In 2008, the Okanagan was poised to become Canada’s top golf destination. And then the recession struck. Six years later, on the heels of a financial crisis and a golf crisis, how is the Valley’s golf industry faring?
In May 1899, Dr. Jack Carruthers must have looked like a ghost, trudging along the City Flats staking greens amidst the morning fog of Okanagan Lake. At age 46 and six feet four inches tall, all that bending over to lay out Kelowna’s first golf course might have taken a toll on the Scot. Fortunately, he had the help of Elisha Bailey, the butcher and post master. It was almost 14 years before other Scots laid out the first golf courses in Vernon and Penticton on baseball fields and orchards, using melted CPR babbitts for flagsticks and tomato cans for cups.
Kelowna lead the way, hosting the first recorded tournament for mainland BC on July 1, 1899 at the nine-hole course now buried under Memorial Arena and City Hall. There were just eight players. Another four regular golfers, bachelors, were drawn instead to the meal and marriageable women they might find at the Dominion Day picnic.
It was a “cool and pleasant” day according to the Vernon News. Bailey shot 68. At tournament end, golfers and the reporter who later wrote about it realized this was just the start of something. “We anticipate that Kelowna will some day be as well known for golf as for tobacco, cricket or any other games or vegetables.”
Almost 110 years later, in late June 2008, their prediction was reality. Tower Ranch Golf & Country Club, a par 72 track designed by Thomas McBroom, had just opened on a stunning hillside of spruce and golden grasslands. It was Greater Kelowna’s nineteenth course. In Vernon, a fivesome of international golf stars were competing in the TELUS World Skins Game at Predator Ridge. Golf fans around the world watched Columbian Camilo Villegas, who won the event, reading putts in his notorious Spiderman pose. They saw Greg ‘The Shark’ Norman escort a ladybug out of his putting line. And in the background, the Okanagan landscape.
Fred Couples took third place at the Skins, and the next day opened a Vernon golf course he helped design—The Golf Club at The Rise. Between the two events, there were probably whispers Norman too would be designing a signature championship track in the valley, his a total redesign of Peachland’s Ponderosa Golf Course.
That June, in the Okanagan, it looked as though golf and the good life would go on forever.
Read more in the April/May Okanagan Life.
Photo courtesy of Spallumcheen Golf & Country Club, Vernon, as seen in Okanagan Life Magazine.