By Rich Myhre
Last summer, Sergio Garcia traveled to British Columbia for the Canadian Skins Game at Predator Ridge Golf Resort outside of Kelowna.
The talented young Spanish pro didn’t leave with the top prize, but he did walk away with deeds to the two condominiums he purchased after falling in love with the central Okanagan Valley.
Garcia apparently learned what others have discovered, and that is that this region is stepping to the forefront among premier Pacific Northwest golf destinations. With more than a dozen courses in and around Kelowna, including a handful of elite layouts including Predator Ridge, a vacation to this area of lower British Columbia promises a memorable golf experience.
And a favorable exchange rate between American and Canadian dollars can make the visit that much sweeter, or at least less expensive.
“There’s a great value for the dollar,” said Dean Atkinson, director of golf at Predator Ridge. “You’re able to get a first-class destination resort at a very affordable price.”
“We have as good a product as anywhere in the U.S., and it’s 50 percent cheaper,” agreed Gilles duFort, head pro at The Harvest Golf Club in Kelowna. “In the last two years, we’ve seen a lot of American travelers coming up this way, and we’re quite encouraged about that.”
Five courses comprise the Okanagan Golf Alliance and any one of the bunch will offer a fine test of golf. There is 27-hole Predator Ridge (located about a half-hour north of Kelowna), The Harvest, Gallagher’s Canyon Golf and Country Club, and the Okanagan Golf Club with its Quail Course and its Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear Course.
Each is distinctive in its own way. Predator Ridge, for instance, features a links-style layout over rolling terrain. The Harvest, meanwhile, is in an orchard setting, with apples, peaches, cherries, pears and grapes available for plucking (in season, of course). Gallagher’s Canyon and the two courses at Okanagan GC are set amongst acres of Ponderosa pines.
The five courses of the alliance “are within 40 minutes drive of each other and they boast a fair amount of variety of setting,” Atkinson said.
Three other Kelowna-area courses have joined to form the Okanagan Valley Golf Association: Kelowna Springs Golf and Country Club, Shadow Ridge Golf Club and Shannon Lake Golf Course. Also, there is the Kelowna Golf and Country Club, the oldest of the courses in and around the city. Courses at the lower end of the scale for both quality and price are also available.
If they choose, guests to the area can focus exclusively on golf. Or they can take advantage of the region’s other amenities. Golfers with families will appreciate the swimming and boating on lovely Lake Okanagan. There are miles of scenic hiking and biking trails. And there are a number of wineries in the area, with tours available.
A trip to the Kelowna area from the Seattle area can be accomplished either by flying or driving. There are direct flights each day from Seattle to Kelowna, while those who prefer to drive can enjoy a panoramic trip over either Stevens Pass or the North Cascades Highway before turning north into the Okanagan region.
When is the best time to go? Generally, any time from early spring through mid-fall. And you probably won’t need rain gear since “precipitation is something we see very little of,” Atkinson said.
“September is a gorgeous month,” he added, “but we have people from throughout Northwest who come right through the summer. It’s gorgeous from April all the way through October.”
Atkinson and duFort agree that Americans are coming in increasing numbers to the Kelowna area. At Predator Ridge, Atkinson said, U.S. visitors “make up 20-25 percent of our play right now.” duFort says U.S. play is closer to 15 percent at The Harvest, “but a few years ago it might have been 1 or 2 percent.”
“This is a new golf region, but we believe we have a lot to offer,” duFort added. “It’s a destination that a lot of people are starting to discover. Certainly a lot of Americans are starting to travel our way. And people are not only returning, but they’re sending some of their friends.”