To qualify as one of golf’s hidden gems, a destination must meet three criteria: It has to offer exceptional golf, pleasant surroundings, and something extra. Additionally, of course, nobody can know about it. British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley fits this description to a tee—at least until it loses its anonymity in the paragraphs that follow.
Located about 250 miles east of Vancouver, on the shores of the 90-mile-long Okanagan Lake and the western slopes of the Canadian Rockies, the valley has been known for its fruit crops—apples, pears, peaches, and cherries—and its emergence as Canada’s premier winemaking center. The valley holds more than 75 vineyards, and almost all of them offer tours and tastings. (Selections from Mission Hill, Quail’s Gate Estate, and Gray Monk Estate are among those that are worth a try.) Last summer, alas, the area also made news as one of the forest-fire hot spots in the western Rockies.
Along with the grapes and other fruits, golf has also been flourishing here, though with little if any fanfare reaching beyond the valley itself. A half dozen world-class courses have been built in the last decade, creating opportunities for visitors to spend a blissful week playing golf and sampling fine vintages—the something extra that qualifies Okanagan Valley as a gem.
In 2000, Sergio Garcia was invited to play in the Canadian version of the Skins Game at Predator Ridge, a self-contained golf resort located 30 minutes north of Kelowna, the main town in the valley. He enjoyed the experience so much that he purchased two cottages on the grounds. Garcia has excellent taste. The rustic yet elegant structures—each with three or four bedrooms, two baths, a full kitchen, and a comfortable sitting room and patio—overlook the fairways and ponds of the golf course. The service and amenities at Predator Ridge rival the views from the cottages; the staff will whisk you in golf carts to and from the central clubhouse, which includes an excellent restaurant, pro shop, and game room.
Designed by Canada’s own Les Furber (who, like his courses in the valley, is certain to become more renowned), the 27 holes at Predator Ridge range from wide-open tracts through the mountain meadows to narrow forest-lined alleys. Plans call for construction of a fourth nine, and a new luxury spa hotel is also on the drawing boards.
Closer to Kelowna, the semiprivate Okanagan Golf Club features the excellent Bear course designed by Jack Nicklaus’ company and the equally enjoyable Quail, another Les Furber design. Both wend in and out of the woods and finish next to the massive clubhouse.
Gallagher’s Canyon, yet another Furber work, sits on higher ground above the town. The golf course and adjacent homes were spared by the wildfires that burned nearby, leaving a wonderful layout that changes direction and altitude on every hole.
Graham Cooke carved the Harvest Golf Club, perched on a bluff overlooking the lake and valley, out of a working apple orchard. In fact, apple, peach, and Bartlett pear trees strategically dot the fairways, and golfers are welcome to pluck a piece of fruit (in season, of course) as a reward for escaping from the orchard.
With so much to offer golfers, this gem cannot remain hidden for much longer. Although you may well be the first on your block to play the Okanagan Valley courses, it is unlikely that you will be the last.
Gallagher’s Canyon Golf Resort
Harvest Golf Club
Okanagan Golf Club
Predator Ridge Golf Resort