the flag's planted on this downhill, bunker-surrounded par 3, any remaining fuzzy feelings will likely vanish.
"That's one of those pin placements where you say, 'Somebody had a bad day yesterday,'" joked Kelley Taylor, who books Okanagan golf packages.
Luckily Quail throws enough towering Canadian-pine beauty at you to combat the score-dread. There are more houses than you'll find on some Okanagan tracks, but they're not overly obnoxious. It helps that many holes play against a backdrop of what a city dweller will consider mountains but unimpressed British Columbians shrug off as big hills.
Quail's challenge is never far out of mind, though. Not with holes like the 10th, a winding, uphill 335-yard par 4 that seems to trick on every shot. Some Mt. Everest adventurers experience easier climbs. No. 18 leaves hackers with something else to talk about at the clubhouse bar, with big Bo's Lake not so much dissecting the fairway as engulfing it. (The two forward tees don't even have to clear the lake, however, giving women and shorter hitters a completely different hole.)
But nothing quite compares to No. 14. From the tee it looks like you're getting a break; it's one of the more open holes in terms of trees, and it's only 321 yards with a dogleg right.
This is one par 4 that dares and double-dares you to go for it. Just try to cut the corner, fly the brush at the marsh at the dogleg turn and stop before the lake near the green. You could be on in two, easy. You could ...
Quail never stops playing with a golfer's head. No joke.
Quail shouldn't be your first choice on an Okanagan trip, but it's worth working in if you're here more than a few days. Prolific Canadian architect Les Furber makes you sweat over these 6,794 yards, but he also leaves you a good share of rewards. Pars at Quail mean something.
And sometimes it's good to be reminded that letting loose to airmail every drive is a recipe for disaster in real-world golf.
Locals keep coming back because they know Quail is going to be in good condition. If you're going to throw this type of challenge at golfers, you can't have them hitting out of bad lies all day.
"The greens are in good shape," semi-regular Kurt Zander said. "Every time you come, that stays the same."
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.
You will not see quail on The Quail, but owls do make this area home.
May 10, 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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