You don't realize how many top-notch golf courses there are in British Columbia until you start working on a scroll of the must-see tracks in Canada's westernmost province.
Let's just say that the original list needed a lot of whittling. (It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.)
Without further adieu, here's a rundown of 10 public-access golf courses you'll definitely want to check out in this picturesque province.
A must-see in the middle of nowhere
For the past few years, folks in the golf biz have been buzzing about a minimalist design -- Rod Whitman and former PGA Tour regular Richard Zokol both deserve some of the credit -- in the middle of nowhere near Merritt. Well, it's your turn to find out what all the fuss is about. While the long-term plan is for Sagebrush to be a private facility, public play is available until the membership list is full. Sagebrush is a true throwback, with no yardage markers, no tee blocks -- whoever has the honor picks a spot for the group to peg it -- and greens so big that there are sprinkler heads in the middle of a few of them. You'll have a blast smacking your lucky Titleist around these firm fairways, but be sure to take a break at Terry's Hideout, a fly-fishing pond between the 12th and 13th holes. Sagebrush won't be accessible forever, so don't leave this one on your to-do list for too long.
Scenery reigns supreme at these set-ups
There's nothing more frustrating than seeing stunning marketing photos of a golf course, only to show up and realize you have to wait 14 holes to get to the good stuff. That's not an issue at Tobiano, which serves up eye-candy from start to finish. Don't be distracted by the scenery, though, because Thomas McBroom's design -- overlooking Kamloops Lake about a half-hour west of Kamloops, and close enough to Sagebrush that you could hit both on the same golf getaway -- doesn't leave a lot of room for error. No problem. The way the green grass sticks out in this dry, desert-like setting, your own snapshots will look better from the middle of the fairway.
If this were a list of British Columbia's must-see holes, Greywolf's sixth hole -- better known as Cliffhanger -- would be at the top of the list. Stretching to 200 yards from the tips, Cliffhanger is all carry over a deep gorge to a putting surface that seems to teeter on the edge of the wilderness. There's a drop area, but this tee shot is so much fun that you'll want to save a mulligan in case your first attempt finds the bottom of the Toby Creek valley. Doug Carrick's Greywolf sits in the shadow of the ski slopes at Panorama Mountain Village, and -- with lots of elevated tees -- you'll be tickled when you find out how far your ball travels at this altitude.
4. Bear Mountain Golf Resort
A mountain course with ocean views? That's a no-brainer for any must-see list. Jack Nicklaus' only 36-hole hangout in Canada is Bear Mountain, located about 20 minutes from the harbor in B.C.'s capital of Victoria on Vancouver Island. On no. 14 on the Mountain Course (formerly the "betting hole" and now included in the everyday rotation), you can spy the Pacific and the Olympic mountain range in Washington State. Nicklaus designs can be relentless, but the Valley Course -- with generous fairways and short irons into many greens -- is anything but.
Best of the rest in B.C.
5. Predator Ridge Resort
Les Furber's original track -- the Predator Course -- put this 36-hole facility near Vernon on the map, and Carrick's Ridge Course turned it into a dynamite long-weekend destination. Both courses rank among B.C.'s best public options, but the Ridge gets the edge for many golfers because it's easier on both the eyes and the ego. The Okanagan Valley is the summer home for many NHLers, so don't be surprised if you spot a hockey star during a round at Predator Ridge.
Talking Rock is B.C.'s best course that you've probably never heard about. Designed by the tandem of Graham Cooke and Wayne Carlton, Talking Rock is routed through a rugged forest and finishes up on the shores of Little Shuswap Lake. If you'll be traveling along the Trans-Canada Highway through B.C.'s interior, do yourself a favor and plan a pit stop at this underrated track near Chase.
Many golfers land in Vancouver and make a beeline to Whistler -- more on the mountain town next -- but it's not a bad idea to continue about 20 minutes to Pemberton, home to Big Sky Golf and C.C. Bob Cupp's design is literally surrounded by scenery, so you're treated to mountain views in every direction. With four creek crossings, Big Sky's 600-yard fourth hole is just as punishing as its nickname (Purgatory) would suggest.
Whistler is known as a ski town, and you might be wondering why there's no chairlift on the starting stretch at Fairmont Chateau Whistler. The reward for climbing for the first four holes is a steady diet of hair-raising downhill shots over the next three hours. Unlike Whistler's offerings on the valley floor, this Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout is the type of golf experience you can't find at home.
There are plenty of others that deserve a mention, but let's finish off with a couple of off-the-beaten-track treasures. Golden G.C. is located not far from the B.C.-Alberta border, while Storey Creek is in Campbell River, a salmon-fishing hotspot about three hours north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. What these tree-lined tracks have in common -- other than both being the work of Les Furber -- is you'll leave the 18th green griping that your hometown doesn't have such a solid course.