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Golf at Tobiano in Kamloops, British Columbia: In Canada, but out of this world

Mike BaileyBy Mike Bailey,
Senior Staff Writer
Tobiano Golf Course - Hole 6
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The par-4 sixth at Tobiano requires two accurate shots. (Mike Bailey/TravelGolf)

KAMLOOPS, B.C., Canada -- If they could put a man on the moon, why not build a golf course there?

That was my first thought after I laid eyes on Tobiano, voted Canada's best new golf course for 2008 by both Golf Digest and Score magazines.

As a golf course, Tobiano deserves any honor it gets. Golf course architect Thomas McBroom, who has won numerous awards for other Canadian designs as well, did a masterful job of weaving fairways up and around arroyos and desert terrain while providing views of the serene Kamloops Lake below.

And, yes, you read this correctly -- "desert terrain." Kamloops is in Thompson-Okanagan region of British Columbia, in an isolated pocket that resembles the desert of the Southwestern United States.

In the summer, it's even hot like the desert Southwest. The day I played the course, temperatures reached triple digit Fahrenheit.

Except this desert isn't really brown; it's almost gray, sort of like the moon, which makes the contrast between perfectly manicured bentgrass greens and fairways against the dull sand and rocks that much more dramatic.

McBroom says there's nothing like Tobiano anywhere, much less in Canada, and he's right: I've never seen anything like it either.

What you see is what you get at Tobiano

Forty-three months ago, there was no golf course, just a remarkable rocky landscape around Kamloops Lake and a vision shared by Michael Grenier, president of Pagebrook, Inc., which is developing Tobiano.

McBroom reportedly went through 20 different routing scenarios before settling on what actually disturbed very little land. He said it was the best site he had ever seen for a golf course.

Natural mounding from the barren landscape abounds everywhere. Some of the greens are perched so high that they appear to be floating against the blue lake in the background. McBroom calls them "infinity greens," much the way infinity pools seem to lack borders as the water flows off the edges into hidden catch basin.

Tobiano is a golf course that has a links look and at times resembles the great courses on the Irish coast. The fifth, in particular, has that appearance. At 480 yards and often into the wind, this par 4 plays long. But a properly placed tee shot can catch a speed slot to set up a reasonable yet long approach shot into a bowl-shaped green setting down below. Word is that McBroom did nothing here except grate the fairway and put in a tee and a green. Mother Nature designed the rest.

There are five par 3s and five par 5s, making this one of the more diverse courses you'll ever play. The par 3s are all unique, with a couple of them just downright difficult. The seventh, for example, at 189 yards from the tips, requires precise distance control, because anything long or short winds up in the gully. The 12th is 240 yards long with plenty of trouble around the green.

Fortunately, there's a generous drop area near the green on No. 7, as there are on other areas of the golf course. A local rule allows you to play lost balls as lateral hazards, but the course is still plenty difficult. While there are five sets of tees on this par 72 - ranging from 5,358 yards to 7,367 yards - you will still have to play many shots in the air no matter what tees you play from.

Tobiano: The verdict

Going in, I had heard glowing reports from those who played the course before me, and I wasn't disappointed.

You can see the lake from every hole, so for the views alone, Tobiano is worth the trip.

From a golfer's standpoint, however, the course also receives high marks. If you play the proper tees, all the par 5s are reachable in two, and there are risk-reward opportunities on other parts of the course as well.

In particular, the second hole (350 yards from the back tees) is drivable, but it you miss left or right with the driver, you're most likely taking advantage of the local lateral hazard rule.

Despite the local rule, however, people will hunt for balls, whether it's to avoid a penalty or to keep from running out of golf balls, which is a real possibility considering you could lose a ball on every hole if you don't know where it's going.

With that said, you could see how pace of play could be a problem, but it just goes with the territory. Any difficult course will have those challenges, and Tobiano, while fun, has a built-in degree of difficulty that's hard to dispute.

The golf course also has a superb practice range, short-game area and practice greens. Lessons are available from the professional staff.

The 10,000-square-foot clubhouse, constructed with wood and stone features, is also a winner. The restaurant, lounge and golf shop overlook the expansive stone patio and events lawn, from which there are terrific views of the course and lake.

Stay and play at Tobiano

According to Grenier, plans call for golf casitas and eventually a hotel over looking the property. In the meantime, however, there are plenty of places you can stay in Kamloops and many offer golf packages.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Kamloops, and like most Hamptons, this Hilton property came with clean, comfortable rooms and beds, a hot breakfast, an indoor pool and Jacuzzi, and even a water slide.

Stay and play golf packages with hotels like the Comfort Inn and Suites and Four Points by Sheraton in Kamloops were being offered for a as little as $99 per person per night.

Getting to Tobiano, Kamloops

The golf course is located about 20 minutes west of downtown Kamloops. It's about a 3 1/2 hour drive northeast of Vancouver, so it's not a difficult to get to if you fly into Vancouver and rent a car.

You could also take the train on Via Rail, which stops in Kamloops and passes right by Tobiano. The train will stop at the course if an advance request is made. Once the hotel is built, Grenier said, there are plans for a possible platform where guests can disembark.

Kamloops also has its own airport, which serves eight destinations in British Columbia and Alberta, including Vancouver, Prince George and Calgary. Airlines that fly out of Kamloops include Air Canada Jazz, Central Mountain Air, Pacific Coast Airlines and WestJet.

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Tobiano Golf Course - Hole 1Tobiano Golf Course - Hole 7Tobiano Golf Course - Hole 5

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trio to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Tobiano review

    dyakimec wrote on: Oct 31, 2009

    I had the pleasure of playing a couple of rounds at Tobiano this year and I have to say this course will fulfill the dreams of any golfer. I happened to play each round when it seemed that I had the entire course to myself which afforded me ample opportunity to play each and every hole at my own pace, allowing me the time to study and appreciate the challenges of every hole. There are no holes that play or appear to be out of place. Bravo, Thomas McBroom.