For the first 18-holes of my Kamloops golf vacation it was hard to keep my head down and eye on the ball ““ especially on Talking Rock's 15th tee. The elevated position overlooks a fairway that drops away dramatically and eventually opens up to a view of Little Shuswap Lake. My normally conservative score of 90-something was about to be shot all to hell because of the scenery.
The first hole is a short-ish par four with a slight dogleg around a major sand trap on the right side of the course. The green is bracketed by a couple smaller, but no-less lethal bunkers.
My first drive, with a three-wood, off the black tee drops just short of the fairway bunker ““ much to my relief. Switching down from my fairway driver, I go to my five-iron and actually drop the ball onto the green. Starting to breathe a little easier, I get cocky and duff three puts driving my score up.
Laurie sails past me on the first hole, but our friend Howard and I manage to turn in similar scorecards and waiting for Nora, a newbie golfer, gives us a chance to catch our breath and check out the views.
We keep heading higher with the golf carts until we hit the breathtaking 15th. It's another short, par three hole that requires a short iron coming off the tee to give the ball enough loft to bounce gently up to the green.
By the time we descend to lake level to play the course's signature hole ““ the 18th ““ I have recovered and manage a decent game along the edge of Little Shuswap Lake.
Talking Rock is the 7,129-yard championship course attached to the Quaaout Lodge. It's the eastern gateway course to the Thompson River Valley/Kamloops region and is located a scenic 45-minute drive east of the city on the TransCanada highway.
After 18-holes, we head into Jack Sam's restaurant in the lodge for a late lunch and strong libations to celebrate a challenging round.
Quaaout Lodge belongs to the Little Shuswap Indian Band. Its stunning layout requires either mountain goat endurance if you are walking, or a cart. I chose the cart. Which was smart because Laurie, Nora and Howard would have left me behind.
The Quaaout has just undergone an extensive renovation to its facilities as has the venerable Kamloops Golf and Country Club (KGCC).
Unlike Quaaout, KGCC is a gentler, kinder course for duffers like me. Its long fairways are lined with mature broadleaf trees (something of a rarity in this land of Ponderosa pines) and the holes are easy to walk without resorting to mountain climbing gear.
Tobiano is the most recent championship course in the region.It's a 7,110-yard Thomas MacBroom designed course plan following the curving shoreline of Kamloops Lake, and offers an excellent pro shop, practice facility and restaurant.
The Dunes is another relatively new course and is the only links-style course in the area. The par 72 Graham Cooke-designed playing area covers 7,131 yards and uses the riverbed of the old Thompson watercourse to create its bunkers, wilderness and dune hazards.
Not many people think about the area around B.C.'s Thompson River Valley for a golf vacation, but they should. The great news for Canadian golfers is that the region hasn't hit the radar screen of the international golfing set, who regularly jet into Banff, Lake Louise and nearby Kelowna.
There are ten 18-hole and four nine-hole courses within a 45-minute drive of downtown Kamloops. The region has been attracting the attention of major golf publications like Golf Digest and Score magazines. In 2007, Tobiano with its lake views from every hole was named the best new course in Canada by both magazines.
If a family comes early enough in the spring or late enough in the fall, there is always the possibility of combining golf with skiing at the Sun Peaks Resort.
Along with the outdoor activities, Kamloops has become home to a number of good restaurants featuring everything from sushi to Mexican and Tapas to Italian and Indian. If you want to eat local, don't forget this is cattle country and check out the Dunes Clubhouse Restaurant and the Plaza Heritage Hotel.
The beef grown in the region can compete with the best anywhere. It is richly marbled, finely grained and measured in inches not millimetres. The locals also know how to cook it so each steak major treat.
Beef is so important that the Plaza Heritage, in conjunction with the Haughton Ranch, revived a tradition from the 1950s this past January by auctioning off Norman, a live Black Angus steer, right in the lobby of the hotel.
For views of the river and a menu you'd expect from eateries in Vancouver or Toronto, make a reservation at the South Thompson Inn's “˜madisens'. For more casual dining but with another quality menu try the Brownstone in downtown Kamloops. But you can't go wrong making reservations in any of the dining rooms attached to the golf resorts.
One local eatery is named the Billy Miner Roadhouse. Billy Miner was a local legend and he never moiled for gold in the law-abiding sense.Yet the name Bill Miner is irrevocably linked to the Thompson River Valley and Kamloops. If his name isn't familiar, then his story could be and the black and white portrait of him most definitely is. Miner was the original gentleman bandit and the first robber to stop a Canadian train for fun and profit.
Miner was immortalized by Richard Farnsworth and Jackie Burroughs in the 1982 film The Grey Fox. Visitors to the region can relive the experience with a ride on the Kamloops Heritage Railway.
The Kamloops Heritage Railway, or KHR as it is known locally, is a fun way to spend a non-golfing day. The train leaves the restored CN station on Lorne Street every day over the summer. Leading up to Halloween, the KHR runs a Ghost Train that's a lot of fun for the entire family and it takes place after dark so even the golfers in the clan can join in.
No matter where you play around Kamloops, you always seem to be accompanied by wildlife. At one point a pair of playful coyotes romped across the fairway in front of us stopping play on the Rivershore course. Birds also appear like magic in the roughs and among the cattails around the water hazards.
To see wildlife close up without endangering yourself (never hang with the bears even if they are taking their time playing back nine ahead of you) take the family to visit the B.C. Wildlife Park just outside Kamloops.
Most of the animals in the 106-acre park are indigenous to B.C. There are cougars and grizzly bear; deer, moose and elk; big horn sheep and mountain goats; as well as dozens of birds ranging from the big golden eagle to the tiny burrowing owl ““ all within safe enclosures. The park functions as a refuge for orphaned and wounded animals as well as a genetic lifeboat for endangered species. The Burrowing Owl breeding facility is the largest in the world. Kamloops features a semi-desert climate with lots of dry, warm weather with low humidity throughout the spring, summer and early fall. The average number of days of sunshine per month from April through October is 29.4 per month. And the temperatures in the summer month range above the 30Ëš C mark just about every day.
Because Kamloops and the Thompson River region is located at the northern end of the Great Sonoran Desert, it's a good idea to carry 45 SPF sunscreen, a hat and a decent pair of sunglasses.
If you go
Kamloops area general information
Quaaout Lodge Resort & Talking Rock
Kamloops Golf and Country Club
Kamloops Heritage Railway
B.C. Wildlife Park