Canada is no longer the great bang-for-the-buck destination it was a few years back (then again, thanks to the weak dollar, what is?), but a journey to British Columbia's Okanagan Valley is still worth the effort. It may be off the beaten trail for serious course connoisseurs, but its collection of affordable courses and acclaimed roster of wineries make it ideal for another kind of connoisseur. Headquarters for an Okanagan golf trip is the lakeside city of Kelowna, a one-hour flight from Seattle and 15 minutes from the courses you'll play.
After competing in the 2000 Canadian Skins Game, Sergio Garcia was so taken with Predator Ridge that he purchased two home sites here. But this facility could very well be the spot where Garcia picked up his putting twitches. It is the region's true trophy course, a 27-hole thrill ride that whisks you through wheatgrass meadows and pine-covered ridges and valleys. Mostly, it's hard, beautiful stuff, with holes that culminate in some of the firmest, fastest greens this side of Augusta National.
Asign at the 7th tee that reads "Please do not hit your ball into the canyon hikers below" tells you all you need to know about this 1980 Bill Robinson/Les Furber design: It's a true back-to-nature roller-coaster ride. Pine forests, mountain views and dizzying drops from elevated tees dominate the show. Narrow in some spots, forgiving in others, Gallagher's offers excellent balance, illuminated perfectly by the back nine par 3s, where the 197-yard 13th is uphill all the way while the 218-yard 16th plunges several stories down.
Nicklaus Design crafted the Bear, but the end product is more Teddy than Grizzly. Most holes are draped across saddle-shaped fairways, so yanked or shoved shots are often redirected into favorable territory. While friendly overall, the Bear takes its share of swipes, notably from 13 through 15, a flattish trio of lake-guarded tests, and at the dramatically downhill 3rd, a 453-yard par 4 that firmly punishes misplayed approaches.
Tobiano Golf Club
7,328 yards, par 72;
As long as you've ventured this far into British Columbia's interior, you might fancy a side trip two hours farther west to Kamloops, where Tobiano awaits. The "wow!" factor pops from every spot on this new, semi-desert, Thomas McBroom design that tumbles across fescue-lined bluffs overlooking Kamloops Lake. Deep gulches, sagebrush roughs, artfully etched bunkers and staggering mountain vistas make Tobiano worth the detour.
TASTING THE GRAPE
Quails' Gate Estate Winery
The tasting room and superb Old Vines restaurant overlook Okanagan Lake and vineyards stretching almost to water's edge.
Mission Hill Family Estate Winery
A 12-story bell tower, concert amphitheater and impressive Pinot Noirs are among the attractions at this hilltop, lake-view compound.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery
Canada's most visited winery ages its organically grown wines in a four-story replica of Egypt's Great Pyramid at Giza.